“On a sailing ship to nowhere, leaving any place,
If the summer change to winter, yours is no disgrace…”
The progenitors of prog; the masters of excess. Yes’ seminal third record, “The Yes Album” celebrates its 50th birthday this February.
The early 70’s were an interesting time for rock n’ roll music. When looking back at the history of contemporary music, it is easy to condense information and overlook details. The 60’s were revolutionary in that bands like the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and the Who, who would define what the very essence of rock n roll is, were exposed to the masses.
I mention this because it is easy to forget just how fast pop was evolving during this time period. One second you had the Chubby Checker, the next you had the Beatles.
And then suddenly, there bands like Yes, who’s massive contributions to rock music helped to propel the genre to new experimental heights but are often overlooked.
Sure, they had some hits and a resurgence in the 80’s, who doesn’t love them some “Owner of a Lonely Heart?”
But anyone who has taken a second to dive a little deeper know that there is musical gold to be found in early Yes.
“The Yes Album” marks the debut of long-time guitarist Steve Howe joining veteran Yes members Chris Squire on bass, Bill Bruford on drums, keyboardist Tony Kaye, and singer Jon Anderson. It is arguably their most important contribution to the realm of contemporary music.
One of Yes’ most popular songs, “I’ve Seen All Good People,” appears on the album and is a shining example of the perfect combination of good, earnest, pop-sensible songwriting and complex excess that has come to define Yes over the years.
The song is split into two parts. The first movement, “Your Move,” invokes a sense of serenity in peace. Its lyrics deal with relationships and alludes to the game of chess. The song soon breaks into its second portion, an energetic rock n’ roll jam that demonstrates the groups instrumental prowess.
“Starship Trooper” offers the listener a spaced-out landscape of rock n roll madness and dream-like imagery. Its folk-rock interlude full of fingerpickin’ goodness and angelic harmony that pervades the rest of the album shine in stark contrast to the rest of the star-kissed epic.
Equally epic is the album’s closer, “Perpetual Change,” which effectively displays the musical prowess possessed by the members of Yes.
My favorite tune is perhaps the album’s opener, “Yours is No Disgrace.” Clocking in at roughly ten minutes, the song features all the best things that make Yes, Yes. All the guys are playing their asses off, and somehow all these complex parts come together to form a killer song.
Prominently featured on this song and the rest of the album is the group’s use of harmonies akin to those of the Beach Boys. Their harmonies along with their “Beatles-esque” excessive approach to songwriting and a tinge of jazz and Latin influence provided for a rich and fulfilling musical experience that would go on to influence a plethora of musicians and push the boundaries of what we knew contemporary music to be.
Jon Anderson’s high-pitched vocals ring pleasantly through the group’s harmonies, his words elegant and poetic; Steve Howe presents a versatile array of guitar stylings that have perplexed and inspired players for generations; Chris Squire delivers elegantly complex-yet-catchy bass lines, changing the way the instrument was viewed; Tony Kaye adds texture and richness to the compositions with his fat organ sound; and Bill Bruford holds them all together seamlessly on drums. This is Yes.
The album is truly a journey, and I recommend anyone who has not experienced it for themselves should do so immediately. Happy Birthday to “The Yes Album.”