The Spirit Of Cecilia Says, “Yes!”

Roger Dean’s logo for Yes, one of the most recognizable in rock

No site devoted to discussing progressive rock music (among many other topics!) can ignore for long a true giant of the genre: YES. Dating from the late ‘60s, Yes was one of the first prog groups to achieve mainstream success. More than fifty years later, they are still active, so Spirit of Cecilia has decided to divide our discussion of them into three parts. This post will focus on their music beginning with their 1969 eponymously titled debut album through 1973’s live album Yessongs. Let’s join Editor-In-Chief Brad Birzer, Arts Editor Tad Wert, and all around brilliant writer/musician Kevin McCormick as they attempt to analyze the music of one of the most influential and productive groups in rock history.

Brad: My earliest prog memory is of Yes.  I’m the youngest of three boys (with my oldest brother being eight years older and my older brother being five years older), and I was exposed to all kinds of music at a very young age.  In our house, we had classical, jazz, big band, musicals, and every variety of rock and pop. Sometime around 1973 or 1974 (the memory is somewhat fuzzy on the details–I was only five or six), I discovered the three-disk set of Yessongs.  I was stunned–especially by the artwork which I studied like a talisman. Later, when I was older, I appreciated the music.  But, at first, it was Roger Dean’s paintings that grabbed me fiercely. I count Yessongs as my first real prog love.  And, love it was. It wouldn’t be until Kansas’s Leftoverature and ELO’s Out of the Blue that I found albums to rival Yessongs in terms of artistic beauty.

Yes is certainly my earliest progressive rock love, and, from them, thanks to my brothers, I began to listen to Kansas, Jethro Tull, and Genesis.

While Yes has now experienced a massive history–indeed, is there a rock band that can quite match it in terms of malleability and lovegevity?–it’s the period of the Yes Album through Going for the One that seems nearly flawless.  To think about the albums of that period–The Yes Album, Fragile, Close to the Edge, Tales, Relayer, and Going for the One–is to be overwhelmed!  Such innovation and harmonic glory, all wrapped into a neat package.

When I was younger, Fragile was my favorite of the Yes albums.  But, ever since starting college, Close to the Edge has been my favorite.  Indeed, not just my favorite Yes album, but a favorite album.  If forced to rank it, it would compete (not necessarily defeat) Moving Pictures, The Colour of Spring, Spirit of Eden, and Selling England by the Pound.  If it’s fallen out of the top five for me, it’s only because Big Big Train released The Underfall Yard in 2009.

Kevin: Looking back at the early stages of Yes, it’s important to remember the context of the music of that time: it was all over the map.  There was a collision of styles brought together by much of the experimentation and cultural upheaval of the 1960’s.  Prior to this most musicians and audiences stayed in their respective corners. 

But the Beatles changed all that. Sgt. Peppers (released May 1967) brought a myriad of styles to be found on a single album.  Folk, pop, rock, country, blues, camp, classical, jazz, world music, and even field recordings—they all can be found on 38 minutes of nearly continuous sound.  This opened the door to the idea of blending many styles and exploring the possibilities of the longer format of the “album.”  Though the Beatles had few successful imitators, the concept of conceptual rock was born. (Brad and I were both in utero at that point—which, let’s face it, is really a bigger deal than the Beatles…but I digress).

To my mind that album is the foundation of progressive rock.  So much has been written on the subject, but Sgt. Peppers had a massive impact on the world of popular music.  And events like Woodstock and other festivals would bring together a great variety of acts which included—next to folk, blues, and rock artists—Santana’s fusion and the world music of Ravi Shankar.  Simultaneously the folk music scenes in London, New York, and San Francisco were thriving.  The Who released their rock opera Tommy. And in England you had the major influence of the psychedelic rock of groups like the early Pink Floyd. The common thread through all of this diversity was a desire to “change the world” and it meant that the musical style didn’t matter as long as the attitude was right.

So in a way, the scene was really primed for an approach which would synthesize many of these styles into a single sound.  But for it to reach from the idea to an art form would require: vision and an eye for the possibilities, skilled but expressive musicians grounded in many styles, and the openness and flexibility to blend these competing tendencies into a cohesive sound.  

