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Old 01-02-2023, 01:28 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Yes or No? Tales from Trollographic Oceans

A new year seems like a good time for a new project, and you know how I love my projects! This one will be big, and possible controversial.


Yes or No? Tales from Trollographic Oceans
Trollheart Dives Deep into the entire Yes Discography,
Looking for Wondrous Stories and the Owner of a Lonely Heart


One thing that always seems to shock people when they hear I’m a proghead is the fact that I don’t particularly care for Yes. That’s not quite true of course: anything from the 1980s onwards I do like, but go backwards and there’s very little there I’m interested in. It might help those people to realise that I got into music of my own (as opposed to music I could only hear on the radio or through my elder sister’s record player or from friends) in around 1980, when I began working and was able to afford my first stereo system. I had heard of Yes, vaguely, but only really came to know them through the hit single “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, which played on MTV with a cool video. Even then, meh, I wasn’t too bothered about checking out their album, not until my mate Tony played me Big Generator, their twelfth album, and second produced by The Buggles’ Trevor Horn. I loved that album, and quickly got into its predecessor 90125, from which the single I mention had come, then tried Drama but didn’t think much of it. Tony suggested the one two albums prior to that, 1977’s Going for the One, and while yes (no pun intended: this will of course happen a lot) I was impressed by “Wondrous Stories”, I just didn’t get the album.

So I’ve been a forward-looking minor fan of Yes, loving those two albums and then the follow-ups, including the all-but-Yes-in-name Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe album, though after the disappointment of The Ladder I stopped listening to their new stuff. I’ve heard a few tracks in playlists from the later albums; some are good, some are poor. None have really made me want to go and check out the full album. I’ve also been aware of Jon Anderson, mostly through his association with the late Vangelis, of whom I was a big fan in the late 1970s and 1980s, and the two hit singles they had together, but I heard one of Anderson’s solo albums and again I just was underwhelmed.

But I’ve never really come across a band, particularly a prog rock one, particularly one of THE prog rock ones, which has so sharply divided my opinion along the basis of time periods. Peter Gabriel Genesis or Phil Collins? Like both. Pre or post-Fish Marillion? Love both. Emerson, Lake and Palmer? Hate them. There hasn’t been, that I can recall anyway, a band or artist who I’ve found I love a certain period of their work and don’t like the rest. Yes remain as a sort of anachronism in my appreciation of prog, and indeed music. Usually, I either like an artist or I don’t, and I can’t think of another where I can answer the question “Do you like Yes?” with both answers, having to qualify that answer by asking one of my own: “Do you mean pre or post 1983?”

But it’s always been a slight concern to me that I haven’t been seen to have given 1970s Yes a proper chance. So, while I am under no illusions this will suddenly make me a fan of early Yes, my intention here is to, if not get into them, at least lay out my reasons and thinking behind my dislike of everything before 90125. At the end of this project, I hope to at least be able to say, with some confidence, that I have tried, have listened to the early stuff, and still don’t like it, and if someone does greet me with that air of incredulity, and ask how I can like, say, Union and not Tormato, I will, with some degree of sanguinity, be able to point them to this article for the answers they seek. Or, you know, just tell them to fuck off.

The intention here is, then, to listen to every album in Yes’s discography (even the ones I’m familiar with), including any bonus tracks, special mixes, and so forth, and possibly solo efforts too, to do a detailed and descriptive review of each, pointing out its failings in my view, or, if I can, its strengths, and trying to find out and/or explain why a certain album does or does not resonate with me. Comment is invited yadda yaddda see the small print for details, your statutory rights don’t exist etc.

