On April 8, 1947, the world was first graced with a future guitar god: Stephen James Howe, known to his friends, family, and fans as Steve. Although he began his existence in London, England, Howe would in no way remain there, eventually touring the world and elsewhere as guitarist for Yes, not to mention a myriad of other bands, including Asia, GTR, and - lest we forget - Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe.
First, however, Howe had to learn play guitar, which he first began to do on his own at the age of 12. As such, it seemed only appropriate to offer up a dozen Yes songs which feature some of the best work Howe’s ever offered up on his instrument. Give it a spin, won’t you? Oh, and don’t forget to wish our man Steve a happy birthday!
“Starship Trooper” (1971): This epic track - like you couldn’t use that description for 95% of all Yes songs - features three distinct parts: “Life Seeker,” “Disillusion,” and “Würm.” Although the song as a whole can be said to be a collaborative effort between all of the band members, Howe wrote the final part, which should come as no real surprise when you hear it.
“I’ve Seen All Good People” (1971): Another multi-part song, this one’s only a two-parter, starting with “Your Move,” written by Jon Anderson, and then concluding with “All Good People,” penned by Chris Squire. "The song is about initiation of yourself into the idea that there is more to life than war and fighting within religions and things like that,” Anderson told SongFacts. “So when we were singing 'see all good people,' it's like, 'we can see you all in the audience because you're good people no matter what, and when you're with music you're enlightened, you're good, you're happy, you're excited.' And music is the kingpin of it all. It's not just Yes, it's music that brings people together like no other energy on such a level."
“Yours is No Disgrace” (1971): At various points during the past half-century since recording this track, Howe has indicated that his guitar work here is among his favorite things he’s ever done with Yes. That said, he’s rarely had a problem running with the solo when playing it live: in an interview with Rock Cellar, he mentioned how the band had been “on loads of tours where we’ve performed it, I’ve stretched the solo out to 10 minutes.”
“The Clap” (1971): Howe has described the inclusion of this song on The Yes Album as being responsible for Yes starting to spotlight the individual musical abilities of its members. “I think it was just a stepping stone from there,” Howe told Notes from the Edge. “They felt, ‘Oh, well we've done it on this, so... ’ Somebody said, [and] I'm not quite sure who it was, but they should get credit if anybody remembered who actually said, ‘Why don't we put five solos on [Fragile]?’ But gradually everybody just assumed that we would.”
“Mood for a Day” (1971): And, hey, what do you know? Here’s Howe’s solo contribution to Fragile! Performed on a Condo Flamenco guitar, Howe explained the musical mood of this particular “Day” in an interview with Guitar Magazine. “At the time I had settled down and just started new roots in my life, and 'Mood For A Day' was supposed to represent a happy mood for a day,” he said. “I was about 28 when I realized there should be something more in my life than just the guitar."
“Roundabout” (1971): Co-written by Howe and Anderson, this song - which became their breakthrough single after Atlantic performed a major slice-and-dice on the tune to make it a radio-friendly length - was written while they were in Scotland, traveling in a van between Aberdeen and Glasgow. Not bad as road trip-penned tracks go, eh?
“Siberian Khatru” (1972): This track was a collaboration in the truest sense, according to Howe. “That song came together with the arranging skills of the band," he told Guitar World. "Jon had the rough idea of the song, and Chris [Squire], Bill [Bruford], Rick and me would collaborate on getting the riffs together."
“The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)” (1973): This track finds Yes at their most prog-rockiest, and if you need any further proof beyond the 22-minute running time, then consider that they actually had to trim it down in order for it to fit onto the vinyl!
“The Gates of Delirium” (1974): Actually, this is a pretty darned prog-rocky track, too, come to think of it. In an interview with Uncut, drummer Alan White revealed that he and Anderson had actually built a tree of percussion out of car parts they’d found in a scrapyard. “When we were recording [the song’s concluding keyboard/drum battle] live, it got to the point where it got really ridiculous, so I pushed the whole tree and it fell over in the studio. We kept that on the album.”
“Going for the One” (1977): Howe has described this title track to the band’s 1977 album as “a dynamic piece of music” and considered it both underrated and, indeed, underplayed live. The reason for its comparatively infrequent appearances in the band’s set lists is likely because of the song’s key. In an interview with Ultimate Classic Rock, Howe revealed, “We once played ‘Going for the One’ in D because we were so trying to get Jon Anderson to sing that onstage, and he didn't want to because he said it was too high. It wasn't [the same] anymore.”
“Release, Release” (1978): Originally entitled “The Anti-Campaign,” Alan White’s drum tracks on this song feature automatic double tracking, resulting in a more bombastic sound. It’s another one of those songs that Anderson didn’t love to perform live, resulting in its quick departure from the band’s set list, but it’s been cited as one of Howe’s personal favorites on the album.
“Machine Messiah” (1980): The opening track from the somewhat divisive Drama album, which featured once and future Buggles members Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes in the lineup, this actually rocks pretty damned hard, thanks to Howe’s stage-setting opening riff. Indeed, Downes has called it the middle ground between his and Horn’s musical sensibilities and those of the existing Yes members. Having listened to it again, we’ll concur: it’s a fair cop.