48 years ago today, on the 13th of September 1972, English progressive rock band Yes released one of their most influential contributions to the genre: Close to the Edge. Being the last album to involve the original drummer Bill Bruford, before he joined King Crimson as he found the making of the album rather “laborious”, Close to the Edge was made by the line-up (which included Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Bill Bruford, Steve Howe, and Rick Wakeman) that is widely considered to be the best line-up from the band’s career, both creatively and musically. After the tour for their biggest hit yet, Fragile (1971), the band gathered again in Admission studios in London to record a follow-up.
Close to the Edge proved to be the band’s greatest commercial success, reaching No. 3 on the Billboard 200 in the US and No. 4 on the UK album charts. It was on the tour following the release that the new drummer Alan White debuted. The album was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America in 1998 for selling an estimated number of more than one million copies. Today, it is collectively regarded as a masterpiece in progressive rock and a pinnacle point for the band.
But as with any good album, there was a lot of tension during the recording sessions. Melody Maker reporter and band biographer Chris Welch visited to the studio to observe the atmosphere, which he later described as stressful and coupled with “outbursts of anarchy”. There were a lot of disagreements, and it seemed like Anderson and Howe were the only people that knew were the album was going, leaving the rest of the band adding bits and pieces “to a vast jigsaw of sound”. Though Squire and the producer Eddy Offord still managed to include some of their own ideas, according to Welch, Wakeman and Bruford were only “innocent bystanders” in the matter. Bruford later described the process feeling like “climbing Mount Everest”.
Now, 48 years later, we can only be grateful that the tension between the members wasn’t enough to drive the band apart, because, in the end, the result was a one-of-a-kind album that changed the prog-rock scene forever.