Thursday, January 21, 2016

Page 183: Yes tribute band Hot Tormato

Yes tribute band Hot Tormato makes a cameo beginning on page 183 of The Billionth Monkey. Their name is taken from Yes’s 1978 album Tormato, which went to #8 in the UK and #10 in the US. Released during the punk and disco heyday, this album found the band paring down its signature epics into shorter, radio-friendly arrangements that (on reflection) failed to make the best of the seed material. Their highly-acclaimed previous release, Going for the One (1977), was a tough act to follow, and Tormato suffered by comparison. It would prove to be the (temporary) swan-song for singer Jon Anderson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman, both of whom departed soon after the supporting tour. The follow-up album, Drama (1980), found the duo replaced by Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes of The Buggles. I personally think this is a brilliant record, but many Yes purists rejected it for lacking two of the band’s most iconic members.

If it isn’t clear, I’m an unabashed fan of prog rock. I’ve played keyboards on several prog rock recordings, and Yes is my favorite prog rock band. Thus, when I started building micro-sites for people and places in The Billionth Monkey, I naturally had to put together a Hot Tomato website to pay homage to Yes.  I’d also like to thank Yes’s publishing company for permitting me to quote the lyrics to “Arriving UFO” from Tormato in The Billionth Monkey. This album came out right when I was discovering prog rock and has a special place in my heart: being able to quote one of the songs was a genuine treat.

Here is a guide to the Yes references and puns found on Hot Tormato’s website:

Banner from the Hot Tormato website.
Home/Main Page
  • Dig it: This popular phrase appears in the single from Tormato, “Don’t Kill the Whale.”
  • You’ll get up and get down: Paraphrases lyrics from the mellow section of “Close to the Edge” (from the album of the same name).
  • Klaatu, Starcastle, Skryvania: Actual band names. Klaatu also gave me permission to quote lyrics from their hit, “Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft,” while Starcastle and Skryvania are often described as capturing Yes’s distinctive sound.
  • Stanley Snail: An actual band/project whose name is a mondegreen of a lyric from Yes’s “Siberian Khatru” (which Stanley Snail subsequently covered for the 1995 Yes tribute album, Tales from Yesterday).
  • Master of Soul, Electric Freedom, and Ocean Maid: Fictional band names taken from Yes lyrics to “Awaken,” “Sound Chaser,” and “And You And I,” respectively.
  • Nu sommes du soleil: From “Ritual.”
  • Live for the Pleasure: Pun on a lyric to “Tempus Fugit.” (I hear “live” here as an adjective—as in “live in concert”—rather than a verb as in the original lyric.)
  • It Could Happen To You: From “It Could Happen.”
  • Don’t surround yourself with yourself: From “Your Move.”
Meet the Band
Photos of the band members are all friends of mine who are musicians, fans of prog rock, and who were willing to play along with my crazy scheme. The names are inspired by the musician from Yes whose role they emulate in Hot Tormato:
  • Anders Jønsson: Pretty straightforward Nordic spoonerism of lead vocalist Jon Anderson (photo by Sandra Buskirk).
  • Rick. N Bocker: Yes bassist Chris Squire is famous for his unique and masterful bass lines, played on a Rickenbacker bass guitar.
  • Yves Whye: A French extrapolation of guitarist Steve Howe.
  • Nick Wickerman: Referencing keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman, with Yes t-shirt, keytar, and conspicuous rock-and-roll-special-effects fan.
  • Bro Billfold: A sort of spoonerism of drummer Bill Bruford.
  • Lou “Shifty” Ayas: The name is a pun on an alias of the guy in this photo, who also happened to be a roadie for the band Starcastle. Note the hand-made t-shirt for the fictional band “Starcaster,” recalling merch that Starcastle had back in the day.
News Is Captured
The name of the news tab refers to the lyrics to “Your Move.” These Hot Tormato news items are intended to recall, on a local scale, historical moments for the band Yes.
  • 18 May: This refers to the big news of Rick Wakeman joining the Yes lineup. It was a front-page story in the August 21, 1971, Melody Maker with the headline “New Yes Man.” Here, we have Melody Faker and “New Yes Fan.” The photo of Nick Wickerman shows him with a different keytar than in his “Meet the Band” photo, and also depicts him wearing a cape…something for which his namesake, Rick Wakeman, was well-known. “Cody Taye” is based on a spoonerism of “Tony Kaye,” the keyboardist that Wakeman replaced. The story going around for many years was that Tony preferred piano and organ to newfangled analog synthesizers, so the members of Yes brought in someone who was willing to broaden their sonic palette by using all manner of keyboard instruments…and boy did he! Wakeman was known for performing while surrounded with an arsenal of instruments. The Hot Tormato news story updates this for the 21st century by referencing prog metallers Dream Theater, whose keyboardist Jordan Rudess managed to buck this trend through clever management of a single keyboard (plus a bunch of outboard gear). “Late of Summerisle” refers to the fictional town in which the movie The Wicker Man (1973) takes place, and to which Nick Wickerman is also a reference. Just as Rick Wakeman attended the Royal College of Music, Nick Wickerman attended the Roswell College of Music. Yes, I am a keyboard nerd.
  • 25 October: The headline “Drum Machine Messiah” is a pun on the phrases “Drum Machine” and the Yes song “Machine Messiah.” “Waylan Hyatt” is an approximate rhyme/spoonerism for Alan White, the one-time session drummer who replaced the Yes drum throne previously occupied by Bill Bruford. He famously had to step in and play the complex arrangements live with very little rehearsal time before the band’s world tour. “Close to the edge” refers to the song of the same name. Some critics have responded to Yes’s ongoing personnel changes by calling them a band with a built-in revolving door; with Hot Tormato, this analogy has been updated for the 21st century to a “refresh button.” “Hold On” references the song of the same title. The last couple of sentences echoes the typical sort of statement that Yes or its spin-offs would use whenever there was a personnel change. The illustration shows a fictional solo album Rambunctious, modeled after Alan White’s solo album Ramshackled.
  • 4 March: “Silly Human Race” refers to the lyrics to “Yours Is No Disgrace.” This news item refers to the time that ex-members of Yes regrouped under their own names as Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe. (Hence Emerson, Bickers, Yakov, and Mau…whose acronym spells MAYBE backwards). The bass guitar seat was filled by session ace Tony Levin (hence the news item’s reference to “a ton of leavening”). The then-current members of Yes quarreled with ABWH for calling their concerts “An Evening of Yes Music Plus.” (Hence “An Espresso with a Slice of Hot Tormato.”) Ready Eddy’s Coffeehouse is a reference to audio engineer Eddy Offord, who lent a creative spin to many of Yes’s recording sessions; he also worked with Emerson, Lake & Palmer, whose song “Are You Ready, Eddy?” pays tribute to him. The graphic accompanying this news story uses a font reminiscent of the ABWH record.
  • 8 April: “Soul Receiver” refers to the lyrics to “Gates of Delirium.” After the ABWH incident, fans came to see there being two different Yeses: Those touring as Yes were Yes West, for their headquarters in Los Angeles, while ABWH was Yes East. (Hence “A simple misunderstanding of compass directions.”) Jon Anderson and the management brokered a treaty between the two camps, resulting in an album and tour called Union. Hence Hot Tormato’s show is called “Unison.” (The illustration accompanying the story is a friendly pun on the album cover.) “Travel very far” is a reference to the lyrics to “Yours Is No Disgrace.”
  • 17 May: “Grumpy Old Man” refers to keyboardist Rick Wakeman going on to a new phase of his career has a regular contributor to the BBC Two program Grumpy Old Men (he appeared in six episodes). The story itself refers to Rick Wakeman’s unpleasant reaction to first hearing the unsatisfactory Union record; why it was unsatisfactory is a long story, but he chucked the cassette out his car window and dubbed the album Onion because it was so bad it made him cry. In the 21st century, Nick Wickerman listens to MP3s of the Unison rehearsals, chucks his iPhone out the car window, and proclaims the music to be “Confusion.”
This Place
The name of the links to other sites page refers to the Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe lyrics to “Birthright.” Here we find links to the Men in Black nightclub where Hot Tormato are the house band; an ironic link to The Billionth Monkey, touting their cameo appearance; and I really mean it when I include a link to the official website of “our musical heroes.” And, of course, the disclaimer at the end makes it clear that Hot Tormato is not endorsed by me!