Yes’ debut album from July 1969 already contains the germs from which the mature band would blossom.

Tad: Gentlemen, you are two hard acts to follow! I’m slightly older than you (almost 60), and I was just becoming aware musically when Yes was at their prime. The fourth album I ever bought was The Dark Side of the Moon, because Nashville had an FM radio station – WDKF – that proudly advertised itself as a “progressive rock station”, and which played generous helpings of Pink Floyd, Yes, ELP, and Jethro Tull. As hard as it is to imagine, back in those days it wasn’t unusual to hear an entire album side played in the middle of the day. Yessongs was on heavy rotation, but the price of the 3-disc set was out of a 12-year-old’s range. However, I did manage to save enough lawn-mowing money to buy Yesterdays, which was my first Yes album. The Roger Dean cover was certainly titillating to a 13-year-old boy, and I had no idea that it was a hastily thrown-together compilation of early tracks and singles designed to capitalize on Yes’ massive popularity following Yessongs. I wore it out.

Yesterdays, a compilation of early Yes album tracks and singles

For years, I thought The Yes Album was their debut. In my defense, this was pre-internet, and based on the title that wasn’t a far-fetched notion. I bought that album in high school to have my own copy of the familiar “I’ve Seen All Good People”, and I played it constantly for the deep tracks “Yours Is No Disgrace” and “Starship Trooper” (I played air guitar to “Wurm” more times than I care to admit). I have Yes to thank for introducing me to Robert Heinlein, even though I never could figure out any connection between their song and his novel.

Yes’s Debut Album, released in 1969

But let’s give their true debut the attention it deserves. I didn’t bother to get a copy until many years later, when the compulsive completist in me took control of my life. Yes (released 1969) is a surprisingly strong debut that was released in a year of very consequential albums. Going back to Kevin’s praises of The Beatles, I love Yes’ cover of “Every Little Thing”. It may be my favorite Beatles cover of all time. Tony Banks’ guitar work is outstanding throughout the entire album. The other cover, The Byrds’ “I See You” is another triumph. “Looking Around” is a monster of a track with a crushing riff, while “Sweetness” is a gentle beauty. “Survival” is a stunning closer that provides hints of their proggy future. Bill Bruford is irrepressible on every track, and even at this early stage Jon Anderson’s vocals ooze confidence. Too many people aren’t aware of just how great this album is, and that’s a shame.

Time And A Word was a letdown for me. I admire their ambitious attempt to fuse rock with a symphony orchestra, but it just doesn’t work for me. To my ears, ”Then” sounds like a Broadway showtune, a genre I really don’t like. “Sweet Dreams” benefits from a nice melody and focus – it’s one of the strongest tracks. “The Prophet” is the longest track, and Bruford’s excellent drumwork along with Tony Kaye’s lively keyboards saves it from being a confused mess. There’s a reason “Astral Traveller” and “Time and a Word” were included in the aforementioned Yesterdays; they are both standout tracks. Overall, however, I consider Time and a Word to be a somewhat transitional album, and one that sets the stage for the magnificent, near-perfect The Yes Album.

Brad: Tad, had I realized how old you are, I might’ve broken this friendship off a while ago. . . Ha. The historian in me likes to note that it’s all relative.  The freshmen look younger and younger by the day!

To both of you–thank you.  Excellent thoughts.  I must admit, while I have nothing against either Yes or Time and a Word (and I own both), I have always begun–at least in my head–Yes with The Yes Album.  For me, Yes and Time and a Word are akin to Genesis’s first album and Rush’s first album.  They’re fun to pull out every decade or so, but they’ve never been in constant rotation. Yet, relistening to both for this symposium reminds me that they are quite good.  I am especially taken with the interplay of bass, drums, and keyboards.

Tad, I agree that Time and a Word is the weaker of the two albums, but there are still some great things on it.  

I’m sure at some level, my own attitude has to do with Steve Howe being on The Yes Album for the first time. Still, I can’t take this attitude too far, because I’m perfectly fine with Trevor Rabin as guitarist. Peter Banks is a fine psychedelic guitarist, but he just doesn’t grab me or my loyalty.

