(All Album Reviews by Burgess Penguin)
Jon Anderson-Vocals, Percussion
Peter Banks-Guitar, Vocals
Bill Bruford-Drums, Vibraphone
Chris Squire-Bass, Vocals
Tony Kaye-Organ, Piano
1969, a magical year for adventurous musical experiments. At the same time that the dark, turbulent King Crimson was building it's little empire, 5 lads from London going under the name of Yes were just starting their journey.
Although it wasn't until about 3 years later that their sound started to really come together, this debut by Yes certainly had the basic building blocks in place already (Chris's loud, twanging Rickenbacker lead bass, Jon's soaring vocals, Bill's jazz-inflected rifle-crack drumming, Tony's majestic organ and Pete's unusual guitar textures). Jon, Chris and Peter had crossed paths before in a number of London psychedelic bands, but it was a meeting between Jon and Chris at a London club where the idea of Yes began to take shape. What they were looking for was a band that would have powerful instrumental backing with the strength of an orchestra and rich vocal harmonies influenced by equal parts Beatles and The Fifth Dimension.
The lads pulled together in 1968 with Pete, Bill Bruford came in just fresh off a 3-day stint with blues boogie outfit Savoy Brown, and Tony Kaye was the final piece to the puzzle. After gigging tirelessly (including an opening slot at Cream's farewell concert and filling in for Sly & The Family Stone when they didn't show up for a gig), they set out to make their mark on vinyl.
What came out was a diamond in the rough that would hint at what they would become later. The opening track "Beyond and Before" showcases Anderson's soaring voice and psychedelic fantasy lyrics, underscored with rich harmonies from Chris and Peter. "I See You" takes a more jazzy bent, featuring a guitar/drums duo in the middle that threatens to be the rock equivalent of those Coltrane/Elvin Jones duels from just a few years before. Peter Banks definitely had a unique guitar style, blending equal parts Barney Kessel and Pete Townsend with nice violin-like volume pedal swells.
The two ballads, "Sweetness" and "Yesterday and Today" seem rather non-descript in comparison to the other songs, but do reveal to some degree the influence that The Beatles had on our 5 lads.
Among the other highlights are "Harold Land", a sad story-song of a man who went off to war, came back and lost touch with his humanity, and "Survival" (easily my favorite cut), where the epic Yes begins to take shape, with many tricky meter changes and adventurous harmonies (for the time) in evidence and everyone making colorful contributions.
While Tony Kaye didn't have the blowaway chops of an Emerson or Wakeman, he was an excellent team player and provided a swirling and smoky backdrop for Yes's early flights, armed with not much more than a Hammond C-3.
Admittedly more psychedelic than prog, this is a great historical document for any prog fan, seeing one of their favorite bands in it's early developmental stages. What I find so compelling about the first Yes album is it's adventurousness and willingness to try something very different from the norm of its time.