Sunday, December 6, 2015

Yes - 1973 [1994] "Yessongs"

Opening with a few bars of Stravinsky to set the adoring crowd on its feet, this once-three-LP set is Yes at their finest. This was, after all, probably the most mainstream act that had even provisional "prog rock" status, and their tunes show it. While "Heart of the Sunrise" may be one of the more modestly titled Yes songs (compare it with "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" or "The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)" or even "Total Mass Retain"), it also bears marks of the band playing at its most frenetic pace around Jon Anderson's soaring near-falsetto. Rick Wakeman's grand synthesizer flashes are more than textural, finding visual meshes aplenty with Roger Dean's cryptic cover art--most of which is shrunken or absent on this two-CD reissue. When Yessongs was cut, Marshall stacks were in their heyday, and Yes happily engaged in harmonic and melodic excessiveness as well as carefully planned layers of complexity. "Roundabout" was the band's biggest hit to this point. It appears here faithfully reproduced. As for the rest, it's entertaining in a 1970s way--full of light shows, staged visuals, and more. It took a few years for prog rock to dwindle and for punk-colored art rock to swerve toward songs about buildings and food. On Yessongs, the band was peaking, singing songs with far grander purpose (Siberia, the Apocalypse, etc.). By any account, this is one of the classic live albums of its generation, and as the soundtrack to the hip 1998 film Buffalo 66 hinted, at least one manic Yes song ("Heart of the Sunrise") passed muster for drama in the 1990s.

Yessongs is the first live album from the English progressive rock band Yes, released as a triple album in May 1973 on Atlantic Records. The album is a compilation of recordings from their Fragile and Close to the Edge tours between February and December 1972. The two Fragile tour tracks feature Bill Bruford on drums; the remaining songs feature his replacement, Alan White.
Yessongs was a commercial success for the band, reaching number 7 in the UK and number 12 in the U.S. It received a mostly positive reception from critics; much of the album's criticism was directed towards its audio quality. The album was certified platinum in 1998 by the Recording Industry Association of America for selling over one million copies.
In October 1975, Yessongs, a concert film of the same name was released, documenting Yes's show at the Rainbow Theatre, London on 15 December 1972.

 As far as I am concerned, this live album from the Fragile and Close to the Edge tours is by far the most incredible display of virtuosity displayed on a live prog album. Period. In fact, the virtuosity and the sheer ferocity with which they all play is both overwhelming and yet completely and utterly exhilarating. As a huge prog fan I have listened to a lot of live prog albums, but none seem to top the raw beauty of Yessongs.

Another property of this album that makes it a personal favorite is that the guys do not simply reproduce the studio works note for note or throw in gratuitous solos. New sections are added to the original pieces and the solos are incredible works unto themselves. In fact, listen to Chris Squire's awe-inspiring bass tour de force on The Fish - this piece alone inspired me to take up the bass guitar in the first place. Rick Wakeman also presents a nice 6'35" synopsis of his then recently released solo album The Six Wives of Henry VIII.

Bill Bruford had left Yes to join King Crimson and was replaced by Alan White on the Close to the Edge tour who had come from a strictly rock background. Based on what I have read, Alan had a rough time with the material straight off (who wouldn't), but gradually got better with subsequent concerts. I feel that his performances on Yessongs are quite solid - he plays on every track except for Perpetual Change and Long Distance Runaround/The Fish (Bill plays on these tracks).

I should note that the sound quality of this album is not great (it is thin, trebly, and harsh), although it does not bother me in the least. This is Yes after all and I would probably listen to the most poorly recorded bootleg over and over again without flinching.

