The 40 greatest Yes songs ever

30. On The Silent Wings Of Freedom

Tormato was the album that precipitated Yes splitting up two years later. The self-produced recording sessions were difficult and not entirely conducive – Alan White’s drums sound thin despite being forward in the mix. Nonetheless, On The Silent Wings Of Freedom finds the band on vigorous musical form, leaning towards fusion in the density of the playing, with Wakeman and Howe competing for space, and Chris Squire’s lithe, melodic bass lines that suggest the influence of Weather Report and Jaco Pastorius. Wakeman had expanded his arsenal to include a Polymoog, which opened up polyphonic voicings not available on the Minimoog. 

29. Onward

The album may have been described as a “tragedy” by Wakeman, and even the eternally positive Jon Anderson told Classic Rock, “We threw tomatoes at ourselves before the audience could”. Prog fan Fish said to me, “Even I hated Tormato”. But hey, it's not all bad. 

Written by Chris Squire with orchestral arrangements by his Fish Out Of Water ally Andrew Pryce Jackman, this gentle ballad was among Squire's favourites of all his songs. The Detroit Free Press agreed, calling it the strongest track. A cover by Mark Kozelek featured in Paolo Sorrentino's melancholy 2015 film Youth, starring Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel.

28. It Can Happen

This song, penned by Chris Squire with additional input from Trevor Rabin, had its genesis in the initial sessions for the Cinema project, before that mutated into the line-up for 90125. A raga-like, sitar-laced introduction, accompanied by Squire’s bubbling bass and Jon Anderson’s shimmering, ultra-produced vocal, seems to reflect a hippie-ish message repackaged for the MTV era, allied to a shiny new poptimism. 

Squire later told the Songfacts website the lyrics were “a message of hope, and just making a way through the world looking for the good route – the one that suits you and leads on to better things.” The positive thinking is infectious. 

27. Time And A Word

The title track of Yes’ second album honked of the psychedelic era that birthed them. Recorded at Advision, it was written in 1969 by Jon Anderson and David Foster, his old mate from Accrington band The Warriors. Yes’ then-guitarist Peter Banks added some beautiful textures to the song’s anthemic Beatles-y chord progression (recently Anderson has interpolated All You Need Is Love and She Loves You in his solo version). 

Tony Cox’s brass/string arrangements on the album may still prove divisive, but they’re part of the vibe of this singalong love-in, which glanced the UK Album Charts at No.45 that August.

26. Parallels

Chris Squire wrote Parallels intending for the song to appear on his Fish Out Of Water album, but as Squire explained in a 2013 interview, “back in the days of vinyl, there was not enough space for on the album – we were limited to 20 minutes per side of the vinyl long player – so when Yes went to Switzerland in 1976 to start recording Going For The One, I put the song forward…” 

The track is dominated by Rick Wakeman, playing the pipe organ at St Martin's Church in Switzerland, capturing all the natural reverb of the church’s high ceilings.

25. To Be Over

Sure, The Gates Of Delirium is the focus of the Yes album on which Patrick Moraz did such a great job that Rick Wakeman felt left out and returned. Yet the nine-minute closer To Be Over is a lovely Anderson-Howe creation, the stems of which came to Howe (who's inspired here) while boating on The Serpentine lake. Anderson, talking to Stephen Demorest in '75, described it as “strong in content, but mellow in overall attitude: it's about how you should look after yourself when things go wrong”. Its atmosphere blissfully completes what Melody Maker then called “one of the most satisfying Yes albums”, and one whose reputation only grows.

24. Tempus Fugit

Drama may not have the most prominent place in many Yes fans’ hearts, but this album closer did much to help evolve the post-Anderson Yes identity, as Buggles duo Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes made a surprise entrance to the fold and the vocals of Horn and Squire proved fully capable of filling the gap at centre-stage. 

The title is Latin for “Time Flies”, and it’s hard not to get swept up in its sheer energetic vim and Squire’s bass. As Geoff Downes told Songfacts: "Because the pace of the song is so fast, that was all about the title. It's an extremely fast pace. The title almost picked itself.” And now when we can listen to it, without our judgement being clouded by the dismay of not hearing the voice that had previously embodied this band, it stands up proudly against the rest of the Yes back catalogue. 

23. Machine Messiah

With Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman having quit, Yes wasted little time in showing they had moved on with Machine Messiah, the song that opens the Drama album with a sludgy heavy metal riff that sounds more like Tony Iommi than Steve Howe. The music doesn’t stay in doom territory for long, moving into a more familiar vein that allows Trevor Horn to prove he could inhabit the upper register that Jon Anderson made such an integral part of Yes’ musical signature. 

The instrumental mid-section alternates between measures of six and seven, with an underlying triplet pulse from Alan White, proving that despite the arrival of The Buggles’ Horn and Geoff Downes from the world of pop, the band still had formidable technical chops. Live versions can be found on In the Present – Live From Lyon, sung by Benoît David, and Topographic Drama – Live Across America, sung by Jon Davison.

22. Changes

90125 was the album that brought Yes back from the dead and, against the odds, gave them a string of hit singles, including Changes. New guitarist Trevor Rabin brought a contemporary rock edge to their sound that was markedly different to Steve Howe’s classical inflections. Changes was born from one of Rabin’s ideas and it’s easy to hear the influence of The Police’s Andy Summers in the verse riff. 

The lyrics sprang from Rabin’s frustrations dealing with record executives while a solo artist. “In a meeting I went to they played Foreigner to me,” Rabin recalls in Tim Morse’s Yesstories, “and they said, 'You've got to start writing stuff more like Foreigner.' I said, 'I'm not going to, but thanks anyway.’ I thought, 'I'm going through all these changes, it's very strange. And consequently I think that's when that song started coming to me. It's kind of a melancholy song.”

21. America

An early live favourite once Howe joined, the studio version first appeared on a 1972 showcase sampler before adorning this compilation. Paul Simon's original, as debuted on Simon & Garfunkel's Bookends, is a masterclass in evocative understatement. Yes' 10-and-a-half minute version is not. Those who say Yes were bombastically over the top? This is where they have a point. 

That conceded, there's a manic genius to the way Yes change time signatures, elongate instrumental flourishes, and shovel in some West Side Story for good measure. Somehow, a four-minute edit made the Billboard Pop Singles Top 50. Influenced more by The Nice and Crimson than by S&G (of whom Squire and Anderson were genuine fans), America remains one of the most Marmite love/hate tracks in Yes' catalogue, and perhaps in the history of progressive rock. 

Put it this way, if it took Paul Simon “four days to hitchhike from Saginaw”, this manifestation of Yes would've taken four weeks.

Grant Moon

A music journalist for over 20 years, Grant writes regularly for titles including Prog, Classic Rock and Total Guitar, and his CV also includes stints as a radio producer/presenter and podcast host. His first book, 'Big Big Train - Between The Lines', is out now through Kingmaker Publishing.