The Yes Album, the first to feature Steve Howe

From those first two albums, I like “Survival” and “Then.”  But, to me, even the first two minutes of The Yes Album just blows away everything combined from the first two albums. “Yesterday a morning came, a smile upon your face.”  Then, battleships and purple wolfhounds and mutilated armies!  All of the psychedelic glory of the first two albums but with outrageously good and complex music and vocals.  Now, the great interplay is between guitar, bass, and drums. Truly, “Yours is No Disgrace” has to be one of the greatest songs in rock history.

It’s bested, however.  “Sister bluebird, flying high above.” “Starship Trooper” is even better than “Yours is No Disgrace.”  Lyrically, it makes a bit more sense, and the interplay of bass and guitar is just awe inspiring.  For me, Anderson’s vocals are the weakest part of any Yes album.  On “Starship Trooper,” though, his vocals match the music just perfectly. Tad, I don’t blame you in the least for air guitaring to “Wurm.”  This is, without question, my favorite Yes song and, to me, a song that perhaps best defines progressive rock.

Tad: Brad, let’s just say that The Yes Album is the first album released by the mature Yes, so in that sense it is their debut! It is a quantum leap beyond its predecessors – there isn’t a disappointing song on it, and it established the template for classic prog albums. 

Even after countless listens, those powerful opening chords of “Yours Is No Disgrace” get me excited every time. You mentioned what a difference having Steve Howe on guitar makes, and you’re right; he brings much-needed focus and energy to the mix. Another new element is Chris Squire’s bass – he’s mixed way up front, and for all intents and purposes he is another lead guitarist in many places. His distinctive shivery, trebly tone is proudly on display for all to hear, and I love it. I’ve always thought Squire is the indispensable component of Yes’ sound, with both his instrumental and vocal contributions. If he’s involved, it’s Yes!

“Starship Trooper” is not my favorite Yes song, but it’s definitely in my Top 5. And before I step aside for Kevin to add his thoughts, I want to put in some words of praise for “Perpetual Change”. It didn’t get as much radio play as the other tracks, but it is a wonderful production. Dynamically, it varies from crunching loudness to gentle soft passages. At times it sounds like two different groups playing different songs, but it works. Every time I listen to it, I discover new details to delight in.

Kevin: Brad and Tad, great thoughts all around.  About the first album, I will say that I love that it begins with a one-note solo by Chris Squire, founding member and the one constant member of the band until his death. It’s a pretty rough recording, both compositionally and sonically, but I think it’s an amazing first go at it and establishes the band’s signature wide-open approach to songwriting.  The blend of a myriad of styles is already there and the vocal approach is already clearly a “choral” one, a la Crosby, Stills and Nash.  We don’t hear Jon’s voice alone until the middle of track two.  While he’s no Steve Howe, Peter Banks does an admirable job, notably on the jazzy “I See You.” And that rhythm section! Bruford is on fire at times and Squire is always amazing. Like Brad, I really hadn’t given this beginning of the group much attention until we began this conversation. It’s a beautiful record and sets the stage so to speak for five decades of Yes music.

Like Tad, I don’t think that the orchestral approach was right for Yes at this point. And let’s cut to the chase before even discussing the music of Time and a Word—did they really need a naked lady on the cover? I mean this doesn’t even fit in the hippy vibe of the time.  Nothing really artistic there—just some cheap eye candy. It’s symbolic of the problem for this album.  

Somewhat surprising for a sophomore effort, the album suffers from overconfidence.  The ideas were good, they just weren’t ready yet to compose music like this convincingly.  (Or maybe it’s the other way around).  Even Jon’s lyrics aren’t as mature as they would be on the follow-up, The Yes Album.  But of course this criticism is in light of what was to come.  I would put it this way: if Time and a Word was the last thing they did I would be pretty impressed with what they had accomplished in two albums and with their wonderful blending of ideas. But then how could so much creative energy stop there. 

And since, like it or not, recorded music is also a commercial venture, that second album left the band on the verge of being dropped by their label (sounds familiar).  Then, guitarist Peter Banks, who didn’t like the orchestral approach on the second album, quit or was fired depending on your source, leaving the band in a pickle and needing to replace him quickly to begin the tour for the new album (sounds even more familiar). 

