Everybody starts somewhere. Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman were both a couple of years away from joiningYes, and progressive rock had barely started. Yes‘ self- titled debut, along with its follow-up Time and a Wordhave never received a fraction of the attention their successors would foster, both then and now. It’s surprising that so many Yes fans (including myself until recently!) have never bothered to check them out. Yes wouldn’t begin to unlock their potential until The Yes Album, but the debut certainly deserves more recognition than its earned. Yes is a solid psych rock album, with strong melodies and tight musicianship; what more could a listener ask for?
There is a sense here that Yes are piggybacking on the tailends of the dwindling hippie movement. Unlike their more timeless prog classics, Yes feels very much a work of its time. With the notable exception of King Crimson(who set the standard for proficiency in the genre), progressive rock was nearly indistinguishable from psychedelic rock at the time. 1969 was saturated with melody-driven bands that tried to bring a heavier approach to psych rock with the use of distorted guitars and thick organ playing, and Yes were no exception. Two included covers (of The Beatles‘ “Every Little Thing”, and the Byrds‘ “I See You”) reinforce the idea that Yes were still at a stage of emulation over innovation. I think the thing that’s missing most in retrospect is Steve Howe’s unique fingerstyle, but it’s also clearly a case of a band needing time and experience before making a bolder statement.
Compared to their contemporaries, Yes had already distinguished themselves as a technically proficient act on the self-titled. I hear that seeing King Crimson perform compelled Yes to brush up their skills and push the envelope; whatever the case, it worked to their benefit. Jon Anderson’s vocals are already strong and distinctive, and his high-register delivery works really well with the ‘flower power’ atmosphere and melodic songwriting. Surprisingly, the musician who impresses me the most here is Peter Banks, a guitarist that time seems to have forgotten under the shadow of Yes‘ canonical riffmaker Steve Howe. If Howe was based in classical music, Peter Banks has a clear love for jazz. Although the rhythm guitars have a biting distortion and buzz of hard rock, his leads are clean, thick and jazzy. In combination with the in-vogue London psych rock direction, Banks’ jazz leads gave Yes‘ debut an urbane and cultured feel. I think Howe as a replacement brought something far more special to the table, but Banks’ own contributions to Yes‘ career have gone sorrowfully underrated.
Yes‘ songwriting is solid and memorable on this debut (“Looking Around” and “Survival” both stand out), but it’s clear that ambition and a forward-thinking attitude wouldn’t come until later. The vaguely generic psychedelic hard rock sound feels indistinct and a little dry compared to the work they’re known for, but Yes still started off on an above- average note with this one. Strong vocal harmonies, skilled guitarwork and fun songwriting are all present and accounted for; if you’re one of the many Yes fans who have overlooked it, or simply have a passing interest in late 60′s psychedelia, this album comes nicely recommended.
1. Beyond and Before (4:50)
2. I See You (6:33)
3. Yesterday and Today (2:37)
4. Looking Around (3:49)
5. Harold Land (5:26)
6. Every Little Thing (5:24)
7. Sweetness (4:19)
8. Survival (6:01)
Total Time: 38:59
Bonus tracks on Elektra remaster (2003):
9. Everydays (single version) (6:23)
10. Dear Father (early version #2) (5:51)
11. Something’s Coming (7:08)
12. Everydays (early version) (5:18)
13. Dear Father (early version #1) (5:31)
14. Something’s Coming (early version) (8:02)
* Jon Anderson – vocals
* Chris Squire – bass and vocals
* Tony Kaye – keyboards
* Bill Bruford – drums
* Peter Banks – guitars