WIth its grandiose church organ backing and irregular rhythms, "Parallels" is the kind of song often cited by critics of progressive rock as being "bombastic" and "self-indulgent." However, for dyed-in-the-wool believers, "Parallels" represents an experimental and groundbreaking band at its finest; blurring and stretching the boundaries of rock while carving out huge wedges of musical history along the way.
Yes were the Radiohead of their day - albeit without the existential angst.
And, surprisingly, as you'll see from the video below of the band laying down THE ACTUAL TAKE of "Parallels" that appears on the seminal 1977 album "Going For The One," Chris Squire plays a Fender Jazz Bass as opposed to one of his usual beloved Rickenbackers!
The fact this video exists absolutely blows me away, and judging by some of the comments on the YouTube page where this video is hosted, I'm not the only one.
If we were to strip out Chris' bass part, we would find that "Parallels" contains nothing shockingly out the ordinary in terms of the rock vocabulary of the mid-1970s. Unlike some of the early jazz-rock fusion bands of the period, Yes' underlying chords never threaten to impinge on the more complex harmonies of the jazz idiom. Indeed, setting aside Chris' harmony-altering inventiveness and the stunning musicianship of the players, the rhythmic elements of the track are perhaps more worthy of scrutiny than those of the harmony.
"Parallels" is suffused with irregular phrase lengths and expert rhythmic kneading. Having said that, all the action occurs within a basic quarter-note pulse and nothing shorter or longer than a quarter note is added or subtracted at any given point. Obviously there are different ways to notate these kind of irregularities, but I've tried to let the phrasing dictate the number of beats in each bar and section. However, for the irregularly phrased sections, it's highly likely the members of the group weren't counting off measures per se. Rather, they probably concentrated on the smaller subdivisions that constitute individual phrases, such as in bars 8-12 and 19-22, or the very end of the song when the pulse moves into strongly accented groups of three eighth notes (almost taking on a 6/8 character in the process). In such cases, counting in smaller units - such as eighth notes - as the rhythms fly by (e.g. 1-2-3, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3 etc) is much easier than trying to keep a basic pulse flowing across contracting and expanding measure lengths. (Often, if you rehearse a particular irregular section for long enough it can often get to the stage where you just "feel" it, and don't need to count at all.)
Like the song "Going For The One," "Parallels" was recorded without a click track, as evidenced by the fact the song starts off at a solid 126 beats per minute and ends at a semi-blistering 131 BPM. I guess the ol' adrenaline just naturally kicks in during a song this good! ;-)
As the track gets under way following the organ intro, Chris introduces an A-minor-based figure under the chords C, F, G and A (major), creating subtle tensions as the riff unfolds. A quick look at bars 5-6 show that these auditory abrasions emanate in no small way from the passing G/A slash chord that arises on on the last eighth of the first bar of the riff. This is then followed by a C natural on the third beat of bar 6 under the A-major chord (which contains an implied, but unresolved, flattened 7), all of which gives rise to a subtle #9 feel that charges the section with a tangy zest. That these two bars works at all is testament to Squire's judgement; that the resulting riff sounds so damn good - and somehow "natural" - is testament to his musical vision and lack of concern about what "should" be played under certain circumstances.
Chris' background vocals have also been a major feature of the Yes sound throughout the years, and "Parallels" is no exception. Check out how he turns the vanilla-flavoured A7 chord as found in bar 14, bar 27, etc. into an atmospheric dominant ninth. Thanks to the wonder of the Interweb, a video of Chris recording background harmonies for "Parallels" can be viewed here on YouTube.
Though I've notated the groove of the verse (first encountered in bar 23) as common-or-garden A minor, in reality, the organ and guitar are actually playing the chordal figure outlined below: see-sawing between F major and A minor. Though the vocals mask this change to a certain extent in the final version of the track, it's easy to hear in the video. You can listen to this sequence here, if so inclined. However, as the vocals overwhelmingly spell out A minor for the majority of the time, I've chosen to notate these sections without the F chords.
Actually, the organ intro is interesting in that a very apparent G-natural appears in the second bar (producing a strong A7 chord) and sustains right through till bar 6. It's obviously an overdub of some kind, and it sounds like a guitar - but that sustain! Can you get this effect on a pedal steel guitar? Could Steve Howe have been using an EBow or something similar to get that haunting held tone? Any insights would be much appreciated. ;-)
Chris' approach to harmony is uncompromising; if he likes the way something sounds, he'll use it, regardless of whether it's "right" or not. As such, instead of cluttering the page with numerous exotic slash chords I've merely notated the chords as played by the rest of the band, which allows you to scratch your head in confused admiration when you check out Chris' choice of notes. Though examples abound throughout the Yes canon, Chris' unorthodox approach can be illustrated by the final eight bars of "Parallels," where he relentlessly ploughs a root-fifth figure in C through a pattern of chords that runs C, Bb, F, C, Eb and Bb. The resultant jarring clashes confound and thrill the ear in equal measure and help create an electrifyingly visceral finale.
The only difference between this video and the album version - apart from the addition of vocals and overdubs - is a small edit about four-fifths of the way through. In the "original" video version, these 4 bars occur in bars 148-151 (4/4, 3/4, 4/4, 3/4, or 2 bars of 7/4 if you want to count it that way). However, in the final version, bars 148-151 have been replaced with a copy of bars 152-154 to yield a literal four-bar repeat. The length of the song thus remains exactly the same. As to why this section was altered, it's possible that the four bars in question - in which Chris merely sits on one note across all 14 beats - were felt to be a little lifeless, and that replacing them with a more animated section would help to maintain the track's momentum. As this was recorded in the era prior to digital recording, the tape would have been copied and spliced in by hand - old-school stuff!
The fact that the band was able to capture a track of this complexity in one take is simply amazing - and perhaps the musicians thought so too. As noted by one of the comments on the YouTube page, Alan White is wound up like a rabid panther. As the track ends, his face is initially etched with a fierce concentration that quickly turns to massive relief - likely based on the knowledge that the band had just successfully captured a fantastic take. This historic musical gem is even more amazing when you consider that Rick Wakeman was reportedly playing his organ part down a phone line from a church located over 100 miles away!