And in walks this guy—Steve Howe.  

At this point Howe was already a seasoned musician and had played in a number of semi-successful bands. He had done session work with Ronnie Wood (The Stones) and Aynsley Dunbar (Jeff Beck, Zappa), shared billing with Pink Floyd, and auditioned for The Nice, Jethro Tull, and The Atomic Rooster.  Lucky for Yes none of the later opportunities panned out and Howe began rehearsing with the band in April 1970.

Steve Howe’s entrance into the band cannot be overestimated.  Already at that early point in his career Howe had developed a broad palette of interests and experience.  His influences ranged from jazz (Wes Montgomery) to country (Chet Atkins) to folk (Bob Dylan) not to mention obvious rock icons like the Beatles, Crosby Stills and Nash, and Jimi Hendrix. He had eclectic tastes and already had acquired an amazing assortment of instruments from around the world which he would bring into Yes’s songwriting, not as novelties but as genuine tone colors.

The rest of Yes must have realized the magnitude of what Howe brought to the band’s sound since they named the next recording The Yes Album.  His impact can be heard immediately from the opening moments of “Yours is No Disgrace” all the way through to the widely varied solos that drive the closing track “Perpetual Change.” 

The album includes Steve’s solo piece, “Clap”—an incredible performance of a difficult piece which he had only recently written.  The song is an intense five minutes of Chet Atkins-inspired chord-melody work, interspersed with jazz runs and bluesy riffs and a panoply of chord progressions. He quotes the somewhat recent hit “Classical Gas” in there and he concludes with a clever key change at the end which allows him to rock the ending in the very guitar-friendly key of E. All performed seemingly effortlessly by a relatively young player at the time.

And that brilliant guitar work returns in the middle of “Starship Trooper” and we realize that it’s possible for Jon Anderson to sing with this amazing guitar work.  It’s an astonishing display of composition that Anderson was able to work a beautiful vocal line over the top of Howe’s country fingerstyle playing and with one of the greatest lines on the album: “Loneliness is power that we possess to give or take away forever”

THIS! Only to be followed by another standout track, “ I’ve Seen All Good People,” which opens side two with the tight vocal harmonies now coming into their own from the band’s previous works.  It also features Steve bringing in new color tones on the Portugese 12-string guitar.  But what an amazing group effort—how many songs pair an acoustic guitar with a pipe organ?! And then rock out a blues riff for five minutes only to drift back into a reprise which spirals a final phrase downward through perilously descending key changes.  What is this music?!!

While I love so much of the guitar work on The Yes Album, perhaps my favorite moment is the transition from the beautifully warm jazz guitar solo in “Perpetual Change” as it then builds back into the more driving rock of the rest of the track.  The shift is not only seamless but it is a perfectly timed crescendo. It’s a brilliant musical moment.  And then, quite oddly, at this very moment of perfection a great “intrusion” occurs when a completely unrelated section leaps in without any transition.  Now I realize that likely Jon was trying to emphasize the title of the track and embody within it some “perpetual change,” and in a different piece of music the surprise might have been effective. But I just don’t think it works here.  The moment could have been a masterful shift as found in Steve’s beautifully crafted solo.  That being said, I love Chris’ bassline for the new section and love the way he maintains his bassline as Tony Kaye overpowers him with the organ.  Other than the moment of intrusion the piece as a whole is spectacular.  The Yes Album is an astonishing new beginning for this classic lineup of the band.  Where could they possibly go from there?

Fragile, the first Yes album to feature Rick Wakeman, and the first with Roger Dean artwork

Fragile—Classic Yes, with some of the greatest Yes tracks, and with probably THE classic Yes lineup. The band really begins to gel here and the entrance of the master of the keys (complete with cape), Rick Wakeman, pushes the band into even more powerful compositions, filling in whatever remaining crevices were left in the sound and exploding them into the stratosphere (okay a little hyperbole never hurts, right Brad?).

Brad: Fragile is a triumph–especially considering this is only the band’s second effort with Steve Howe and its first with Rick Wakeman.

