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Yes - Yessongs CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

4.32 | 891 ratings

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4 stars This was something of a curiosity when it released in 1973. George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass came out a couple years earlier, but I can’t recall any other triple vinyl albums from those days besides these. Also, the Roger Dean artwork, especially on the inside of the album, was really striking. At the time live albums were not normally considered on par with studio records, primarily because the sound was usually poor, and also because bootleg live albums were pretty easy to pick up cheap or even free, so it made little sense to actually pay for a recording of a concert. Of course Peter Frampton was only three years away from releasing Frampton Comes Alive, which would change many people’s perception of live albums.

In the case of Yes though, Fragile and Close to the Edge were still making waves across the heartland, especially with those of us who were too young to have been hippies, but who in many cases had older siblings or friends who were. In my neighborhood at least, this was definitely considered music for those who walked on the left fringes of society. I didn’t actually buy my own copy until years later when it was released on CD, but my older brother had the album and I certainly remember many summer afternoons listening to it in our basement while pondering the meaning of life and daydreaming about more exotic places than the wheat fields of the midwest (you’ve seen That 70’s Show, right?!).

Anyway, pretty much every progressive music fan knows all about this album and the two hours of stellar performances on it, so most of the songs need no introduction or critique. I will say that my re-mastered CD copy has quite a bit cleaner sound than my brother’s old vinyl, although the drums and bass still seem to be a bit muddled in places, particularly on “Heart of the Sunrise” and “Perpetual Change”.

The Stravinsky opening is just spectacular, and having seen them do this live in later years, I can say that the band definitely knows how to grab an audience’s attention right from the start. The rest of the album has no really bad tracks, with some of them actually coming off as more interesting and animated than the original versions. “I’ve Seen All Good People”, for example is much more familiar to me than the studio version, as the radio stations in my home town used to play it all the time, and it still sounds like the only ‘correct’ version to my ears.

I could have done without the “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” excerpt, an album I also own but rarely listen to. I’ve always found Rick Wakeman to be a bit self-indulgent on his solo albums, and the track just seems out-of-place amid the much more impressive Yes works.

The extended version of “Yours is No Disgrace” also strikes me as a bit cutesy, almost as if the band is grandstanding. This is one of my favorite Yes songs, but the studio version is much more succinct, and the spectacle of Steve Howe and Wakeman’s extended guitar/keyboard work is largely lost without the visual experience to go along with it.

But the band more than makes up for this faux pas with the closing “Starship Trooper”. I’ve actually heard a live version from the 1978 Wembley BBC London show which I think is a bit tighter, particularly White’s drums, but I guess he was still getting his feet with the band here, and between Howe, Anderson, and Chris Squire they more than pick up the slack.

All told this is a pretty darn good live album for the time in which it was released. Having heard both the original vinyl and the re-mastered CD, I prefer the CD version, but frankly it’s not as dramatic a difference as I’ve heard in other re-mastered works from the early 70s. I imagine that’s partly because there were some flaws in the taping to begin with, and the mixing afterwards leaves a bit to be desired in terms of subtlety. But over the years I have grown much more appreciative of live albums, especially those that captured the sound of great band at their peak, and that is certainly the case here. Of the many live albums yes has released over the years, this one has the best track selection and best reflects the sound of the band in its classic lineup. For those reasons (in addition to the great music, of course), four stars seems appropriate.


ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |


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