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Yes Albums Ranked: Wonderous Stories of the Prog Rock Band’s Best Releases

Wonderous Stories: Yes Albums Ranked

Yes was one of the most ambitious of the classic prog-rock fans and, at various times, one of the most successful bands in the world. Subtlety and restraint can never be held against the band. Still, Yes’ albums are ranked among the most important in the progressive-rock style.

Once prog-rock and Yes had met their inevitable commercial downfall, it was easy for critics to pick on them. How could they not? Their songs routinely exceeded 20 minutes. Jon Anderson’s lyrics usually dealt with the vaguely spiritual. Album artworks were the stuff of sci-fi pulp novels.

Still, at its best, Yes was a band of musical adventurers. That’s why today I’m brushing up on my music theory, clearing my mind and my schedule, and ranking the albums of Yes from worst to best.

Yes Albums Ranked

Heaven & Earth

21. “Heaven & Earth” (2011)

The momentum that “Fly from Here” had given the band it wasted on “Heaven & Earth,” a detached-sounding prog-rock affair.

This album does not feature original singer Jon Anderson or his 2011 replacement Benoit David. Instead, Anderson-disciple Jon Davison steps in.

The sound of “Heaven & Earth” is fine. It resembles the old Yes. Then again, many other prog-rock bands do that too, which is usually better.

The general problem is the lack of energy and, apart from “Step Beyond” or “Believe Again,” it contains uninteresting songs.

Fans who had purchased all of Yes’ album up until this point must’ve surely felt that they could’ve easily stopped with “The Ladder” or even back in the 1970s.

Talk

20. “Talk” (1994)

“Talk” is a slightly less interesting record than “Union,” as it’s not billed as a reunion record. But some of the material hints at better days.

Stylewise, Yes is still attempting to blend pop music with prog as they did in the 1980s. No, there’s nothing here that could be a hit.

But on the occasion that Anderson takes the group on a mystical music ride, such as on “I Am Waiting” or “The Calling,” the results are surprisingly nice.

“Talk” is not a bad record. But while it may have seemed unhip to listen to Yes back in 1977, you wouldn’t want anyone catching you listening to them in 1994 either.

Big Generator

19. “Big Generator” (1987)

“Big Generator” continued Yes’ successful 1980s run but also proved that the band’s run as pop hitmakers was going to be short.

The songs here, generally, look to align themselves with “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” And the album sold well.

There’s nothing wrong with “Rhythm of Love” and “Love Will Find a Way.” But unless you’re interested in kitschy retro-pop, there’s no reason to dig them up either.

Fly from Here

18. “Fly from Here” (2011)

Yes confounded expectations with “Fly from Here,” one of the band’s most enjoyable releases since their 1970s heyday. Just as surprising was the absence of long-time singer Jon Anderson.

Perhaps it’s the enthusiasm that Benoit David brings to this release that makes tracks like “Into the Storm” or “Life on a Film Set” stand out. Or, maybe it’s Howe, Squire and White’s desire to rewrite history.

Unfortunately, “Fly from Here” adds another strange chapter in the history of Yes, a band that has changed more personnel than “EastEnders.” Now, without Anderson, fans could really question what Yes’ essence had been all along.

Yes

17. “Yes” (1969)

Yes’ debut album arrived in 1969, in a moment of radical change for modern pop music. At the time, the band was still soaking up these changes, and its personality had not been fully defined. Still, it’s a neat attempt at sophisticated psychedelic pop.

The band is led by singer John Anderson. On “Yes,” their clear reference point is later-day The Beatles records. Even the band’s name suggests the musicians were eager to employ I-Ching techniques so beloved by George Harrison.

Highlights include “Sweetness” or “Beyond and Before,” along with their cover of the Byrds’ “I See You.”

Musical complexity is already one of Yes’ calling cards, with guitarist Peter Banks already doing much of the heavy lifting.

Magnification

16. “Magnification” (2001)

Yes always presented its brand of rock as an alternative to classical music. “Magnification” is the natural blending of the two.

By 2001, many bands had collaborated with orchestras. Yes had been one of them back in the late 1960s.

It means that “Magnification” is not revolutionary. It does, however, feel natural. The title track, “Spirit of Survival” or “Give Love Each Day,” are fine additions to the band’s discography.

“Magnification,” however, doesn’t sit very high in organizing Yes’ discography in order of greatness, and apart from hardcore fans, few paid it much attention.

