Atlantic Records, 1973

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


It's been some time since we reviewed Yes, but I have this feeling that anytime I dare to take on one of the fathers of progressive rock, some people out there cringe. You see, back in 1997, I reamed the album Tales From Topographic Oceans, and people have yet to forgive me for that. It's almost as if any time I dare to review something from Jon Anderson and crew, I'm going to piss on it worse than a drunk in the john of his favorite corner bar.

So, it's kind of reassuring that reader Jeffrey Mewbourn suggested that we review Yessongs, the three-record live set from 1973. Why not? It had been some time since I dug this one out of the Pierce Memorial Archives, and I was up for spending a couple of hours in front of the stereo.

Now, I know I'm gonna take heat for some of the things I have to say; after all, I'm not going to gush over every single note on this album. But, for the most part, Yessongs is a worthwhile journey that might seem to be a bit of overkill to the newcomers, but is actually a quick listen.

First, let's get the complaints out of the way, so those who blindly follow the band can get their flame e-mails out of the way. First, I question why the band chose to feature material from only three of their albums, all of them their most popular works. (They had five albums' worth of material by this time, but neither Yes nor Time And A Word are represented on this collection.) Second, it takes some time for the sound levels on this album to really get to a good level; at the start, it seems like forever until you hear any crowd noise or the opening notes of the excerpt from "Firebird Suite".

The only other negative I'll touch on at this time is that Yessongs is not an album geared towards the incoming fan. Rather, this was an album for those who had been listening from the beginning and who knew what to expect from Yes. If this is your first taste of the group (and I find it hard to believe there's someone out there who hasn't heard songs like "Roundabout" or "I've Seen All Good People"), you might walk away from this album a little confused.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Okay, now that I've really stirred up some people's blood, let's talk about what Yes does right on this album - and there is a lot. Yessongs is a very good portrait of what this band was like at the progressive peak of their career (popularity-wise, they weren't even there yet; 90125 was over a decade away). The band constantly proves how tight they were as a musical unit; the complexities of songs like "Close To The Edge" and "Heart Of The Sunrise" are nailed like clockwork.

Anderson is in fine voice, while Steve Howe often shows why he was considered to be one of the greatest guitar players ever. I do wish, however, that they had included the guitar solo that was featured in the video of Yessongs instead of "Mood For A Day"; it just seemed to capture his amazing playing better. (While I'm on the subject of the video: Can anyone out there tell me what the hell the video at the start of the tape -- which is definitely not Yes -- had to do with anything?)

The solo break from keyboardist Rick Wakeman (who had recently released The Six Wives Of Henry VIII at that time) showed that he didn't always take the music seriously, and dared to have some fun with it. And frankly, that was a refreshing thing to hear on Yessongs; while I'm not claiming this album is heavy-starch serious, a break like Wakeman's was an enjoyable interlude.

But it is interesting to note that the solos from bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White (who splits time with Bill Bruford on this set) almost suggest a more rock edge to the music -- making me wonder if Yes, at this time, was at a crossroad between rock and progressive music. (The path they'd eventually choose would become obvious on Tales From Topographic Oceans.)

Some of my critics might note that I haven't said a word about song length -- mainly because it isn't an issue on Yessongs. All the tracks -- except for "Perpetual Change," which I just couldn't get into, despite repeated listens -- seem to fly by, meaning that Yes was doing something very right.

If you're just getting into Yes, you might want to hold off on Yessongs until you've developed an appreciation for what they were out to accomplish in the early '70s; after that, this album will make a lot of sense. I made the mistake of listening to it before I had developed some knowledge of the band, which might explain why I didn't fall in love with the set on first listen back in 1987. For the long-time fans of Yes, this will be a slice of the band's history that you're sure to enjoy. I don't know if technology makes this sound better on CD, but I can tell you -- with the exception of the volume levels from time to time -- there isn't a problem on my old vinyl copy.

So, Jeffrey, if you're still wondering if Yessongs is worth picking up, I'd say yes -- assuming you're somewhat familiar with Fragile, The Yes Album and Close To The Edge.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1999 Christopher Thelen 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.