Rick Wakeman Calls Yes ‘Union’ Album a ‘Disgrace’
Rick Wakeman described the 1991 Yes album Union as as “disgrace,” adding that he called it “Onion” because it made him cry.
The LP was the result of two different lineups of Yes collaborating as a single eight-member unit, using material from the albums each lineup had been in the process of making. It was a commercial success but remains unpopular among most of the musicians involved.
“It was nuts! We went nuts,” keyboardist Wakeman told Rolling Stone in a recent interview. “I called it the Onion album because it made me cry. When I heard it, I thought, ‘This isn’t Yes. We didn’t play that. We didn’t do that.’”
He recalled: “The problem was that we were three quarters of a way through an album. They were three quarters of a way through an album. So the album was given to a guy who shouldn’t even be allowed a food mixer, let alone an album. He did the most dreadful job on the Union album. When I heard it, I couldn’t believe it. It was early days of sequencers and I was like, ‘I never played that.’
“He just sorted through everyone’s parts and did what he wanted. I was furious. He invited all his mates on. I think the Pope was the only person who wasn’t on that album. … I discovered later his so-called CV where he claimed to do lots of stuff, he hadn’t [done] at all. And he just got all his mates on it. The tour was great fun, but the album was a disgrace.”
He said that most of the potential clashes that might have taken place on the road were resolved beforehand, with the band’s other keyboardist, Tony Kaye, suggesting that he’d just “play along whenever” to whatever Wakeman wanted to do. Similarly, drummers Bill Bruford and Alan White reached a similar agreement.
“But there was friction between Trevor [Rabin] and Steve [Howe],” he continued. “[N]othing detrimental to Steve, Trev openly wanted everyone to play on everything. He did actually suggest that on ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’ in the middle, how about, ‘Steve, you do the guitar solo because the crowd would love it?’ Steve wouldn’t even be onstage when we did it. I thought that was a shame since it could have done a lot of good. I could see where Steve was coming from, but I thought he was wrong.”
He recalled that the tour acquired the nickname “East/West Berlin,” saying: “On a couple of occasions, I got in trouble for taking some white gaffer tape and putting it down the middle [of the stage] and writing ‘East’ on one side and ‘West’ on the other. I had fun. I mean, I really enjoyed it.”
He continued: “I was tipped the wink by somebody in the Yes office in California that at the end of the tour, Bill, myself, and Steve… would basically be gone. … [A]ll they wanted to do was keep the four Yes [members] they had, which was Trev, Alan, Chris [Squire], and Tony and have Jon [Anderson] back as the singer. That was their plan how to do it. I knew that it was happening and it didn’t worry me in the least. I was like, ‘I’m just going to enjoy this. I’m going to have great fun.’ And that’s what I did.”