Top 10 Yes Albums

Yes Albums

Phot: Hunter Desportes / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

Our Top 10 Yes Albums list takes a look at probably the most loved progressive rock band in history. They are also a band that went through more lineup changes and divisions than almost any other band in rock and roll history. Although the Beach Boys may have given them a run for their money in the lineup change category. Nonetheless, the heart of Yes has always been defined by a handful of core musicians. Of course, the sound of Yes starts with the mesmerizing and original vocals of Jon Anderson, the bass work of Chris Squire, the virtuosity of Steve Howe, the mastery of Rick Wakeman, Tony Kaye and Patrick Moraz on keyboards, and of course the backbeat of a handful of incredible drummers such as Bill Bruford and Alan White.

There were many other musicians who have contributed to the Yes legacy in the studio and on tour for various time periods including musicians Peter Banks, Tony O’Reilly, Trevor Horn, Oliver Wakeman, Trevor Rabin, Eddie Jobson, Igor Khoroshev, Benoît David, Tom Brislin, Dylan Howe and Jay Schellen.

The band Yes released their first album in 1969 entitled Yes. The group quickly followed up that album a year later in 1970 with the album Time and A Word. The glory days of Yes had begun. Over the next decade of the 1970s, the band would release some of the most spectacular and important progressive rock albums in classic rock history. The band would continue into the 80s before all the splits began leaving Yes fans very frustrated. Nonetheless, we will always have the classics such as these 10 great Yes albums listed below.

# 10 – Big Generator

Yes Albums Big Generator

We open up our top 10 Yes Albums with a Yes album released in the late 1980s. Released in 1987, Big Generator took Yes nearly four years to complete, following their 1983 album 90125. Produced by Trevor Horn, who stepped away during the process due to disagreements with the band, the album was finished by Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin. The recording was a long and somewhat arduous process, as the sessions started in Italy and moved to various studios, including Los Angeles and London. This move was not just geographical but also represented the shifting visions between the band members and producers. A notable feature of Big Generator was its experimentation with digital technology, which was becoming increasingly popular in the 1980s.

Musically, the album features the same lineup from 90125: Jon Anderson on vocals, Trevor Rabin on guitars, Tony Kaye on keyboards, Chris Squire on bass, and Alan White on drums. The album is known for its blend of progressive rock roots with the more commercial sounds of the ’80s. Its most well-known track, “Love Will Find a Way,” was an attempt by Rabin to write a hit single for Stevie Nicks; however, the song ended up fitting well into Yes’s repertoire and even reached No. 30 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Other standout tracks include “Shoot High, Aim Low” and the title track “Big Generator.”

In terms of critical reception, the album received mixed reviews. While it was praised for its musicianship, some critics argued that it didn’t live up to the high standards set by earlier Yes records. Despite the contentious recording process and a lukewarm critical reception, Big Generator managed to achieve commercial success. It was certified Gold in the United States and reached No. 15 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 17 on the US Billboard 200. The album was viewed by many fans as a somewhat disjointed but worthy successor to 90125, symbolizing both the challenges and possibilities inherent in bringing a classic progressive rock act into a new musical era.

# 9 – 90125

Yes Albums 90125

The Yes album 90125 was a tremendously successful album for the band Yes from at least a commercial standpoint. The success of the album was fueled by the massively successful single “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” The song was so successful for the band it became the group’s first and only number one of their career as it hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1983. The same lineup found on the Big Generator album was responsible for the music on the album 90125.

Released in November 1983, 90125 marked a new chapter for Yes, featuring a revamped lineup and sound. Initially, the project wasn’t even intended to be a Yes album but started as a new band called Cinema, featuring Chris Squire on bass, Alan White on drums, and Trevor Rabin on guitars. However, with the return of Jon Anderson on vocals and Tony Kaye on keyboards, the band transitioned into a new iteration of Yes. The album was produced by Trevor Horn, known for his meticulous attention to detail. Recording for 90125 primarily took place at SARM Studios in London and was completed over several months, wrapping up in early 1983.

Musically, 90125 was a departure from the band’s earlier, more elaborate progressive rock style, incorporating elements of pop and rock to create a more accessible sound. This was a direct reflection of Trevor Rabin’s influence, as he wrote many of the album’s tracks, including its most famous hit, “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” This song topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart and also helped the album climb to No. 5 on the Billboard 200. Other standout tracks include “Leave It” and “It Can Happen,” both of which further exemplify the album’s blend of rock and pop sensibilities.

Critical reception for 90125 was generally positive, with praise for its sophisticated production and the new direction in which it took the band. Trevor Horn’s production skills received significant acclaim for transforming Yes into a more contemporary-sounding band while retaining some of their signature complexity. The album not only introduced Yes to a younger audience but also received a Grammy Award for “Best Rock Instrumental Performance” for the track “Cinema.” It was certified triple Platinum in the United States and remains one of the band’s most commercially successful albums, symbolizing their ability to adapt and thrive in a changing musical landscape.

