- Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound and exceptionally quiet vinyl on both sides – Roundabout and Long Distance Runaround are guaranteed to blow your mind
- Thanks to Eddie Offord’s superb engineering, this is some of the best High Production Value Rock Music ever recorded
- AMG 5 stars, a founding member of our Top 100, and the second of the band’s three Must Own Prog Rock Masterpieces*
- “Fragile was Yes’ breakthrough album… it also marked the point where all of the elements of the music (and more) that would define their success for more than a decade fell into place fully formed.”
*The other two, of course, being The Yes Album (earlier in 1971) and Close to the Edge (1972).
We doubt you’ve heard too many (if any) rock records that sound as AMAZING as this one. It’s dynamic, punchy and powerful, with the kind of super-low distortion sound that lets you really crank the levels, the louder the better. How many Yes records will let you do that? This one will. That’s what you get for your money — the kind of sound that can blow your mind over and over again for as long as you live, or at least as long as your hearing holds out.
Both sides are smooth and sweet with virtually no smearing up top or distortion on the piano. There’s lots of meaty, punchy bass that really propels the music far beyond what you hear on the typical pressing. The overall sound is airy, open, spacious, and three-dimensional. The grit, grain and spit that characterize most copies are nowhere to be found here.
The immediacy is off the charts, especially when you have killer sides such as these. With this copy you won’t feel the need to ask for anything more from this music.
What the best sides of Fragile have to offer is not hard to hear:
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1971
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments (and effects!) having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.
What a Record
Fragile has been a member of our Top 100 since Day One, and a copy like this will show you exactly why.
I would venture to guess that not many audiophiles have a rock record that sounds this good in their collections (excluding those of you who have managed to acquire some of our best Hot Stampers; those audiophiles own the real thing and the real thing just can’t be beat.)
There is no way this record is not cut from the master tape. Dubs just don’t sound like this. This record should give any record you own a run for its money. It’s as BIG and as BOLD a statement about raising the bar for rock recordings as any I know. Without a doubt one of the Best Rock Recordings of all time.
Fragile: The Checklist
Here are some of the qualities we were listening for during our most recent shootout:
1. Dynamics – The best copies have amazing dynamics which are most easily recognized in the cymbal crashes, the pounding of the piano, and in the door that slams shut on the track We Have Heaven, just to pick a few obvious examples.When these sounds aren’t startling in their power, the pressing at hand is obviously missing some of its dynamic contrasts. There is compression on this recording in places; don’t get me wrong, we can hear it as well as anyone. But other passages of this music really get up and go. On the hottest Hot Stamper pressings they exhibit tremendous life and energy. The ability to get louder and bigger during the most powerful passages of the music is what we mean by dynamics.
2. Smoothness – This album can be harsh and unpleasant if the upper midrange is boosted at all, or lacks enough lower midrange to balance out the upper mids. The last thing in the world that you want is a bright, harsh Yes record. Take it from us, we know whereof we speak. We’ve played them by the score. The pressings with the five digit catalog numbers (SD 19132) are the worst offenders in this area, but plenty of originals (SD 7211) have the same problem.)
3. Bass – Bass definition and weight are crucial to the sound of this album. The copies that lack bass and are consequently thin-sounding are simply not enjoyable. (Acoustic Sounds, we have a problem.)
4. Distortion – Almost all copies have distortion on the piano in South Side of the Sky. It is the rare copy that doesn’t have at least a trace of breakup on the piano. Some of that breakup can be heard on the CD, so it’s not entirely the LP’s fault.
The Seventies – What a Decade!
Acoustic guitar reproduction is superb on the better pressings of this record. The harmonic coherency, the richness, the body and the phenomenal amounts of Tubey Magic can be heard on every strum. (This is of course where the AP Heavy Vinyl pressing fails completely.)
Fragile is arguably the pinnacle of High-Production-Value rock music recorded the ’60s and ’70s. The amount of effort that went into the recording of this album is comparable to that expended by the engineers and producers of bands like Supertramp, The Who, Jethro Tull, Ambrosia, Pink Floyd and far too many others to list.
It’s clear that Eddie Offord and the band spared no effort or cost in making the home listening experience as compelling as the recording technology of the day permitted. Big Production Tubey Magical British Prog Rock just doesn’t get much better than Fragile.
Quiet vinyl? Hey, We’re Doing the Best We Can
It’s unusual to find this record with surfaces remotely close to Mint Minus; a step down from that grade is roughly as quiet as can find them, and even those are fairly rare. There are a number of quiet passages on this album, which is partly what makes it such an amazing listening experience. It’s dynamic – it gets very loud and it gets very quiet. For goodness sake, that’s what you want.
The intro on side one, to take just one example, will almost always have some noise issues. Those of you who place a high premium on quiet surfaces may find yourselves frustrated with the vinyl on our carefully cleaned Hot Stampers, but we’re hoping the dynamic, exciting sound will win you over. Either way we guarantee your satisfaction one hundred per cent.
Those of you looking for exceptionally quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of later pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course, as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.
The Track Listing tab above will take you to a select song breakdown for each side, with plenty of What to Listen For (WTLF) advice.
You can tell by the sound of the opening guitar whether you have a copy that is tonally correct, has its ambience intact, as well as the proper leading edge transients to the strings plucks. Most of the reissues will sound either thin and edgy, or dull and blunted. On the best copies, that guitar will just sound out of this world.
Cans and Brahms
We Have Heaven
South Side of the Sky
What really separates the amazing copies from the merely good copies is the WEIGHT of the sound. The lower midrange is key in this regard. When you hear the piano on this track, it should have tremendous body and sustain to the notes. If the piano comes across at all anemic, the sound will be unbearably harsh.
