35 Years Ago: Jimmy Page Joins Yes Onstage to Cover a Beatles Song
Imagine the legendary rock guitarist who bustled up our hedgerows appearing onstage with the band that recorded a double album around Paramahansa Yogananda's "Autobiography of a Yogi." The idea seems, as the Brits say, not bloody likely – but it came to pass in the summer of 1984, when Jimmy Page joined Yes for a live rendition of the Beatles' "I'm Down."
The June 24, 1984, concert, which took place in Westfalenhalle in Dortmund, Germany, found the newly re-ascendant Yes touring triumphantly behind their hit 90125 LP. But just a few years before, they'd reached one of their periodic low points, with the band going on hiatus following the turbulence of 1980's Drama. Page was also struggling, coping with depression after the sudden death of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham and the group's subsequent breakup.
With all these British musicians at loose artistic ends, the stage was set for one of the more surprising collaborations of the decade. "Jimmy moved and bought a house in England near the house I was living in. So, we became neighbors and got together," late Yes bassist Chris Squire later explained. "He was obviously pretty depressed about John Bonham's death for awhile, and I kind of helped him out of that by saying 'Let's try to do some new music' and that's really what happened."
They'd met, Squire said in a separate interview, "at a Christmas party. He said he’d like to start playing again, pull himself out of the depression after John’s death. So we got together, we did some music, most of which was some music I’d written. Jimmy really wasn’t that bothered about writing, he just wanted to play at the time."
Squire enlisted former Yes drummer Alan White for the resulting sessions, which came together under the cheeky band name XYZ (ex-Yes, ex-Zeppelin). "Chris called me one day and said, 'Jimmy wants to go and play in the studio kind of thing,' so we all just turned up one day and started playing and it started sounding pretty good," White said in 1993. "We got the engineer in there and they started putting down the XYZ tapes. Quite a lot of it was stuff that I'd been writing with Chris and we had, I think it was like four, five, six songs.
White described the music as "like Zeppelin meets Yes kind of stuff; it was real odd." Page quickly put two and two together and tried to enlist his former Zeppelin bandmate Robert Plant. "Jimmy kept calling Robert saying how great is was and he should get involved, but Robert thought (the music) was too complicated," White added. "There's one thing that we did that was kind of a lick that I wrote at home one day; it was like almost like a military type thing put in a odd time signature that built up into this really orchestrated kind of piece of music. It was all in 7/4 time, so I think when Robert heard 7/4 it was like, 'What am I getting myself into here?'"
Lest we criticize Plant for being intolerant of unusual time signatures, Squire has a different explanation for why things didn't pan out. "It was really a bit too soon after John Bonham departed this world for Robert to get back into it," he said in 2012. "That is why it didn’t come together."
XYZ's quick collapse may have been a tantalizing missed opportunity, but given Page's appearance on that Dortmund stage, all sides clearly parted ways as friends. Page's dalliances with the members of Yes remain officially unreleased, they may yet receive a proper debut. "I'll tell you, the material was good," Page said, also in 2012. "I have the multi-tracks. I hope they see the light of day."
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