# 8 – Tales from Topographic Oceans

Yes Albums ales from Topographic Oceans

The two record set Tales from Topographic Oceans stands as the first Yes album released in the 1970s to be placed on this list. The two record set was released in 1973. The album included the classic Yes lineup of Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman and Alan White who had just replaced Bill Bruford on drums. Tales from Topographic Oceans was a concept album that was released in a beautiful gatefold design displaying the brilliant artwork of Roger Dean

Released in December 1973, Tales from Topographic Oceans is one of Yes’s most ambitious projects, both revered and criticized for its complexity and expansiveness. Based on Jon Anderson’s interpretation of a footnote in “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda, the double album sought to translate Shastric scriptures into musical forms. Produced by Yes themselves in collaboration with sound engineer Eddie Offord, the album was recorded at Morgan Studios in London between June and October 1973. The lineup featured Jon Anderson on vocals, Steve Howe on guitars, Chris Squire on bass, Rick Wakeman on keyboards, and Alan White on drums.

A grand opus divided into four sections—each occupying one side of the original double-LP—the album represented the epitome of progressive rock excess for some, while for others, it stood as a testament to the genre’s artistic potential. Songs like “The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)” and “Ritual (Nous sommes du soleil)” exhibit the band’s mastery in blending complex musical arrangements, surreal lyrics, and virtuosic performances. However, it was the conceptual and musical density of the album that led to mixed reviews. Keyboardist Rick Wakeman was among its critics, and he left the band shortly after the album’s tour.

In terms of commercial success, Tales from Topographic Oceans reached No. 1 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 6 on the U.S. Billboard 200. Despite its polarizing nature, it was certified Gold in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Critics have been divided on the album, with some lauding its ambition and scope, while others deride it as self-indulgent. To Yes fans like myself, it was an album that was constantly on our turntables.

# 7 – Going For The One

Yes Albums Going For The One

Emerging from a hiatus that followed the mixed reception of their ambitious Tales from Topographic Oceans and a rotation of band members, Yes returned in 1977 with Going For The One. This album marked a departure from their earlier, more expansive and complex work, aiming for a more streamlined and accessible approach. Recorded from October 1976 to April 1977, the band chose a unique setting for this endeavor: Mountain Studios in Montreux, Switzerland. Returning to the fold was Rick Wakeman, whose keyboards graced the album along with the talents of Jon Anderson on vocals, Steve Howe on guitars, Chris Squire on bass, and Alan White on drums. Produced by Yes and engineered by John Timperley, this project sought to reinvigorate the band’s musical direction.

Going For The One boasted tracks that still captured the band’s knack for complex compositions but were coupled with a directness that was both refreshing and well-received. The title track “Going For The One” bursts with energy and optimism, featuring some of Steve Howe’s most vibrant guitar work. “Awaken,” the album’s near 16-minute closer, stands as a testament to Yes’s undiminished skill at crafting extended musical pieces, weaving together thematic movements with intricate instrumental interplay. But it was the beautiful simplicity of “Wonderous Stories” that caught listeners’ attention, becoming a hit single in the UK.

The album was met with critical and commercial acclaim, charting at No. 1 in the UK and reaching No. 8 on the U.S. Billboard 200. Certified Gold in both countries, Going For The One seemed to reconcile Yes’s art-rock aspirations with commercial viability, proving that they could retain their musical prowess while appealing to a broader audience. The record remains an essential part of Yes’s discography, capturing a moment when they skillfully balanced artistic integrity with mainstream success, all while navigating a rapidly changing musical landscape dominated by punk and disco.

# 6 – Time and A Word

Yes Albums Time and A Word

Released in 1970, Time And A Word marked a significant moment in Yes’s burgeoning career. Building upon their self-titled debut, this second album featured more complex arrangements and ambitious compositions. The album was recorded between October 1969 and January 1970 and was produced by Tony Colton, making it the only Yes album not to be produced by the band itself. The recording took place at Advision Studios in London. The core lineup of the band featured Jon Anderson on vocals, Chris Squire on bass, Peter Banks on guitar, Tony Kaye on keyboards, and Bill Bruford on drums. Notably, this would be the last Yes album to feature Peter Banks before Steve Howe took over guitar duties.

Time And A Word notably featured orchestral arrangements, a decision that was contentious within the band and ultimately led to the departure of Banks. The orchestrations, arranged by Tony Cox, are most prominent on tracks like “No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed” and “The Prophet.” While not a huge commercial success at the time of its release, the album did manage to chart at No. 45 in the UK. The use of the orchestra foreshadowed the more expansive and complex arrangements that would become a hallmark of Yes’s later work, but it was still grounded in the early psychedelia and rock influences that colored their debut.

