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Yes - The Yes Album: Album Of The Week Club Review

Three albums in, Steve Howe joins Yes and the band finally achieve lift-off

The Yes Album
Yes - The Yes Album

The Yes Album

Yours Is No Disgrace
The Clap
Starship Trooper
I've Seen All Good People
Your Move
Perpetual Change

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The Yes Album started a new plane for Yes,” Steve Howe said in 2013, “where we were completely original. Not doing other people’s songs, but creating our own music. "When I joined, I said: ‘Isn’t it time Yes did the whole thing?’ They all felt the same.” 

First released in February 1971, Yes’s third full-lengther “felt like the first real Yes album” according to Jon Anderson. 

With Peter Banks having left, Howe came in with a dazzling scope of guitar sonics and styles while the band, skint and fed up of watching other bands they knew break big, jettisoned the stabilisers.

Co-producer and engineer Eddy Offord too played a vital role in their invention of a new post-psychedelia landscape. Like radical sculptors, they curved and warped the structure of their material until it offered resonant revelations in sound. 

The trippy trinity of Yours Is No Disgrace, I’ve Seen All Good People and Starship Trooper stand as evergreen Yes masterworks. Your ears enter them through fresh windows and doorways every time, even over four decades later.

Every week, Album of the Week Club listens to and discusses the album in question, votes on how good it is, and publishes our findings, with the aim of giving people reliable reviews and the wider rock community the chance to contribute. 

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Background

Prior to recording the band – getting to know Howe – “got away from it all” in Devon, renting a farmhouse in which they wrote, rehearsed and realised they could break the time-honoured rules of popular music. In the London studio, they then put down the tracks in sections and listened back to producer Eddie Offord’s ingenious assemblages. 

The artful eclecticism surprised even its creators. Even though Kaye’s subsequent departure (a Hammond aficionado, he wasn’t keen on emerging technology) and Rick Wakeman’s arrival marked what most believe to be the definitive Yes line-up, it’s a pity this quintet crafted only this one diamond, unique in its sparkle and flow. 

It was and is funkier, looser, than their later jewels, while always knowing where it’s going. It’s exploratory, but concise: so much happens, but every second counts. The Yes Album gave the band their first number one (albeit thanks at first to a dubious chart, taken hurriedly from the Oxford Street Virgin store because of a postal strike), and sold a million.

Other albums released in February 1971

  • Once Again - Barclay James Harvest
  • Tapestry - Carole King
  • If I Could Only Remember My Name - David Crosby
  • One Way... or Another - Cactus
  • Fourth - Soft Machine
  • Crazy Horse - Crazy Horse
  • The Hawk - Ronnie Hawkins
  • James Taylor and the Original Flying Machine - James Taylor
  • Long Player - Faces
  • The Polite Force - Egg
  • Ring of Hands - Argent
  • Tago Mago - Can

What they said...

"Each of the album's four long tracks are carefully structured and allow for greater instrumental freedom than their shorter counterparts. Frequently, a particular melodic theme first stated by one musician is echoed by another, such as in Yours Is No Disgrace and I've Seen All Good People. Organist Tony Kaye, guitarist Howe and bass player Chris Squire play as though of one mind, complementing each other's work as a knowledgeable band should. (Rolling Stone)

"With Howe on board, the band took a quantum leap forward, moving into the forefront of a complex new style critics would label "progressive rock." The album's opening cut, Yours Is No Disgrace, quickly established the new approach. Clocking in at over nine minutes, the song is a virtual rock and roll concerto, traveling through several distinct movements with varied tempos and styles ranging from energetic, even dramatic rock and roll to ethereal folk." (Daily Vault)

"Sometimes things happen for a reason, and it was the recruitment of guitarist Steve Howe to replace [Peter] Banks that turned Yes into a band that finally delivered on the promise of its first two recordings. A far more versatile guitarist—beyond his distortion-drenched rock capabilities, also versed in everything from classical music and jazz-tinged musings to Chet Atkins-style country and Travis-style picking—Howe also proved to be a writer of worth." (All About Jazz

What you said...

Kingsley Jayasekera: I came to this after Going for the One, Tormato and Close to the Edge. It’s probably the only one I would still listen to. More searching than self indulgent it’s a great album.

