Saturday, February 6, 2021

The Yes Album

Yes' incredible trilogy (The Yes Album, Fragile and Close to the Edge), almost didn't happen. Atlantic, following the dismal sales of the 2nd Yes LP, nearly dropped the band from the label. (How many of you, be honest now, have ever really heard the first two Yes LPs?) Were it not for the Yesterdays compilationthe incredible cover of Simon and Garfunkel's "America" would be obscure, even to this writer who, in his teens followed Yes around like the Grateful Dead. The first phase of Yes, the Peter Banks' Yes, was essentially a psychedelic band, a decent one, but by 1971, no one cared (in the same way that no one cared about Tull's English folk). The band was somehow able to respond to this unknown threat with the addition of Steve Howe and Jon Anderson's switching up his focus and taking the writing reigns like a boss. 

Howe joined an already immensely talented band, whose members each had distinctive styles, but things certainly change when the new guitarist's skillset is like nothing anyone ever heard before.
Progressive rock gave us many incredible guitarists who studied musicians ranging from Wes Montgomery to Andrés Segovia, but Howe listened to Chet Atkins and the flatpickers and banjo players of American Appalachian music, adding the pedal steel guitar to his growing arsenal of instruments. That kind of innovation and leadership tied with Anderson's fanciful tunes was the catalyst as well for Chris Squire's ascent as one of rock's premiere bassists; arguably the musician who took the bass from out of the percussion section to have it vie for the lead.
The distinction of diverse sounds seems the key to the lineup, and one can't talk about the other band members with acknowledging an element that would not evolve later in the classic years of Yes, that of Tony Kaye's Hammond organ. Wakeman the following year would thoroughly embrace the Moog and a bevy of synthesizers, but the Hammond is integral to The Yes Album (so prevalent in "Starship Trooper). 

The Yes Album's, structures, even its complexities, are uncluttered and clear, despite a virtuosity of each band member that might otherwise be a sloppy stew, and while Eddie Offord's production helps here, the LP is syncopated by Bill Bruford's stunning jazz sensibility. Unlike Keith Moon who filled every available space with his patter, Bruford let the music breathe, to come up for air. He would leave the band for the far more eccentric King Crimson the following year, replaced by Alan White for the most classic Yes line up, but Bruford's subtle contributions are essential to The Yes Album sound.

After the relative tedium of their second album, Time And A Word, Yes had arrived, luckily dodging the corporate bullet. With the addition of Steve Howe, Chris Squire had the perfect foil for his bass leads and the songs were all the better for it. "Yours Is No Disgrace" is ten minutes of innovative time changes and "Starship Trooper" rocks harder than 95% of the prog-rock that isn't Crimson, and didn't "The Clap" make you want a guitar? 

The Yes Album is an AM8.

Note: Interestingly "The Clap" is actually just called "Clap," though Jon Anderson's misstep introduction has forever retitled the tune.

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