While later albums like Fragile
(Atlantic, 1971) and the epic Close to the Edge
(Atlantic, 1972) would establish Yes as superstars of the progressive rock world (and, to some extent, beyond), it was The Yes Album
, also released by Atlantic but nine months earlier in February of 1971, that announced Yes a group with still-untapped potential but a group that had, nevertheless, finally arrived.
It was a tumultuous time for a group whose career has subsequently been defined by conflict and revolving door personnel. First formed in 1968, by 1971 Yes already had two albums to its credit, and kudos from important critics including Rolling Stone
's Lester Bangs and Melody Maker
's Tony Wilson, who cited Yes and Led Zeppelin as the two British bands "most likely to succeed."
(Atlantic, 1968) nor Time and a Word
(Atlantic, 1969) charted significantly, but both recordings established Yes as a progressive group with grander (and, perhaps, grandiose) plans; it was singer Jon Anderson
's decision to bring an orchestra into Time and a Word
that, in fact, raised existing tension with guitarist Peter Banks
to the boiling point, resulting in his firing prior to the album's release.
Still, sometimes things happen for a reason, and it was the recruitment of guitarist Steve Howe
to replace Banks that turned Yes into a band that finally delivered on the promise of its first two recordings. A far more versatile guitaristbeyond his distortion-drenched rock capabilities, also versed in everything from classical music and jazz-tinged musings to Chet Atkins-style country and Travis-style pickingHowe also proved to be a writer of worth. While the majority of The Yes Album
is written by Anderson and Squire (together or alone), Howe does contribute the closing section of the three-part "Starship Trooper" and dazzling solo guitar feature, "The Clap" (a live version that was ultimately chosen over his studio recording for the album), and is also co-credited, along with the rest of the band, for the stunning album opener, "Yours is No Disgrace." The Yes Album
became the group's first real commercial success, ultimately certified platinum for selling over a million copies in the United States alone and charting #40 there and #4 in the UK. It was the album that introduced the group's predilection for epic songwriting, with three of its six tracks stretching past the nine-minute mark (in addition to "Yours is No Disgrace" and "Starship Trooper," the album-closing "Perpetual Change"); one mid-length track ("I've Seen All Good People") whose opening section, "Your Move" completely justified critical comparisons to Crosby, Stills and Nash for Yes' superb vocal harmonies, while its second section, "All Good People," was a flat-out rocker that gave Howe the chance to demonstrate his country-tinged rock 'n' roll chops, after proving his instrumental breadth with the distinctive sounding Portuguese guitar, miscredited as a "vachalia," used on "Your Move"; and two shorter tracks ("Clap" and Anderson's curious "A Venture," that reflected the final influence of The Beatles
on the group while ultimately sounding nothing like thema pop song without a chorus or a real hook).
With Steven Wilson
already remixing and releasing Close to the Edge
in CD/DVD-A and CD/Blu-Ray editions in 2013 that, in addition to his ongoing commitment to remixing classic recordings in stereo and 5.1 surround sound, also included a small but important group of bonus tracks, it was only a matter of time before the Porcupine Tree founder who has, in recent years, been touring under his own name, most recently in support of his studio album The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)
(Kscope, 2013), turned to other titles from the years that constitute Yes' classic era: 1971, with The Yes Album
, through 1977 and Going for the One
Wilson has made it clear that he only remixes albums for which he has a strong affinity and, while that doesn't necessarily mean that engineers who do stereo and surround mixes for albums that don't mean anything to them do a bad job, it does mean that Wilson's approach is particularly respectful of the original mixes, since they were the ones he came to love in the first place. That said, his "second career" as a surround sound/stereo remixer that, after tackling his own Porcupine Tree catalogue, began to grow rapidly when, in 2009, he released the first three in King Crimson's 40th Anniversary Series
starting with 1971's Lizard
, 1969's In the Court of the Crimson King
and 1975's Red
for Crimson co-founder Robert Fripp's DGM Live imprint.
While there are detractors who have issues with Wilson's digitization of the original master tapes for his remixes, for most, his work has rarely been anything less than a revelation, and it's no different with The Yes Album
, which sounds cleaner, punchier and more transparent than it ever has, with layers previously hidden within the mix suddenly revealed with pristine clarity, whether it's Howe's delay-laden guitar line on "Yours is No Disgrace" that turned the heads of many aspiring guitarists at the time, to Squire's gritty, tremolo-heavy lines on "Starship Trooper" that began to garner the bassist accolades from guitar and bass magazines the world over.
Wilson's surround mix is, as ever, not about gimmickry; instead, it's about putting the listener inside
the music, though rarely as dramatically as during the album-closing "Perpetual Change," when a double-time 14/8 riff suddenly moves to one side and the 7/4 chorus fades in, the two at first almost battling one another as Howe layers a lightning-speed solo atop, as the two parts suddenly converge and lead to a spine-tingling, climactic final vocal chorus that leads to an outro that, again, features Howe taking the tune out with another compelling solo.
