Wednesday, August 29, 2018

From the Archives: The Yes Chronicles. Part 1: Introduction.

The iconic Yes logo, designed by Roger Dean.
The following several posts come from a website I created way back in 2001, in honor of my favorite band, then and now: Yes.

Some of the writing makes me cringe 17 years later, but I feel it's good enough to live on. That Roger Daltrey (yes, that Roger Daltrey) was given some of my text to speak as narrator of the Yesspeak biographical DVD is testament to the quality of at least some of the prose, I guess. 

I pulled down my site, called The Yes Chronicles, years ago. But thanks to the Wayback Machine, which does its part to make sure that nothing published to the internet ever dies, I was able to find archived copies of my reviews. Another site, Yes in the Press -- which appears not to have been updated for about 11 years now -- also saved the reviews. I notice in the introductory blurb that the keeper of Yes in the Press attempted to contact me with no success. I'm not sure what happened, but if that person stumbles across this blog -- hello, it's me. 

All text is original from 2001, with only updates for new reviews. Links have been updated where possible. Happy reading.


"Yes is a band that does not like to look at the horizon; it likes to try to see
over it."

-- Alan White

"The challenge was to do something individual, not observing rules."
-- Chris Squire

"Doing things that no one else does is really what Yes is all about."
-- Trevor Horn
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What is Yes?

Yes is an idea. It's a world of polished musicianship, booming and expressive bass lines, exploratory and colorful guitar tones, creative percussion, brooding Mellotrons and churning Hammond organs and wailing synthesizers, soaring multipart vocal harmonies, often impenetrable lyrics, lush and spacious soundscapes, intricate song textures, a convergence of diverse musical styles, and otherworldly album covers.

But Yes is also an ideal -- a creative arena in which quality music comes before all else. Yes is not so much a collection of 14 musicians joining and leaving various lineups over the past 33 years as it is the music they have created. The music itself has always taken on a life larger than the band itself; the music is the band's raison d'etre.

And what kind of music is it? Well, it's hard to categorize, precisely because it attempts to defy categorization. Rock musicians at the core, many of Yes's members, past and present, have been formally trained virtuosos. That meant that they could do pop music very well if they chose to -- 90125 being the shining example -- but they were just as capable of taking their music into uncharted territory. No matter where they have taken the music, though, the one thing that's remained constant is that they have never fit the stereotype of a rock band -- those makers of three-chord, blues-based songs with trite lyrics about sex, drugs, and, well, rock 'n' roll. No, this is a world of deep thinkers and creative geniuses who just happen to like to rock, who like to smash boundaries, and who like to march to the beat of their own drummer. And, more than likely, that drummer will be playing a syncopated rhythm in 12/16 time.

Indeed, this is deep, rich, layered music, full of intricate, fussy arrangements. But it is by no means cold and calculated. Through a vibrant combination of heartfelt musical creativity and the one-of-a-kind lyrical universe of lead singer/cosmic visionary Jon Anderson, there is an inviting emotional warmth deeply rooted in Yes's best music. Where balladeers can make your eyes well with melancholy tears, rockers can make you tap your feet and dance the night away, and egghead bands like Rush can wow you with their technical prowess, Yes can do all three in the course of a single song and leave you hungering for more.

Unquestionably, the roots of Yes music are indeed in rock, even though sometimes the end result barely sounds like it. That's due to rock music often being no more than just Yes's springboard; from there the music branches off into nearly every imaginable direction: pop, jazz, classical, world music, even country. As a result, Yes music has taken many forms over the years. But the form for which it is most fondly known is the one it took in the 1970s -- a form that melted away the traditional boundaries of rock music in a manner that very few bands had attempted before. The label "progressive rock" was applied to Yes during this time, when prog was fashionable and Yes's music fit neatly into the category, but that's really too limiting of a label. The best Yes music has always transcended such boundaries and defied simple definitions. What we hear on most of those memorable '70s albums owes more to free, unbridled expression than to pre-planned artifice; what we hear is, more than anything else, a natural, organic amalgamation of each member's contributions that combined to create long, unorthodox stretches of expansive, layered music in which every musician excelled but nobody ever stepped on anybody else's feet and nobody hogged the limelight. It was pure democracy in the form of a rock band, with every member simultaneously holding the lead role and complementing the musicians around him. Add to this mix Anderson's lyrical message, which can appear to be stream-of-consciousness on the surface but often holds a deeper meaning, if you care to look for it, and the end result is truly unique. Call it "transcendent rock" or "universal rock." Or just call it Yes.

If Yes is a progressive rock band, as the charges specify, they got on the train late. The Nice, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, and really even Genesis beat them to the punch by the time Yes rolled out 1971's The Yes Album, the first Yes offering that could legitimately fit the definition of early '70s progressive rock. But where these other bands, to varying degrees, set out to create music that fit snugly into the prog category, what we hear from Yes on their early '70s albums is, simply, just the way the music came out--a result of pure, democratic, creative energy. While Yes was just doing what came naturally, the rest of the prog world seemed to be making a contrived effort to outprog each other, and later, when Yes was perceived as having redefined the genre, they all started to out-Yes each other.