Like other folks I have great memories of this album and as I recall, rode my bike five miles to pick the album up from a local store. In that it was 1979 or 1980, the triple album was still being issued on vinyl and was a very heavy thing. One aspect of the Yessongs experience that I do miss is the incredible inner gatefold art of the original vinyl release along with the awesome color booklet. With the huge triple gatefold, it was truly something to check Roger Dean's incredible artwork out while I listened to the music. Although the artwork presented in the CD format does not quite have the same magic, the music still blows me away. My hope is that Rhino will remaster this incredible gem because this version from Atlantic, although remastered, is not the best that it can be. By Jeffrey J.Park.

In many ways, the extravagance of this package equates the profligacy of the prog rock combo themselves. After all, how else but on a triple-LP collection could one hope to re-create (and/or contain) an adequate sampling of Yes' live presentation? Especially since their tunes typically clocked in in excess of ten minutes. Although they had turned in five studio long-players, the vast majority of Yessongs (1973) is drawn from their three most recent endeavors The Yes Album (1970), Fragile (1971), and Close to the Edge (1972). There are two exceptions, the first being the "Opening (Excerpt from "Firebird Suite")" -- which comes from the 1969 Boston Symphony Orchestra's recording, conducted by Seiji Ozawa. The other is Rick Wakeman's keyboard solo "Excerpts from 'The Six Wives Of Henry VIII'." Yes had just undergone a personnel change shortly after concluding work on Close to the Edge as Bill Bruford (percussion) left to join King Crimson in July of 1972. Bruford can be heard on "Perpetual Change," as well as the medley of "Long Distance Runaround" and "The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)." Enthusiasts keen on various and arguably irrelevant minutia should note the spelling of "praimaturus" as credited on Yessongs. It is slightly different from Fragile, which is denoted as "praematurus." That bit of trivia aside, the new lineup finds Alan White (drums), quite ably filling Bruford's shoes, alongside Jon Anderson (vocals), Steve Howe (guitars), Chris Squire (bass/vocals), and Rick Wakeman (keyboards).
One of their trademarks has always been an ability to re-create their often densely layered sound in concert. They effortlessly pull off the tricky chord progressions and changes in time signatures of "Siberian Khatru" and a sublime "Heart of the Sunrise," which unquestionably bests the dexterity of its carefully crafted studio counterpart. Both Howe and Squire's respective solos during "The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)" are highlights as they give the entire unit an opportunity to show off their capacity for dramatic dynamics. The remainder of Yessongs is similarly strong, particularly the note-perfect "Close to the Edge," and the inspired concluding instrumental jam during "Starship Trooper." However, one criticism that can be leveled at the entire Yessongs release is the less than optimal audio quality throughout. The sound is generally muddy with no real fidelity to speak of and an even less precise stereoscape. But until someone goes back to the multi-tracks and remixes them for 21st century ears, this is as good as it gets when documenting Yes during this seminal transition period.

Tracks Listing

Disc 1: (66:04)

1. Opening (Excerpt from "Firebird Suite") (3:45)
2. Siberian Khatru (8:50)
3. Heart of the Sunrise (11:26)
4. Perpetual Change (14:08)
5. And You and I (9:55)
a) Cord of Life
b) Eclipse
c) The Preacher the Teacher
d) The Apocalypse
6. Mood For a Day (2:52)
7. Excerpts from "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" (6:35)
8. Roundabout (8:33)

Disc 2: (63:12)

1. I've Seen All Good People (7:00)
a) Your Move
b) All Good People
2. Long Distance Runaround / The Fish (13:45)
3. Close to the Edge (18:41)
a) The Solid Time of Change
b) Total Mass Retain
c) I Get Up I Get Down
d) Seasons of Man
4. Yours is No Disgrace (14:21)
5. Starship Trooper (9:25)
a) Life Seeker
b) Disillusion
c) Wurm

Total Time: 129:16

Line-up / Musicians

- Jon Anderson / vocals
- Chris Squire / bass and vocals
- Rick Wakeman / keyboards
- Bill Bruford / drums on "Perpetual Change", "Long Distance Runaround", and "The Fish"
- Alan White / drums on everything else
- Steve Howe / guitars and vocals