Category Archives: Jon Anderson

Rick Wakeman: 1984 (1981)

“I was having terrible trouble because I wanted to replace a lot of my instruments—I knew some of the sounds I wanted and I’d ordered a lot of new stuff from Korg, but it didn’t come in time for the album.” – Rick Wakeman, from an in-depth interview that originally appeared in the December 1981 issue of Electronics & Music Maker.

Kronomyth 8.0: HE WHO CONTROLS THE PAST CONTROLS THE FUTURE. George Orwell’s novel has been the source of some very good music over the years, from David Bowie to the Dead Kennedys. As I’ve mentioned before (somewhere, I’m sure), 1980 was a wake-up call that the future we’d feared was fast approaching. You’ll hear that fear in the forward-looking music of Scary Monsters, Peter Gabriel III and Remain In Light. (Even Anthony Phillips seems to have gotten the memo that the future had arrived.) Rick Wakeman’s 1984, however, is a throwback to the symphonic rock of the past. Written with lyricist Tim Rice and featuring an impressive cast of vocalists (Chaka Khan, Jon Anderson, Steve Harley), Wakeman’s latest literary opus is a mixed success. It feels like one of those failed Pete Townshend concept albums much of the time: wordy, while the story gets lost in the retelling. The music itself isn’t far removed from Rick’s more recent albums (Criminal Record, No Earthly Connection) and, despite some dated keyboard sounds that reveal the limitations of the technology, fans should find the dropoff in quality slight. The idea of Rick Wakeman and Tim Rice collaborating on a musical concept album about 1984 will be too tantalizing for some, even as they scratch their heads at the pairing. You might want to keep the head scratcher handy for the songs featuring Chaka Khan, who appears here as a kind of poor man’s Tina Turner. (In her defense, I think Chaka Khan does the best she can with the material, I just feel she’s an odd choice for the principal voice in the play.) Surely, as someone who championed (or at least defended) Lisztomania, I can’t fault 1984 for its excesses. I do have the sense, though, that Wakeman’s work had become largely templatized at this stage in his career: find a concept to rally around compositionally, bust the budget on the biggest band you can afford and dazzle the audience with keyboard fireworks. I’m not saying it’s a bad formula, I just don’t know how sustainable it had become for Wakeman.

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Jon and Vangelis: Private Collection (1983)

The closest parallel I have in my life to the music of Jon and Vangelis is counting to 10 when I’m angry. It’s not that I find their music calming but frustrating, and only with time do I soften on it. So it requires a lot of patience and roughly ten licks before I can speak without sputtering about the muzakal dalliances of two otherwise remarkably talented musicians. Both Vangelis and Jon Anderson come from the “inspirational” school that favors music caught in the act of creation over critical self-editing. (Which isn’t how I would have phrased it before I got to 10.) Thus the creative process is about channeling two muses in a duet of demigods. (Or goading on another overinflated ego. Sorry. 1, 2, 3…) The truth is I have a lot of respect for the music of Vangelis and the music of Jon Anderson, which is ironically a very different thing than having respect for the music of Jon and Vangelis. When the pair sets out to actually write a song together (as on “He Is Sailing”), the results are magical. When they set out on an ambitious side-long piece (“Horizons”), the journey provides plenty of interesting sights and sounds. But for the most part, we’ve been here before: Vangelis provides a light lullaby melody with the same familiar sounds and flourishes while Jon takes his critical mind out of the equation and lets his spirituality flow in fragmentary sentences. Critics of the pair, of course, will find armfuls of ammunition here. Nobody, not even Jon Anderson, can get away with a line like “All that is good in this life is good, Good is good.” (4, 5, 6…) And the opening “Italian Song” isn’t sung in Italian, but nonsensical words and syllables that Jon felt sounded like Italian. Honestly, there are times when the pair’s collaborative process reminds me of two convicts in a prison cell playing the “I’m thinking of something in this room” game. (Is it the bed? Is it the toilet? Is it me? Is it the toilet?) I know, I’m slipping back into cynicism, 7, 8, 9… That there are people who love the music of Jon and Vangelis validates the whole experiment I suppose. Ultimately, Private Collection isn’t quantifiably better than their earlier collaborations but (based on my and others’ experience) it is at least empirically better.

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