There’s still something utterly majestic about “Roundabout” even though I’ve listened to it an outrageous number of times in my life.  I very much like to imagine being in the car, driving in and around the valley with those mountains coming out of the sky and standing there.  I also very much like to imagine playing any one of the instruments necessary to make this song.  Would I rather be the bassist, the guitarist, the keyboardist, the drummer?  Asking such a question, of course, only makes one realize the sheer complexity of the song.

Though “Starship Trooper” is my favorite Yes song, “South Side of the Sky” is a very (hair-line distinction) close second.  If “Roundabout” took us on a lovely summer drive, “South Side of the Sky” drops us in the middle of a raging and unpredictable storm with little prospect of survival.  We are there for what seems like eternity!  At least according to the lyrics.

“Long Distance Runaround” and “The Fish”, of course, became live classics.  Their sound on Fragile, though, is already impeccable, nuanced and spacious.  “I still remember the time you said goodbye.” And, then the important question–did we lie or did we count to 100? The transition to “The Fish” has to be one of the greatest transitions in rock history, as we suddenly find ourselves in a water funnel of bass glory.

The album ends with the rather involved and equally fetching “Heart of the Sunrise,” a hard-rocking song steeped in poetic images and deeply romantic lyrics.

As I mentioned way back at the beginning of this post, I have always been most taken with Yes’s 1972 album, Close to the Edge.  It’s not only my favorite Yes album, but it’s one of my all-time favorite albums, a top five or six, to be certain.

Only three tracks long, the album exudes confidence, and three tracks, taken together, are as mystical as rock can get.

Tad: Kevin, thank you for providing some historical context to Howe’s joining up with Yes. I wasn’t aware of his appreciation for country music, but it makes sense given his fairly frequent use of steel guitar. 

I’m going to second Brad’s appreciation for the Fragile album. It’s with this one that all the pieces fall into place for their truly “classic” sound: Howe is fully integrated, Squire is bursting with invention, Bruford is at the top of his game, Anderson’s lyrics and vocals are maturing, and new member Rick Wakeman is on board to provide Bach and Brahms-influenced flourishes on the keyboards. It’s also the first one to feature Roger Dean’s artwork, which definitely an improvement over TIme and a Word’s cover, right Kevin?

“Long Distance Runaround” was catchy enough to get airplay on Top Forty radio, while “Heart of the Sunrise” was their longest track yet and which foreshadowed what was to come on the next album. I didn’t know what a “Roundabout” was until my family went to England when I was an 8th grader, and then I saw them all over the place. After that, the song made more sense!

Kevin: Before I spill lots of ink praising the glories of this record I must begin with the observation that while the band is beginning to gel here, the union is not yet complete.  There are moments of wandering and lots of individual effort that don’t lend themselves to the focused albums which will follow.  Tracks like “Five Percent for Nothing,” “Cans and Brahms,” and even “Mood for a Day” are interesting compositions to be sure, but they don’t carry forward the experience of the band convincingly. For a band that eventually will be known for “concept” albums, the lack of focus on this album distracts from the continuity of the experience, at least for this listener.  

With that thought out of the way, there is no question that with this record the band has matured into a powerhouse.  “Roundabout,” “Long Distance Runaround/The Fish”, and “Heart of the Sunrise” all would be worthy of the title “rock masterpieces.”  Eminently singable, the melodies feel natural but fresh, the sections work well together but take some delightfully surprising turns, and the individual musicianship astonishes.  How could these five people work at such an intense and virtuosic level, each to his own instrument, and create such wonderful music?! This level of creative collaboration was unprecedented for the time and really set the bar extraordinarily high.  Many have followed in the prog world, but few have succeeded to reach such a broad audience with so appealing a sound. 

“Roundabout” has a great running bass groove with catchy verses and catchy bridges (there isn’t a proper chorus).  It’s a beautiful marriage of driving rock and progressive touches. “Long Distance Runaround” surprises with a delightful jazzy opening followed by power chords and syncopated percussion which segues into Chris Squire’s masterful feature bass solo, “The Fish. “Heart of the Sunrise” once again features Squire at the forefront with his defining groove as the song’s main theme.  In fact it’s arguable that if Howe was the standout for The Yes Album, it’s Squire who really shines on Fragile. He even pens with Anderson the intense and angular extended folk jam “South Side of the Sky” (though my favorite instrument on that track is Wakeman’s grinding-then-sparkling piano).   

