PopMAC day 3: Yes, the Psychedelic-Symphonic Cover, and ‘Every Little Thing’ #popmac

Yes, the Psychedelic-Symphonic Cover, and ‘Every Little Thing’. John Covach (University of Rochester)

[abstract] The 1969 debut album of the British band Yes contains a cover version of the Beatles ‘Every Little Thing’. The original Beatles version runs just over two minutes, while the Yes version extends the song to almost six minutes. The practice of taking a short pop song and developing it into more extended piece was perhaps made most famous by the American band, Vanilla Fudge, whose 1968 version of the Supremes ‘You Keep Me Hangin On’ (1966) clocks in at well over seven minutes. Inspired by Vanilla Fudge, Yes created a series of psychedelic-symphonic cover versions of this type, including ‘I See You’, ‘Something’s Coming’, ‘No Opportunity Necessary’, ‘No Experience Needed’, ‘Everydays’, and ‘America’.

This paper will examine how Yes’s version of ‘Every Little Thing’ is developed from the Beatles’ song, at times jamming on a static harmony, at other times developing melodic and harmonic ideas from the song itself, and ultimately recasting the actual sung parts of the original tune to amplify some of the characteristics present in the original. The practices found in this song will be compared to passages from the other Yes covers, as well as to the Yes originals that would soon dominate the band’s output. It will be argued that the practice of the psychedelic-symphonic cover becomes a part of the band’s composing process for epic numbers such as ‘Close to the Edge’ and ‘Awaken’, complex numbers that grow out of simple pop songs.

John’s paper opens with an outline of his approach – that he intends to focus exclusively on cover versions by Yes. Their practice in this early work was to develop complex extended arrangements based on very simple pop song originals; this approach was modelled on the covers of Vanilla Fudge.

He now reflects on earlier cover versions, noting that today the listener is expected to know the original and appreciate its recontextualisation. He considers that ‘versions’ is a better word for the 1950s versions, because often the ‘original’ would not be well known, and there were social issues of race (white artists singing black songs and vice versa). He cites Fats Domino, Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Pat Boone and The Crew Cuts, making reference to particular songs that were released in a different societal/race context from today.

The next slide is ‘intertextuality’, which lies at the heart of the notion of the cover version – that is, we need to know the original and our appreciation of the cover is based on the differences. It is effectively theme and variations in pop. The Yes cover versions are interesting because they are heavily intertextual and complex. When a classical composer quotes a theme they are often demonstrating their skills in repurposing and recontextualising it [I infer through compositional/arrangement skill and labour].

We now look at 1960s covers – the Beatles/Stones cover versions are arguably closer to duplicates than versions. The Byrds and Cher are cited – “All I Really Want To Do”. Sgt Pepper seemed to end the practice of ‘versions’, although they continued in the market for several years (and he notes the many Sgt Pepper cover versions, including Hendrix’s cover of the title track and the William Shatner LITSWD).

John next discusses in detail the VF cover of Keep Me Hanging On, one of several covers on the debut album, including a close-reading analysis of the harmony and form. He calls this an example of the “psychedelic-symphonic cover”. He asks (of the Supremes version) how much Diana Ross’s high-quality vocal is compensating for the banal repetition inherent in the song itself. Here’s the Supremes’ version;

And here’s VF’s version;

John notes the differences in exhaustive and interesting detail, including what has been deleted from the original and what has been added that was absent from the original [his example is played as audio – see approx. 01:31 in the VF video above].

We turn now to the Yes covers, noting that the band tried playing VF covers [of covers?] but these came out sound too much like VF! He notes that there are two covers each on the first two albums, including Something’s Coming from WSS and America [no, the Paul Simon song], and that many more were unrecorded. Our case study is The Beatles’ Every Little Thing, which was intended to be a Beatles’ single but was replaced by I Feel Fine, relegating ELT to an album track. We now hear some excerpts from both versions of ELT (noting the unusual timpani in The Beatles’ verison).

The Yes cover focuses on the emphasis on beats one and two in the verse – he notes some bar timestretching [and increased dynamic range in the arrangement through many ‘stops’]. Yes’s and VF’s approach to adaptation are compared with more musical detail, including [unsurprisingly perhaps] the extension of solos. John notes the sense that the BBC ‘as live’ recordings are longer than the album version, and infers [reasonably, I think] that the live versions would have been even more heavily extended.

John now focuses on the techniques that were central to the Yes originals (from 1971 onward they recorded exclusively original material), and notes that a simple pop song is arguably evident at the heart of every epic/extended work, suggesting that these early covers were fundamental to their creative development later.

[JB note – here’s the audio from Yes’s version of America that I found on YouTube, complete with studio footage]

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