Few guitarists have emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, as fully formed as Howe, who dominates The Yes Album
because, while Kaye is a competent enough keyboardist, he simply isn't that
good and, consequently, is relegated to a supporting role. If Time and a Word
suggested to Yes that it was time for a new guitarist, The Yes Album
made clear that it was time to find a keyboardist capable of matching Howe's virtuosic tendencies. That keyboardist would be found in Rick Wakeman, who would replace Kaye after friction grew between Kaye and Howe, the result of Kaye being reluctant to play either a mellotron or a Minimoog synthesizer (though he does play a very minimal amount of Moog on The Yes Album
It was, truly, nothing more than a continuation of a variety of conflicts and infighting that would so define the group that, subsequent to Close to the Edge
when Bruford left to play with the more improv-heavy King Crimson, which was being completely revamped by Fripp for the classic Larks Tongues in Aspic
(DGM Live, 1973)that, Yes began a seemingly endless series of personnel changes. In some cases, members like Wakeman, Howe and Anderson would leave, only to return yearsor, in the case of Howe and Wakeman, decadeslater, a habit that has continued to this day; the current Yes may feature Squire (the sole remaining original member), Howe, drummer Alan White (Bruford's replacement and the group's second longest-standing member), keyboardist Geoff Downes (previously appearing on only one Yes album, 1980's Drama
(Atlantic)) and singer Jon Davison, the Glass Hammer singer who has rounded out a lineup that's now been together without change for over two years, but Davison is already the second singer in this current lineup, replacing Quebecois singer Benoit David, who was found by the group in a Yes tribute band.
But conflict and perpetual change aside, The Yes Album
is the first of a series of classics for the group, and this Definitive Edition comes with even more bonus material than on Wilson's remix of Close to the Edge
especially with the CD/Blu-Ray edition. The CD comes with the studio version of "Clap" but its most important addition is the extended mix of "A Venture," whose original album mix faded out on a Howe solo about which Yes fans have long wondered where it ultimately went. The answer? A rambling jam that, while featuring some impressive playing, and an "everybody in the pool" ending, makes the original edited version the clearly appropriate choice.
Like Close to the Edge
both the DVD-A and Blu-Ray feature the original stereo mix and an "Alternate Album" that includes incendiary live (and extended) versions of "Yours is No Disgrace," "I've Seen All Good People" and "Perpetual Change," the latter featuring a rare drum solo from Bruford thatgiven that the group's first official live album, Yessongs
(Atlantic, 1973), largely featured White (with Bruford only found on two songs of the original three-LP set)provides more opportunity to hear this far more distinctive drummer, with his instantly recognizable snare drum, in a live context with the group. The rest of the Alternate Album consists of the studio version of "Clap," the odd single edit of "Starship Trooper," and the extended version of "A Venture," like the live material all presented in 24/96 LPCM stereo.
But it's the Blu-Ray edition that really goes the distance, adding a "needle-drop" rip of the original UK vinyl release, the entire album as an instrumental with the vocals removed (revealing even more about the band), and some additional bonus material that includes stereo and mono mixes of the "Your Move" single, a single version of "Clap" and, most importantly, an early live version of the group's epic rework of Paul Simon
's "America" that, at an exhilarating 16 minutes, nevertheless lends total sense to the choices made on the more abbreviated 10-minute studio version that was included on Wilson's Close to the Edge
Definitive Edition. There's also an 11-minute live version of the group's re-imagining of The Rascals' "It's Love" that, ultimately, turns into an epic scat vocal-accompanied bass solo for Squire that suggests excess was already a part of the group's vernacular, and is more of historical interest than actual good stuff.
As usual, packaged in a mini-LP gatefold sleeve version that includes a booklet with scribe Sid Smith's as-ever superb liners and the two discs nicely housed in paper sleeves, this truly is
the Definitive Edition of The Yes Album
. What's to come next is unknown, but while Fragile
, with its enduring hit "Roundabout," is likely, there's still hope that 1974's Relayer
(Atlantic) will be another Yes recording that Wilson holds near and dear to his heart. An anomaly that featured Swiss keyboardist Patrick Moraz replacing Wakeman for a couple of years, it's considered by many Yes fans as close toor even equalingClose to the Edge
when it comes to the group's best, and based on Wilson's existing work with the Yes catalogue, is an album that could really use his sonic upgrade.
Personnel: Jon Anderson: vocals, percussion; Chris Squire: bass guitar, vocals;
Steve Howe: electric and acoustic guitars, vachalia, vocals; Tony Kaye:
piano, organ, Moog; Bill Bruford: drums, percussion.