One more thing: if you’re going to argue with me about this or that album, and try to convince me I’m wrong and don’t know what I’m talking about (I don’t) then fuck you. While I’ll engage in civilised debate with anyone on any subject, I expect the same sort of courtesy towards my views, and anyone who says something flippant like “You just don’t get it” can eat a big one. This is, primarily, a sort of testament to my dislike of seventies Yes, and why I feel like I do. I want to give the albums a fair chance, and I will, but if, as I assume will be the case, I still don’t like them then that’s it. Don’t try to tell me I need to listen to each album 40,309 times, cos I won’t be doing that. Remember, I’m not necessarily trying to get into seventies Yes here, just explain and demonstrate why I’m not into that period of their work. So to paraphrase Lord Percy in Blackadder II, play fair with me and you will find me a considerate reviewer, but if you cross me by Jove! You will find that beneath this playful, boyish exterior beats the heart of a ruthless, sadistic maniac!

And with that, let’s go.

As we all know (or if you don’t you should) Yes began when one guy met another in a pub, literally. Chris Squire had been playing bass in a band called “Mabel Greer’s Toyshop” (doesn’t quite have the same ring through, does it? Close to the Edge by Mabel Greer’s Toyshop!) but after leaving that band to their obscure destiny he joined up with barman Jon Anderson, and names were bandied around as they tried to come up with a good one for their new band, suggestions ranging from World to Life. The incredibly simple word for the affirmative was settled upon and with Squire leaving behind childish things, as it were, and the addition of guitarist Peter Banks, drummer Bill Bruford and keyboard player Tony Kaye, Yes were born, and took the world by storm.

Um. Not quite. It would take two albums and a lot of touring before Yes began making their name in the nascent progressive rock scene, even as later godfathers of prog Genesis and ELP were both finding their feet, and Andy Latimer was looking for somewhere to water his Camel. It’s fair to say that the first two albums from Yes were not exactly going to shift the units, but there are indications on them of the band they would come to be. So let’s have a listen.

Album title: Yes
Year: 1969
Personnel: Jon Anderson (Vocals, some percussion), Chris Squire (bass), Tony Kaye (Organ, piano), Bill Bruford (Drums, vibraphone), Peter Banks (Guitars)
Track by track:

“Beyond and Before”
Right off this sounds more like a psychedelic rock/hippy shit song with a heavy guitar and some close-harmony vocals, the latter of which would become the trademark of the band. Anderson’s voice is not as strong or confident here as it would grow to be, of course, but it’s relatively strong even so. Definitely too guitar-driven for me, though the lyric is pure what would become prog rock, with a lot of pastoral stuff about nature, lines like ”Sparkling trees of silver foam/Cast shadows soft in winter home/Swaying branches breaking sound/ Lonely forest trembling ground” showing the sort of thing we could expect from this band, lyric wise, though as Jon Anderson would take over most of the songwriting duties and this is not one of his, being written by Chris Squire and Clive Bailey, one of the previous members of Mabel Greer’s Toyshop (was it an MGT song, or one meant for them? Don’t know) we have yet to hear what Anderson will contribute in terms of songwriting to this album.


What I like about this: The close-harmony singing, the lyric
What I don’t like about this: The over-preponderance of guitar and how harsh it is, the lack of any real keyboard you can hear, the sudden and abrupt start to the song, the album and the career of one of prog’s giants. The tiny little organ flourish near the end seems tacked on.

“I See You”
While you can understand that a band only getting together and then releasing their debut album a few months later would be necessarily short of material, I don’t like the inclusion of cover versions, and here we have one of The Byrds’ songs, which for me roots Yes even more in the sixties, even as they’re approaching the seventies, and perhaps shows a slight lack of confidence in themselves that they had to have a cover on there. I don’t have a lot to say about it, as there’s really no point. It’s a cover. That’s it. I guess it’s a vehicle for Banks to show off on the guitar, but not much more than that.

What I like about this: Banks’ intricate guitar work, more organ than in the previous, the harmony vocals again
What I don’t like about this: It’s a cover and sounds very sixties

“Yesterday and Today”
The first song on the album written by Anderson, and indeed the first one written solo by any member of the band, though I read “Sweetness” was the first collaboration between he and Squire. It’s much shorter, in fact the shortest on the album at just under three minutes, a nice little acoustic sort of ballad with guitar and piano, with Bruford playing the vibraphone, adding a nice touch. To be perfectly honest, it’s nothing special and yet it stands out as far better than the first two tracks, at least for me. Maybe it’s because Anderson gets to exercise his pipes without the others joining in - no harmony vocals here; this is a one-man job other than the chorus where the harmonies come in.

