Psychedelic rockers expand their progressive credentials and become an international sensation in the process
Along with King Crimson, ELP, Vander Graaf Generator, and Caravan, Yes were part of an ever growing clique of young, mostly English, musicians who had decided that limiting their abilities to one or maybe two styles of music wasn’t for them. Blues, rock, jazz, folk, classical, practically everything and anything was up for grabs, as long as it could be incorporated into one gigantic, preferably double LP, pretentious whole. Although out of many of their contemporaries, Yes were perhaps the most song savvy, at least in the early days (before Rick Wakeman joined), as this album attests to.
The Yes Album was the band’s third effort, on which many of the experimental elements which had gone into their previous two records had finally come to fruition. “Yours Is No Disgrace” is the opener, and despite bearing more than a slight resemblance to the Bonanza theme (obviously someone in the group was a big fan of the TV series), it actually works. Now without wanting to offend anyone with what I’m about to say, the vocals do sound a lot like Crosby, Stills and Nash, in a “Judy Blue Eyes: Suite”/”Wooden Ships” sort of way. Which is isn’t surprising, considering that they had already covered songs written by David Crosby and Stephen Stills.
New recruit Steve Howe (who had replaced Peter Banks) proves himself a valuable asset on “The Clap” (recorded live at the Lyceum Theatre), an acoustic showcase for the guitarist’s versatility, who knew his ragtime from his Hendrix, but it’s “Starship Trooper” where Howe and the group truly take off, in a style similar to later Genesis. The track is meticulously crafted from start to finish, including more of those exquisite CSN-like harmonies, and divided into three separate sections, “Life Seeker”, “Disillusion” and “Wurm”, giving it that epic feel. Jon Anderson and Chris Squire’s “I’ve Seen All Good People” is a sheer delight, and one of the best things here, full of three-part harmonies, guitar, woodwind, moog, and happy-hippie vibes throughout. The first half of the song, “Your Move”, was released as a single, and would break them in the US.
“A Venture” is about as eclectic as they come, and another genre-busting composition. Just imagine Steely Dan collaborating with Supertramp (or perhaps you’d prefer not to, depending on your sensibilities). On “Perpetual Change” the band go all country-rock, as if they’d been spending too much time in Laurel Canyon, not a bad thing, to be sure, and if Neil Young had of ever decided to go prog then this is probably what he may have come up with.
Unlike some other prog-rock releases from the era, The Yes Album is one which has managed to survive relatively unscathed and intact over the years. As Chris Squire remembered: “Had the album not been so good, we would probably have been dropped. We were on our third album for Atlantic, and the NYC office didn’t seem to know who we were. The first two had done nothing… The Yes Album got us over the hump.” Overall there is a sense of mutual solidarity in these songs, as if all members were in perfect sync with one another. No ego, just five young musicians taking chances, and seeing how far they could extend their talents.
Later records such as Fragile, Over The Edge and Tales Of Topographic Oceans might be more accomplished, on a technical level, but this LP has a charm all its own, one which the band would rarely again be able to replicate. Drummer Bill Bruford described it thus: “We were down to our last 50 quid. A young Richard Branson and our manager, Brian Lane, became friends… and next thing you knew, Yes was in the Virgin chart. And once you got in the Virgin chart, off you went!” And yes they most certainly did.