Nothing takes me back to the summers of my youth more than The Yes Album. From the opening processional of “Yours is No Disgrace” right through to “Perpetual Change” exists an elegant time capsule of the very early days of progressive rock music. Drive, experimentation, lyrical naivete, all tempered with a sound melodic sense keep these extended explorations from toppling over the edge into the abyss. Themes swirl, evaporate, return, transfigure and in the end stay with you after the songs are over.
Forty years on you do have to muster some musical patience to stick with the nine and eleven minute songs. But when you do, you can be surprised by their freshness and colorfulness. The music demands an openness but it also rewards when you yield. Forty years on it remains my favorite prog album.
In 1971 you’d hear nearly all this album on “free form” and “progressive rock” stations as well as select college stations. I think I first checked this album out of the Winston-Salem public library around the summer of 1972 and for a while I’d play one side or the other nearly every morning.
This is the third studio album for Yes and it differs from their previous two by being the first to contain all original compositions. The album was written collectively in a rented farmhouse in Devon. What is astounding is that the album took a mere two months to record. It’s not uncommon for albums of much lesser material to take months or years to record. Even so, two months was a luxury in the early 70s, a period when bands were still expected to bring out a new album about every 9 to 12 months.
After this album, keyboardist Tony Kaye would leave for more than a decade and Rick Wakeman would next assume the keyboard duties. The albums after this 1971 masterpiece are too full of swoops and gimmicks from Wakeman to be as satisfying (for me at least) as the smart touches Kaye achieves, though Fragile certainly has plenty going for it.
You won’t hear Yes too often on Deeper Into Music, except during Vintage Deep Cuts, the weekend “oldies” program. While I smile nearly every time I hear “Starship Troopers” I worry that Yes has been overexposed and I worry that some DIM listeners might shun its contemptuous familiarity. Some damn good classics just feel out of place in the regular Deeper Into Music mix.
A few trivia notes: 1. Several of the movements in the longer works are derived from older tunes and ideas reworked by the band. 2. Jon Anderson is credited as John on the initial printings of the album cover; he would drop the “h” by the next album.
Finally, if someone as picky and generally antagonistic to “prog” as Robert Christgau can give this album a solid B-, well, that’s saying something.