March Through Time: Yes

I love Yes. The progressive rock brand has a distinctive style that has served it well for more than a half-century. I’ve been lucky enough to see the group live onstage a few times, and I’ve interviewed no less than eight of its musicians (some more than once). Their career has had its ups and downs, though: some albums are desert island discs, while others are, well, less immediate. Here’s my rundown. (Note: The Trevor Rabin era and later has some really good music, but – with one exception – I’ll address it only briefly and in my concluding bit.

  • Yes (1969) – Embryonic and with few hints of the direction they’d soon chart, it’s still worth a listen.
  • Time and a Word (1970) – The title track and a few other songs (including a Richie Havens cover) are great. The rest is merely okay.
  • The Yes Album (1971) – A desert island disc. Thrilling, and not a speck of filler. If you’re going for just the one album (as it were), this is it.
  • Fragile (1971) – As superb and expressive a keyboardist Rick Wakeman is, Fragile didn’t mark an improvement over The Yes Album. But then it’s hard to improve upon perfection. Still essential.
  • Close to the Edge (1972) – In which the long-form approach of The Yes Album is pursued again, and in superb fashion. Must-own.
  • Yessongs (1973) – The rare triple-live album that justifies its length. If live albums are your thing, it’s a must-have; if not, not-so-much.
  • Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973) – Here the band does long-form again, but somehow with diminished results. It fails to thrill in the way the three before it did.
  • Relayer (1974) – Another great keyboardist, Patrick Moraz, but fewer memorable melodic bits.
  • Going for the One (1977) – Better and more sharply focused, but somehow failing to capture the Yes essence.
  • Tormato (1978) – Not truly memorable. Not bad, either – it’s no ELP’s Love Beach – but less than essential.
  • Drama (1980) – An unlikely return. The first truly great Yes LP since Close to the Edge, despite it being made with only two of the musicians who recorded that record (Steve Howe and Chris Squire). Dismissed at the time but now recognized as a classic. More about Drama here.
  • Fly From Here (2011) – After Drama, the band’s history gets even more convoluted (and that’s saying something). Unexpectedly, nearly the same Drama lineup got together to make an album in 2011. Even though it features some, er, recycled material, it feels very much a part of the band’s early run of classic albums. Required.

I first saw Yes on the 90125 tour, and it was quite impressive. That album holds up quite well, even though it has a very “parachute pants ‘80s” feel. Big Generator was less of the same. Union was more boring than Tales. Talk would have been fine if they’d called themselves something different. Magnification sounded great but was still a bit short on hooks. Heaven & Earth and The Quest, sadly, didn’t do a thing for me. The others, I never heard ‘em.