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The Story of Yes’ Debut Album

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On the morning of July 25, 1969, as record shop clerks sorted through the new releases, they had among their options the eponymous debut of an ambitious new group going by the simple, direct and rather positive name of Yes.

Little did they know that behind its unremarkable cover art lay the seeds for one of the most storied and envelope-pushing careers in progressive rock history. But then, musical treasures hidden in plain sight were surprisingly commonplace in the heady days of the late ’60s.

Indeed, at the time the London music scene was abuzz with an endless store of progressive rock sounds; a development primarily motivated (like all things) by the Beatles‘ remarkable evolutionary pace, but accelerated, of late, by the arrival of exciting new groups with new perspectives, like Pink Floyd, King Crimson and Procol Harum, to name but a few. It was out of this fertile primordial prog-rock soup, if you will, that Yes members Jon Anderson (vocals), Peter Banks (guitar), Tony Kaye (keyboards), Chris Squire (bass) and Bill Bruford (drums) took their first tentative steps via their debut’s eight formative, but promising, songs.

Having witnessed King Crimson — then the high point for art-rock invention — in concert a few months earlier, Yes brought a daring virtuosity and vigorous attack to both their original material (see the nearly proto-metal plod of “Beyond and Before” and the endlessly shifting, widescreen “Survival”) and covers of the Byrds‘ “I See You” and the Beatles’ “Every Little Thing” (both of them utterly transformed with jazz breakouts and frantic improvisations until the mere shells of the originals remained). By contrast, Anderson’s “Yesterday and Today” and “Sweetness,” his first collaboration with Squire, offered gentle respites and wistful balladry – while precociously well-rounded numbers,”Looking Around” and “Harold Land” introduced future Yes hallmarks like Anderson’s and Squire’s trademarked vocal harmonies and the latter’s forceful bass inspired by his hero, the Who‘s John Entwistle).

Yes already gave clear evidence of the young quintet’s potential and ambition, to say nothing of their seemingly boundless imagination. While it missed the pop charts everywhere but Australia, the LP garnered many good reviews (including, notably, from Rolling Stone‘s Lester Bangs) and attracted a small following. Those fans stuck with the group despite the mixed reception bestowed upon their 1970 sophomore album, Time and a Word, but were rewarded for their loyalty a year later when they broke through with The Yes Album.

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Next: Top 10 Yes Songs of the '70s

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