Let’s be honest though: the lyric is pretty poor - “Standing in the sea/Sing songs for me/Smiling happily” - oh dear. Still, our Jon will of course do much better, and anyway this is his first attempt at songwriting. Well, maybe not, but his first on the album.
What I like about this: Its simplicity, the piano line, the strummed acoustic guitar, the sort of otherworldly feel the vibraphone lends the song
What I don’t like about this: The lyric is pretty poor.

“Looking Around”
Kicks the tempo back up with a big blast of bubbly organ from Kaye, the second song in which Anderson has a hand, this time co-writing with Squire. The keyboard riff does sound a little similar to Genesis’s “Can-Utility and the Coastliners” outro, making me wonder if Tony Banks was listening to this album before recording Foxtrot three years later? There are also elements of “Watcher of the Skies” in the Hammond riff halfway through.

Again, the lyric leaves a lot to be desired: ”Songs that I can’t hear/Would take me for a while my smile/ Fares that are too dear/I’d rather walk out another mile.” Right.
What I like about this: Despite its similarity to later Genesis, the keyboard runs, got a good energy to it.
What I don’t like about this: Maybe a little raw and unfocused, poor lyric

“Harold Land”
The first to get three songwriting contributions, as Bruford joins Squire and Anderson. This is the first one where we hear the trademark bouncing keyboard arpeggios that would characterise much of Yes’s music, and it’s also the first where they tackle a serious subject, that of men going to war and what it does to them. Was this a response to the Vietnam war? I don’t know; it’s written more as a World War I sort of thing, leading men in charges and such, but they may have been slightly jumping on the bandwagon of protest songs that were emerging at this time. I suppose in that sense it’s the first song on the album you could call dark or even serious.

It’s also the first that has what I could call a proper lyric, with the airy-fairy nature/love stuff pushed aside for the band to perhaps make a serious statement and show what they were about. Or not. Anyway it’s a heavier track with a kind of sense of sophomore Supertramp about it, quite organ-driven with some nice vocal harmonies. I like the lines written about Harold after he comes back from the war: ”Stood sadly on the stage/Clutching red ribbons from a badge/But he didn’t look his age.” A really good organ solo in the outro that would surface two decades later on the Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe album in the closing arpeggio to “Brother of Mine”.
What I like about this: The serious lyric, the keyboard work
What I don’t like about this: Feel it might - might - have been put on there for show?

“Every Little Thing”
Sadly, a second cover version, and by a rather obvious band to cover in 1969, the Beatles. I don’t know the song, but that kind of doesn’t matter, because where there are cover versions I’m just going to gloss over them. Musicianship is undeniable and I suppose how you cover a song is important in one way, but not to my appreciation of Yes, or the lack of it.
What I like about this: Nothing
What I don’t like about this: It’s another cover, too guitar-driven, too frenetic, too long and I’m no fan of the Beatles

“Sweetness”
The first song written by Anderson and Squire, and in terms of track listing, the fourth song on which Anderson has a writing credit. Lovely keyboard intro, reminiscent of Procol Harum, with some reflective guitar and sighing harmonies. Lovely. Another ballad, but I would say better than “Yesterday and Today”, and was in fact the first single released from the album; not surprising to see why. Very relaxing. Kind of nods a little towards The Byrds again, though it’s an original. It’s a pretty simple little love song, but if you think there’s something wrong with that, talk to Paul McCartney. He has his own views on silly love songs.
What I like about this: Everything
What I don’t like about this: Nothing

“Survival”
Anderson keeps his fingerprints all over the album as he writes the closer, and it’s heavily drenched in Kaye’s trumpeting keyboard arpeggios, which fade out then to be replaced by Banks’ beautiful, laid-back acoustic guitars then it and the returning organ complement Anderson’s voice really well in what appears to be another ballad. Again the lyric is pretty laughable - ”Mother flew too late/And life within the egg was left to fate” - do what, mate? But you can forgive that due to the dreamy nature of the music and Anderson’s angelic voice. In this mode, he could sing your shopping list and you’d be entranced.
What I like about this: The music, the atmosphere, the rising harmonies, the keyboard runs, the acoustic guitar
What I don’t like about this: The terrible lyric. Oh well.

