Olias of Sunhillow is a progressive rock concept album by Jon Anderson, the lead singer of the band Yes. It was his first solo album in 1976. He plays all instruments and does all vocals on the album.
Olias of Sunhillow is chock full of sci-fantasy spiritualism, built around a story inspired by Roger Dean's flying starships on the Fragile cover. Dean wasn't present for the art (he was always closest to Howe), so the album sports a lavishly illustrated sleeve from David Roe. Prior to this, his first solo record, Anderson had struck a friendship with Vangelis. That friendship would eventually evolve into a successful string of albums for the duo, but more immediate was the influence Vangelis had on this recording. Just check out the opening moments of "Ocean Song". Anderson wrote and recorded the entire record himself, something of a self-proclaimed "coming of age" for the non-musician. So think of it as Yes without the virtuosity. He mostly bypasses rhythm instead opting for layers of texture. Dipping mostly across the strings of harp and guitars, there’s a fair amount of electronics, no doubt a result of Vangelis' influence. Of course, Anderson’s unique voice is front and center. He always penned a good melody and Olias's dozen songs are no exceptions. "Meeting", "Flight of the Moorglade Mover" and "To The Runner" rank up there with the best of Yes' tunes. Most importantly, the album flows from start to finish. Maybe it is Mike Dunne in the engineer's chair to thank, but the cohesion is genuine. Olias was the most successful of Yes' solo efforts, reaching No 8 in the UK charts and breaking the US Top 50.
The album tells the story of an alien race and their journey to a new world due to catastrophe. Olias, the title character, is the chosen architect of the glider Moorglade, which will be used to fly his people to their new home. Ranyart is the navigator for the glider, and QoQuaQ is the leader who unites the four tribes of Sunhillow to partake in the exodus. The album's concept may have been partly inspired by the cover art for the 1971 Yes album Fragile, which depicts a tiny planet breaking apart and a glider escaping into space. Another link to Fragile lies in the fact that both albums have pieces (Fragile's "We Have Heaven") consisting of multiple vocal parts, with Anderson singing all of them.
This swirling, organic mass of an album is the masterpiece Anderson has never managed to match. At the height of his creative powers, but not of his instrumental skills, Anderson produced a landscape that carefully reflected his own peculiar musical culture. Olias glides along seamlessly from one piece to another, showcasing Anderson's uncommon gifts for melody/harmony as well as for songwriting. Together with arrangements that veer from the rustic to sci-fi, the music appears to travel through Earth and space, incarnating the elements of the material and ethereal worlds. The scope of the music is cinematic, freely pursuing concepts to every corner of its vision and fashioning an experience that is as breathtaking for its range as it is for its depth. Few works of art have found such a powerful communion between form and content, where both are truly inseparable, interdependent, as Olias.
Along with Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, this is one of those rare complete and perfect recordings. Jon Anderson was a clear and open channel as he painted this view of heaven onto a tape recorder. I used to put this album on continous play on my turntable so it would be the last thing I heard as I went to sleep at night and the first thing I would hear when I woke up in the morning. It is the sound of your most beautiful dream.
Jon quotes: JON, 1988: Olias of Sunhillow was my schooling. I locked myself away and learned to play all the instruments. That's what Olias is, it's a sort of schooling for me and I'm very happy about that. I just had one guy with me doing all the overdubs who was doing all the engineering. I would keep going and going until I drove myself crazy! But I came out on the other end, I'm very happy to say.
Jon quotes: (1994) I put a lot of mystery into the actual writing of Olias, the story. It is once said there were four tribes on this planet: Negro, Asian, Nordic and Oriental. Of which we all come from, we have a little of everything in us and we were tribal people. I didn't want to just spell it out. I thought if anyone wants to know about what I've leaned they can find it out. there were a couple of books by Ver Stanley Alder (that inspired Olias), one is called The Initiation Of Life and the other is The Third Eye.
Yes (including Jon Anderson) and Roger Dean have had a creative relationship that has been evolving and developing for over 33 years, making for some of the most iconic interactions of music and art for the last half century.
There is a secret story embedded in the album art for Yes Roger Dean has painted for the Yes album covers. Millions of people have figured out that there is something going on. Roger has confirmed that there is a whole world and a complete story of a boy Loki, growing up, his imagination fired by the myths and legends his uncle had read to him as a child. One story in particular, about a tiny planet that breaks up and is rescued by a hero who builds a space ark, inspires him. As a young man, visiting his uncle, Loki tells him that he wants look for the missing space ark and asks his uncle for help. His uncle at first refuses, telling him of the incredible difficulties, the very real dangers, the immense scale of the task. Eventually his uncle relents but will only help if Loki takes very seriously his preparations for the journey. From what Roger Dean says in Views, the band's idea for the cover of Fragile was to picture a fractured piece of porcelain whereas his was to create a miniature world. The compromise was to take the miniature world and break it. The result set up a storyline that was later continued on the Yessongs paintings, and served as the inspiration for Jon Anderson's solo album "Olias of Sunhillow," although ironically Roger didn't do the artwork for Olias.
The story is being made into a film about a coming of age, a quest and a love story.
Atlantic Japan (AMCY-18)
1. Ocean Song - 3:04
2. Meeting (Garden of Geda) - 3:34
a. Sound Out the Galleon
3. Dance of Ranyart - 4:19
a. Olias (To Build the Moorglade)
4. Qoquac Ën Transic - 7:08
b. Transic To
5. Flight of the Moorglade - 3:24
6. Solid Space - 5:20
7. Moon Ra - 12:48
b. Song of Search
8. To the Runner - 4:29
total time 41:47
MP3 @ 192kbit; 2 parts- 30 and 31 MB:
JON ANDERSON – vocals, instruments
Mike Dunne – sound advice & recording engineer
John Martin – coordination, equipment, goodies
Brian "It's Going Now" Gaylor – electronics
Dave Roe – illustration and design