Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Yes Album


They sounded like birds. Their chirping, chiming, pristine vocal harmonies came fluttering out of my speakers like songbirds on a spring morning, blurting out the lyrics: "I've seen all good people turn their heads each day, so satisfied I'm on my way..." Who the heck were these guys with the heavenly harmonies, I pondered. As I turned up the volume, it never dawned on me that the era of perpetual change had now begun. Remember when they used to call it Art Rock (before they called it Progressive Rock)? If you answered “Yes,” then I’ll assume you're familiar with The Yes Album. Because this is the album that set the mold for much of the Prog that followed. Having initially released two tentative, uneven albums that sank like stones, Yes finally started getting some much-needed airplay (evidently they'd be dropped by Atlantic Records if this album didn't do well). With new, nimble-fingered guitarist Steve Howe on board to replace recently booted Peter Banks, the band recorded this stunning collection of tight ensemble pieces. In the context of its time, the Yes sound was strange, fresh, unfamiliar…almost like they’d been transported from the future to show all the other shaggy hippies how rock music should now sound in the brave new world of the '70s. Obviously, no band ever sounded like this before: Chris Squire's metallic, thumping Rickenbacker bass mixed way up front and in your face (bass with balls); Howe's fiddly, fluid fret work (bluegrass meets Bach) skittering all over the place; Tony Kaye's thick, warm Hammond organ filling in the spaces; and Bill Bruford's busy, jazzy tapping (ever so gently) on the drums. It all melded perfectly with Jon Anderson's uniquely high-pitched vocals laid over the top. Extended tracks like “Yours Is No Disgrace” meld herky-jerky rythms, twisting/turning arrangements and recurring themes into a cohesive whole. “Starship Trooper” is launched by Squire's ascending-into-the-heavens bass line, one that any other band would have relegated to the lead guitarist. “Perpetual Change” follows the same strict Yes formula – tightly woven, complicated arrangements that never stay in one place for too long, performed with the precision of maestros having total mastery over their instruments. And let's not forget those crystalline vocal harmonies chirping away. Ultimately, The Yes Album would become a benchmark for a then new and untested genre…the dreaded (at least by most music critics) Prog. Yes would soon be consumed by a rash of personnel changes…the bane of many Prog bands back then. Kaye would be given his walking papers, replaced by dexterous, caped-keyboard man Rick Wakeman – well-armed with synthesizers, clavinets and mellotrons. Bruford would ultimately enlist for duty under Robert Fripp’s command in the Court of the Crimson King. Wakeman would also jump ship in a couple years. But more importantly, The Yes Album introduced a then-unknown Yes to America – breaking all the rules and redefining how a rock band should sound. Total mass acclaim would soon follow.

Essential Tracks: “Yours Is No Disgrace” “Starship Trooper” “I’ve Seen All Good People”


  1. It seemed like THE YES ALBUM was everyones favorite at one time or another. I know these songs inside and out and know they can only be from that album..what a sound, you got it right, 3 was the charm for the boys. Livin was easy when this came out..nice job Gary.

  2. Right, Bryan. It all came together for Yes on this one. Opened the door for the huge success soon to follow with Fragile.