Atlantic Records, 1969

REVIEW BY: Herb Hill



It's not a term that I coined; "proto-prog" has been used and re-used to describe many of the late 60's and early 70's era albums of many a diverse group. Genesis, King Crimson and the like. Even the Beatles have had this label slapped on some of their later works. But to the Yes purist this album is the birth of the Yes sound, and therefore by definition the original proto-prog album.

Surprise! No Steve Howe and no Rick Wakeman. Oh, ya, we all love to point at the "classic" Yes lineup of Anderson, Howe, Squire, Wakeman and Bruford/White as the defining cast of "real prog." But lookie here my boy -- gaze a little further back and you will find the cauldron that classic Yes and progressive rock was forged in. Anderson, Squire and Bruford are present and accounted for but on keys we have Tony Kaye and lead guitar is handled by Peter Banks.

Anderson had met Squire just the year before this in 1968 and being still in their musical infancy, the freshness of this album is absolutely stunning. Comprised of covers and collaborations, this album is a welded seam between Beatles and West Coast harmonies mixed with a strong jazz influence. Although it lacks the symphonic layerings that characterize later Yes albums, it isn't "missing" anything at all.

The covers of "Every Little Thing" by the Beatles and "I See You" by Jim McGuinn and David Crosby of the Byrds point nicely to the influences that the newly born Yes were using to help light the way on their quest for musical distinction. Listening to "Every Little Thing" is a real treat. However, if you are looking for a standard Beatles "cover" you can forget it. The arrangement is completely different from the original, pointing to a facet of the Yes musical cache that would come into play years later on albums like my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Close To the Edge; the talent to arrange a musical piece is as important as the talent to create the melody and lyrics. Yes, as a group, already had the arranging capabilities in spades even at this early stage.

Nothing comes from nothing; before Yes there was a group called Mabel Greer's Toyshop. Anderson, Squire and Banks were all members and two of the songs on Yes, "Beyond and Before" and "Sweetness," were originally created by this earlier incarnation. Apparently there is an actual recording of "Beyond and Before" as done by Mabel Greer's Toyshop out there somewhere… might be fun to hear it. There were, in fact, a least two "proto-Yes" bands that Anderson, Squire and Banks were members of, either as singles or in combination with each other, The Syn and The Warriors. This was London of mid to late 60's after all, musical styles and bands formed and re-formed with the elastic fluidity of amoebas in nutrient goo. It must have been wonderful, and one wonders if the Yes members of today occasionally long for the freedom of those moments in time at the edge of "progness," before they were locked into their own expectation of what prog was supposed to be. Or perhaps the very definition of progressive rock still allows them to feel the same freedom. Heaven knows that the bands membership remained very fluid over the course of their still active career.

Ok, so what about the 'real' Yes songs on this album. Well, if you are looking for a hint of things to come my money is on "Survival." Time changes, meticulous acoustic guitar, jazz-influenced percussion, chunky Squire bass, lush vocal harmonies and lyrics that speak of life, death and renewal… Ya, that's Yes.

I want to use clichés like "diamond in the rough" when describing this album. However, that assumes knowledge of things to come in the Yes catalog. That's fair enough, but an album as good as this should be judged on its own merits and not be elevated beyond itself or held back based on expectations from the next decade.

Yes is an album that holds most of the keys to progressive rock as it came to be known, but beyond that this is an album that also holds tight to the original influences that pushed Yes to almost single handedly define the entire genre of prog rock. If you listen to it without preconceived ideas about what it should be, then I think that you will find that it is a 'whole' unto itself. It exists as a singular eddy in the musical timeline, pulling heavily on the past but pushing just as hard into the future. No matter what you bring with you when you listen to it, Yes is by any measure an A.

Rating: A

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© 2004 Herb Hill and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Atlantic Records, and is used for informational purposes only.