Five Per Cent for Nothing
Long Distance Runaround
This is one of the best sounding Yes tracks of all time. Jon Anderson’s voice is so present; he sounds as if he’s standing right between the speakers.
Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)
Mood for a Day
The top pressings exhibit amazing transparency and sweetness on this track. We would rate this one of the best rock acoustic guitar recordings on the planet. I’ve recently come to realize that this is actually a key track for side two. The guitar can sound midrangy and hard; too fat; blunted; and I’m sure lots of other ways.
And I’m talking about ONLY the best early pressings (the four digit ones). None of the later pressings sound any good to me at all.
This is where the surface noise will be most audible. After playing a number of copies, I noticed that there was always surface noise on this track, but not necessarily others. And then it dawned on me: the surface noise has to be spread evenly throughout the record; it’s on this track that you can actually hear it. The other tracks tend to be loud and little surface noise will ever be audible.
Heart of the Sunrise
My second favorite track on the album. All those aggressive guitar parts can be very irritating if you do not have a copy that’s cut properly, which in this case means smooth and full-bodied. Any thinness or edginess will be all but unbearable on this track.
AMG 5 Star Review
Fragile was Yes’ breakthrough album, propelling them in a matter of weeks from a cult act to an international phenomenon; not coincidentally, it also marked the point where all of the elements of the music (and more) that would define their success for more than a decade fell into place fully formed.
The science-fiction and fantasy elements that had driven the more successful songs on their preceding record, The Yes Album, were pushed much harder here, and not just in the music but in the packaging of the album: the Roger Dean-designed cover was itself a fascinating creation that seemed to relate to the music and drew the purchaser’s attention in a manner that few records since the heyday of the psychedelic era could match.
Having thrown original keyboard player Tony Kaye overboard early in the sessions — principally over his refusal to accept the need for the Moog synthesizer in lieu of his preferred Hammond organ — the band welcomed Rick Wakeman into its ranks. His use of the Moog, among other instruments, coupled with an overall bolder and more aggressive style of playing, opened the way for a harder, hotter sound by the group as a whole; bassist Chris Squire sounds like he’s got his amp turned up to “12,” and Steve Howe’s electric guitars are not far behind, although the group also displayed subtlety where it was needed.
The opening minute of “Roundabout,” the album opener — and the basis for the edited single that would reach number 13 on the Billboard charts and get the group onto AM radio in a way that most other prog rock outfits could only look upon with envy — was dominated by Howe’s acoustic guitar and Bill Bruford‘s drums, and only in the middle section did the band show some of what they could do with serious amperage.
Elsewhere on the record, as on “South Side of the Sky,” they would sound as though they were ready to leave the ground (and the planet), between the volume and intensity of their playing. “Long Distance Runaround,” which also served as the B-side of the single, was probably the most accessible track here apart from “Roundabout,” but they were both ambitious enough to carry most listeners on to the heavier sides at the core of this long player.
The solo tracks by the members were actually a necessity: they needed to get Fragile out in a hurry to cover the cost of the keyboards that Wakeman had added to the group’s sonic arsenal. But they ended up being more than filler. Each member, in effect, took a “bow” in mostly fairly serious settings, and Squire’s “The Fish” and Howe’s “Mood For a Day” pointed directly to future, more substantial projects as well as taking on a life of their own on-stage.
If not exactly their peak, Fragile was as perfect a record as the group would ever make, and just as flawless in its timing as its content.
Shooting Out the Big Ones
Yes easily qualifies as one of the handful of bands to produce an immensely enjoyable and meaningful body of work throughout the ’70s, music that holds up to this day. Their albums, so musically multi-faceted and multi-layered, will surely reward the listener who takes the time to dive deep into the complexities of their sound.
Repeated plays are the order of the day. The more critically you listen the more you are apt to discover within the exceedingly dense mixes favored by the band. And the better your stereo gets the more you can appreciate the care and effort that went into the production of their recordings.
Shooting Out the Tough Ones
Yes albums always make for tough shootouts. Like Pink Floyd, a comparably radio-friendly Pop Prog band, their everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to recording makes it difficult to translate their complex sounds to disc, vinyl or otherwise. Everything has to be tuned up and on the money before we can even hope to get the record sounding right. Careful VTA adjustment could not be more critical in this respect.
If we’re not hearing the sound we want, we keep messing with the adjustments until we do. There is no getting around sweating the details when sitting down to test a complex recording such as this. If you can’t stand the tweaking tedium, get out of the kitchen (or listening room as the case may be).
Obsessing over every aspect of record reproduction is what we do for a living. Yes’s recordings require us to be at the top of our game, both in terms of reproducing their albums as well as evaluating the merits of individual pressings.
When you love it, it’s not work, it’s fun. Tedious, occasionally exasperating fun, but still fun nonetheless.
Size and Space
One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.
Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.
We often have to go back and downgrade the copies that we were initially impressed with in light of such a standout pressing. Who knew the recording could be that huge, spacious and three dimensional? We sure didn’t, not until we played the copy that had those qualities, and that copy might have been number 8 or 9 in the rotation.
Think about it: if you had only seven copies, you might not have ever gotten to hear a copy that sounded that open and clear. And how many of even the most dedicated of audiophiles would have more than one of two clean vintage pressings with which to do a shootout? These kinds of records are expensive and hard to come by in good shape. Believe us, we know whereof we speak when it comes to getting hold of original pressings of Classic Rock albums.
One further point needs to be made: most of the time these very special pressings just plain rock harder. When you hear a copy do what this copy can, it’s an entirely different – and dare I say unforgettable — listening experience.