In 1971, the band Yes was on a roll. They released a pair of albums--The Yes Album in February and Fragile in November. Both had been critical and commercial successes, with the latter doing particularly well in America, where Fragile peaked at #4 on the Billboard 200 in February 1972.
When the band's label, Atlantic, saw how well Fragile was doing with US rock fans and on free-form FM radio stations, they had an idea: flipping the album's opening track, "Roundabout," into a single.
It was no easy feat, as the song is an elaborate prog-rock suite that spans almost eight and a half minutes. Listen to the classic album version below.
After giving the tune a severe edit, Atlantic released "Roundabout" as a 3:27 single on January 4, 1972. Atlantic's plan worked like a charm: the song would barrel into the top 20 and flirt with the top 10, peaking at #13 on the Hot 100. It would be Yes' highest-charting song until they hit #1 in January 1984 with "Owner of a Lonely Heart." Listen to the edited version below.
"When we first heard the 'Roundabout' single, it was on the radio. We didn't know it was released," singer Jon Anderson explained to Songfacts. "We were busy being a band on the road, and then we heard the edit and we thought, 'Wow, that must have been a big pair of scissors to edit that song.' I mean, it was just totally wrong musically. It actually worked, and all of a sudden we became famous, we had a hit record. More people came to see us, which was great, because then they would see the progression of music we'd been doing, and they'd see us more as a band and not just wait for 'Roundabout.' Because we didn't do that 'Roundabout' in those days. We did the 8-minute version."
The song, which is actually about the proliferation of roundabouts the band saw while on tour in Scotland, has become one Yes' signature tracks. A version of the group performed the tune during Yes' induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017. Rush fans, take note: the performance features Geddy Lee on bass. Watch it below.