Reviewed on this page:
Yes - Time And A Word - The Yes Album - Fragile - Yessongs - Tales From Topographic Oceans - 90125 - Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe - Union -
Symphonic Music Of Yes - An Evening Of Yes Music Plus - Talk - Keys To Ascension
Yes kicked around unsuccessfully for a couple of years before releasing their breakthrough 1971 record. But from the very start they epitomized the prog rock movement, with a combination of vast technical proficiency, frustrating lyrical shallowness, and boundless egotism - Genesis and Pink Floyd failed on the first count, although King Crimson and ELP were similar in many ways. I've always found them to be a bit over the top, but there's still a lot of pleasant pop balladeering to be found on their early records, mostly courtesy of singer/songwriter Jon Anderson. In fact, the vocal combination of Anderson, bassist Chris Squire, and other band members gave them better harmonies than any other major prog rock act. And their concept albums and lengthy live jams earned them a huge fan following and massive commercial success.
The Yes discography would be fairly straightforward if it weren't for the band's incessant personnel changes, with only Anderson and Squire being nearly constant elements (Yes and Crimson traded or nearly traded band members several times). By the late 1980s this resulted in two full bands of Yes veterans touring and recording simultaneously - since Squire had rights to the "Yes" title, the alternative, but more classic Yes lineup of Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford and Howe had to work under their own names. To make matters even more confusing, the classic Yes lineup reunited to cut yet another live record in 1996, and a different lineup with Wakeman replaced by a new player is touring right now.
A major sidelight to the Yes story is the solo career of Rick Wakeman, who vied with Keith Emerson for the title of hottest 70s prog rock keyboard player, and sold almost as many records as Yes did during his mid-70s commercial peak. The master of keyboard-focused instrumental concept albums, he continued to put out numerous solo records even when his career fell into obscurity. I've listed only his 70s records and 80s vocal records because I have no plans to review his voluminous 80s and 90s New Age and ambient music catalogue.
Bill Bruford has had a long, independent career as off-and-on drummer for King Crimson and as a solo artist, and I have reviewed some of his solo work on our Crimson page.
I have listed Chris Squire's only solo album; there are also quite a few solo albums by Howe and Anderson, none of which I have; and I wouldn't be surprised if other Yes members recorded solo albums as well (Rabin? Kaye?).
There's a large Yes web site with plenty of gossip, albums covers, fanzines, historical info, etc. It's got a good text-only discography, but a better organized HTML discography is available elsewhere. There's also a graphics-heavy, but informative commercial Rick Wakeman site, which Wakeman himself has a heavy hand in. (JA)
Jon Anderson (vocals), Peter Banks (guitar), Bill Bruford (drums), Tony Kaye (keyboards), Chris Squire (bass, vocals). Banks replaced by Steve Howe (guitar, vocals), 1970. Kaye replaced by Rick Wakeman (keyboards), late 1971. Bruford left to join King Crimson, replaced by Alan White (drums), 1972. Wakeman replaced by Patrick Moraz (keyboards), 1974, returned to replace Moraz, 1976, quit again along with Anderson and replaced by Geoff Downes (keyboards), early 1980. Trevor Horn (bass, vocals) appeared on one album track and toured with the group, 1980. Band collapsed, late 1980, reformed with Anderson, Kaye, Squire, White, and Trevor Rabin, 1983. Anderson quit again, 1990, joined again, 1994.
On their debut record Yes didn't really have its own schtick worked out yet. So it ended up with some straightforward, catchy, and not very original riff tunes, like the upbeat "Looking Around," paper-thin but pretty "Yesterday And Today," and stately, aptly titled "Sweetness." There are also a few meandering, breezy, and thin-sounding pop mini-symphonies ("Survival"), and a couple good covers - the Beatles' "Every Little Thing," with a startlingly Nice-like intro and a wonderfully harmonized chorus; and the Byrds' "I See You," not a great song in the first place, but Banks' jazzy, Hendrix-inspired soloing makes it a little interesting. This is 60s prog rock with all the Beatlesy trimmings, and even though it's faceless, it's also entertaining and well-performed. Be prepared for a pleasant surprise if classic 70s Yes is what you're used to. (JA)
Time And A Word (1970)
This is an amazingly overproduced prog rock record, with tons of ominous string arrangements ("Clear Days"), ELP-like organ solos, and nods at jazz and classical music. Some of it's unbearably pompous, and the sprawl factor is often large (the harmoniously psychedelic "Astral Traveler," otherwise the best tune). So it's not a surprise that the band once again failed to break into the U.S. market, and that Yes never again ventured into orchestral arrangements.
