Inspired by fellow Progarchist Erik Heter to post a “Top Ten” list, here are what I believe to be the ten best Yes albums. Whether you agree or disagree with my choices, feel free to add your two cents’ worth in the comments!
An album by the Rabin/Anderson/Squire/Kaye/White configuration that never got the respect it deserved. I’ve always had a soft spot for it, particularly “The Calling” and “Endless Dream”. It strikes a nice balance between the full-on pop of 90125 and the prog of the band’s glory days. Check out Time Lord’s essay on this album here.
Speaking of 90125, the charm and attractiveness of its songs cannot be denied. It won Yes a new generation of fans, and when I need a dose of classic ’80s rock, it’s the album I go to.
Before this recent release of seven concerts from 1972, I would have placed Yessongs here. But the raw sound of these recordings makes them a really fun listen. Hear Rick Wakeman’s keyboards channel a local jazz DJ! Hear Jon Anderson tout a local vegetarian restaurant! And hear a young band at the peak of their powers playing the entire Close to the Edge album.
7. Tales From Topographic Oceans
In the rock world at large, this was considered the epitome of self-indulgence. I think Yes were ahead of their time. Nowadays, it’s normal for a prog band to record a 30-minute epic. In this album, there are some truly beautiful passages of music.
Probably a controversial choice for this slot, but I love this album. It’s notorious for having Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes instead of Jon and Rick, but “Machine Messiah” and “Run Through The Light” are excellent songs. Chris Squire’s playing on this album is some of his best, as well.
“Roundabout”, “Long Distance Runaround”, “Heart of the Sunrise”, no self-respecting fan of prog music can be without this classic.
4. The Yes Album
This is the one where all the disparate elements of Yes first gelled. “Starship Trooper” and “I’ve Seen All Good People” defined early-70s FM radio in America. I still get chills listening to it.
The harsh sound of the original mix of this album turned me off, but Steven Wilson’s new one is a revelation. It’s a shame the Patrick Moraz edition of Yes didn’t record more. They made some wonderfully challenging and exciting music.
2. Close To The Edge
The pinnacle of the classic lineup (and Bill Bruford’s finest hour). A contemporary symphony that will endure for a very long time.
1. Going For The One
The punk explosion of the mid-70s lit a fire under Yes, and the opening title track features some of Steve Howe’s most aggressive guitar. “Parallels” rocks unbelievably hard, while “Awaken” is my favorite long-form Yes song. For a much better and comprehensive appreciation of this album, read Erik Heter’s review here.
Agree with the list or disagree? Was I wrong to leave out Tormato or Magnification? Let us know in the comments!
Earlier today, Brad had an excellent post on Talk, the final album of the Yes-West era, as it is sometimes called. After submitting a comment on the post, I was invited to expand on it with a full post of my own. I am only too happy to oblige, so let’s go.
Talk is a difficult album to analyze, at least for me. The context for my own evaluation of this album pre-dates its release by some three years, with another big event in Yes history – the Union era. I’m not a big fan of the album itself (and prefer the Trevor Rabin-penned Lift Me Up and Miracle of Life over all other songs on that record), but I am ever thankful for the eventual tour it spawned. My first Yes concert (discussed here) was in 1979. After that there was turmoil, break-up, re-unification, more break-up, and re-re-unification. I had had two near misses with Yes concerts, one in 1984 and the other in 1988. And after Jon Anderson departed for ABWH, my thoughts were that I would not get another chance to see them live. So when I became aware of the Union Tour, I was very happy, and I was elated when their show at the then-named Walnut Creek Amphitheater in Raleigh, NC was announced. Tickets were purchased as soon as they were available, and on July 10, 1991, I finally caught up with my favorite band again. After thinking I’d never get another chance to see them, being there that night was very emotional for me. It was the best of both worlds, the classic Yes lineup and the Yes-West lineup, all in one. And it was an utterly fantastic show, the best of the six Yes concerts I’ve had the good fortune to attend.
In the wake of the Union-era, I had hoped that something more permanent would come out of it. Surely they could find some way to work together as a band, couldn’t they? With that in mind, the revelation that Talk would mark a return to just the Yes-West lineup, I was a bit disappointed. That disappointment was made more acute when I became aware of rumors that Rick Wakeman wanted to work on the album, and the band itself wanted the same. But apparently, lawyers and record companies got in the way, or so I am told. If so, a pox on their houses, as one of my unfulfilled Yes fantasies is that Rabin and Wakemen never worked on a Yes album together. It was pretty clear during the Union show I attended that they had some real chemistry together, particularly when Rabin would jaunt onto the stage during Wakeman’s keyboard solo and the two would trade licks. And Wakeman was one ex-Yes member who had great respect for what the band had accomplished with 90125.
Twenty years ago, on a Sunday morning, I was departing Mass, heading back to my brother’s house in Boise, Idaho. Much to my surprise, I recognized Jon Anderson’s and Trevor Rabin’s voices on the radio. The local AOR station was playing “The Calling.” I had no idea that Yes had a new album, and I wasn’t even convinced it was Yes. Maybe Anderson and Rabin had started a projected. This was before the time of immediate internet gratification and information, so I had to hope against hope it was a new Yes album. I didn’t the song was brilliant, by any means, but I was excited by the possibility of a new album.
