Song of Seven by Jon Anderson was first released in 1980 and has recently been remastered and re-released by the ever-reliable Cherry Red Records, revealing more clearly its varied influences, imbued with optimism. It is curious looking back now how times had changed so quickly for Jon Anderson and Yes in the space of about 5 or 6 years. Anderson had recorded the unique and resplendent solo album Olias of Sunhillow in 1976 and Yes went on to produce the very successful Going for the One in 1977. Nonetheless, from being that massively successful touring and album selling band, after the rise of Punk and the New Wave, Yes were under pressure from their record company to be more ‘commercial’ and rather less ‘epic’ by the end of the decade. The band broke up when Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman left after ill-fated recording sessions in 1979/80. Jon did enjoy some rather unexpected success with Vangelis on the hit U.K. single I Hear You Now in late 1979 and the Short Stories album that followed in 1980. This indicated that Anderson was clearly willing to move away from the more expansive progressive rock soundscapes of the band he founded, and to experiment on possibly more widely palatable musical offerings.
Whilst Olias of Sunhillow was an ambitious and literally ‘solo’ album with no other musicians participating, Song of Seven was a much more collaborative and largely more straightforward effort, drawing on contributions from an interesting range of artists, including members of Cream, Colosseum, the Alan Parsons Project and Brand X. Interestingly, the CD booklet notes tell a fascinating tale of an alternative ‘what if’ moment in his career when Virgin records briefly signed Anderson at that time, possibly hoping for unexpected chart success similar to Phil Collins, but they soon jettisoned him from their contract when they heard his early ideas for an album based on the life of the artist Marc Chagall and a musical about a fairy kingdom. It appears we may never know what those projects may have sounded like, but they do seem typical of Jon Anderson’s fertile but somewhat fey imagination!
Nevertheless, Anderson’s abundantly imaginative mind still had other ideas and he returned to the label he knew well with Yes, Atlantic Records, and set about creating Song of Seven, free of any interference or expectations from Atlantic. Anderson met keyboardist Ronnie Leahy and through him worked with a whole range of musicians, apparently enjoying the freedom to invite anyone he pleased, not tied to a rigid band structure. This resulted in blues artists rubbing shoulders with jazz and rock musicians. This approach does give the album a diverse feeling with a rich variety of styles explored, but in some ways it also detracts from the focus and consistency.
There are some truly delightful moments on this album. There are also lower points which do not work so well, despite the aspiration to diversify. The fact that Anderson self-produced it may explain the weakness of a couple of tracks that a more independent person may have advised against including. On the other side of the coin, the sonic clarity and sheer sweetness of the majority of the songs points to someone that intuitively knew what he wanted to convey musically. The opening track For You, For Me bounces along optimistically, and perhaps most reveals the electronic influence of Vangelis, but the lyrics do not seem to quite scan with the music. Don’t Forget (Nostalgia) clunks along in a rather cheesy jazz/blues hybrid… which, frankly, I would rather forget! Similarly, Heart of the Matter, featuring Jack Bruce of Cream on bass, is an ill-advised attempt to take on a ‘doo-wop’ style number. I am sure Jon and the musicians enjoyed performing it, but it is probable most listeners will ‘skip’ this track. Thankfully, Jon Anderson’s pure vocals and the breezy acoustic chimes of the short but sweet Hear it follow to remind us why so many love Jon Anderson. It is also no surprise to read that this was a number previously considered in sessions with Yes. John Giblin contributes a fluid bass throughout the album, most notably on Everybody Loves You, which rolls along on a simple pop melody and some uncharacteristically straightforward lyrics, brimming with sunny optimism – Siberian Khatru it ain’t, but that’s fine. Sometimes a song just needs to be simple.
The inevitable question for some readers will be – is this version worth buying, especially if I have it already?
The answer for anyone who does not have it already is simple – it’s DEFINITELY worth getting. Putting aside the reservations of a couple of songs, this is a high quality album full of beautiful, bright, shining songs – and when it’s good, it’s REALLY good, especially the finale to the album, which we will come onto soon.
If you already have this album the question is not so easy to answer. This ‘expanded’ edition only has two additional song versions, edited for single release, so there is not really any unreleased or rare material to interest punters. What is attractive is the booklet which has extensive notes and a fascinating interview with Jon. The lovely stained glass-style artwork of Ian Nicholas, based on ideas by Jon, is lovingly presented in a fine digipak edition. The remastering certainly improves the sound and the moments of diaphanous musical delicacy do sparkle afresh in the mix. Whether those factors are enough to attract fans to buy it again in this new format is down to the punter – all I can say is that I am glad I bought it, even though I had a previous edition. This one seems to finally do justice to this lovely release, artistically and musically.
The overriding feeling which emanates from Song of Seven is warm-hearted positivity, which is why I have returned to it repeatedly over the last 40 years. Some are Born (which had been demoed by Yes during the Tormato sessions, along with Days and Everybody Loves You) is a joyous and sparkling slice of infectious rock pop with a great sax contribution from Dick Morris. In contrast, Take Your Time is a much mellower, mainly acoustic piece, gently urging us all to “slow down, just relax, take your time”, which is not a bad message for any of us. It also feels like the perfect way to prepare us for the delightful pastoral reverie of Days.