Critically, Time And A Word has been re-evaluated over the years as an important stepping stone in the evolution of Yes as a progressive rock powerhouse. While it may not have the reputation of albums like Close To The Edge or Fragile, it captures a band in the process of discovering its identity. The tensions and experiments of Time And A Word paved the way for the classic lineup and sound that would define Yes in the years to come. Its place in the band’s discography is akin to a bridge between their more straightforward early work and the expansive, intricate compositions that would soon follow.

# 5 – Yes

Yes Albums

The album simply titled Yes was the band’s debut album. The record was released in 1969. There were eight songs on the record as the band had not yet developed into the progressive rock outfit that would release albums with songs that could last an entire album side.

Released in July 1969, the group sought to establish its musical identity, blending elements of rock, psychedelia, and folk. The album was produced by Paul Clay and engineered by Roy Nevison, capturing the raw energy and diversity of the band’s early sound. Recording took place at Advision Studios in London over a period of several weeks. The lineup for this initial offering included Jon Anderson on vocals, Chris Squire on bass, Peter Banks on guitar, Tony Kaye on keyboards, and Bill Bruford on drums.

Though not a commercial blockbuster upon its initial release, Yes received moderate chart success, peaking at No. 40 on the UK Albums Chart. The album featured eight tracks, some of which were covers like The Beatles’ “Every Little Thing” and The Byrds’ “I See You,” while others were original compositions by the band members, including “Beyond and Before” and “Survival.” The musical texture of the album was rich and varied, showcasing intricate guitar work by Peter Banks, complex bass lines from Chris Squire, and the ethereal vocals of Jon Anderson, all of which hinted at the more expansive and progressive sound the band would later develop.

Critical reception of the album was generally positive but cautious, as critics and listeners alike recognized the band’s raw potential without necessarily considering Yes a masterpiece. However, the album has since been re-evaluated as an essential glimpse into the formative years of a band that would go on to define the progressive rock genre. Songs like “Beyond and Before” and “Survival” reflect a young band beginning to find its way, laying the groundwork for the more complex musical ideas that would follow. The album is now considered a foundational text in the progressive rock canon, encapsulating the embryonic stages of a band that would soon reach soaring heights with subsequent releases.

# 4 – Relayer

Yes Albums Relayer

Released in November 1974, Relayer marked the seventh studio album by English progressive rock giants Yes. The album was recorded between August and October 1974 at Squire’s home studio in Virginia Water, Surrey. A departure from the norm, the band decided to self-produce the album with the help of engineer Eddy Offord. The album showcased a line-up featuring Jon Anderson on vocals, Steve Howe on guitars, Chris Squire on bass, Alan White on drums, and Patrick Moraz on keyboards, who replaced Rick Wakeman for this particular project.

Relayer was primarily characterized by its intricate and ambitious compositions, notably the 22-minute long epic, “The Gates of Delirium,” inspired by Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.” The album encapsulates a raw, almost frenetic energy that leaned heavily into the jazz fusion trends of the era, thanks in part to Moraz’s unique keyboard stylings. The album performed well on the charts, reaching No. 4 in the UK and No. 5 in the United States, cementing its commercial viability in an era increasingly skeptical of progressive rock’s ornate tendencies.

Critically, Relayer was and remains a divisive album. While some fans and critics consider it to be a pinnacle of the band’s experimental leanings—bold, complex, and cerebral—others see it as overly intricate, perhaps bordering on indulgent. The album’s lead single, “Soon,” which was the calming conclusion to “The Gates of Delirium,” received radio airplay and has been praised for its emotional depth and musicality. Despite the debates over its standing in the Yes discography, Relayer continues to fascinate listeners with its thematic depth, instrumental prowess, and bold musical choices. It’s considered a “must-listen” for those keen to explore the band’s rich musical landscape, and it remains an enduring topic of discussion and examination among fans like myself and scholars alike.

# 3 – The Yes Album

Yes Albums The Yes Album

Released in February 1971, The Yes Album serves as the band’s third studio album. It marks a significant turning point for the band, as it was their first album to feature guitarist Steve Howe, who replaced Peter Banks. Recorded between  July 1970 and Autumn 1970 at Advision Studios in London, the album was produced by Yes and audio engineer Eddie Offord, who would become a long-term collaborator with the band. This lineup featured Jon Anderson on vocals, Chris Squire on bass, Tony Kaye on keyboards, Bill Bruford on drums, and the aforementioned Steve Howe on guitar.