Let me offer two caveats here.
First, I’m not a Yes hater or an “aspect of Yes” hater. If it has “Yes” on the album sleeve or cd booklet, it’s a Yes song. The first album I ever remembering hearing was “Yessongs,” the 3-album live album. I was only probably six or so when I first heard Yessongs. I was the youngest of three brothers, and thank the good Lord, they loved prog. I benefitted immensely from what they’d purchased. When “Owner of a Lonely Heart” came out, I was just as happy as could be. Yeah, it wasn’t Steve Howe on guitar, but it was pretty good.
Frankly, I’ve never understood the huge division among Yes fans. Yeah, Wakeman is great, but Downes is pretty amazing as well. The same with Howe and Rabin. I love Chris Squire’s playing, but when Tony Levin played with ABWH, wow.
Had I been asked, I would’ve have suggested that the band that made “90125,” “Big Generator,” and “Talk” keep their original name, Cinema. It’s not that I don’t think the band was Yes, but Yes had such a deep history and distinctive sound that the band members themselves would have felt even freer to go in what direction they wanted. Plus, the name Cinema really does fit the music of 90125. If that album isn’t cinematic, no album is.
Talk is a point of confusion for me in so many ways. Long before I ever got around to checking out Yes‘ fourteenth album, I’d heard reports that it was the so-called saving grace of the Trevor Rabin era. Some rose-tinted listeners went as far to say it ranked up there with the band’s classic material. This high regard was sharp contrast to the hideously sell-outish album art, which may very well be one of the least appealing covers I’ve ever seen. If anything, the cognitive dissonance going into Talk made the anticipation that much more compelling. I was excited to find out what I’d think of it- after all, it couldn’t be any worse than Union… Right?
When I first heard “Talk” back in 1994, I was immensely disappointed. The songs dragged, the production was way too perfect, and the cover just looked ridiculous, something my three-year old nephew at the time could’ve drawn. On the good side, I was blown away by the lyrics and the vocals. The lyrics are some of the best Yes has ever written. They’re still airy and hippyish, but they’re also quite poetic and meaningful. The vocals are to die for. Of all of Anderson’s partners, Rabin best understands how to use his voice and how to write music to suit his voice. And, the trio of vocals of Anderson, Squire, and Rabin is simply one of the best in the history or rock.
[My only complaint with Rabin–and it basically holds for every member of Yes–is his wardrobe. Every time I watch “9012Live,” I keep thinking, “dude, those pants are so tight, it’s disgusting.” Heck, give me Wakeman’s cape ANYDAY over those bizarre tight pants.]
Over the last 20 years, aside from the final song suite, “Endless Dream,” I’ve hardly listened to the album. Indeed, I don’t think there’s been a Yes album I’ve listened to less. I even liked “Union” better than “Talk.”
A month or so ago when seemingly everyone and his brother had somehow managed to download a copy of “Heaven and Earth” and the same everyones and their dogs hated it, I decided to go back to “Talk.” Much to my surprise, I kind of liked it. I didn’t love it, but I did like it—far more than I did when I first bought it.
What Would Make “Talk “Great
So, this morning, after reading Fynes’s wonderful and thought-provoking review, I put the headphones on and gave the entire album a full listen and, then, a second. If I could re-make the album and re-release it as a 20th anniversary edition, here’s what I’d do (please remember: I’m a college professor of history and literature, not a musician!).
First, and very importantly, the title needs a change. “Talk” has almost nothing to do with the album in any way, shape, or form. The entire album, from beginning to end, is about words and The Word. The album title should reflect this. “Talk” not only doesn’t fit with the message of the album, it’s downright pedestrian. Yes needs to reach much higher.
Second, the album needs some different art. It doesn’t have to be by Roger Dean, but it should be something beyond a scrawl of Yes. Get someone brilliant such as Ed Unitsky, Jim Trainer, or James Marsh.
Third, the revised version of the album needs to delete “I am Waiting” and “Walls.” There’s no salvation for these songs. Sap and boredom mixed into one. Maybe, they could count as unfinished b-sides, but I see no hope at all for either.
Fourth, the album needs to be integrated in a much better form. It should be seamless, and every song should perfectly blend into every other.
Fifth: I would recommend the following track order:
An extended version of “Endless Dream: Endless Dream.” It should be extended to allow the vocals to repeat themselves for another few minutes, to linger as it were.
This should phase into a much rockier version of “The Calling.”
Then, “State of Play,” a reprise of “Endless Dream: Endless Dream.” After a segue into “Where Will You Be.”
The album should finish with “Endless Dream: Silent Spring” and “Endless Dream: Talk.”
But, the entire album should close with “Endless Dream: Endless Dream,” again extending the song but not duplicating the “Endless Dream: Endless Dream” of the opening of the album. The revised and final version of the song should include hints of the melodies of all of the other songs on this album as well as brief references to “City of Love” and “Shoot High.”
Such a conclusion would beautifully close the Rabin era.
Please know, I write this as a fan of all manifestations of Yes.