Culling one track from Going For the One (released in 1977, the year that punk said no to Yes, and the year before Rush “copied” Yes and put a man’s buttocks on the cover of their LP), one track from Close to the Edge (1972), four tracks from Fragile (1972), and three tracks from The Yes Album (1971), Classic Yes groups the band’s highlights from Yes, Mark I. In so doing, it reinforces my chief likes and dislikes:
1. Yes has been around for the better part of forty-five years. Three years after forming, they had a two-year-long winning streak then promptly began to suck. They don’t know when to quit—and the same goes for the longueurs on the songs gathered here.
2. Jon Anderson’s yearning vocals are an indispensable part of the classic Yes sound, but he tries too hard to be deep. (He also looks like a hippie version of the dwarf in Don’t Look Now, and that’s scary.) His lyrics alternate metaphysical mumbo-jumbo and simple lines that have a Haiku spirit to them. (“I feel lost in the city” sure beats “Dawn of light lying between a silence and sold sources/Chased amid fusions of wonder.”) This combination, this split between beauty and bullsh*t, suffuses the band’s best work. Together, the tricky time signatures, quasi-classical filigrees (“Paging Rick Wakeman…”), grungy bass & drums, and melodic stabs at a symphonic grandeur achieve a jagged pomp. At its best, the Yes sound drives a wedge in your brain, giving your imagination the space it needs to story a Roger Dean-like landscape (if, that is, you’re a geek like me). At its worst, the Yes sound is awfully affected. So…
3. Bad Yes is good Yes, and vice versa. Their catalog, and Classic Yes in particular, boasts not one unpretentious track. Classic Yes just has less dross than the studio albums.
4. Roger Dean should design everyone’s album cover.
Lastly, I will end this article on a side note. Trevor Horn, the main man behind the Buggles, presided over Yes, Mark II. The record from this period, Drama (1980), is a curio. Essentially it’s The Buggles Stretch Out, and for that reason it is worth a listen. Think: a kinder, gentler prog-rock joined to the plastic new wave. Isn’t that, you ask, a bit like a pineapple pizza for people who dig music from the 70s and 80s? Yes, folks. YES.