[Review] The Yes Album (1971)

One of the greatest progressive rock albums ever recorded, and a perennial candidate for the Top 20 rock albums of all time.

Kronomyth 3.0: Yesterday, a morning came, a smile upon your face.

If their last album was something of a misstep, The Yes Album is a quantum leap forward. Some have pointed to the addition of guitarist Steve Howe as the band’s turning point, and their decision to reclaim production is another positive step, but it’s a newfound musical “elasticity” and unbound musical imagery that distinguish this record from their earlier work.

The album opens with the nine-plus minute “Yours Is No Disgrace,” an epic musical journey that plumbs the limits of progressive rock like little else before it. Jon Anderson’s lyrics are mystical in nature, suggesting images rather than pushing along a plot line, while the band’s arrangements scale imaginary walls in a stunning sonic conflict that ultimately comes to a peaceful resolution. As if to allow the listener to recharge, Steve Howe’s acoustic instrumental “The Clap” follows, a lighthearted but technically impressive showcase from the one member perhaps most responsible for the band’s deliverance from the realm of mere mortals. Another epic follows, “Starship Trooper,” the first example of Yes’ multipart works and a classic in the band’s canon. Even if its relation to the Robert Heinlein novel of the same name is incidental at best, “Starship Trooper” transports the listener into a science fiction/fantasy realm that few could imagine.

“I’ve Seen All Good People” is a study in contrasts between the band’s founders and principal songwriters, Jon Anderson and Chris Squire. The first part, “Your Move” (which served as the album’s single), is acoustic and spiritually informed, trademarks of Anderson’s style. The second part, “All Good People,” is much more physical in nature, with Squire’s bass achieving a tangible quality that listeners could feel as well as hear. (If you can walk away from this record without being convinced that Squire is one of the greatest bass guitarists to walk the earth, you haven’t been listening.) Tony Kaye trades in celestial organ for piano on the off-kilter acoustic storytelling of “A Venture,” which serves as a sort of delightful decompression chamber before the unbearably powerful “Perpetual Change,” which walks between the airy and material worlds of Anderson and Squire with spectacular results

The contributions of individual songwriters are incidental to The Yes Album’s achievements; it’s the dynamic expansion of their instruments—from Bill Bruford’s intricate rhythms to Howe’s acrobatic guitar solos—that represents the real breakthrough. People talk about how these songs transport the listeners to a different plane of consciousness, and that’s been my experience from the beginning. On The Yes Album, the band achieved celestial heights of music that had scarcely been reached before. And the scary part was, they were about to get better…

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Original elpee version

A1. Yours Is No Disgrace (Yes) (9:36)
A2. The Clap (Steve Howe) (3:07)
A3. Starship Trooper: a.Life Seeker (Jon Anderson), b.Disillusion (Chris Squire), c.Würm (Steve Howe) (9:23)
B1. I’ve Seen All Good People: a.Your Move (Jon Anderson), b.All Good People (Chris Squire) (6:47)
B2. A Venture (Jon Anderson) (3:13)
B3. Perpetual Change (Jon Anderson/Chris Squire) (8:50)

CD reissue bonus tracks
7. Your Move (single version)
8. Starship Trooper: Life Seeker (single version)
9. The Clap (studio version)

The Players

Jon Anderson (vocals, percussion), Bill Bruford (drums, percussion), Steve Howe (electric & acoustic guitars, vachalia, vocal), Tony Kaye (piano, organ, moog), Chris Squire (bass guitars, vocals) with Colin Goldring (recorders on B1a). Produced by Yes & Eddie Offord; engineered by Eddie Offord; co-ordination by Brian Lane; thanks to Tom Dowd.

The Pictures

Photography by Phil Franks & Barry Wentzell. Design by Jon Goodchild.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and 8-track on March 19, 1971 in the UK (Atlantic, K/K4 40106), the US and Canada (Atlantic, SD/M8 8283), Argentina (14083), Germany and the Netherlands (Atlantic, ATL 40106), Jpana (Atlantic, P-6524A) and Spain (Atlantic, HATS 42171) with gatefold cover; reached #7 on the UK charts and #40 on the US charts (RIAA-certified platinum record). 8-track features different track order.

  1. Re-issued on elpee in 1972 in Brazil (Phonogram, 2400101).
  2. Re-issued on elpee in Brazil (Atlantic, 317404001).
  3. Re-issued on elpee, cassette and compact disc in July 1987 in the US (Atlantic, SD/CS 19131/-2) with gatefold cover.
  4. Re-issued on compact disc in Germany (Atlantic, 81530-2).
  5. Re-released on remastered compact disc and cassette on August 16, 1994 in the US (Atlantic, 82665-2/4).
  6. Re-released on high-definition compact disc in Japan (Atlantic, AMCY-6282).
  7. Re-packaged with Going For The One on 2-for-1 compact disc in Russia (CD-Maximum, CDM0600-446).
  8. Re-released on 180g vinyl elpee and expanded compact disc on January 14, 2003 in the US (Rhino, R1 73788) and Japan (Elektra, WPCR-11444) with 3 bonus tracks.
  9. Re-issued on expanded compact disc in Russia (Matrix, Y0227) with 3 bonus tracks.
  10. Re-released on expanded super-high material compact disc on July 22, 2009 in Japan (Atlantic, WPCR-13514) with 3 bonus tracks.
  11. Re-issued on remastered, expanded compact disc on May 26, 2010 in Japan (Rhino, WPCR-75493) with 3 bonus tracks.
  12. Re-released on 24k gold remastered compact disc in 2011 in the US (Mobile Fidelity, UDCD 779).
  13. Re-released on definitive edition remastered dvd in 2014 in the UK (Panegyric, GYRSP40106) with various mixes.
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