What is the problem with best-of compilations in progressive rock? It’s certainly not that progressive bands aren’t deserving of them, or even that there isn’t a use for them; after all, a go-to record filled with choice cuts from a vast discography can be perfect for someone otherwise daunted by the prospect of going in blind. The real problem, I believe at least, is that record executives (or whoever else is in charge) will often find the songs with the most immediate gratification, some sort of expression that manages to convey a facsimile of the band’s essence in the most concise way their discography provides. Almost always in progressive rock, this results in flurries of radio edits, where a gorgeous ten minute epic might be sliced into some three minute echo of itself – seriously, it’s like taking a lion, shearing his mane, pulling out his claws, muzzling him, and forcing him to star on a morning kid’s TV show. Yes proved they could circumvent this common issue when the eight minute “Roundabout” ate up the radio waves, and Classic Yes is a welcome exception. Perhaps it’s become outdated in an age where we can find a recommended song online freely, but Yes‘ second best-of compilation is still deserving of praise for maintaining its integrity, and actually providing an accurate reflection of Yes‘ progressive period. While I’d recommend starters The Yes Album or Fragile as good places to begin, Classic Yes is an effective guide for the entry- level fan; in that regard, it accomplishes what it set out for.
Where Classic Yes earns the height of its praise is the fact that none of these tracks have been abridged or dumbed down in any way. “And You And I” would make a lovely three minute track, but there it is in its ten minutes-plus glory. “Heart of the Sunrise” is an epic unto itself, and here it is opening the album, with only the “We Have Heaven” outro excluded for flow’s sake. The selections have been mostly plucked from The Yes Album and Fragile, but they extend as far as 1977′s Going for the One. Considering the scope and aim of the compilation, they made some great choices, including ones I wouldn’t have guessed. “Long Distance Runaround” is featured here as a decent, pop-oriented track, but it’s followed by “The Fish”, as it was on Fragile. I think “Going for the One” would have been a more interesting choice than the mellow “Wonderous Stories”, but for the most part, the essence is captured. Of course, no best-of compilation of Yes could have been complete without “Roundabout”, but instead of delivering it in its traditional form, Classic Yes offers a strong 1978 live rendition of the song.
Like I said, this and other best-of compilations have been rendered largely obsolete in the internet age, butClassic Yes represents one of the few times a prog comp was made true to the source material. For that, it’s deserving of commendation. Cover art’s not too shabby either.
1. Heart Of The Sunrise (10:32)
2. Wonderous Stories (3:45)
3. Yours Is No Disgrace (9:41)
4. Starship Trooper (9:26)
5. Long Distance Runaround (3:33)
6. Fish (Schindleria Praematurus) (2:35)
7. And You And I (10:07)
8. Roundabout (live) (7:23)
9. I’ve Seen All Good People (live) (7:00)
* Jon Anderson / vocals
* Chris Squire / bass and vocals
* Tony Kaye / keyboards on 3 and 4
* Rick Wakeman / keyboards on 1-2, 5-9
* Alan White / drums on 2, 8 and 9
* Bill Bruford / drums on 1, 3-7
* Steve Howe / guitars