Still, there are plenty of tuneful melodies and catchy riffs here ("No Opportunity Necessary"), and it's certainly an interesting 60s curio. Anderson dominated the songwriting, but there's also a long, experimental cover of Steve Stills' creepy, jazzy "Everydays," and an equally long Richie Havens tune. "Sweet Dreams" was a single. Steve Howe appears in the cover photo but not on the record, which features Peter Banks instead. (JA)
Something's Coming (rec. 1969 - 1970, rel. 1997)
A double CD set of BBC recordings featuring the original Banks/Kaye/Bruford lineup. They go through pretty much all of their repertoire from the first two albums, but there's also one previously unreleased tune ("For Everyone"). (JA)
The Yes Album (1971)
Yes finally hit upon a good formula here, delivering one longwinded, but enjoyable and highly commercial pop song after another: "Yours Is No Disgrace"; "Starship Trooper"; the bouncy near-mantra "All Good People"; and "Your Move," their first Top 40 hit, with recorders, jangly guitar, and an interpolated "Give Peace A Chance." The one major departure from said formula is Steve Howe's harmless acoustic country solo number "The Clap," recorded live.
The record's tone is amazingly similar to that of the Beatles' Abbey Road, with prominent, primitive synthesizers, crystal-clear electric guitars, rubbery bass lines, high-pitched vocal harmonies, and endless piles of instrumental riffs. But it doesn't have half that album's sense of humor or artistic breadth, and it just doesn't know when to stop, especially on "Perpetual Change" - they got the first part of that title right. Still, this is an essential collection for even the most casual fans. (JA)
More stylistically varied and less gratingly commercial than its predecessor, this is the band's high water mark. It was Rick Wakeman's debut with Yes, and the resulting lineup is the best the group ever had. The big number is the lead-off song, "Roundabout," which ended up being their last Top 40 hit for more than a decade. It's a pretty tune in their characteristic style: tons of speedy riffs, tight tenor harmonies, an anthemic refrain, and an eight minute-plus running time.
Other tracks that got well-deserved airplay include the similar, also eight-minute "South Side Of The Sky," and Anderson's amazingly concise "Long Distance Runaround," both with ear-catchingly funky bass lines.
And there's plenty more good stuff, such as Squire's fine instrumental/mantra "The Fish (Shindleria Praematurus)," Anderson's brief a capella "We Have Heaven," Wakeman's proficient take on Brahms' 4th symphony, and Howe's classical guitar solo "Mood For A Day."
Together, this marks an artistic peak not just for the band, but for the prog rock movement in general. Not surprisingly, Yes endured as a major commercial enterprise from here until its late-70s collapse: nearly every new record went gold and broke the American Top 10. (JA)
Close To The Edge (1972)
Indeed - here the band has reached full-throttle monster jam mode, with just three tracks making up the entire record. Over the next decade they continued to pump out one twenty-minute tune after another.
I'm familiar with the title track, and it's quite good, but I'm skeptical that it makes the disc worth spending a lot of money on. (JA)
Six Wives Of Henry VIII (Wakeman: 1973)
I have this and I find it interesting, but I'm still formulating an opinion. (JA)
A live double album, with Bruford on two long tracks and Alan White on all the others (this marked his first appearance on a Yes record). To my ears it does everything a live record is supposed to, namely, run through all the major hits, include enough variations to entertain diehard fans, and capture the most energetic and creative moments of the group's performances. So the track listing does rely heavily on The Yes Album and Fragile, but that's sensible, and it gives the band a chance to gleefully rearrange their standards.
