The mission. Fill one 80-minute CD with the best of Yes from the 1970s.
Arguably, Yes was perhaps the best of the progressive rock bands, and the 1970s was their greatest period. My view anyway. I found a CD that I made a couple of years ago. It differs slightly from the list below. I reviewed the CD and went back to all of the albums from the decade, knowing that I would make a change or two. I could have filled two CDs, but I wanted to reduce the list to just one. That’s hard.
I’ve written about Yes a few times, it’s easy to see how much I enjoy their music. I like music that stretches beyond the bounds of three minutes, music that incorporates jazz, folk, classical and other forms into an interesting soundscape, and lyrics more imaginative than, “Baby, I miss you.” Four of their albums are considered classics of the decade, and their concerts were magical journeys.
Choices, choices. It is easy to make of lengthy list of great tracks. The problem is, it won’t all fit on one standard CD. What will you leave out?
“Roundabout,” “Sweet Dreams,” “Wondrous Stories” and “Starship Troopers” are not on the list. All are very good songs, and “Roundabout” is a classic! I’ve heard “Roundabout” for five decades and it is still played on classic rock stations. I’m a little tired of it, so it didn’t make the cut. The other three songs just aren’t better than songs already on my list.
While my list has many hits, it is not a “greatest hits” collection; I wanted to find the right balance and that meant a few deeper cuts.
Half of my selection are taken from Fragile and The Yes Album. Not every album is represented, but only two are not sampled. I also stuck with studio material, staying away from the live album, Yessongs (a personal favorite). Progressive rock songs tend to be longer than the standard song, so that reduces the amount of available time, but still, I got 12 songs on my CD.
Over the course of the decade, only Jon Anderson and Chris Squire play on all songs. Guitarist Peter Banks would be replaced by Steve Howe. Drummer Bill Bruford would be replaced by Alan White. Keyboard player Tony Kaye would be replaced by Rick Wakeman, who would be replaced by Patrick Moran, and then Wakeman again.
Here they are:
“Time and a Word” 4:34 Time and a Word From their second album, this was their led single. It has a very gentle vocal from Jon Anderson, but it’s a layered vocal. Peter Banks was still the guitarist in the band, along with Tony Kaye and Bill Bruford. Yes was not a big singles band, but this was a good effort at a slice of commercial goodness.
“I’ve Seen All Good People” 6:46 The Yes Album Album number three shifted into a higher gear, the difference between the previous album and this one is striking. Yes found their progressive rock groove on this one, as the songs are lengthened and guitarist Steve Howe joined the band. Producer Eddie Offord, who would guide them through a big commercial period, arrived for this album. “I’ve Seen All Good People” is the second of two songs that are suites, something Yes would use often. “Your Move” which is the first part of the song was used as a single. Great song.
“Yours is No Disgrace” 9:43 The Yes Album The first track on side A of the album, it communicates a different sound for the band. It’s a collaborative effort by all five members so you hear each of them in the spotlight, not in a showy way, but the song shows their strengths.
“We Have Heaven” 1:29 Fragile This is Jon Anderson’s mostly solo vocal performance. It shows his vocal dexterity and fits nicely with the other songs on Fragile. I also needed a very short song and this is like a tasty mint.
“And You and I” 10:09 Close to the Edge Another suite of songs within a song, it has very distinctive musical sections. It’s a folk song that that feels like a musical journey. It shows the complexity of their songwriting.
“Long Distance Runaround” 3:33 Fragile The second of four songs from Fragile. The guitar work is wonderful, along with the bass that is almost a lead instrument. This is a bouncy melodic piece of musicianship.
“Heart of the Sunrise” 10:38 Fragile The guitar work and bass again soar, this time at a much more deliberate pace. The song speeds up, slows down, and feels like a roller coaster. If you wondered if these guys have musical chops, look for further than this song.
“South Side of the Sky” 7:52 Fragile Almost a companion of “Heart of the Sunrise” the guitar and bass pound out some aggressive riffs. Progressive rock does not have to be laborious or full of endless noodling, it can be melodic and a sea of interesting musical ideas. Rick Wakeman gets a few moments in the spotlight.
“Soon”  5:46 Relayer “Soon” is a section of the very long “The Gates of Delirium.” The version here is different from the single released from the album. “Soon” is a very popular part of the live Yes show. The vocal by Jon Anderson is exquisite and the guitar effects by Steve Howe are equally amazing. I am not a big fan of Relayer, there are other albums I enjoy more.
“Siberean Khatru” 8:46 Close to the Edge The other song from Close to the Edge, this song rocks. It is very complex musically, changing time signatures, and nearly nine minutes of fine musicianship.
“Parallels” 5:52 Going for the One By the late 1970s, Yes was beginning to slide a bit as musical tastes were changing and the dinosaurs of progressive rock were under some pressure to dial it back. The songs on Going for the One are not as trippy as Relayer or The Gates of Delirium, both rather ponderous works. Going for the One is a very strong album. With the exception of “Awaken,” the songs are shorter and a bit more conventional. “Parallels” is a really fine song, from the opening church organ chords to the fine guitar solo, the song rocks. Rick Wakeman returned, replacing Patrick Moraz.
“Don’t Kill the Whale” 3:57 Tormato This was the last album of the decade for Yes, and the last with this lineup for quite a while. The album sold well but in my opinion, it’s a weak and disjointed group of songs. There are no 15 minute songs, they are all short and concise, but with the exception of Don’t Kill the Whale, I have no interest in the album. None.