Luke Henson: It never was my favorite Yes album. Talk, Fragile, Tales, CTTE, ABWH, 90125, Relayer... this one just always gets left out of my top five. Still, I love I've Seen All Good People. I think Howe sounds a little bit too "country" for my taste on this record, whereas he later became more classical/jazz influenced and Rabin always was more of a hard-rocker. So that's probably my main issue. But I'll happily listen to it again. It's still a solid album.

宇宙スク ーター: On that one, they seemed to be about to find the fourth dimension, they were not really ready for it (and so was the audience I guess), but everyone was trying, and it would prove to be successful in the end. Great LP though, some superior musicianship from Bruford, Squire and Howe, brilliant lyrics. Ugly sleeve artwork unfortunately.

Vin Sciuto: Not a bad song on the entire album, In fact nearly every single song on the album was played on FM radio after it's release, and most can still be heard on Classic Rock radio today. Only the great ones can say that.

Richard Cardenas: I really liked this era of Yes although Fragile and Close to the Edge got more of my attention. Of the three however, I think this album transcends time better than the other two.

Michael Piwowarski: The Yes Album paved the way for greatness that was to come from the band. I've Seen All Good People, Yours Is No Disgrace, Starship Trooper and Perpetual Change are all early examples of Steve Howe's unforgettable influence on the band's 70s sound, especially his 12-string intro and crazy electric guitar solo on All Good People. Throw in Howe's solo Clap and you pretty much have the album that not only introduced Yes's rise to fame but also introduced Howe to the world. The band found their sound, but what's even better is, they made it even more perfect in the follow up albums Fragile and Close to the Edge.

John Wilson: I really like this album and it gets better every time I hear it in its entirety. Usually half the album I listen to in other ways such as a live album or my own playlist mixes but hearing it all together makes for a great relaxing experience. The album’s artwork isn’t one of my favourite of theirs by far though.

Chris Scott: Certainly one of my top ten of all time LPs. I probably listen to some of the tracks more on their subsequent live albums so it’s nice to go back to the original studio work and see how things have evolved over the years. Saving up to buy the Steve Wilson remixes now.

Robert Dunn: I fell asleep listening to this. OK, the listening conditions weren't optimal, I was on the bus home listening via Spotify on Bluetooth headphones, but I am not sure that the highest of hi-fi would have made much difference. Certainly there is a lot of excellent musicianship on display here, but (and this is my problem with prog) a hell of a lot of it is just not necessary. At one point just after I woke up, I honestly wasn't sure if I had simply dozed off for a few moments or if I had skipped a few songs, it sounded like just any other twiddly bit from what I had heard so far. 

And before I am accused of 'not getting it', I do. The whole point of prog was to break the rules, to eschew form, structure, hooks and to test the possible. Which is fine, where would we be if Beethoven hadn't ignored the rules laid down by Haydn then we wouldn't have the glory of his 9th symphony, the Romantic era would not have happened the way it did and we'd all still be listening to chamber music. But there comes a point when key changes, time signature changes and tempo changes are just not needed, they are there only because it is technically possible to do it. 

It could be that I missed the good stuff during my nap, but I am not sure that I can listen to this again. I apologise to all of you who love Yes, I have very good friends who do, and please don't hate me for not liking them, but for me this is a perfect example of why punk happened. Great musicians, too much unnecessary twiddling.

Glenn Bannister: My unreliable memory tells me I first became aware of this album by hearing Starship Trooper on the Friday Rock Show (in happier times when a mainstream rock show could indulge in such things). I quickly added it to my fledgling collection. Although it came from a then relatively recent past, I was young and it seemed to come from a time long long ago. It already had a mythical aura, something to be revered. 

Listening to it now, I'm still mightily impressed. I am a little surprised at how busy it all is, guitar, bass and drums often going off at tangents to each other, but never getting lost and held together by the glue of the keyboards and those divine vocals. I don't recall ever thinking this was overindulgent, it was accessible, even to my nascent tastes. Marvellous stuff, even if The Clap remains completely out of place.

Mike Knoop: Woohoo, I've been waiting/hoping for a Yes album! To my ears, very accessible - which shouldn't be a dirty word in prog.

Still love the Big Three (Disgrace, Trooper, All Good People) and the other three are potential growers upon repeated listens.