The Yes Album stands as a seminal work in the Yes catalog for several reasons. It is often considered the record where Yes found their unique sound—melding rock with complex arrangements and classically-inspired passages. This departure is evident in the lengthy instrumental sections and intricate arrangements found in tracks like “Yours Is No Disgrace” and “Starship Trooper.” Commercially, the album was the band’s breakthrough, reaching No. 4 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 40 on the US Billboard 200. The single “I’ve Seen All Good People” even received substantial radio airplay, contributing significantly to the album’s success.

Critically, The Yes Album received widespread acclaim both upon its release and in retrospective assessments. The album is lauded for its musicianship, compositional strength, and the freshness of its approach at a time when rock music was undergoing significant changes. The presence of Steve Howe gave the band a more diverse sonic palette, allowing for a broader range of styles and techniques. His contribution to the album is often singled out for praise, from the acoustic elegance of “The Clap” to the intricate layering in “Starship Trooper.” In various ways, The Yes Album laid the groundwork for what would become Yes’s signature style, influencing not only the rest of their career but also the entire genre of progressive rock.

# 2 – Fragile

Yes Albums Fragile

Fragile was the album that turned the band Yes into a household name. Every teenage rock fan in the 1970s had a copy of the Fragile album in their bedroom. It was usually beat up because we played it all the time. For some reason, the cardboard cover of the Yes Fragile album always fell apart.

Released in November 1971, Fragile is the fourth studio album by the English progressive rock band Yes. This album is particularly notable for being the first to feature keyboardist Rick Wakeman, who replaced Tony Kaye. Recorded between August and September 1971 at Advision Studios in London, Fragile was co-produced by the band and Eddie Offord, continuing their successful collaboration. The album’s lineup consisted of Jon Anderson on vocals, Chris Squire on bass, Steve Howe on guitars, Rick Wakeman on keyboards, and Bill Bruford on drums.

Musically, Fragile built upon the momentum generated by its predecessor, “The Yes Album,” but it also took some novel approaches. The album showcased the individual talents of each band member by featuring tracks that were effectively solo pieces for each musician. For example, “Cans and Brahms” was Wakeman’s adaptation of Brahms’ 4th Symphony, and “Mood for a Day” featured Howe’s solo acoustic guitar work. The hit single “Roundabout,” one of the band’s most iconic songs, exemplified Yes’s ability to combine complex musicianship with commercially accessible melodies. The album achieved significant commercial success, reaching No. 4 on the UK Albums Chart and an impressive No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200, marking a significant milestone for the band.

Fragile received critical acclaim upon its release and continues to be celebrated as a cornerstone of progressive rock. The album showcased the band’s musical versatility and virtuosity, effortlessly blending rock, classical, and folk elements into a cohesive whole. The addition of Wakeman brought a fresh dynamism to the group, with his keyboards adding layers of complexity that complemented the intricate guitar work of Howe and the robust rhythm section of Squire and Bruford.

# 1 – Close To The Edge

Yes Albums Close To The Edge

Coming in at number one on our top 10 Yes albums list is the classic Yes album Close To The Edge. It was easy to pick Close To The Edge number one because the entire A side of the record contained one of the band’s greatest musical achievements in the stunning piece “Close To The Edge.” Further cementing Close To The Edge as our favorite Yes album was the inclusion of our favorite Yes song “And You and I” filling up half of side two.

Released on September 13, 1972, Close To The Edge is the fifth studio album by the English progressive rock band Yes. The album was recorded at Advision Studios in London between April and June of 1972. Produced by Eddie Offord in collaboration with the band, the album’s lineup consisted of Jon Anderson on vocals, Steve Howe on guitar, Chris Squire on bass, Rick Wakeman on keyboards, and Bill Bruford on drums. This would be Bruford’s last studio album with the band before he departed to join King Crimson; he was replaced by Alan White for subsequent tours and albums.

Close To The Edge comprises just three tracks, opening with the nearly 19-minute title track, broken down into four movements. This was followed by “And You and I” and “Siberian Khatru.” The album encapsulates the band’s audacious approach to songwriting and arrangement, featuring complex time signatures, extensive instrumental passages, and abstract, often mystical, lyrical themes. While it extended the progressive elements heard in earlier albums like Fragile, it also marked a distinct shift toward more thematic coherence and conceptual depth. Commercially, the album was a significant success, reaching No. 3 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 4 on the U.S. Billboard 200. It was certified Gold in the United States and has since been acclaimed as one of the most seminal works in the progressive rock genre.

Critically, Close To The Edge was met with acclaim upon its release and has only grown in stature over the years. It is often cited as Yes’s magnum opus and a landmark recording in the history of progressive rock. Critics and fans alike praised the album for its ambitious scope and complex musicality, as well as its ability to maintain a sense of beauty and melody amidst its complexity. The album’s elaborate packaging, featuring artwork by Roger Dean, became almost as iconic as the music itself. Close To The Edge represents Yes at their best!

Updated October 11, 2023

Top 10 Yes Albums article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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