The best (and worst) of Jon Anderson
Results and discussion from the newsgroup poll

Albums recommended:

        1. Olias of Sunhillow
        2. Animation
        3. Change We Must
        4. Song of Seven

69 votes

(first preference votes in full)
Olias of Sunhillow     36.5   [Jon Anderson]
Animation               6     [Jon Anderson]
Change We Must          5     [Jon Anderson]
Song of Seven           3     [Jon Anderson]
The Friends of Mr Cairo 3     [Jon & Vangelis]
In the City of Angels   3     [Jon Anderson]
Toltec                  2.5   [Jon Anderson]
Lizard                  2     [King Crimson]
Angels Embrace          2     [Jon Anderson]
Page of Life            1     [Jon & Vangelis]
The Deseo Remixes       1     [Jon Anderson/various artists]
Earthmotherearth        1     [Jon Anderson]
The More You Know       1     [Jon Anderson]
Chagall                 1     [Jon Anderson boot]
The Private Collection  0.5   [Jon & Vangelis]
Deseo                   0.5   [Jon Anderson]


Anderson's first solo album wins first place. Recorded when the whole band had agreed to joint time out for solo projects, Olias of Sunhillow was a true solo album, recorded by Anderson alone, something of a constrast to the many guests for Howe's, White's and Squire's albums.

As the album chronologically closest to Anderson's grand epics on Tales from Topographic Oceans and Relayer, it is not surprising that there is something of the same flavour to Olias.... With that and having been inspired by Roger Dean's cover for Fragile, it is again not surprising that the album is so popular among Yes fans. Rumours that Vangelis also played on the album have been discounted by Vangelis historians, but Anderson was clearly inspired by Vangelis' style as well, so perhaps this album gives us some idea of what a Yes with Vangelis could have been like.

Anderson's next two solo albums take the number two and four slots. Having left Yes pursuing a rather different style, Anderson took some ideas rejected by the band and worked on his second solo album, Song of Seven. This was followed by Animation two years later. With a more mainstream style, these two albums see something of a move away from Yes's progressive rock, yet Animation is also one of Anderson's most true albums. With songs about the birth of one of his children, this is an album of great passion. It is worth noting how well regarded the supporting tour is too. While Olias... won by an enormous margin, that Animation, which has still never seen any sort of re-release and remains hard to come by, should still prove so popular must be noteworthy.

It surprised me somewhat that Song of Seven should do so well. Not always as loved as Animation, its more direct lyrics, for example, have often been made fun of on the newsgroup. It does fit into the Yes canon well; there is clearly much here of Anderson's alternate desires for a Yes that chose to make Drama instead.

Before you think that Anderson, like many a prog icon, has done nothing good in recent years, let me come to Change We Must, Anderson's 1994 album. The track list is rather odd, much of it is a collection of songs with nowhere else to go: new versions of old favourites (Yes's "Hearts", Jon & Vangelis' "State of Independence"), songs left over from elsewhere ("Change We Must", then a reject from Page of Life, although restored to the much later US re-release of that album; "Chagall Duet" from Anderson's still unreleased Chagall musical). However, an orchestral style unifies the album. After his disappointment of using an orchestra on Time and a Word, it has taken Anderson (assisted by various orchestrators and arrangers, including ABWH's Matt Clifford) a long time to find out the right formula here.

Jon & Vangelis recommended:

(or solo Vangelis with Anderson guesting)

        1. The Friends of Mr Cairo
        2. Page of Life

Outside of Yes, Anderson's one other band commitment has been his partnership in Jon & Vangelis. The Friends of Mr Cairo does quite well in the overall poll. If we consider just the Jon & Vangelis albums (and Vangelis albums on which Anderson appears) separately, it wins with Page of Life second.

The original European release of Page of Life and the more recent North American re-release are very different, with a different mix and each including a few songs missing from the other. Here, I have had to ignore the differences: of the votes for Page of Life, two of the first preference votes specified the European version, while none of the others made a distinction.

Guest appearances recommended:

(excluding with Vangelis)

        1. Dream [Kitaro]

From Anderson's many guest appearances, it is only the one on King Crimson's Lizard that makes any sort of impact (3 first preference votes) on the overall vote. However, counting these albums separately, it is Kitaro's Dream that wins. With Vangelis no longer wanting to work with Anderson, Kitaro's album was warmly welcomed by fans of that style. Although Anderson only does lyrics for three tracks out of ten, they account for just over half the play time. Perhaps Anderson will find some other keyboardist to work with in future; perhaps Igor Khoroshev will fill that role. Work with other Yesmen - like Alan White's Ramshackled, Rick Wakeman's 1984, co-producing Kaye et al. on Badger's One Live Badger - fail to appear in the first preferences at all.

Albums to be avoided:

        1. In the City of Angels
        2. The More You Know

In the avoid category, one album rides high. In the City of Angels was Anderson's attempt to make a radio-friendly hit album and about the only of his solo albums about which he has since been critical. I don't think it is the raw material that's the problem - two songs, "Hurry Home" and "It's on Fire", are re-interpreted for Change We Must, after all - but the style of an album, full of Toto members and a Mariah Carey songwriter, that puts people off.

Second place is hard fought. A number of Anderson's recent attempts at different styles - Latino for Deseo, ambient for Angels Embrace, Irish folk for The Promise Ring - have met with less success, satisfying neither fans of those genres or of more traditional Andersongs, but it is his attempt at urban contemporary with The More You Know that is picked.

Change since previous poll:

Results in both the recommended and avoid sections match the previous poll, save for Animation now overtaking Change We Must. Close misses before do not repeat themselves however: while Toltec had been close to recommendation before, it is not noticeable by its performance here. Three Ships narrowly avoided being picked as the one to avoid before, but not this time.

Releases since the poll:

Anderson has not released any more solo albums since this poll was held, but there have been three guest appearances: "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" on Steve Howe's album of Bob Dylan covers, Portraits of Bob Dylan; "The Only Thing I Need" with 4HIM on the multi-artist album Streams; and two songs on Bela Fleck and the Flecktones' Outbound.


Change We Must is generally still easy to find. Olias of Sunhillow and Song of Seven have both been released on CD in Japan and Europe, although the wonderful cover and graphics for Olias... are lost in this format. US CD releases for these two have not followed, but they should be easy to import. Animation has only ever been released on vinyl (although one song was on Affirmative: The Yes Family Album) and has long since been discontinued. Anderson has been pushing for a CD release, with bonus tracks, albeit without any success so far: OpioWorld have organised a web petition to campaign for its re-release..

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Copyright: Henry Potts, 1999
Last updated 1 Nov 2000