Bonus Tracks
(Only on 2003 remaster)

“Everydays”
A Stephen Stills song. Good organ opening, sort of a sense of drama about it but you know, it’s a cover.
What I like about this: n/a
What I don’t like about this: It’s a cover. Again.

“Dear Father”
The only one of the bonus tracks which is an original song, written by Anderson and Squire, and forming their third collaboration on the album, it kicks off with a big punchy keyboard run then slips down into an almost VDGG style with the organ low in the background and the vocal quite low-key too until the chorus when it bursts up into life. Another heavy song, I wouldn’t be mad about it to be honest.
What I like about this: The opening keyboard run
What I don’t like about this: Most of the rest of it

“Something’s Coming”
Seems to me completely pointless to do a cover version of a song from West Side Story, but then Waits covered “Somewhere” on Blue Valentines, so what do I know? Nothing to say about it though.
What I like about this: n/a
What I don’t like about this: It’s a cover, once again.

Note: on the 2003 remaster there are several versions of each of these songs, but I’m only taking one, because, you know, why bother? Two of them are covers anyway.


Comments: As a first album this isn’t bad, but it’s by no means a juggernaut that was destined to set Yes at the top of the prog tree. Truth to tell, prog was only really getting going around now, and it would still take the band a while to get established, both as an actual accepted rock band and as a later titan of the scene. For me, this album is massively, massively flawed. It has, for a start, too many covers. Two on an eight-track album is too many. There really shouldn’t even be one. Who can judge you properly if they’re not listening to your own music? Secondly, the lyrics really need work. I mean, I’m a (sort of) writer but no lyricist, so who am I to say, but some of the rhymes, the imagery, the expressions just make me cover my mouth and snigger. Of course, as time went on the lyrics became much better, much deeper, much more well-written, but here I feel they are barely acceptable.

There’s very little to single this out or identify it as a prog rock album - even Wiki calls it “proto-prog”, and I would probably agree with that. Yes may have been laying down some of the foundations of what would become progressive rock, but they don’t contribute very much to the movement here. I’d even venture to say, much as I dislike them even more, ELP had more to add to the scene on their debut, released the following year. There are half-formed ideas here, but to me this band doesn’t at this point know what they want to be, or where they’re going. There’s no real direction on this album and it comes across as a mixture of styles, influences and themes. Not something which would be said about Yes after they found their metier of course, but here I think it’s fair to accuse them of being somewhat confused.

Not a terrible debut, but other bands have done better even at this point in time. Genesis’s debut was pretty poor in terms of being a progressive rock record, but was better, I feel, than this, and I don’t even like From Genesis to Revelation, and Supertramp’s self-titled debut, released the following year, is a far superior album. And of course, in the same year as this makes its debut you have the stone-cold classic from King Crimson, which does more for the emergent progressive rock genre with In the Court of the Crimson King’s opening lines than Yes do in the whole of this album.
Rating: 3/10
Yes or No? Definite No.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XlEX8Iye46o
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Old 01-02-2023, 03:39 PM   #2 (permalink)
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I used to think the first Yes album was just ok but over the years it's grown on me a lot, yeah it's more psychedelia than prog and the songwriting isn't up to par with what came later but right from the get go the energy is there and the album has such an earnestly positive vibe it's impossible for me to resist, I think it's pretty underrated tbh.

