Following the recent departure of Yes co-founder and bass supremo Chris Squire, it seems fitting to revisit the music of a band central to 70s ‘Prog’ who continued to make music through every subsequent decade. Who would have thought that the song-writing partnership that began when Jon Anderson and Chris Squire hit it off in Swinging London circa 1968 would spawn a band who have achieved such longevity. It is sad that Chris Squire did not.
Here, in ascending order, are my favourite Yes albums and a possible pathway for the less familiar. To keep things simple, I’ve omitted live albums (even though Yes Songs would be in my Top 5 otherwise).
There are sure to be alternative views, just as there will be those remain untouched by the music, period. That’s OK; other views are welcome and you can always enjoy the cover art. This article was a labour of love.
Going for the One 
Some shorter songs, the return of Rick Wakeman, even a single. This is a solid Yes outing, often overlooked – maybe due to the way the title track can grate after a few listens. Yet ‘Parallels’ is as good as anything from the ‘classic’ years.
Key tracks: Parallels, Wondrous stories.
It’s often instructive to know how a band launched. Here, Yes offer a blend of well-chosen covers (exploratory Byrds, a rip-roaring Beatles) and originals that sound transitional between the 60s and 70s in an entertaining and fresh way.
Key tracks: Survival; Every little thing.
Arising from cautious détente between Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe and the Chris Squire / Trevor Rabin / Allan White / Tony Kaye putsch, Union was a compilation of songs from two camps unionised by Jon Anderson’s vocals. Still, there is some good songwriting, spiffing production and remarkably few low points.
Key tracks: Shock to the system; Miracle of Life.
Tales from Topographic Oceans 
Maligned by many (including the keyboard player) and frequently derided by ignorant music press hacks (and the sheep who followed their lead), TFTO is an expansive, sometimes unfocussed, but always enjoyable listen as broad and varied as the titular oceans. Embedded in the oceanic sides are several quality songs and much instrumental variety. You don’t have to be a wafty New Age-er to be elevated and carried along by the scope and ambition of these Tales.
Key moments: Side 2 – second half; Side 3 – first section.
From the short-lived line-up that included Buggles Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, Drama is an edgy and inventive entry into the 80s for a band lazily associated with 70s prog-ishness. Much better than the descriptor applied by smug critics – ‘the Yuggles album’. (I always thought ‘Bes’ a neater amalgam name anyway). A Yes album for people who don’t like Yes?
Key tracks: Does it really happen?; Tempus Fugit.
The Yes Album 
This is where it starts to bloom: the compositions stretch and flex, shooting for the stars and showering instrumental sparkles far and wide. Gloriously potty lyrics and fantastic playing that may surprise with the abundance of killer riffs.
Key tracks: Starship trooper; Perpetual change.
Many people’s favourite Yes album due, at least in part, to the accessibility of the melodic single ‘Roundabout’. Perhaps a little more polished than its predecessor (above) with cute little solo cameo pieces punctuating the longer tracks.
Key tracks: Long distance runaround; Heart of the sunrise.
Great singles, tight arrangements, vigorous rock-infused playing. The resurgence of Yes via a strong album full of concise songs. An excellent place to start for the uninitiated.
Key tracks: Owner of a lonely heart; Changes.
The only studio album featuring Patrick Moraz on keyboards, Relayer is demanding and often startling fusion of beauty and brutality. Previously featured at Vinyl Connection here.
Key side: The gates of delirium.
Close to the Edge 
The pinnacle of Yes-music. Ambitious, complex and enduringly engrossing. Previously explored in depth at Vinyl Connection (here).
Key tracks: The complete album.