When I want a musical conundrum to tackle, I'll put on ELP or Gabriel-era Genesis or, frankly, any of the Yes albums between Close to the Edge and the underrated Drama. (I quit paying attention after Big Generator.) When I want to listen to music I know I love, I listen to Fragile or Close to the Edge. I'll be adding the entirety of The Yes Album to that list.

John Davidson: The Yes Album is genuinely progressive, but manages to deliver a great melodic rock vibe as well.

The classic/stand outs are Yours is No Disgrace and Starship Trooper with All Good People providing a lighter, note with more emphasis on vocal harmony.

The bass, the guitar, the vocals and the multi-part song structures are all familiar, as are the whimsical, slightly bonkers but none the less enchanting lyrics, On that basis it still sounds like Yes, but the heavy use of Tony Kaye's Hammond organ gives this album a quite different sound from subsequent ones produced after Rick Wakeman joined the band. 

Chris Squire as ever, provides the melodic, grumbling heart of even the most complex songs.In a real sense there would be no Yes without him.

So while distinctively a Yes album it is perhaps ironically not the Yes album in terms of their subsequent and more definitive sound (as heard on Close to the Edge for example).

Does anyone else remember when one of the instrumental sections of Yours is No Disgrace was the theme tune to the daily news programme Reporting Scotland? Classic.

Roland Bearne: I love AOTW! Throwing this up initially felt like a real challenge. I've seen Yes at the Albert Hall, I have most of their albums on either CD or Vinyl ... mostly because I felt I should (for shame). I came across Yes with 90125 and it was one of a couple of Albums which accompanied me on the stressful journeys to Uni interviews and Drama School auditions. 

When I snapped up other albums at record fairs (Close to the Edge, Relayer) they weren't the same. I kept buying Yes CDs (Topographic Oceans, Tormato and others) and kept feeling I really should love this... but just felt somehow inadequate, it was me not getting it (my favourite band Is Rush... to not totally get Yes must mean I'm a dummy, surely?) And the this week... an album I've heard maybe once is re-posited. Oh my word, but it's lovely... really lovely. 

Hylton Blignaut: I snored through Topographic Oceans as a kid, and wrote Yes off as a bunch of self indulgent tossers as a result. Trevor Rabin got me interested again, so I thought I'd try one more album in the back catalogue. This was it. It showed me what I'd been missing all these years. LOVE Yes.

Benjamin Kelk: Second best Yes album behind Fragile, still a perfect 10/10! Every song on this album is a technical masterpiece and an absolute pleasure to listen to. Many albums have at least one skippable song, this one has none. This incarnation of Yes is the absolutely essential lineup. Every song on this album is perfect. I can't say enough good things about this album.

Carl Black: I'm listening to this album whilst watching Rocky III. If we think about Rocky IV and we think about how much there is of Rocky IV, take away all of the montages and we take away all of the repeat footage from other Rocky films we are left with about an hour of original motion picture. This is not really a film that you would pay money to see at the cinema, and it is not a feature length movie I'd pay to see. 

Where am I going with this? If you take away the acoustic guitars, if you take away the keyboards you are left with over 20 minutes of rock. That is not a rock album. There's a rock album trying to get out, but it's struggles to get out from underneath the acoustic guitars and pointless keyboards. At one point even the guitar sound like keyboards which is unfortunate. If you have Harry Kane on the field of play your substitute striker doesn't necessarily mean he is a bad player. For our American brother and sisters who are reviewing this album, if Cal Ripken is playing shortstop or 3rd base, does that make your short stop or 3rd place reserve a bad player? The answer is no. You just doesn't get an opportunity. 

I do feel this is the same of Yes in comparison to Rush. When I listen to this album I felt Rush have done a hell of a better than Yes could ever accomplish. However does this make this a bad album? If you compare this album to any rush album, the answer is no. The album is not a bad one, it's certainly not rush and I would choose rush nine times out of 10 times over Yes any day. However, these gentlemen can play, and they have produced a really decent album. It's just I would listen to Rush all day long. Overshadowed by Lifeson, Peart and Lee.

Jeff Tweeter: I have a strange relationship with The Yes Album, Fragile and Close To The Edge. Each one is it's own territory, and each one is perfect. At the same time, I kinda feel like I'm listening to six sides of one album. I mean that in the best way!

