The opening track from the band’s double platinum-selling 1971 album Fragile, an edited version of the song was released as a single the following year, peaking at number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Virtuosic, expansive and heroically progressive, “Roundabout” coalesced the band’s multifaceted musical mastery into a singular sound that defines the prog rock genre.
Written by Howe and singer Jon Anderson while on the road in Scotland, the guitarist once recollected, “I was big on intros back then, and the classical guitar intro I came up with for ‘Roundabout’ was one of the most signature things.”
Having developed his sound using Gibson electric guitars – an ES-175D on The Yes Album and an ES-5 Switchmaster during the recording of Fragile – Howe’s decision to record acoustic guitar on “Roundabout” was something of a risk, he says.
“I thought, Wow, this is risky,” Howe tells Jazz Guitar Today in the clip below. “I could start to feel that my electric playing had a certain style.
“But never had I stuck my neck out so much as to have [Bill] Bruford, [Chris] Squire, Rick Wakeman, Jon Anderson all playing, and all I'm doing is playing acoustic guitar.”
Using his now famous Martin 00-18 for the first time on a Yes recording, the prog rock innovator laid down his unforgettable acoustic lines.
“It was adventurous, and the risk paid off!” he concludes.
As well as the addition of acoustic guitar to Yes’s sonic palette, the band’s experimental approach involved shifting parts from one instrument to another.
Blending seamlessly with Howe’s fluid lines, some of Wakeman’s organ parts were written on guitar.
“I gave my lines to other people,” he says. “That meant that a song like ‘Roundabout’ was definitely going to stand out. It was not going to go unnoticed with the opportunities we had.”
Elsewhere in this revealing interview clip, Howe highlights the importance of working with Fragile co-producer Eddy Offord in driving the band’s sound forward.
“Him and I were pretty close,” he recalls. “There was a lot of empathy and enjoyment and adventurousness that him and I shared to get the sound.
“When you hear “Roundabout,” that is a band who’ve said, ‘We want to be as tight as Booker T. & the M.G.'s.’ Like, ‘We want to be as tight as James Brown’s band.’
“It’s very, very tight and I’m very proud of it.”
Order Fragile here.
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Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Guitar World, Guitar Player and MusicRadar in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.