Better yet, it turns out that Steve Howe really is a rock guitarist, despite his obligatory classical guitar feature ("Mood For A Day"). In concert he uses blazing, distorted power chords you'd never hear on a studio record, and by doing so he gives Yes a surprising emotional authenticity. The title track from Close To The Edge is included, but it's really long and really dull, like a few other tracks ("Perpetual Change"). Another bonus is a medley from Six Wives Of Henry VIII, which unfortunately is such a rushed crowd-pleaser that you don't get any sense of the album's sweep. (JA)
Tales From Topographic Oceans (1974)
By now the band's artistic pretensions were at a maximum. Apparently thinking that pop songs were beneath them, they let Howe and Anderson fabricate a concept album consisting of four LP sides, each with no breaks.
But the "concept" is incoherent - it's based on an Indian philosophical tract - and by now none of the players was innovating musically. Howe's rapid-fire guitar, Anderson's spacey tenor, and Wakeman's pompous keyboards sound the same as always. Yet again, Howe does his classical guitar schtick and Wakeman hauls out the mellotron; and they even recycle riffs from earlier albums like Close To The Edge.
"The Remembering" breaks the mold a bit with some atonal riffing, Bootsy-like squiggly bass, and weird Alan White percussion; and in places Wakeman uses those piercing, then state-of-the-art Arp synths. But all of that just makes the record even less listenable.
Even though some of the sections do have catchy tunes, such as the hippy-dippy anthem "Nous Sommes Du Soleil," you won't want to put this on unless you're stoned or not planning to pay much attention.
Like usual, there are no guests and Eddie Offord co-produced. (JA)
Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (Wakeman: 1974)
Wakeman's sophomore effort actually did better on the charts than its predecessor, and it marked the peak of his solo career. It featured backing by the London Symphony Orchestra. (JA)
Wakeman had quit to pursue his solo career, which promised to go further in commercial terms than it actually did. Yes continued with yet another album of endless indulgences, this one having just three tracks. It was Patrick Moraz' only appearance in the studio with the band. (JA)
Beginnings (Howe: 1975)
As with the Who, 1975 witnessed most of Yes' members releasing solo albums. This was Howe's first solo effort and his last until 1979. (JA)
Fish Out Of Water (Squire: 1975)
Chris Squire's only solo album - after the band fell apart in the early 80s he ended up with sole rights to the "Yes" name, so he really had no incentive to use his own name on any of his projects. Squire handles not only vocals and bass but guitar, which would be interesting to hear. Bruford is on drums, Moraz is one of several keyboard players, and veteran prog rock session player Mel Collins is on saxophone. (JA)
The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table (Wakeman: 1975)
Wakeman's third attempt at an instrumental concept album was a relative flop, failing to go gold unlike its predecessors, but at least rising well into the Top 40 (it was his last record to do so in the U.S.). It featured an orchestra plus a regular rock band that included two vocalists. (JA)
With practically everyone in the band working on solo projects, Yes' record company released a better-late-than-never cash-in compilation of the better songs from the band's first two flop albums.
It ended up being a relative commercial letdown, their first record after the original pair that failed to go gold. The two bonus tracks are a cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "America" that features the Wakeman-Howe lineup and apparently was recorded in 1972, and a leftover 1970 B-side ("Dear Father"). (JA)
No Earthly Connection (Wakeman: 1976)
Wakeman's last early-period solo album before rejoining Yes, featuring a regular rock band that's augmented by a horn section. From this point on, his solo records continued to sell well in Britain but were a non-issue in the U.S. He also had begun regularly making movie soundtrack albums on the side. (JA)
Going For The One (1977)
With Wakeman back in the band, this album did well on the charts. Since some of the tunes are relatively short, there's a staggeringly large total of five. (JA)
White Rock (Wakeman: 1977)
This is the soundtrack for a documentary about the 1976 Winter Olympics. Wakeman later made a ton of movie soundtracks I won't detail; this one is worth mentioning because it sold strongly in the U.K. and remains a fan favorite. It's mostly solo, but there's a drummer (Tony Fernandez, who appeared on many later Wakeman records) and on two tracks a choir. (JA)
Criminal Record (Wakeman: 1977)
White and Squire appear on the first side, and there's a choir on one longish track, but otherwise this is Wakeman solo. Apparently one of his best albums, meaning that it's on par with his initial three. (JA)
Yes finally went back to standard-length pop songs this time around; it was their last gold record until 90125. I'd be curious to hear this one. (JA)
Rhapsodies (Wakeman: 1979)
A double album with 15 relatively short tracks. There's a regular two guitars-bass-and-drums backing band, with producer Tony Visconti being one of the guitarists; Visconti and Wakeman had worked together in the early 70s on such projects as David Bowie records. Wakeman's last commercially important album in England. (JA)
You'd think that the title referred to the state of the band: at an early stage of recording Wakeman quit once again, and so did Anderson, leaving White, Howe, Squire, and fill-ins Geoff Downes (keyboards) and Trevor Horn (vocals; he also handles bass on "Run Through The Light"). The result was a commercial disappointment, and the band essentially ceased to exist for the next several years.
