By Christopher Scapelliti
Chris Squire is the rare bassist who created a signature sound and style that defined a genre. Like Motown’s James Jamerson or the Beatles’ Paul McCartney, Squire developed and honed an instantly identifiable tone and technique that became part of the prog-rock lexicon and influenced other bassists, including Geddy Lee, Les Claypool and Billy Sheehan.
Wielding a 1964 Rickenbacker RM1999 bass—which he had rewired to provide separate outputs for the bridge and neck pickups—and playing with a pick, Squire created one of rock music’s most percussive and cutting bass tones. This, in turn, provided the definition needed for his playing style, which was intricate and complex but always in the service of the music created by his band, Yes.
Squire cofounded Yes in 1968, and while the band’s lineup changed numerous times over the decades, he remained its constant member. His death on June 27, 2015, from leukemia leaves a hole in the group and takes away one of rock’s great stylistic innovators.
Here, we present five of Chris Squire’s finest moments.
“The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)”
All of Yes’s members created their own signature tracks for Fragile, and “The Fish” was Squire’s. The title comes both from his nickname—drummer Bill Bruford gave it to him after Squire flooded a hotel bathroom while taking a lengthy shower—and his astrological sign of Pisces. The song plays like a mantra as Squire jams out in a space-funk 7/4 groove while the band chant “Schindleria Praematurus,” the name of a southern Pacific Ocean fish.
“I’ve Seen All Good People”
The Yes Album (1971)
This cowrite by Squire and Yes lead singer Jon Anderson starts off with the folky section titled “Your Move,” which incorporates lyrical imagery derived from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Halfway through the song, at the 3:30 mark, things shift abruptly as the song kicks into the prog-rockabilly section “All Good People,” and it’s here that Squire shines. His bouncing bass propels the song skyward with some slick walking-bass lines, reminding you that Yes weren’t just about the prog; they were also about the rock.
“Close to the Edge (Total Mass Retain)”
Close to the Edge (1972)
Yes’ early opus “Close to the Edge” consists of four segments. Squire shines on all of them, but his bass work really comes to the fore on the second section, “Total Mass Retain” (at 6:05), where he plays a succession of funky descending riffs. His playing here is spare and sinewy, emphasizing the essential beats and propelling the song forward with his bass’s fat, percussive tone.
Squire lays it on thick with his flange pedal on this 1980 track. His bass is the main interest in “Tempus Fugit,” playing lead to Steve Howe’s ska-inspired chord work. Though it lacks the technicality of his work, Squire’s playing here is an impressive demonstration of his ability to write melodically engaging bass lines (it actually brings to mind Graham Maby’s work on Joe Jackson’s 1979 cut “On Your Radio.”).
“Heart of the Sunrise”
Squire’s growling Rickenbacker bass is all over this track, rumbling under the fast opening passage and setting up the seductively melodic riff that dominates the slow groove that follows it. The intro lick is played numerous times throughout the intro, but notice how Squire changes things up with each repetition, playing higher on the fretboard and at times harmonizing with Steve Howe’s guitar lines.
Yes’ breakthrough hit, “Roundabout” is the song that brought Chris Squire’s signature bass tone to the mainstream. His Rickenbacker lines percolate under the verses like lead lines, driving the song forward and emphasizing the groove. “Roundabout” is all about that bass, and no doubt that’s the reason why it’s resonated with so many concertgoers over the years, who find in the song that opportunity—rare in a prog-rock song—to actually groove out. Squire’s bass has been soloed in the video below, giving you a chance to hear and study it in all its glorious detail.