Open Your Eyes

15. “Open Your Eyes” (1997)

Yes’ frequent and celebrated live reunions, inform “Open Your Eyes” in tone. The songs, however, don’t quite do enough to capture the imagination.

“Open Your Eyes” is the first to feature Steve Howe fully reimmersed into the band’s setup. But if the songs prove anything, is that the lineup itself is not Yes’ biggest concern.

There are exciting moments, such as the title track or “Somehow, Someday.” But the record requires numerous repeated listens to be somewhat enjoyed. Even Yes’ biggest fans couldn’t spare time at this stage.

Union

14. “Union” (1991)

Yes ditches the band’s failing pop credentials in favour of prog-rock. But by “Union”, both sets of fans were suspicious. Still, there are some fine moments here.

Of course, “Union” is billed as a reunion record. It’s “The Expendables” of prog-rock. Almost all of the band’s musicians are included here.

Meanwhile, in 1989 the Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (ABHW) band had proven that there was still a market for this kind of music. And despite the absence of the “Yes” moniker, they arguably released a better record than “Union.”

Howe’s playing on “Masquerade” or the heavy-pop of “I Would Have Waited Forever” showcase the work of proficient musicians.

But, objectively, the songs are rather uninteresting, and the lyrics are cheesy. If “Union” proves anything is that Yes sold its original message on a mixture of enthusiasm and confidence. These qualities don’t quite accompany them in middle age.

Time and a Word

13. “Time and a Word” (1970)

“Time and a Word” suggests that Yes was concerned with commercial success after all but wasn’t willing to sacrifice their musical ambition either. Generally, however, it’s a bit of a jumbled mess.

A rock band playing with an orchestra was a relatively new idea, although it had been explored by Deep Purple in 1969.

Yes takes a stab at working with an orchestra on “Time and a Word,” but their willingness and ambition work against the concept quite often.

Covers like Stephen Stills’ “Everydays” are still the band’s best songs, but originals like “Then” are fine numbers.

The album helped very little to increase the band’s profile or announce them as true originals, and guitarist Peter Banks departed the fold soon after.

The Quest

12. “The Quest” (2021)

You can’t quite blame bands for losing some of their vigour as they age. “The Quest,” however, while good, suggests obvious questions about the band’s original merits.

The fact is that if given a proper chance, the musicianship on “The Quest” is impressive. It’s a feist of complex arrangements, excellent playing a wild variety of different instruments.

The problem is that it’s hard to pick songs that distinguish themselves. “Mystery Tour” and “Ice Bridge” are fine.

The other problem is that apart from Steve Howe and Alan White, there aren’t any members from the band’s most recognizable line-ups. And, well, this … doesn’t seem to matter a lot.

In other words, by being indistinguishable from themselves, one is left to wonder about the original band’s reputation as musical visionaries.

Mirror to the Sky

11. “Mirror to the Sky” (2023)

It’s hard to know if this current line-up of Yes (which includes Steve Howe and Alan White) is recording “Mirror to the Sky” for themselves or for the highly dedicated fans of classic prog.

However, it’s better to hear actual musicians doing Yes music in an era where AI-penned songs have become a hotly debated issue.

If anything, “Mirror to the Sky” learns from the past without trying to replicate it wholesale. The album ventures into the deep, colorful dreamscapes of Yes’ finest records.

And, if you leave your cynicism to the side for a second, as I’ve tried, you can certainly hear a point to songs like “Circles of Time” or “Cut from the Stars.”

Why? This is music written and recorded like they used to back in the 1970s. And AI, as well as most modern musicians, don’t have a clue how to pull that off.

Drama

10. “Drama” (1980)

“Drama,” as the name suggests, is when Yes’ line-up issues become harder to follow than a South-American soap opera. It’s not helped by the fact that the album isn’t exactly an essential listen, either.

Rock bands used to fight about drugs or women. Yes’ fights usually centred around music keys and time signatures. One of the many internal squabbles lead to Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman (the two most recognizable members of the group) leaving Yes.

Trevor Horn and Geoffrey Downes of The Buggles step in to replace them. They do a fine job. But the billing would excite fans far less than the rumoured XYZ, a new group that would’ve featured Led Zeppelin‘s Jimmy Page and, possibly, Robert Plant.

The musical direction, however, hints at hard rock. But the contract that called for musical complexity holds the songs from truly getting off the ground.

“Tempus Fugit” and “Machine Messiah” are fine, ridiculously titled songs.

“Drama” was only the beginning of Yes’ bizarre line-up changes and even more surprising fate.

