In anticipation of the release of Yes’ twenty-first studio album, Heaven & Earth on July 22nd, I’ve decided to present a list of my five all-time favourite records from throughout the band’s forty-five year career. Be warned: I believe that Yes’ great strength is that their line-up is constantly changing, and therefore subscribe to no one line-up as the definitive. A great many people will likely disagree with my choices, but here they are, in any case.
5. Drama (1980)
This controversial record was recorded after vocalist/founding member Jon Anderson and keyboardist/fan favourite Rick Wakeman left the band in 1979. While fans had already experienced a Wakeman departure, Yes had never been without Anderson’s trademark vocals. While putting together new material in 1980, the three remaining Yes members met Trevor Horn and Geoffrey Downes (the duo known as The Buggles, who were responsible for “Video Killed the Radio Star,” and it’s criminally underrated parent album The Age of Plastic). After sharing a few demos, Horn and Downes were brought on as official members and Drama was the direct result. While some of the album has a decidedly darker tone, there is a great deal of Buggles-esque new wave in there as well. In my opinion, it was a necessary step to see the band without Anderson. Horn’s more rigid delivery took the band somewhat away from its more spiritual roots and into a realm of science fiction, but it equated to a surprising twist that primed Yes for the era that was to come.
Highlights: “Machine Messiah,” “Run Through the Light,” “Into the Lens.”
4. The Yes Album (1971)
The band’s third studio album was their first with guitarist Steve Howe and launched them into real success. Their first two records were great examples of their early talents, but the style we all came to love made its first true appearance here. The album includes several iconic concert staples, and is the last time we hear Tony Kaye’s brilliant analog keyboard work in full-force on a Yes release. I would consider this album the best possible starting point for any uninitiated listener. It remains the best example of the band’s spirit.
Highlights: “Yours Is No Disgrace,” “A Venture,” “Starship Trooper,” “I’ve Seen All Good People.”
3. Fly From Here (2011)
Here’s where people start throwing things at me. Fly From Here is the band’s second record without Jon Anderson, and is the first and only studio album to feature vocalist Benoît David. I bloody love the thing. Not only does the album feature punchy and haunting songs (many of which were demos written by Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes during the Drama sessions in 1980), but David’s vocals are top-notch. The clarity of his voice, perfect annunciation, and the feeling in his delivery get me every time. With Trevor Horn, a man who knows a great deal about Yes, at the helm, the production is stellar. The album echoes the Drama days, but also touches on the seventies stuff on a few great occaisions, such as on “Hour of Need.” Also of note, Steve Howe’s playing on the record is the best I’ve heard from him since Asia’s Phoenix.
Highlights: “Fly From Here,” “Life on a Film Set,” “Hour of Need.”
2. Close to the Edge (1972)
This album is just beginning to end solid. If there is a pinnacle in the band’s first ten years, it is Close to the Edge. The album features three long compositions, the first being the longest the band had recorded at the time. With ace drummer Bill Bruford a short time away from becoming a member of King Crimson, and Rick Wakeman well tested after his debut outing with the band earlier in ’72, the band had the ball and was running with it. The album features many of the band’s best moments ever captured on record, including the entirety of “And You And I.” While the length of its compositions might be daunting to casual listeners, Close to the Edge remains the best of the band’s classic work.
Highlights: “Close to the Edge,” “And You And I,” “Siberian Khatru.” Yep… all of them.
1. 90125 (1983)
I am a child of the eighites, so maybe there is a bit of a bias here, but if a band designated by a lot of people at the time as progressive rock dinosaurs can release a record that can win the heart of a child born in that era, I’m fairly certain they got something right. 90125 is no mere ‘old band selling out to survive,’ moment. After falling apart at the end of 1980, Yes drafted rising star Trevor Rabin as their lead guitarist, vocalist, and principle songwriter. After reuniting with founding members Jon Anderson and Tony Kaye, the new line-up was complete. With Rabin leading the charge and Trevor Horn producing, the band built a sound that not only competed with the young guns of the era, but also trumped a great many of them. Not only is the album catchy, solid, and exciting, but every one of its songs is bloody awesome too. I feel it is a very important album in progressive rock history because it proved that prog bands could join the mainstream without completely sacrificing their art. For instance, “Changes,” and “Hearts” are very progressive tunes and see the band doing what they’ve always done but within an eighties pop atmosphere.
Highlights: “Changes,” “Hearts,” “Our Song,” … and all the rest.
Going for the One (1977) | Talk (1994) | Magnification (2001)
I’m disgusted that these didn’t make it into the top five, but I stand by my choices.
Highlights: “Awaken” | “Endless Dream” | “Spirit of Survival”
RYAN SMITH spends a great deal of his time under troll bridges shaking his fist and hollering obscenities at the mainstream, but occasionally finds himself on the side of a pop act that the underground has disowned. A schizoid fan for the 21st century? Although he has a diverse musical taste that runs the gamut from black metal to country to most forms of jazz, Ryan’s first love will always be progressive music.