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YES

Yes

 

Symphonic Prog

3.25 | 1278 ratings

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cfergmusic1
3 stars Of all the classic prog bands, Yes is probably the most famous one, and there's a reason for that: along with King Crimson, they were arguably the very first real "progressive" band in existence from the outset. However, whereas KC tended to have more of a jazz/avant-garde edge to their sound, Yes was steeped in the Classical/Romantic ideal of composition and development of long-form song ideas. Like most groups that followed them, their sound was a blend of pop, classical, jazz and just about everything else in between; Yes just happened to set the standard for inventive and ear-catching arrangements and instrumentation, most of which still hold up today.

The original line-up was as follows: Jon Anderson, quasi-flower child, frontman, lead vocalist, chief composer and lyricist; Peter Banks, guitarist influenced by jazz and psychedelic adventures; Bill Bruford, the rare rock-n-roll drummer who was more Max Roach than Keith Moon; Tony Kaye, keyboard man with a simple approach that served the group in good stead for a while; and Chris Squire, who was already on his way to becoming a legendary bass guitarist. (He would also eventually assume his position as captain of the Yes ship, being the only original member never to miss a gig or album with the band until his untimely death from leukemia in 2015.)

Being that this was Yes' first album, recorded within the first six months or so of their existence, one would expect them to be somewhat immature in their approach, which of course is part and parcel of the learning process. The opening track, "Beyond and Before" (apparently a holdover from Chris Squire's previous band, Mabel Greer's Toyshop) will bear this out; introduced by Squire's "Wichita Lineman" bass sounding in the guitar range, the tune is little more than a psychedelic hangover. The vocal harmonies (by Anderson, Squire and Banks) don't exactly fit with the chords most of the time (besides being slightly out of tune), and the band is pretty blatantly off during the stop-time section. Not exactly a great representative of the Yes sound, yet it's still apparent they're setting their sights high.

"I See You" is one of two covers on this album, and evidently this is how Yes tested out their arranging ideas, by taking other people's music and enriching it through their own mindset. Bruford was very much in favor of this approach, and I agree with this idea as well?heck, this is how the Beatles got started! Anyway, not being familiar with the original version by the Byrds, I can't say what it sounded like, but I'm willing to bet it wasn't an up-tempo jazz exercise. For the most part, the track is well-performed and it sounds like Yes had fun doing it. The major downside is the guitar/drum duet that takes up about two minutes in the middle. Now, Bruford has gone on record as saying that he recorded this whole album with a mix of ear-splitting Banks guitar on one side of his 'phones and virtually nothing on the other side (because he didn't know he could change the mix). Knowing this, it's amazing that he comes off as well as he does throughout the album. On this track, particularly, he keeps up the jazz beat and plays around with it occasionally, never flagging, never wavering in his time feel. The same cannot, however, be said for Banks; his playing is consistently sloppy and behind the beat in his solo spot. He sounds rather like a first-year jazz guitar student who thinks he already has all the Wes Montgomery solos down.

The next track, "Yesterday and Today," was written solely by Anderson and unfortunately is not one of his best. There is a certain delicacy to this (I guess) love song, however, and Bruford turns in a rare appearance on vibraphone in the background. Don't be discouraged by my comments on the first three tracks, as the album does get better as it goes on, anyway.

"Looking Around" immediately packs a lot more punch, as it's one of the rare straightforward rockers from the early days of the band (the Bill Buford era). The groove is broken up in the middle by the bridge, which begins in a more mellow fashion before kicking back up. Kaye's transitional organ lines in the intro and reprise are dazzling, but unfortunately, Banks has another substandard solo (thankfully it's brief). We also have to deal with more of Jon's psych/hippie lyrics, but that's a small price to pay. Good track.

"Harold Land" kicks off side two and is named after a jazz saxophonist of some reputation who hit his stride in the 50s and 60s as a contemporary of John Coltrane. (The title was suggested by Bruford, who also gets a co-writing credit.) The title character (who we can pretty safely assume is not the saxophonist) leaves his quiet suburban life behind, goes off to war and is never quite the same person? or something. The lyrics are a bit obtuse, but musically, you can hear the band improving with every step.

Speaking of, the next track, a cover of the Beatles' "Every Little Thing" is leaps and bounds ahead of the previous cover on this album. This would pretty well set the stage for Yes' future covers, or what little there were: an all-out instrumental intro, leading to the actual song which may or may not have been altered slightly; some more instrumentals, usually involving at least one guitar solo; final verse and/or chorus; exciting and dynamic coda. It can be safely said that the band bring to life all the orchestral possibilities that were merely only hinted at by Ringo's timpani bursts in the original version, and this turns out to be one of the "sleeper" Yes tracks (and would become an unlikely stage favorite on their 35th anniversary tour). Bonus points to Banks for quoting the "Day Tripper" riff before the vocals come in.

"Sweetness," another Anderson trifle, isn't quite a definitive work but comes off quite a bit better than "Yesterday and Today." This one is slightly longer and feels more developed, like there's a legitimate reason for it to exist beyond the "demo" stage. Some nice vocal harmonies in here too.

"Survival" was the first track I heard off this album (on Highlights: The Very Best of Yes, back when I still cared about "greatest hits" packages) and it was amazing to me how adventurous Yes was even back then. Of course, they'd create more lasting works than this, but this tale of "nature's way" still has a certain amount of charm to it, lent mostly by Banks' 12-string guitar and Kaye's unadorned yet effective Hammond organ lines (at least when he's not rushing them). In spite of its flaws, it's still my favorite track on the album. The 15-second coda hints at what is still to come?

The bonus tracks on the Rhino remaster (2003) are almost another album unto itself, or at least they would be if they didn't repeat tracks. As it is, we have two distinct versions of Stephen Stills' "Everydays," both of which I actually prefer to the recording on Time and a Word. The lack of orchestra on these renditions lets us hear how this "Yes-ified" cover should have been all along. (Check out Bruford's hi-hat!) A non-album track, "Dear Father," is also presented twice; I interpret the lyrics as being about a monastery student who is becoming increasingly disillusioned with what he is studying. It has all the hallmarks of a great early Yes song and would have been a good fit on the original album. Lastly, we have two different recordings of another Yes cover, "Something's Coming" from West Side Story (my favorite musical), which for me is even better than "Every Little Thing." I wonder what Leonard Bernstein would have thought of this version, given that he doesn't seem to have cared for much prog-rock (or at least not ELP).

Yes still had a long way to go after this, but their debut sows the seeds of their future work rather effectively. All the blueprints are laid out; at this point, it was just a question of building on their designs. If by some miracle, you're new to Yes and want to explore their work, I recommend this only after you have some of their later albums?i.e., The Yes Album, Fragile, Close to the Edge. I especially recommend the remastered CD; since the bonus tracks stretch the package out to almost 80 minutes (more than double the length of the original album), you'll get more bang for your buck. 3.5 stars out of 5.

cfergmusic1 | 3/5 |

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