This post seems to be as good a place as any to opine about what, in my mind, constitutes the contentious definition of progressive rock. Among fans there’s a debate between those who insist that the term means to constantly “progress” and push the envelope into new territory, and those who enjoy music that draws inspiration from and emulates (to varying degrees) the stylistic hallmarks of the genre’s 1970s heyday. To the former group, when bands like Yes deliver new music in the style that they pioneered, they cease to “progress”…in contrast, for example, to a band like King Crimson, which is constantly reinventing itself.

To my mind and ear, what prog rock did in the 1970s—and what I personally like about it—was to greatly expand the potential vocabulary of rock and roll by:
  1. Incorporating the extended voicings and non-diatonic tonalities of jazz, classical, and world music rather than the basic root-plus-fifth power chords and 12-bar blues chord progressions common in classic rock, 
  2. Using different song structures than verse-chorus, sometimes drawing upon the extended structures of classical music and other song cycles, 
  3. Expanding the sonic palette by introducing instruments not normally heard in rock-and-roll, from synthesizers to nylon string guitars to flutes to vibraphones, 
  4. Breaking out of the standard 4/4 and occasional 3/4 time signatures and introducing the feel of asymmetric, or even quickly-changing, meters, much like the Dave Brubeck Quartet did for jazz with Time Out (1959).
  5. Shamelessly plundering and incorporating the feel of other genres, whether it be jazz, classical, folk, or world music. I especially like vocal harmonies taken from folk music, and the contrapuntal possibilities of groups like Gentle Giant and Spock’s Beard.  Note that prog records like Patrick Moraz’s The Story of I (1975) and Manfred Mann’s Somewhere in Afrika (1983) used Brazilian and African percussion before it hit the mainstream with Paul Simon’s Graceland (1986). [Of course, world music had been used in pop and rock pre-1986, including Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion.”]
  6. Finding lyrical inspiration outside of the love songs that dominate so much of rock-n-roll. (Sometimes this has resulted in clichés like Tolkien rock, or completely abstract or indecipherable lyrics.)
These are the elements that I enjoy in prog rock music both old and new. Or just music (I confess to really liking Shakira’s “Rejection Tango” when it came out because it threw everything from accordion to a B-52s vibe into the sonic blender). Prog was a statement that basically threw out the rulebook for rock and made a mongrel or melting pot of everything out there. And for that reason, I see nothing wrong with groups who gravitate to certain sounds or instruments that the genre defined…so long as it isn’t pure mimicry. This is my take on it; your mileage may vary.

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