It’s an enthralling album with incredible moments of immense beauty. I even enjoy the clever conclusion with the door opening to a reprise of Anderson’s “We Have Heaven.” 

But their true masterpiece was just around the corner.  In fact, some listeners apparently didn’t think Fragile was “prog” enough.  I remember hearing comments decades ago, made by those who were fans of the band from the beginning, to the effect that Fragile was a sellout. But that overly harsh criticism really fails on closer inspection—there is no crime in creating powerful art appreciated by a larger audience. The real issue was that they still were a very young group. Fragile is brilliant and a breakout album for Yes. But it also prepared them to conspire to create THE defining progressive rock album just six months later.

Tad: Kevin, I concur with your opinion that on Fragile, “the union is not yet complete”. It’s always a little worrisome to me when a group uses up space on an Lp for “solo” tracks, and they all do that here. They’re short, but they’re there. By the way, I learned from Rick Beato’s fantastic YouTube videos that “Roundabout” begins with a backward piano chord!

Okay, I see the light at the end of the tunnel of this very long post! We agreed to wrap up this first chapter of Yes’s career with the live set, Yessongs, which was recorded during their Close To The Edge tour.

Close To The Edge, Yes’ masterpiece

Regarding Close To The Edge, I’m almost afraid to comment on it. What can I say that hasn’t been already said? It tops most lists as the greatest progressive rock album, and deservedly so. It’s my understanding that the sessions were not the smoothest, and not long after they finished Bruford left to join King Crimson. However fraught the studio work was, the end result is a masterpiece. 

I recently listened to Steven Wilson’s 5.1 mix, and it is phenomenal. The opening sounds of nature – chirping birds, buzzing insects, a babbling brook – build to an all-encompassing crescendo of sound that is taken over by Wakemans’ keys, Squire’s bass, Howe’s slashing guitar, Bruford’s frenetic drum fills, only to stop on a dime for Anderson’s “AHHH!”. When Howe finally plays the theme of “Close To The Edge”, it is one of the most transcendent moments in rock.

A key test of a song’s quality is if it holds my interest throughout the performance. Even though “Close To The Edge” is 18:39 in length, it never flags nor seems overdone. Every note is perfect and necessary. The same holds true for “And You And I”. I remember messing around with harmonics on my guitar based on Howe’s intro. This song is a gentle reprieve after the bombast – and I mean that in a good way – of “Close To The Edge”.

It was a long time before I appreciated “Siberian Khatru” for the excellent song it is. Those clanging guitar chords are pretty jarring after the bliss of “And You And I”, but now I love the unstoppable drive and energy of it.

Kevin: I think great albums, like great books, do not reveal everything at once.  Close to the Edge can be hard to approach.  The mysterious sound loop introduction entices us in, but the next two minutes are a frenetic chase through a dangerous jungle. Wakeman’s seizure-inducing MiniMoog line is a hellhound on the listener’s tail. Its intensity combined with equally frantic guitar and bass, not to mention Bruford’s splashy fusion rhythms, affects a very 20th Century classical vibe. It’s not until three minutes in that we hear Anderson’s familiar voice against a major tonic chord followed by Howe flowing into the main theme.  It’s only through repeated listens that you realize its greatness.  Clearly they have stepped into a higher plane of composition in a very short span of time since the close of the Fragile tour.

The inner gatefold art of Close To The Edge

Brad: Close to the Edge is steeped in excellence and mystery.  While not Christian, it lyrically hints at a Christian view of life. In some ways, being less explicitly Christian makes it more artistically Christian. Plus images of the nailed preacher, the infinity (well, not quite!) of time, the total mass retain, and the woman crying mythically call to the listener. They present images that enviable.  Really, one might say that the music, the lyrics, and the Roger Dean art created a sort of wholistic art, in and of itself, something that transcends any one genre of music.