Time and a Word has a stronger collection of songs but aside from a couple of tracks the use of orchestra feels very clumsy, forced and distracting, for that I think the debut is better at showcasing the original lineup, Banks especially, he's no Howe but he was a pretty excellent guitarist in his own right and he got a bit lost in the mix of Time and a Word which was why he left.
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Old 01-02-2023, 03:48 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Yeah, it's only really my second foray into the early albums, the first being when I got to them in the History of Prog journal. I agree with your comment about the orchestra, which was pretty silly as it forced Banks to quit. I really don't think it worked out, and perhaps they knew that, since they never did it again. Still, compare Yes's debut to that of Procol Harum, King Crimson or as I said even ELP, and I think if you had, back then, to decide who was going to lead the prog revolution it's few people who would have chosen Yes.
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Old 01-02-2023, 04:03 PM   #4 (permalink)
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I really don't think it worked out, and perhaps they knew that, since they never did it again.
Uh what? Magnification says hi.

I like Magnification a lot more too, I think the use of orchestra works much better on that album, they chose to do without a keyboardist for that album and the orchestra fills in the gaps quite nicely. It is overlong and wears me out towards the end but that's a problem a lot of early 00s albums have. I'm curious to see what you think of that one.
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Old 01-02-2023, 04:56 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Devoured it in the 70s. for the longest time only listened to side 2 during walks. recently spun it beginning to end and in hindsight it is so easy to see why it tops many people's list of most pretentious album/tour of that decade.

Read an Allan White interview years back where he said that during the entire TFTO tour there was only a single show (out of 77) where the entire band NAILED all 4 sides.

Don't suppose I'll ever listen to it again. Nothing was gonna top hearing it the first time while tripping anyway.
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Old 01-02-2023, 05:06 PM   #6 (permalink)
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I used to think the first Yes album was just ok but over the years it's grown on me a lot, yeah it's more psychedelia than prog and the songwriting isn't up to par with what came later but right from the get go the energy is there and the album has such an earnestly positive vibe it's impossible for me to resist, I think it's pretty underrated tbh.

Time and a Word has a stronger collection of songs but aside from a couple of tracks the use of orchestra feels very clumsy, forced and distracting, for that I think the debut is better at showcasing the original lineup, Banks especially, he's no Howe but he was a pretty excellent guitarist in his own right and he got a bit lost in the mix of Time and a Word which was why he left.
I totally agree, the debut feels kind of quaint in comparison to the 1971 onward stuff, but I think it's a pretty fun and charming album for what it is. Every time I go back to it it's always better than I remembered.
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Old 01-02-2023, 05:14 PM   #7 (permalink)
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Devoured it in the 70s. for the longest time only listened to side 2 during walks. recently spun it beginning to end and in hindsight it is so easy to see why it tops many people's list of most pretentious album/tour of that decade.

Read an Allan White interview years back where he said that during the entire TFTO tour there was only a single show (out of 77) where the entire band NAILED all 4 sides.

Don't suppose I'll ever listen to it again. Nothing was gonna top hearing it the first time while tripping anyway.
I've always been a Tales defender and I've never even done acid.

Not because I abstain from doing drugs, I just don't have connections.
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Old 01-02-2023, 05:35 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Speaking of psychedelia, you folks ever heard Howe's previous band's big hit?




Pretty cool how Howe's unique style is already easily discernible in 67.
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Old 01-02-2023, 08:00 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Uh what? Magnification says hi.

I like Magnification a lot more too, I think the use of orchestra works much better on that album, they chose to do without a keyboardist for that album and the orchestra fills in the gaps quite nicely. It is overlong and wears me out towards the end but that's a problem a lot of early 00s albums have. I'm curious to see what you think of that one.
I guess that was a silly thing to say, as I haven't heard a full Yes album since The Ladder. Work to be done, for sure.
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Old 01-02-2023, 08:54 PM   #10 (permalink)
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Speaking of psychedelia, you folks ever heard Howe's previous band's big hit?




Pretty cool how Howe's unique style is already easily discernible in 67.
That whole album is some solid British psychedelia and Howe's guitar playing is the main attraction as you'd expect, definitely worth checking out if you don't mind the muddy production.
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