But it's a thoroughly enjoyable listen: the radio favorite "Tempus Fugit" has a totally smoking bass line; the vocals are bearable, sounding eerily like Anderson's; the veteran players all are in top form; and Downes' squiggly, fast-paced synth lines are entertaining (Howe and Downes founded Asia immediately afterwards). They get carried away with the bombastic, unintentional self-parodies "Machine Messiah" and "Into The Lens," but that's balanced by such high points as the funky "Does It Really Happen?," with some more great bass playing.
Maybe it's a bit too slick - some of it does sound like Asia or even the later, Trevor Rabin-era Yes - but as good clean fun it matches anything in the band's catalogue. (JA)
This live double album draws on all the band's mid- and late-70s records, mostly featuring Wakeman, Howe, and White, but with Moraz on two endless suites ("Gates Of Delirium"). They clearly aimed to avoid duplicating Yessongs, so the only early-era composition is "Time And A Word."
Have this and don't have much to say about it; the Moraz numbers are really dull, and the shorter Wakeman selections merely emphasize how much weaker the group's more recent tunes were than their early 70s hits. (JA)
1984 (Wakeman: 1981)
A concept album based on George Orwell's novel of the same name, which was also tackled by David Bowie on his wildly successful album Diamond Dogs. The lyrics were written by theatrical boy wonder Tim Rice, and there are several guest vocalists, including Chaka Khan and Jon Anderson. Wakeman's most popular 80s solo album among fans. (JA)
Rock And Roll Prophet (Wakeman: 1982)
Actually recorded in 1979, this was a flop. Wakeman handles the lead vocals here, which might have been a factor. (JA)
Cost Of Living (Wakeman: 1983)
A second (and last) collaboration with lyricist Tim Rice. There's a fixed band, including a vocalist and narrator and no guests. (JA)
Yes' big "comeback" record, it features their only American #1 hit single ever: the thoroughly mushy and annoying up-tempo harmony-fest "Owner Of A Lonely Heart." The funky follow-up single "Leave It" also hit the Top 40, and "It Can Happen" was all over the airwaves. The lineup is a new one, with Anderson and a minimally involved Kaye returning to join Squire and White, and South African guitarist Trevor Rabin added to replace Howe.
Rabin, who cowrote everything and dominates instrumentally, breaks radically with the band's 70s style in favor of a modernized corporate rock formula: monster power chords, twiddly heavy metal leads, hi-tech synth, crystal-clear harmonies, precise four- or five-minute arrangements, over-used sing-along refrains, and gimmicky breaks like the sitar intro on "It Can Happen," the complex a capella harmonies on "Leave It," and White's 7/4-time lead-in to Rabin's vocal spotlight number "Changes."
Lengthy solos and any hint of spontaneity are banished, and musical experiments are used strictly for effect. It's consummately professional and completely soulless, and it has nothing to do with the band's musical traditions despite such echoes of late 70s British jazz-fusion as the instrumental "Cinema." Still, if you've got undying nostalgia for the rock-by-the-numbers mid-80s this might be the record for you. (JA)
Silent Nights (Wakeman: 1985)
This looks like a completely solo effort, although the song titles make it sound like it has vocals. (JA)
9012LIVE - The Solos (1985)
An odd project, this one features two tunes from 90125 ("Hold On" and "Changes") and five new tracks each credited to one of the five members, which presumably consist of extended solos. (JA)
Big Generator (1987)
This features the same 90125 band. It was a major hit, like the preceding studio album. I keep passing on this one because I've sworn not to spend a significant amount of money on it. (JA)
The Gospels (Wakeman: 1987)
A religious concept album featuring just Wakeman, a choir, and a tenor opera singer. Over the years Wakeman performed the piece frequently, rewriting it in part, and in 1996 he released a newly recorded version called The New Gospels. (JA)
Time Machine (Wakeman: 1988)
There's a rock band and four different vocalists here, two male and two female; they sing on different tracks. (JA)
Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe (ABWH: 1989)
By now Anderson had quit the 80s Yes, so he teamed up with the three remaining out-of-work big-deal 70s veterans, adding Tony Levin on bass and stick. Anything Anderson puts his name on is bound to be pretentious: his lyrics are feel-good drivel and self-righteous political pap (the Midnight Oil ripoff "Birthright"), four of the nine tracks are broken into named movements, several tunes are snooty day-glow pop ("Quartet"), and there's a lot of shrill, quasi-classical, ELP-like synth bombast courtesty of Wakeman.
