I don’t listen to a lot of prog-rock these days, but I’d have to say that of all the prog bands that I dug (King Crimson, Genesis, Gentle Giant, ELP), Yes is hands-down my favorite. (Strictly speaking, is Pink Floyd considered prog? Because if so, them first.) Their music is great, their musicianship outstanding and their lyrics, well, they don’t make much sense but ok. Steve Howe is one of my favorite guitarists ever. (I used to able to play “Mood for a Day,” his great, somewhat classical-sounding instrumental.)
As I write this I’m listening to this terrific album. Got to kick this off with the very first song, “Yours is No Disgrace.” Everything comes together here – singing, guitar, drums, bass, organ. I never get tired of this song. Wikipedia says this is an antiwar song. If it is, it’s the most subtle one ever recorded:
This was the first album with Howe who had replaced Tony Banks and their last (for a while) with keyboardist Tony Kaye. Like so many bands, this third album had a “make-or-break” aura about it. Their first two albums pretty much tanked (although I personally love Time and a Word) and the label was considering dropping them.
But fortunately, the guys not only released a great album, but this was 1971 when listeners still had their ears open to a lot of different stuff – jazz, classical, long-from – you name it. The band had previously done a fair number of covers and this was their first LP of all original material.
I think what I like so much about Yes is not only are they tuneful but they don’t get too caught up in the “occupational hazard” of so much prog – spacy, long jams that go nowhere. At least not on this album.
Next up is “Starship Trooper” which is comprised of three parts – “Life Seeker,” “Disillusion,” and “Wurm.” While the whole song is great, my favorite part is “Wurm” which just builds and builds till Howe lets loose with a (too short) solo that sounds like he’s jamming with himself. The solo is pretty uncharacteristically (for him) bluesy. (The chord progression is G-Eb-C if you’re playing along at home.)
“Fun” trivia fact – if you look closely at the album, you’ll see that Kaye has his foot in a cast. That wasn’t done for some effect. The band was driving back from a gig in a driving rain and hit another car head-on. (Between drugs and transportation it’s a wonder we have any touring musicians.) “The engine came back into the cab, and snapped my foot,” Tony Kaye remembers. “So there I was in a cast, for about five months. I did a tour, actually, on crutches.”
For the last tune to feature, I was debating between “I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Perpetual Change.” But the former has been done to death on classic rock radio. Plus I totally dig “Change.” The cool thing is that not only is about change but at one point (5:31 or so) there are multiple time signatures going on. Perpetual change? I dare say.
The Yes Album is featured in a couple of “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die” lists. (Steven Wilson did a Blu-Ray version in 2014.) And after much intense lobbying (mostly by me), the unjustly overlooked Yes was inducted (by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson) into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 2017. Geddy played with the band as it took so long to induct these guys that bassist Chris Squire didn’t live to see it. So, fuck you Jann Wenner.
From the Ultimate Classic Rock site: “It all paid off, as The Yes Album climbed to No. 4 in Yes’ native U.K. and reached No. 40 in the U.S. The bigger breakthrough would arrive within the next year when Fragile soared into the Top 5.
But The Yes Album paved the way, chipping away at a proto-prog sound that would expand, before eventually caving in under its own weight, in the years to come. But here the field is wide open.”
- John Anderson, (vocals, percussion)
- Chris Squire, (bass guitar, vocals
- Steve Howe, (electric and acoustic guitars, vachalia, vocal)
- Tony Kaye, (piano, organ, Moog)
- Bill Bruford (drums, percussion)