Not that Yes is completely innocent in this game of one-upmanship, though: The bloated monstrosity known as Tales from Topographic Oceans was very aware of its own pompous form, and its ugly excesses helped to stereotype prog and to usher in its untimely demise. It also went further than any other Yes album in permanently affixing the "progressive" tag to Yes, which has been somewhat of a burden for the band to carry ever since, for instead of being allowed to move through a natural evolution, Yes's music suddenly had--and still has--a certain contrived expectation to live up to. The result has been music of a very uneven quality ever since 1973, by a band that seems to be in a permanent state of identity crisis. But even now, when Yes is good, it's very good, and those exceptional moments, as always, continue to come when the band is true to its music and not trying to compromise for the sake of the fans or the industry suits. When they are true to their art, they are at their best by far. And shining post-Close to the Edge moments like RelayerGoing for the OneDrama90125Big Generator, and Talk have made sticking with this band all worth it.

Please understand that my reviews are not supposed to be a substitute for actually listening to the music. If you're new to Yes, I hope my reviews of their studio albums generate enough interest that you'll want to check them out for yourself. On the other hand, if you're already familiar with Yes, come on in and enjoy and reminisce with me. Who knows -- maybe I'll even offer a fresh perspective on the music that will make you want to pull out those old albums and listen to them again. You're free to agree or disagree with what I have to say here, but be forewarned that I am not a drooling fanboy. I am highly critical of some of Yes's works, and I point out shortcomings as I hear them, just as I enjoy pointing out the high-water marks that make this exercise all worth the effort.

Taken as a whole, these reviews constitute a rough history of the band, and I proceed in this manner for pragmatic reasons: All of the personnel changes, the band politics, and the outside pressures and expectations are all key to understanding why the music came out the way it did.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

My rankings, best (*****) to worst (*):
Close to the Edge (1972) *****
Relayer (1974) *****
Fragile (1972) **** 1/2
The Yes Album (1971) **** 1/2
Drama (1980) ****
Talk (1994) ****
Magnification (2001) ****
Going for the One
 (1977) ****
Keys to Ascension 2 (1997) *** 1/2
Big Generator (1987) *** 1/2
90125 (1983) *** 1/2
The Ultimate Yes: 35th Anniversary Collection (2003) *** 1/2
Tormato (1978) ***
The Ladder (1999) ***
Keys to Ascension (1996) ***
Time and a Word (1970) ***
Yes (1969) ***
Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973) **
Open Your Eyes (1997) **
Union (1991) *

Other Yes releases include:
Yessongs (1973) -- 3-album (2-CD) set recorded live in 1972.
Yesterdays (1975) -- Reissues from Yes and Time and a Word, plus "Dear Father," a 1970 b-side, and a 1972 studio recording of Paul Simon's "America."
Yesshows (1980) -- 2-album set recorded live between 1976 and 1978.
Classic Yes (1981) -- Reissues from The Yes AlbumFragileClose to the Edge, and Going for the One, plus previously unreleased live versions of "I've Seen All Good People" and "Roundabout" (both 1978).
9012Live: The Solos (1985) -- A companion EP to the 9012Live concert video, featuring two band performances from the video ("Hold On," "Changes") and otherwise unavailable band-member solo pieces recorded live
in 1984.
Yesyears (1991) -- 4-CD box set including reissues from all previous Yes albums but Union, plus b-sides and previously unreleased live and studio tracks.
Yesstory (1991) -- A 2-CD repackaging of Yesyears.
Highlights--The Very Best of Yes (1993) -- A single-CD best-of package, containing reissues from 1969 to 1987.
The Symphonic Music of Yes (1993) -- Renditions of several Yes songs by the London Philharmonic and English Chamber Orchestra, with Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, and Bill Bruford.
Tales from Yesterday (1995) -- A Yes tribute album by various artists, including performances by Steve Howe, Peter Banks, and Patrick Moraz.
Something's Coming (1997) -- 2-CD set; released as Beyond and Before in the United States. Previously unreleased BBC and live recordings (1969-1970) by the original lineup; includes one track ("For Everyone") previously unavailable on an official release.
Keys to Ascension Vols. 1 and 2 (1998) -- A 4-CD package combining both Keys to Ascension albums into
one release.
House of Yes: Live from the House of Blues (2000) -- A 2-CD set (also released on DVD video) chronicling Yes's performance at the House of Blues in Las Vegas, October 31, 1999.
This is far from an exhaustive list. For more information, go to the official Yes Web site, Yesworld; to Notes from the Edge; or to the Yes newsgroup,

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Unless otherwise noted, the band member quotes on these pages have been excerpted from Close to the Edge: The Story of Yes, by Chris Welch, Omnibus Press, 1999; Yesstories: Yes in Their Own Words, by Tim Morse, St. Martin's Press, 1996; Yesyears: A Retrospective, Atco Video/A*Vision Entertainment, 1991; Yes Magazine; and Notes from the Edge. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the authors and/or publishers, and all copyrights remain with the authors and/or publishers.

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