Yes: Five Best Albums

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

Yes The Yes Album 1971

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’.

#4: Fragile

Yes Fragile Album

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.

#2: Relayer

Yes Relayer

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.

Bonus Pick:
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?

Read More:
Yes Album Reviews
Favourite Five Lists

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Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande.
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  1. While I created a Yes playlist a few years ago, I haven’t explored their entire albums in greater depth, so I really couldn’t determine my favorite record.

    Based on the songs I’ve heard, I think I’m also more drawn to their earlier material. I really dig “Roundabout” and “I’ve Seen All Good People.” Also like “Beyond And Before” from their debut album.

    Last but not least, as somebody who grew up in the 80s and still has a weak spot for music from that decade (even though my taste has significantly evolved since), I also like “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” It’s just a cool riff. I also like the bass work on that tune.

    • 90125 (the album that Owner Of A Lonely Heart is from) is actually pretty strong. It was the best version of Yes vocally – as well as Anderson and Squire, Rabin was also a good singer – and there are lots of great harmonies. Songs like ‘Leave It’ and ‘Hearts’ are really good.

  2. Firstly, thanks for the shoutout. Secondly, wow, ‘Close to the Edge’ is not only your favorite Yes album but your favorite album ever. Interesting. (Mine is ‘Exile on Main Street.’) Since getting involved in the blogosphere I would often say ‘Hey, I’ll give this or that album a spin.’ And then I feel bad because I literally just do not have time to commit to listening to the albums I say I’ll listen to. But I love Yes and I think I’ll give your Top 4 a spin. ‘Fragile’ and ‘Close to the Edge’ I know pretty well but haven’t heard in eons. The others will be relatively new to me. I’ll report back later.

    • Exile on Main Street is up there for me too (even though it faces tough competition with Sticky Fingers to even be my favourite Stones’ album).

      I think a few people probably ditched Yes after Tales, but Relayer and Going For The One are both very good. Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

  3. That’s a good top five. I like all these albums even though every one of them I could only get into about half of the tracks. Tracks like Roundabout and And You and I and All Good People are so awesome that I keep trying to get into the other tracks. They still kind of lose me though. Some of the really complex tracks I find really hard to follow for some reason. But they’re still worth hearing anyway.

    • It’s basically their five 1970s progressive rock albums, with Tales removed. So it’s an obvious list in some ways – I think a lot of Yes fans would come up with something similar.

  4. These are all great. I’ve also gotten into Tales from Topographic Oceans. And, along with 90125, Big Generator is a guilty pleasure of mine when I have a hankering for that big 80’s sound, which isn’t all that often. Shoot High Aim Low is a good one from that album.

    • I stopped at 90125 – I hear albums like Magnification and the new version of Fly From Here with Trevor Horn on vocals are good, but I’ve always been happy to stop there. Don’t want to dent one of my favourite band’s by listening to their later, lesser works.

      • I think Horn’s take on Fly From Here (the sequence of tracks) is pretty good. He moves the climatic ascending sequence from track 2 to the finale and makes a pretty damn good track, wonderful. If Yes were to sign off here it would be a Song Swan.

  5. For me, if you own The Yes Album, Fragile and Close To The Edge, you own their complete greatest hits. That’s all the Yes you need to own.

    • A lot of people agree with you on that, and they did lose something with Bruford leaving I think. But Relayer and Going For The One are very strong IMO.

  6. A great look at these; I have the self titled album and three of the others are high on my list of albums to pick up (basically the top 5 from Bruce’s post a while back…).

    • Bruce and I had almost the same top 5s – both pretty similar to RateYourMusic’s consensus too. Probably not an uncommon career trajectory – a couple of albums to get going, then most of their best work over the next few years.

  7. Progress report – I’m getting there. ‘Close to the Edge’ is glorious isn’t it? I’m on my second listen of that. On to ‘Relayer.’

  8. Ok, so here’s the top five gentlemen. (Your lists, of course, are now null and void.)

    5 – 90125 – I hadn’t heard this album all the way through. Of the stuff I recently listened to that I don’t already have, this is one I would buy. It rocks hard but it’s still identifiably Yes. Key tracks – “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” “Leave It.”
    4 – Time and a Word. I love this album. It’s early Yes before they got mega-prog. But their sound is there and the tracks are great. Key tracks – “No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed.” “Astral Traveler.”
    3 – Fragile – Which Bill Bruford said described the tenuous nature of the band’s dynamic at the time. What’s not to love here? Key tracks – “Roundabout,” “Mood for a Day,” “Heart of the Sunrise.”
    2- The Yes Album. I recently featured this one so I won’t regurgitate all that. Key tracks – “Yours is no Disgrace,” “I’ve Seen All Good People.”
    1 – Close to the Edge. The harmonies on “In her white lace, you could clearly see the lady sadly looking
    Saying that she’d take the blame for the crucifixion of her own domain” is as beautiful as any I’ve ever heard.

    Now for the bad news – I listened to Relayer and Going for the One. These didn’t really do much for me. They sounded like Yes’ worst excesses, mystical musicianship in the service of no discernible songs. Not for me, alas.

  9. Great list! I would replace Going For The One with Time and A Word, Yes’s debut album, or 90125. I used to hate when prog bands went pop, but the poppy eras of these bands grew on me. Yes’s early years are my favourite by far.

    • I like 90125, but gravitate towards the 1970s epics. I think Relayer and Going For The One get overlooked a lot, when they’re both very good progressive rock albums – the band lost momentum with Tales from Topographic Oceans and I think a lot of fans focus in on the albums before that, or on the rebirth with 90125.

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