Plus you can hardly hear Bruford and Levin in the mix, eliminating a virtuoso King Crimson vibe that might have been.
Instead, the record alternates between 70s retro and 80s computer mania - when it lurches into face-paced World Music on "Teakbois," the result is patronizingly eclectic and embarassingly silly instead of musically challenging.
The plus side is Steve Howe. He's as anal as ever, but it's fun listening to his trebly, precise little runs, and the band's surfeit of egos keeps him from going over the top. For better or worse, the disc takes advantage of the CD format by running on for nearly an hour. (JA)
African Bach (Wakeman: 1991)
Recorded in 1989, this is said to be a good one, and is one of the very few solo albums with his own vocals that he's ever recorded. (JA)
This is two projects mixed together - Squire's 80s Yes lineup on four tracks produced by Rabin, Squire, Offord, etc., and ABWH (with Levin) on 10 others produced by Jonathan Elias. What makes it a "Union" is that Anderson shares the lead vocals on the Yes tunes with Squire and Rabin, and Squire sings on three ABWH tunes ("I Should Have Waited Forever").
I'm really not sure what they thought this approach would yield. The running time is way, way too long, and the two bands just don't mesh well; Rabin's bombastic, riff-heavy 80s corporate rock sounds nothing like the "classic" group's artsy 70s self-indulgences ("Silent Talking").
Rabin repeats his formulas: a loping, feel-good gospel-rock singalong ("Saving My Heart"), another intricately harmonized, multi-part epic ("Miracle Of Life").
Naturally, ABWH trumps him with its distinctive personalities; they even think to make Levin more prominent this time.
But it's all forgettable, and the few gems here - Howe's obligatory solo guitar piece ("Masquerade"); Squire's stately, ominous "The More We Live - Let Go" - get dragged down by Elias' confusing cut-and-paste arrangements and some embarassing experiments (the silly hiphop rhythms on "Dangerous" and an honest-to-goodness poetry reading in Cambodian on the pompous "Angkor Wat"). A better buy than ABWH, but that's not saying much. (JA)
Symphonic Music Of Yes (Howe: 1993)
A weak Steve Howe solo studio album, deceptively lacking a proper band credit and consisting merely of a bunch of shopworn 70s Yes tunes performed with backing by the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
Anderson sings two perfunctory vocals ("Roundabout"; "I've Seen All Good People") and Bruford plays drums, but he's mostly inaudible. So the spotlight is on Howe, who seems to have no new ideas at all, and on keyboardist/conductor David Palmer, who's even less inspired;
his conservative orchestrations do little more than cautiously mime Wakeman and Anderson's original parts.
Meanwhile, bassist Tim Harries fails to communicate any of
the energy that Squire always brought to a record.
It's all so dull that when a gospel choir shows up to accompany Howe on his classical acoustic number "Mood For A Day," it's practically the only ear-catching moment on the disc - except for the sad spectacle of Howe failing to get across any of the dynamism that made Rabin's original arrangement of "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" so much brainless fun.
Embarassingly light and musically pointless, it's basically a total waste of time, even though some of the tunes aren't all that over-recorded (Anderson's "Wonderous Stories," "Survival," and "Soon"), and some of them sound good in almost any guise ("Heart Of The Sunrise"). Co-produced by Howe, Palmer, and the despicable Alan Douglas. (JA)
An Evening Of Yes Music Plus (ABWH: 1994)
True to the title, this double CD set is full of ancient 70s Yes tunes, although the new ABWH material gets plenty of space (with Squire absent, it's technically speaking not a Yes record and neither Yes nor ABWH is credited on the sleeve).
