Sunday, April 03, 2005

Sunday Synthpop Brunch: Jon And Vangelis

Jon And VangelisIt was one of those brief artistic larks that worked: in 1975, Yes lead singer Jon Anderson made a guest appearance on Heaven And Hell, the current album by Greek composer/ex-Aphrodite's Child member Vangelis (born Evangelos Papathanassiou), planting the seeds of what became a successful partnership a few years down the line.

There was some gossip that Anderson's burgeoning friendship with Vangelis resulted in the singer asking the keyboardist to join the ever-shifting Yes lineup, but pesky "creative differences" with the rest of the band prevented this from ever happening. Whatever the case, the early 1980 sessions for the follow-up to Tormato didn't go well at all -- the result was Anderson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman abandoning ship, leaving the rest of the members to sink or swim on their own. Interestingly enough, the resultant Yes album, Drama, found Anderson and Wakeman replaced by The Buggles, as singer-producer Trevor Horn and future Asia keyboardist Geoffrey Downes joined the lineup in their stead.

Now free to do whatever he wished, Anderson contributed vocals to another Vangelis album (See You Later), before embarking on a full-album project with the prolific composer called Short Stories and credited to Jon & Vangelis. A largely improvisational work, Short Stories was greeted with a cautious reception stateside, but enough interest was generated overseas (the album and it's single "I Hear You Now" both went into the Top 10 in their respective U.K. charts) for the pair to give their collaboration another shot, the fruits of which arrived a year later.

The Friends Of Mr. Cairo Centered around the twelve minute title track (a kind of aural gangster movie replete with tough-guy dialogue and sound effects), The Friends Of Mr. Cairo was a work that benefited from a more deliberate and song-based approach than its predecessor. Featuring the lush, eerie swirl of "The Mayflower," the uplifting classic "I'll Find My Way Home" (whose melody was later lifted by B-Tribe on their 1994 single "You Won't See Me Cry"), and the more solemn, yet still expansive ballad "State Of Independence" (covered to great international success later on by Donna Summer and Moodswings), Mr. Cairo didn't just sound like a quantum leap forward from Short Stories, but it also sold far better: staying on the Billboard album charts for nearly eight months.

Following the success of Mr. Cairo, Jon & Vangelis released their next project -- the symphonic textured Private Collection -- in the summer of 1983 to good critical response but disappointingly cool sales (probably thanks to the lack of a radio-ready single like "I'll Find My Way Home"). Following this, Anderson found himself joining in with a newly revitalized Yes lineup which would soon seize the top of the charts with the Trevor Horn-produced 90125 and its attendant hit singles.

On a final note, 1991 saw the release of what is to this day the last Jon & Vangelis album, Page Of Life. Perhaps due to the length of time elapsed since Private Collection, or the more "contemporary" (read: less inviting) sound of the music, Page Of Life failed to make much of an impact anywhere.

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