Sunday, March 27, 2016

Book Review: Martin Popoff's Time And A Word - The Yes Story (2016)

Martin Popoff's Time And A Word
Full disclosure right up front: music critic and historian Martin Popoff is a pal of mine. That said, he is, perhaps, also the most prolific scribe in the history of rock ‘n’ roll literature. Seriously, it seems like this guy cranks out a new tome every four to six weeks, and the machinegun pace at which he shoots these things out wouldn’t be nearly so embarrassing for the rest of us tin-eared, slothful rockcrits if his books weren’t so damn good…must be something in the water up there in Toronto, or perhaps one can simply get a lot more work done when it’s winter nine months of the year…

The founder and former editor of Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles music zine, Popoff is widely considered one of the world’s leading authorities on heavy metal and hard rock music. To date (and this will probably change by the end of this week…), Popoff has published multiple volumes on Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, and Thin Lizzy as well as single books on rockers as diverse as Blue Oyster Cult, Rush, and Ted Nugent plus various essential music guides and the acclaimed, scholarly Who Invented Heavy Metal? For his landmark 50th book, Popoff has chosen to chronicle the life and times of one of rock music’s most beloved gangs with Time And A Word: The Yes Story.

Martin Popoff’s Time And A Word: The Yes Story

Yes' The Yes Album
For Time And A Word: The Yes Story, Popoff uses his familiar timeline technique to unroll the band’s story as it happened chronologically. The book begins before the beginning, as it were, Popoff documenting the pre-Yes days of the various band members, briefly revealing the musicians’ early experience and influences with a dozen pages that lead up to the formation of Yes in 1968 and the release of their debut album the following year. From this point, Popoff breaks the story into easily-digestible chunks by decade, i.e. the ‘1970s,’ ‘1980s,’ etc, undeniably the best and smartest way to tell the tale of a band with as many movable pieces as Yes.

As anybody who has read any of Popoff’s recent books would know, the writer intersperses revelations from the various band members throughout the text, material gleaned from original interviews with longtime Yes members like Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman, and Alan White as well as lesser-known (but no less talented) members like Bill Bruford and John Wetton, relative band newcomers like Geoff Downes and Billy Sherwood, and contemporaries like Carl Palmer (ELP, Asia) and Steve Hackett (Genesis). Throw in information culled from nearly 50 years of heavy press for the popular band, vintage artwork (album ads, show posters, etc), and rare color and B&W photos and you have a well-researched and documented history of Yes.     

Yes' Fragile
Time And A Word is also an entertaining read, as are all of Popoff’s many books, and he manages to coax relevant memories and comments from the musicians that other writers never go the distance to grab. As shown by the column he regularly writes for Classic Rock magazine, any conversation with Rick Wakeman is going to be peppered with insight and humor, and his experience as a member of Yes spans decades. Heck, Wakeman came and went from the band so often that they should have installed a revolving door on his kit. Jon Anderson sounds every bit like the free-thinking hippie his lyrics would have you believe he is, and both Chris Squire and Steve Howe come across as serious, intelligent musicians that invested a lot of energy into the band’s music and success.

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Yes' RelayerThe main takeaway from Popoff’s Time And A Word is that, no matter the decade or the roster, Yes has always featured skilled, accomplished musicians that, knowing they were part of something special – a rich musical heritage – brought their ‘A’ game to performances and recordings alike. Neither Popoff nor the various band members gloss over the frequent tensions within the band, or the differences in opinion about musical direction that often threatened to derail their efforts.

Throughout it all, Yes continued to make inspired, often great music, and Popoff tells the complete tale, from the beginning through Chris Squire’s tragic death in 2015. There have been other books written about Yes, but none capture the heartbeat of the band’s storied history quite like Martin Popoff’s Time And A Word: The Yes Story. If you’re a Yes fan, or just a fan of prog or classic rock, this is one for your bookshelf. Grade: A (Soundcheck Books, published May 1, 2016)

Get Time And A Word from Martin's website or from

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