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.