Iain Macaulay: When I started listening to Prog rock in the 80s I couldn’t see past Gabriel era Genesis, Marillion and Hawkwind (if you view them as prog) and Rush, although It took a while to get there with them because of Geddy's voice reminding me of Jon Anderson. 

I didn’t particularly find anything remotely interesting in Yes. And yes, I get the irony of mentioning Marillion. I shared a flat in the 90’s with an ardent Yes fan and heard this album and topographic oceans almost on weekly repeat, still nothing, even after many discussions and debates about the musicianship and songwriting. 

But then, he didn’t get my love for Genesis, although he loved Gabriel’s solo work. Now? Unfortunately, the passing of time has not diminished my disinterest in Yes. So I’m off to listen to The lamb Lies Down On Broadway to await next weeks album of delights.

Brian Carr: Yes has always been a band I appreciated more than I liked. The main problem for me is Jon Anderson’s voice - the timbre never did it for me. As I listened to The Yes Album (for the first time), it hit me: his voice is melodic, but lacks oomph, especially in comparison to so many of his strong-voiced contemporaries.

But the music on The Yes Album is amazing. Probably amazing enough to make me listen to the album again, and possibly appreciate JA’s voice as just right for the band. Stellar performances throughout and sonically interesting: Squire’s bass is so meaty, the piano/organ adds wonderful moments and Howe is like a chameleon with different tones for the different tunes, but almost always tasty. 

As I listen for the third time this week, I never feel like the music is meandering, rather moves from one interesting bit to another.

Someone else (Glenn Bannister) mentioned this, Clap absolutely doesn’t fit. I love acoustic guitar pieces like that, but here it’s like time filler. Maybe if it wasn’t the second track on the album it wouldn’t be as jarring. I really enjoyed The Yes Album, though.

Martin Smith: Great album and arguably the start of the Classic Yes Sound. The Clap however seems unnecessary fluff to me and always skip it.

Bryan Aguilar: I remember getting into this album via the YouTube recommended section several years back. I was already into Rush and Pink Floyd, and I was hooked! Later I got into 70s Genesis, Tull and ELP, and prog rock became one of my favorite genres!

Pekka Turunen: I love how when some bands, say for example Maiden with Nicko and the drum intro to Where Eagles Dare, announce the arrival of new members with a bang straight away, Yes hold Steve Howe back for a long time. When he finally busts through about a minute into Yours Is No Disgrace, it's with some absolutely radiant and beautiful arpeggios that announce that this band has finally taken a step up from the two promising art pop albums. 

This album cements much of the classic sound of Yes and contains three of their very best works: Yours Is No Disgrace, Starship Trooper and Perpetual Change are all masterful works of progressive rock, and the instrumental prowess of the trio of Howe, Bruford and Squire is phenomenal. Tony Kaye is a lot less versatile and agile player than the one who came after him, but his organ dominated sound fits in well here in a more supporting role. Howe's Clap (NOT with a The) starts the solo piece tradition that they overdid on Fragile, and is one of his best solo guitar pieces heard under the Yes banner. The only things that don't quite live up to the rest of the album are the boogie section of I've Seen All Good People, which I've always disliked a bit, and A Venture, which is a nice little song in itself, but dwarfed in comparison with the three giants on the album.

Probably my third favourite Yes album behind the ultimate masterpiece that is Close to the Edge, and Fragile which is a couple of edits away from five stars as well. Four and a half for The Yes Album from me.

James Praesto: The description for the album first threw me off, as I was wondering about the “previous recordings” and the “bridge” between the past and the new. I always thought this was their debut. Somebody smarter than I am (cheers!) informed me that this is indeed their third album, and that this is not to be confused with their first album (just self titled). Oh, well. My wife will get a kick out of that. 

Being a prog fan, this album sings to my soul (or lack thereof – I am Swedish after all), and I was really looking forward to revisiting it from a reviewing perspective. One of the other members here (Brian Carr) mentioned, a week or so ago, how this club sometimes opens up our eyes and ears to albums we have heard many many times before, because it allows for a more critical study of the music than just closing our eyes and playing it in our heads instead from memory. This album turned out to be one of those interesting re-introductions.

