Yes: The Yes Album (1971)

As a teenage boy exploring classic rock history in the late 70s and early 80s, it was inevitable that I'd go through the obligatory prog period.  Peter Gabriel-era Genesis and King Crimson quickly became lifelong favorites; others, like Jethro Tull and ELP, were a little bombastic for my taste, but I'd find little nuggets here and there that I didn't mind.  Of course, at the same time I was becoming increasingly taken in by punk and post-punk and new wave, bands like the Clash and the Jam and Talking Heads and Squeeze, and the prog albums that seemed so cool when I was 14 were feeling bloated and stale.  (And then I got to college in '84, started DJ'ing, and was totally sucked in by the college radio bands of the day, R.E.M. and the Replacements and Husker Du and Sonic Youth and the Feelies, and prog was pretty much dust-binned for awhile.)

One band I spent very little time with even as an angsty teen was Yes.  Musically, they just seemed a little too intimidating; and Jon Anderson's vocals lacked the smooth lilt of a Peter Gabriel or Greg Lake.  Plus, the kids who liked Yes in school were all pretty weird, disaffected and spooky and always etching that damn band logo
all over their notebooks.

Decades later, I started to dig back into the old prog bands.  The wonders of digital remastering made a lot of the albums, even those I'd balked at back in the day, just sound damn great, musical excess be damned.  And for the first time I gave Yes a real chance, and, embarrassing enough, I really liked it.  I suppose it's a guilty pleasure -- are you even allowed to like both Yo La Tengo and Yes? -- but screw it.  Not surprisingly, it's that amazing trio of early albums from 1971 through 1972 -- The Yes Album, Fragile, and Close to the Edge -- that I've spent the most time with, but even the truly absurd stuff (i.e. the rightfully-mocked 4-song double LP Tales From Topographic Oceans) at least sounds pretty great from a purely aural perspective.

Song for song, The Yes Album is the one I enjoy most (maybe tied with Fragile), a veritable greatest hits that is surprisingly hook-laden for a band that seemed to increasingly sprawl and meander on some later work.  "Yours Is No Disgrace" is particularly catchy, lengthy and complex yet still feeling like it fits in as part of the basic classic rock canon; "Starship Trooper" is even catchier, almost pretty in spots, probably one of their best songs, and that eternal "Hey Jude"-ish instrumental coda could go on for days and still not be enough.  And of course there's "I've Seen All Good People," the "hit" which used to send me scurrying away from the radio -- screw this self-indulgent crap, play something from London Calling! -- but these days just sounds like a brilliant piece of pop that just happens to stretch out a bit.  (Hell, even Matthew Sweet & Susannah Hoffs covered it on their 70s tribute album.)

Throughout, Chris Squire's wonderful bass tones stand out, and while Anderson's higher vocal reaches may be an acquired taste, the band's harmonies add elements of beauty to the musical explorations.

Here's "Yours Is No Disgrace":
...and a live "Starship Trooper":
...and of course "Seen All Good People":