The band Yes emerged from London in the late 1960s. Originally a pop band, but as the genre of progressive rock developed, they became one of its leading exponents. With gorgeous three part harmonies, a distinctive, high pitched lead singer, and four talented instrumentalists, Yes had enough musical faculty to realise ambitious, sometimes pretentious, material.
Their commercial zenith was in the early 1970s with albums like Fragile – they alienated fans and critics alike with the over-long Tales From Topographic Oceans in 1973. But they rebounded with more excellent albums in the mid 1970s, before petering out. They reinvented themselves as a pop band in the 1980s, scoring a hit with 1983’s ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’.
Here are my picks for five favourite Yes albums – perhaps unsurprisingly, they’re all from the band’s first ten years.
#5: The Yes Album
Guitarist Steve Howe joined Yes in 1970, providing more instrumental firepower as they transitioned from psychedelic pop to progressive rock. I prefer the band’s later 1970s albums, especially as Tony Kaye’s limited keyboard palette is restrictive here, but there are great tunes like The ‘Your Move’ section of ‘I’ve Seen All Good People’ and ‘Starship Trooper’.
Fragile was rush-released to pay for new member Rick Wakeman’s keyboard array, and accordingly it’s disjointed – each member contributed a solo piece to fill out the running time. But the full fledged songs are all magnificent, especially if you can stomach Jon Anderson’s impressionist and unique lyrics; “mountains come out of the sky and they stand there.”
#3: Going For The One
Rick Wakeman rejoined Yes in time Going For The One. Released in the year of punk, it’s as grandiose as ever. Wakeman famous recorded his church organ parts over the Swiss telephone system. The title track has traces of country with Howe’s pedal steel, while ‘Parallels’ is fuelled by an amazing Chris Squire bass line.
Wakeman left Yes after comparing 1973’s Tales of Topographic Oceans to a padded bra. Replacement keyboardist Patrick Moraz bought jazz fusion to Yes’ heaviest 1970s album. The entire first side is dedicated to ‘The Gates Of Delirium’, based on Tolstoy’s War and Peace, while side two is also impressive with the contemplative ‘To Be Over’ and the frenetic ‘Sound Chaser’.
#1 – Close To The Edge
Close to the Edge has held the position of my all time favourite album for the last fifteen years. It’s often ridiculous- after three minutes of discordant jamming, the title song gives way to a monstrous bass groove and Anderson gibberish about a seasoned witch and a rearranged liver. But it’s consistently captivating and creative with great musical moments like Wakeman’s brief harpsichord interlude, and Howe’s warped blues on the introduction to ‘Siberian Khaatru’. Unfortunately, Close to the Edge was the second and last album from Yes’ strongest lineup – drummer Bill Bruford left to join King Crimson, and his replacement Alan White was capable but lacked Bruford’s jazzy creativity.
1980’s Drama, recorded with The Buggles replacing Anderson and Wakeman, was uneven, but closer ‘Tempus Fugit’ is one of my all time favourite Yes songs, streamlining their sound for new wave.
Do you have a favourite Yes album? Or a top 5?