[Review] Yes (1969)

Before the masterworks, the band went beyond Deep Purple in their pursuit of new adventures in rock.

Kronomyth 1.0: Yesterday, all my buggles seemed so far away.

Nothing, not even the celestial music of Yes, is created in a vacuum. Cream, Vanilla Fudge, Deep Purple, The Byrds and Simon and Garfunkel all had some manner of influence on the band. In the case of Chris Squire, you could add The Beatles and The Who to the mix. Yet there is something distinctly different about the band, even on the first album, that set them apart from everyone else. Maybe it was the pairing of polar opposities, Jon Anderson’s dry angelic voice and Squire’s impossibly fluid bass, that made them unique. Perhaps “Beyond And Before” says it best, as the music presented here goes beyond what bands like Deep Purple had done before them.

Even casual fans know that The Yes Album is the band’s first true masterpiece. What they don’t know is that the band had already set out on that path with Peter Banks. Tony Kaye stuck around long enough to enjoy the band’s success, and you’ll hear some of that foreshadowed on “Survival” and “Looking Around.” But before any of that happens, you’ll be struck by how much Banks sounds like Steve Howe—and then you realize that Banks really set the template for Howe to follow. That’s not to take anything away from Howe, who is not only a brilliant guitarist but an amazing songwriter. The remark is intended to show that Yes already knew what kind of music they wanted to play from the beginning, they just hadn’t fully decided who they wanted to play it with yet.

In many ways, the first Yes album is a flawed gem. A good half of the album is classic Yes, including the often overlooked “Harold Land,” which provides a nearly perfect template for Genesis to follow on Trespass. The other half shows a band still finding its voice. As with Vanilla Fudge and Deep Purple, Yes gives the Fab Four a fresh coat of paint on “Every Little Thing” and adds a terrific version of The Byrds’ “I See You” that improves on the original. (Banks actually sounds like Roger McGuinn on both tracks.) On “Yesterday And Today” and “Sweetness” (the band’s first single), Anderson goes after a sweeter, softer vibe, but the group hadn’t unlocked the keys to that airy kingdom yet. In fact, Jon’s voice is honestly a little annoying on this album sometimes. (There, I said it.)

I would tell you that things improved on their next album, only they didn’t, as the band fell prey to the whole “let’s take symphonic rock literally” movement that sucked in The Moody Blues, Deep Purple and Procol Harum. Squire is amazing out of the gate, Banks has flashes of brilliance, but Anderson’s voice is too parched for my tastes, Kaye is buried in the mix and Bill Bruford (indignity of indignities!) is asked to carry the beat. When it all clicks, it’s very exciting. When it doesn’t, the group comes off as precious. If you’re a Yes fan, you’ll own this album eventually—and preferably on a good remaster. If you just want to experience this period without wading through the mediocre stuff, pick up a copy of Yesterdays instead.

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Original LP Version

A1. Beyond And Before (Chris Squire/Clive Bailey) (4:50)
A2. I See You (Jim McGuinn/David Crosby) (6:33)
A3. Yesterday And Today (John Anderson) (2:37)
A4. Looking Around (John Anderson/Chris Squire) (3:49)
B1. Harold Land (John Anderson/Chris Squire/Bill Bruford) (5:26)
B2. Every Little Thing (John Lennon/Paul McCartney) (5:24)
B3. Sweetness (John Anderson/Chris Squire/Clive Bailey) (4:19)
B4. Survival (John Anderson) (6:01)

CD reissue bonus tracks
9. Everydays
10. Dear Father (early version #2)
11. Something’s Coming
12. Everydays (early version #1)
13. Dear Father (early version #1)
14. Something’s Coming (early version)

The Players

John Anderson (leader singer & incidental percussion), Peter Banks (guitar, vocals), Bill Bruford (drums, vibes), Tony Kaye (organ, piano), Chris Squire (bass, vocals). Produced by Paul Clay & Yes; sound produced by Bill Inglot.

The Pictures

Cover photo by David Gahr. Cover design by Haig Adishian.

The Plastic

Released on elpee on July 25, 1969 in the UK (Atlantic, 588190) and on October 15, 1969 in the US (Atlantic, SD 8243) with lyrics insert. UK elpee features unique album cover.

  • Re-issued on elpee in December 1971 in the UK (Atlantic, K 40034) with gatefold cover and lyrics insert.
  • Re-issued on elpee in 1975 in Germany (Atlantic, ATL 40034) with gatefold cover and lyrics insert.
  • Re-issued on elpee in 1976 in Brazil (Atlantic, 6107021) and Italy (Atlantic, W 40034) with lyrics insert.
  • Re-issued on elpee and cassette in 1982 in the US (Atlantic, SD/CS 8243) with lyric insert; re-charted to #36 on the US charts.
  • Re-issued on compact disc in the US (Atlantic, 8243-2).
  • Re-released on remastered compact disc in 1994 in the US and Germany (Atlantic, 82680-2).
  • Re-issued on remastered compact disc on March 25, 1996 in Japan (EastWest/Atlantic, AMCY-4025).
  • Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc on January 14, 2003 in the US and Germany (Elektra/Warner/Rhino, 73786-2) with 6 bonus tracks.
  • Re-issued on expanded, remastered compact disc in Japan (WEA, WPCR-11442) with 6 bonus tracks.
  • Re-released on super high material compact disc on July 22, 2009 in Japan (Atlantic, WPCR-13512) with 6 bonus tracks.
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