The Yes Album
The Beginnings of Radio-Friendly Prog Rock
This is the rare progressive rock album that doesn't scream, "We Are Musicians, Take Us Seriously," in the first thirty seconds. Though its lyrics talk cosmic gibberish about glimpsing heaven and the goodness of human souls and the role of Starship Troopers in the galaxy, the music underneath is a model of discipline. The Yes rhythm section, anchored by drummer Bill Bruford, hops between different time signatures as casually as most people cross the street. No matter what the keening, skyscraping vocalist Jon Anderson sings, the band pounds out music that's heavy and celestial, rhythmically agile and exultant.
Rock historians point to Fragile, the album that followed this one, as the definitive Yes. Although it contains the breakthrough single "Roundabout" (the biggest prog-rock hit of all time) it splinters into tracks showing off the prodigious talents of each individual musician. The Yes Album is, by contrast, all about the group—here are five confident musicians journeying through extended suites ("Starship Trooper"), executing dramatic shifts of tempo with enviable precision. The seeds of "Roundabout" are here—check out the chord sequence that defines "A Venture" and the Zen philosophy of "Perpetual Change." More significant, there are several songs that show Anderson striving to make his music accessible, while retaining its road-map complexities: Though it wasn't nearly the hit "Roundabout" was, "Your Move/All Good People" is a feast of hooks, instantly singable and still somehow deep.
Released: 1971, Atlantic
Key Tracks: "Your Move/All Good People," "Starship Trooper," "Yours Is No Disgrace," "Perpetual Change."
Catalog Choice: Fragile; Close to the Edge
Next Stop: Emerson, Lake, and Palmer: Brain Salad Surgery
After That: Pink Floyd: Piper at the Gates of Dawn
Book Pages: 881–882