90125

9. “90125” (1983)

On “90125”, a hybrid of new and old Yes members take to modern pop like a duck to water and give the band its biggest hit.

That song, of course, is “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” one of the biggest songs of the entire 1980s, in which new guitarist Trevor Rabin sings the hook.

The arena-pop and slick sound are influenced heavily by Rabin and Trevor Horn. The former Buggles singer had become one of the most important music producers of the 1980s.

Meanwhile, the recently ousted Steve Howe was taking a similar stab at pop hooks with the band Asia, the faceless band responsible for “Heat of the Moment.”

I don’t dislike “90125.” While it clearly sounds dated now, it fits perfectly into the MTV pop landscape of the time.

Prog-rock fans may have felt cheated. But Yes wasn’t the only band doing it. Genesis, Rush, or Pink Floyd were courting a similar fanbase. Yes was just determined and had the bigger pop hit in “Owner of a Lonely Heart.”

The Ladder

8. “The Ladder” (1999)

“The Ladder” is the band’s best album in years. No, it’s not a complete success. But the songs aren’t trying to guess the fans’ intention anymore, either.

Instead, the band naturally settle into their sound. The result is a heady, well-intentioned collection of sophisticated pop songs.

Songs like “It’ll Be a Good Day (The River)” and “The Messenger” might be a bit hippie-dippy and vague, but they also sound lovely.

After many Yes albums that didn’t do that, “The Ladder” feels like a relief.

But it won’t help Jon Anderson build his religion any time soon, something that would’ve been wholly achievable for the singer back in the 1970s – Andersonism.

Relayer

7. “Relayer” (1974)

“Relayer” finds Yes’ members doubting themselves for the first time, and the lack of poise is felt throughout the album.

That doesn’t mean that they’ve changed their strategy. This is an abbreviated version of “Tales from Topographic Oceans.” It’s only one album long and contains three songs.

But, while, like Pink Floyd or Tangerine Dream, Yes us busy making “dream soundtracks,” there’s a bit too much going on at any one time, and not much of it is exceptionally interesting.

“Gates of Delirium” helps stretch the band’s toned prog-rock muscles and introduces new keyboardist Patrick Moraz.

Relayer” was very successful, but this only added fuel to the fire building against the band and those of their ilk.

Tormato

6. “Tormato” (1978)

“Tormato” is one of the poorer releases in Yes’ 1970s catalogue. If the band hoped to respond to its critics with a vital, vibrant record, they’d failed here.

Seeing Yes live came with the promise of witnessing the best. The line-up consisting of Anderson, Squire, Wakeman, Howe and White was the equivalent of the Brazilian national team football team. It was a spectacular affair.

Proficiency aside, however, the band’s songwriters aren’t making many great decisions. “Don’t Kill the Whale” is a surprisingly direct single.

But the over-produced and overplayed sound of “Tormato” made Yes’ musicians into easy targets for anyone looking to laugh at prog-rock’s inevitable bombast.

By the late 1970s, music reviews praising prog were rarer pornographic films shot in Communist China.

Tales from Topographic Oceans

5. “Tales from Topographic Oceans” (1973)

Depending on who you ask, “Tales from Topographic Oceans” is either the culmination of Yes’ vision or a punchline. While it contains occasional moments of brilliance, both hardcore and casual fans will find it challenging to give the attention that Jon Anderson felt it deserved.

“Tales from Topographic Oceans” is a follow-up to “Close to the Edge.” This means, of course, that it’s longer (two albums worth), Anderson’s lyrics are even more focused on mysticism (inspired by Paramahansa Yogananda), and each band member duels the others for solos.

Personally, I’ve never had the patience to truly appreciate “Tales from Topographic Oceans.” But, oh, how I’ve tried. Like a mystery that fails to reveal itself, I’ve gone to it again and again.

The fact is that “Tales from Topographic Oceans” has influenced countless prog-rock bands, but usually for the wrong reasons.

It also set the highly successful Yes on a downward trajectory. Rick Wakeman left the band and recorded the highly successful “Journey to the Centre of the Earth.” Meanwhile, Anderson’s Yes was walking into the inevitable backlash of prog-rock.

Going for the One
Going for the One

4. “Going for the One” (1977)

You can never accuse Yes of doing anything halfheartedly. But you can really make a case against the band knowing how to read a room. In “The Year of Punk,”Going for the One” made Yes remarkably uncool.

This was not to say that the band was not still comprised of excellent, daring musicians. Rick Wakeman and Alan White are in the group. But like impressive magicians who got famous in their youth, they’d already played their best tricks.