For better or worse, though, Anderson viewed it as a rather anti-religious song.  That is, he thought it was an inversion of the Church (especially with the organ becoming the Moog).  “There are several lines that relate to the church. Churchgoers are always fighting about who’s better and who’s richer and who’s more hip. So at the end of the middle section there’s a majestic church organ.We destroy the church organ through the Moog.  This leads to another organ solo rejoicing in the fact that you can turn your back on churches and find it within yourself to be your own church.” [Jon Anderson, quoted in Morse, YESSTORIES]

So, what is the point of being in a church if you’re the only member of the congregation, I have to ask?  

But, I’ll stop for now.  I’m starting to sound as psychedelic as the album!

Tad: Brad, you mention some issues you have with Anderson’s lyrics in “Close To The Edge”, and I can appreciate the points you make. However, as a listener of rock music practically all my life, I’ve never paid a lot of attention to lyrics, and that holds especially true for Yes. Anderson’s lyrics are, to me, kind of impenetrable gobbledy-gook that are more a musical element of their songs than anything that conveys real meaning. There are exceptions, of course, but generally I just consider his vocals another musical instrument in the mix.

Kevin: You are both right in a way. I think Anderson may be doing a bit of revisionist history in his comments about the meaning of CTTE. Shortly after the disbanding of Yes in 1980 Chris Squire commented that Anderson’s lyrics didn’t have any deep meaning, that he just chose them for the sounds and images. While I think that’s probably a bit of a reductive view (and probably a bit of a slam against a friend with whom he was having some struggles), I do think that’s how Anderson composed the songs. But that doesn’t take away “meaning” from the words entirely, it just opens them up to very broad interpretation.  I think Brad’s point is well stated and a valid critique of Anderson’s comments.  But I’m not sure that Jon Anderson of 1972, through his funny-pipe-smoke haze, would have articulated the song’s meaning in the way he is quoted above.  So it may be better not to dive too deep into those waters.

In any case CTTE really was a creative ascension for Yes.  And to be honest I think they stayed there for quite a while, with varying degrees of success.  Their creative output from the early to mid-70’s is astonishing really.  And that doesn’t even include the fact that they were performing all of this incredibly complex music live for much of the time in between albums.  It’s just hard to fathom how they did it.

Tad: Which brings us to the massive, three-Lp live set, Yessongs. This is Yes at their absolute peak, playing extremely complex and challenging music with confidence and vigor. It’s all the more remarkable considering Bruford’s replacement, Alan White, barely had time to learn it before the tour began. A few years ago, I saw the 7-disc boxset, Progeny, in a used records store and splurged on it. It is seven performances, raw and unenhanced, from the same tour that Yessongs came from, and it is great. Seven different versions of the same setlist, and what strikes me is the consistently excellent quality of the performances. There are some hilarious moments – like when a local FM radio station spontaneously starts playing over their PA – but they delivered an outstanding show night after night.

To wrap things up, why don’t we each pick two albums from this period that we would recommend to someone that had never heard of Yes? Mine are probably the obvious ones: The Yes Album, and Close To The Edge

Brad: Tad, I’m with you.  I splurged on Progeny as well, and I’ve not regretted it.  While none of the performances quite equal the beauty that is Yessongs, the magic of Yes is clear and undeniable on these seven disks.

It’s hard to just pick two from this period, but I would second your nominations, Tad: The Yes Album and Close to the Edge.

I will add this in defense of Fragile. With the tracks of the band and the individual tracks taken together, Fragile is a Yes attempt to duplicate Abbey Road. It doesn’t work, but I understand why the band tried it.  A noble effort.  A little hyperbole indeed, Kevin C. McCormick.

Kevin: Okay I’m going to completely cave on this. Brad, it’s not hard to pick two albums—it’s impossible. I’d have to concur with both of your choices, but I just couldn’t leave out Fragile

Tad: Kevin, I’m glad someone spoke up for that album; I should have made it three!

That wraps up our look at the first phase of Yes’s career. Next up: Tales From Topographic Oceans through Yesshows. That should be an interesting conversation, because a lot of changes happened during that period.

 

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