Disc 1 leads off with solo medleys by Anderson, Howe (on acoustic guitar), and Wakeman (with brief piano selections from his solo records).
Then they dive into the hits, detouring for ABWH monsters like "Brother Of Mine" and "Order Of The Universe" before finishing with "Roundabout."
It's flawlessly professional, and the band carefully toes the line between conservatism - their replications of old 70s hits like "Close To The Edge" and especially "Heart Of The Sunrise" are remarkably precise - and experimentation, with Bruford taking a solo that shows off his mastery of 80s electronic percussion gadgetry and Wakeman getting a good variety of tones out of his keyboards.
Despite this, the new material isn't particularly brilliant and the hits are so over-recorded by now it's not even funny.
Harmless entertainment for serious fans, who will be happier with this than the more easily available ABWH or Union.
Jeff Berlin is on bass this time, making the lack of either Squire or Levin not seem like a serious problem; there are also backing keyboard and guitar players who have little impact. (JA)
A new studio recording with the 80s lineup, including Anderson.
That might sound offputting, but with musical mores having changed for the better in the mid-90s, the record ends up being thoroughly entertaining. There's just as much rock superstar strutting as ever ("The Calling," a thudding riff-fest that ranks with the group's best), but thanks to the down-home production, it all sounds sincere: White's booming, mostly acoustic drumming, Squire's stately, thumping bass, Kaye's old-style Hammond organ, Rabin's surprisingly thoughtful synth and grittier-than-usual guitar heroics, and all of it clearly separated in the mix.
Although the tunes are mostly catchy and sometimes even creative ("State Of Play," with a nod to current hiphop-flavored dance beats), they're occasionally formulaic ("Walls," a pre-fab, would-be FM hit) and almost always too long (the repetitive "I Am Waiting"; the pretty, but boring synthfest "Where Will You Be"; the exhausting, bombastic, quarter-hour "Endless Dream" suite).
And Anderson sounds exactly like he always did, which isn't always a good thing.
Still, this does appear to be a better buy than any other recent Yes record. Rabin produced, and almost everything was written by Anderson and Rabin.
Squire's involvement is minimal, but he does get a co-write on "Real Love," which somehow keeps its funky cool for 8:46. (JA)
Keys To Ascension (1996)
After the last few disjointed records, this was the full reunion of the classic 70s lineup the fans were waiting for (Alan White is on drums instead of Bill Bruford, who had never really rejoined Yes anyway, and had better things to do like touring with King Crimson). What they deliver, though, might not sound very inviting; it's a double CD with only two new tracks, the others being live performances of 70s tunes. With too many earlier live records having rehashed the very biggest hits, they focus on relatively obscure numbers like their stiff arrangement of "America" and Tormato's soothing "Onward."
The only real standards are pleasing, but merely note-for-note recreations of "Siberian Khatru," "Roundabout," and "Starship Trooper" - it does prove that none of these guys have lost a thing, especially Steve Howe. The new pieces are pretty and cleanly performed, and more tasteful than ABWH. But pushing for the highest standards of musicianship backfires by robbing the performances of even the slightest spontaneity or emotion. So the record is an interesting deal for fans, but not the first place to go for live Yes. (JA)
Keys To Ascension 2 (1997)
Another double CD, with the first disc being more from the same live shows that yielded most of the first Ascension record.
The entire second disc consists of new studio recordings. (JA)
Open Your Eyes (1997)
Released at just about the same time as the preceding record, this is a new studio album with guitarist/keyboard player Billy Sherwood replacing Wakeman.
I have the disc and I think it's interesting; Sherwood often sticks with guitar instead of synth, and he's relatively tasteful, so the coefficient of synthesizer cheese is relatively low.
But Anderson's truly unbearable, with irritatingly loud and monotonous harmonies and extraordinarily embarassing lyrics. A mixed bag at best. (JA)
The Ladder (1999)
Yet another new batch of tunes, again featuring Sherwood; they also add keyboard player Igor Khorhoshev and on one track a horn section.
The producer is Bruce Fairbairn. (JA)