Anderson seems to know this. That’s why the new album contains no more than five songs for the first time in years!

The ballad, the hippiesque “Wonderous Stories”, is the best thing here.

Going for the One” didn’t get the warm reception Yes hoped for. And soon enough, the band would be convinced that dying on Prog-Rock Hill wasn’t their mission after all.

As daring as the music of Yes’ was, their current status as spoiled classic rock representatives is not one that happened by mere accident.

Close to the Edge
Close to the Edge

3. “Close to the Edge” (1972)

Yes had convinced the world that they could do everything and anything musically with “Fragile.” “Close to the Edge” picks up where the previous album left off. This time, however, the band members are more confident about their songwriting ability.

Yes had never been low on ambition. They’d played with an orchestra and integrated jazz and classical before anyone took much notice of the band.

Even by their standards, “Close to the Edge” is a leap of faith. It contains only three songs (a worrying trend that would continue on future releases), leaving the effervescent five musicians fighting to get themselves noticed.

All this work left some of the band members all but drained. In 1972, drummer Bill Bruford defected to prog-rivals King Crimson, famously declaring that no other band could entertain his hefty musical ambitions while still managing to help pay his bills.

The title track moves interestingly between daring musical ideas and Anderson’s quasi-mystical lyrics. But, it’s “Siberian Khatru” that provides a much-needed musical climax.

Yes continue to be enormously successful on the back of “Close to the Edge.” But it was nearly one step too far, and soon the band would be undone by its extremism.

Fragile

2. “Fragile” (1971)

“Fragile” is the album on which all the variables needed to make a terrific Yes album are in perfect balance. It’s complex but entertaining.

Blame a lot of that on the contribution of yet another new recruit. Rick Wakeman had replaced Tony Kaye as keyboardist. Besides looking like a man who’d just stepped out of a medieval drama, his playing suggests a similar flamboyance.

“Cans and Brahms” dares to answer the age-old question: “If you like progressive rock so much, why don’t you just listen to classical?” That answer is “well, why not both.”

The album was rushed in order to pay for Wakeman’s sizeable equipment. Drummer Bill Bruford, keyboardist Rick Wakeman and guitarist Steve Howe provide instrumental pieces meant to fill up recording real estate.

And still, in “Roundabout”, they had a surprising smash hit. It was an acceptable pop tune and put Chris Squire’s bass lines and Howe’s guitar playing centre stage.

“Heart of the Sunrise” is another highlight. It can be best described as an epic rock poem, and the first time this approach had worked so well for the band.

The album was also the first to feature the fantasy-futuristic cover artwork of Roger Dean. Like Pink Floyd’s work with Storm Thorgerson, Dean’s work helped give Yes a distinctive look.

“Fragile” was a great representation of a band constructed like a prog-rock commando. It would be the start of a surprising ascendence to the very top of rock music.

The Yes Album

1. “The Yes Album” (1971)

“The Yes Album” is the band’s first major triumph. It marries Anderson’s heady concepts and the band’s skillful playing with a charming, bucolic atmosphere. In many ways, it’s also the most listenable prog record they’d ever make.

This all works as a kind of conservatory-approved Pink Floyd. “The Yes Album” is a very British-sounding record. But whereas Syd Barrett’s visions were described through colorful surrealism, Anderson’s lyrics have an almost hippiesque positive-vibe air to them, such as on “Yours is No Disgrace” or “I’ve Seen All Good People.”

The band’s playing is also tighter and more efficient than on previous records. The band’s new guitarist is Steve Howe. His classical and jazz training immediately melds with that of the other band.

Just like thrash bands like Metallica and Megadeth aimed to outdo each other in speed and aggression, so did bands like Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer or Jethro Tull regarding technical proficiency. When it came to outplaying their rivals, by 1971, it was Yes holding the best cards.

About author

Eduard Banulescu is a writer, blogger, and musician. As a content writer, Eduard has contributed to numerous websites and publications, including FootballCoin, Play2Earn, BeIN Crypto, Business2Community, NapoliSerieA, Extra Time Talk, Nitrogen Sports, Bavarian FootballWorks, etc. He has written a book about Nirvana, hosts a music podcasts, and writes weekly content about some of the best, new and old, alternative musicians. Eduard also runs and acts as editor-in-chief of the alternative rock music website www.alt77.com. Mr. Banulescu is also a musician, having played and recorded in various bands and as a solo artist.
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