The last 15-minutes of this album, with Days and Song of Seven itself, are full of enchantment and melody, and is one of the loveliest passages of music with which Jon Anderson has been associated… and that’s saying something! Days is a simple but delightful hymn to Nature, the music a calm bed upon which Anderson’s gentle words are lain. (If you want to truly hear the clarity and beauty of Jon Anderson’s voice then it is worth searching out the totally a capella rendition of Days which he performs as a demo on the bonus tracks for the remastered version of Tormato – it’s utterly gorgeous.) On the Song of Seven version of Days, Anderson plays out a delicate and beguiling extended coda with harp, the sounds of birdsong and his children playing – it’s a gently pastoral and pretty ending to an absolute gem of a song.
The musical joy continues as Days segues smoothly into Song of Seven with the flowing strings of the Delme Quartet leading us into a world of almost ecclesiastical calmness and grace, in tune with the stained glass artwork. Anderson lyrically follows the undulating strings with a chant-like incantation:
I befell a friendly atmosphere revolving around seven, Oh that number mystified my soul…”
Some may find the lyricism and imagery of this song overly sweet or ‘far out’, but I suggest they may just need to buy into Anderson’s visions and dreams and go with the flow. Somehow Anderson makes such flowery words work, fitting perfectly with the music, conjuring up a feeling of sanctuary and mysticism. After the opening section the song breaks open into a more fluid vocal and piano led section from Ronnie Leahy, with subtle bass from Giblin. Maurice Pert’s percussion, as it has been throughout the album, tastefully compliments and embroiders the music. Anderson’s lyrics seemingly describe a guru or possibly Christ-like figure, “stranger he came here to town”. This middle section is brimming with poetic images and striking lines exuding a positive atmosphere and the “strength of dreaming”, before the Delme strings and the mystical chant are briefly recapitulated with Chris Rainbow adding great backing vocals. Clem Clemson emphasises a euphoric crescendo with a restrained but flowing guitar solo.
Anderson’s voice reaches celebratory heights with the voices of his children echoing in the background… and then we reach the final shimmeringly lovely section as a lone piano supports Anderson’s softening, echoing voice. Clemson adds a brief plaintive guitar accent before Anderson sings a truly touching harmony with his young daughter, Deborah Leigh Anderson. His younger children can be heard counting down in the background as Leahy’s piano and Clemson’s guitar gently carry us to the Starlight. Anderson’s perfect voice gently leads us into an emotional ending, with his daughter echoing his final words, that should just about melt anyone’s heart:
Telling me that there’s something else to
Cling on to, Cling on to…”
It is hard to think of a more beautiful, touching ending to a song involving Anderson, except Awaken on Going for the One, which was only written three years previously, showing Anderson was in a rich vein of emotive and evocative song writing form.
Song of Seven is not a perfect album, lacking the artistic and thematic consistency of Olias, but at its best it is outstanding, and those songs compare well with the best of Anderson’s work. Song of Seven is filled with magic and mysticism which seduces the spirit for those willing to open themselves to its simple, shining optimism. This is an album which will always have a place in my heart as it takes me to faraway places deep inside.
01. For You, For Me (4:24)
02. Some Are Born (4:07)
03. Don’t Forget (Nostalgia) (3:02)
04. Heart of the Matter (4:23)
05. Hear It (1:52)
06. Everybody Loves You (4:05)
07. Take Your Time (3:10)
08. Days (3:30)
09. Song of Seven (11:25)
~ Bonus tracks:
10. Some Are Born (U.S. Promotional Single Edit) (3:48)
11. Heart of the Matter (U.S. Promotional Single Edit) (3:32)
Total Time – 46:18
Jon Anderson – Lead Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Keyboards, Harp
Ronnie Leahy – Keyboards
Ian Bairnson – Guitar (tracks 1,2,3,5,6,7 & 8), Bass (2), ‘Sing Song’ Vocals (2)
John Giblin – Bass (tracks 1,3,6,7,8 & 9)
Maurice Pert – Drums (tracks 2,3,6,7), Percussion (1,5 & 9)
Christopher Rainbow – ‘Sing Song’ Vocals (track 2), Backing Vocals (3,4,6), Choral Vocals (8 & 9)
Clem Clemson – Guitar (tracks 4 & 9)
Dick Morris – Saxophone (tracks 2,4 & 5)
Johnny Dankworth – Alto Sax (tracks 3 & 7)
Jack Bruce – Bass (track 4)
Simon Phillips – Drums (track 4)
Mel – Bass (track 5)
Damian James Anderson – Korg Keyboards (track 5)
Damian James & Petite Jade – ‘Countdown’ & ‘Countup’ (track 9)
Deborah Leigh Anderson – Harmony Vocals (track 9)
Delme String Quartet arranged by David Ogden (track 9)