So, to provide context, I did listen to the first two Yes albums to educate myself on what musical changes took place from then until this release. I also read up on the history of the band, so I don’t make false assumptions again. Where the first two albums (Yes and Time and a Word) are a bit of a sloppy mess with covers, originals and sometimes out-of-place orchestration all crammed into a poorly recorded package, everything falls in line on The Yes Album, and I suspect that this is both due to arrival of the amazing Steve Howe and the fact that the band was no longer toxic with the departure of the sullen Peter Banks. 

The songs are more structured and allow each musician to really showcase how talented and musically intelligent they are, while still staying within the framework of each composition. Sometimes prog can turn into self-indulgent jam-fests that makes you realise why a lot of people can’t seem to get into the genre, but not so with Yes. Every note has a time and a place, and every subtle phrasing adds texture to the big picture. 

First song, Yours is No Disgrace, is the quintessential Yes-tune. Written by all five members of the band, the track takes us on a 10-minute journey into prog wonderland. Down the rabbit hole we go, with beautiful instrumental passages, and Anderson’s clean voice in between. Howe rides Chris Squire’s intricate bass lines like a rodeo-rider and still remains cool and composed in the saddle, delivering melodies, accents and solid riffing. There is no Wakeman on this album, but I still love Tony Kaye’s organs. The inter-plays between him and Howe are just gorgeous, and then when the next soft passage takes over, Squire enters the stage and the bass is in the spotlight instead. I love how the vocal melodies work on top of whatever instrumentation they back them up with. Prog bands tend to complicate things for themselves, and often melodies and themes fall between the cracks of instrumental showboating, but Yes are masters of their craft and I never feel like they lose the plot. 

Howe’s unfortunately titled live instrumental The Clap is not an ode to STDs, but to his new born son. It could be argued that this perfectly executed ragtime celebration breaks the flow on the album, not exactly fitting the mould of the other songs, and I actually do wish this had been one of those bonus tracks you get when you buy the 40th anniversary edition instead. Especially since a similar passage is found in the next song anyway.

Starship Trooper follows and sure writes the template for the art of prog rock for years to come. It has everything: dreamy passages with fat layers of Hammonds and liquid bass lines, Howe’s expert pick/finger acoustics and the catchy vocals from Anderson. I have a feeling that what works with Yes’s particular brand of prog is that even when the song changes from one extreme to another, the tempo stays the same so the listener is not asked to follow along on weird time changes and odd signatures. You can tap your foot the same to the song, without losing the beat.

The first half of I’ve Seen All Good People is the best vocal track on the album. Sometimes we forget that Yes were great at writing fantastic vocal harmonies, and Anderson and Squire build a tremendous exchange together, that would probably work just as well a capella, without background music, as it is easily as instrumental as anything played on an actual guitar, organ or bass on this album. You can tell Squire had a background in singing in church choirs, when you hear the classical arrangements herein. The second half turns into a more straight forward pop rock song with some boogie and blues to carry it home, and much like The Clap it sounds out of place. If I had produced this album, I would have ended this song after the first half and called it a day.

A Venture is a groovier number that sounds like prog played in a smoky jazz lounge. Tony Kaye gets a bit more room to add his piano here, and I love the laid back ending that perfectly leads into the final song on the album. I absolutely adore Perpetual Change as a sassy strolling finale. However, I detest the infantile play with stereo effects halfway through, where the sound slowly phases to the left, leaving the right side deaf, dumb and mute. I always feel like I am stroking out, and that is not so awesome when you are nearing your 50s. You already tend to clutch your chest when somebody burns the toast. 

One frustrating thing with this album is that you could build an absolute perfect trifecta here with just Yours is No Disgrace, Starship Trooper and Perpetual Change, played back to back. The band still hadn’t learned how to craft a fully cohesive album, even though it is a major step up from their first two albums, and the sometimes awkward and topsy-turvy in-between tracks unfortunately distracts from what could have been one of the best prog albums ever made. They did manage to get more consistent on the next two albums, but I love the aforementioned tracks more than anything they released after.

The Yes Album, with all its inconsistencies, still stands the test of time and serves a reminder as to how progressive rock can still be an easy listen, even to people who are strangers to the genre. You probably can’t dance to it, granted, but you can get pleasantly lost in the soundscapes and still come out on the other side unscathed.

Final Score: 8.27 ⁄10 (145 votes cast, with a total score of 1200)

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