All 183 Yes Songs Ranked Worst to Best
Yes have survived for more than five decades because they've been willing to mess around with their recipe and roll with every gut-punch.
"Oh, our iconic frontman and keyboardist left? We'll just hire the Buggles." (Smart move.) "Oh, our iconic frontman can't tour? Let's replace him with tribute singers." (Not so smart.) But since they've refused – almost stubbornly – to throw in the towel, their catalog is appropriately sprawling, with each album bringing sonic tweaks both major and minor.
"I always hated the term 'progressive rock.' That was an unfortunate label to put on the band,” Jon Anderson told the Dallas Observer in 2012. “We played very adventurous rock, adventurous music. We lead people on a different journey. It wasn't about making money or trying to be a pop star."
Granted, this is the same guy who, in the early '80s, sang lead vocals on "Owner of a Lonely Heart," so take that "pop" comment with a grain of salt. But the true beauty of Yes is that, in their prog-rock prime, they infiltrated the mainstream with experimental ideas: On albums like Fragile and Close to the Edge and Going for the One, they balanced symphonic complexity with immediate melodic ear candy – a combination no other band of their era achieved so consistently.
In that light, it's a unique challenge attempting to rank the Yes discography. How do you compare the smoothly buffed 90125 smash "Leave It" with the knotty, long-form majesty of "The Gates of Delirium"? It's a tall order, but we're taking a crack at it. Here are Yes' 183 studio tracks – from bogus B-sides to elegant epics – ranked from worst to best.
183. "Abilene," (from reissue of 1978’s Tormato)
This revolting “Don’t Kill the Whale” B-side opens with the sound of a neighing horse: Maybe they were just trying to get in the country-rock mindset. “Something’s going on / I don’t know what it is,” Anderson and Steve Howe harmonize. You aren’t alone in your confusion, cowboys.
182. "Last Train" (Magnification outtake from the 2002 box set In a Word)
"All aboard the train!" Anderson barks on this limp in-studio jam. We'll pass, thanks. Howe literally strums one chord, and Chris Squire bangs out a muffled bass riff. Calling this a "song" is a stretch. There's scraping the bottom of the barrel, and then there's "Last Train."
181. "In a World of Our Own" (from 2014's Heaven & Earth)
Clumsy, sauntering blues-rock riddled with garishly computerized production and lyrical clichés. "What's wrong with the new revolution?" Jon Davison sings. "You can whet your appetite anywhere / As long you do your cookin' at home." Barf.
180. "Money" (from reissue of 1978's Tormato)
The random background news broadcast is the most interesting part of this atrocious pub-rock reject – as in, "What the hell is happening with that random background news broadcast?” Not even worth a second listen.
179. "Saving My Heart" (from 1991's Union)
Lifeless reggae-pop. With all the obvious talent on-hand during the Union sessions (Anderson, Howe, Rick Wakeman, Bill Bruford, Alan White, Trevor Rabin, Tony Kaye, and an army of producers and session players), this is the best they could scrape together?
178. "Man in the Moon" (from 1997's Open Your Eyes)
Billy Sherwood should be credited for helping to keep Yes afloat on numerous occasions where the band appeared destined to walk the plank. That almost makes up for this hilariously awkward song, full of obvious rhyme schemes, fake strings, and generic blues-rock riffs.
177. "It Was All We Knew" (from 2014's Heaven & Earth)
Steve Howe singing lead is never a good idea. Steve Howe writing pop songs is rarely a good idea. But both?
176. "If Only You Knew" (from 1999's The Ladder)
“Can lift you with my heart / Give you meaning every day,” Anderson sings over staid piano. “Cannot live without your truth.” Pure schmaltz.
175. "I Am Waiting" (from 1994's Talk)
Outside of a Dire Straits-y slide guitar lead, “I Am Waiting” is seriously soulless. The less said, the better.
174. "Lightning Strikes" (from 1999's The Ladder)
With its dopey electronic loops, tropical horns, and dated-as-soon-as-they-were-written lyrics ("Swimming in this ocean of words on your new cell phone"), "Lightning Strikes" is a collision of bad ideas – a mid-life crisis distilled into sound.
173. "State of Play" (from 1994's Talk)
Remember when Yes had a rhythm section? Arriving two decades after the jazz-fusion madness of Relayer, White's drums sound like they’ve been reduced to a programmer's '90s dance remix.
172. "Real Love" (from 1994's Talk)
Like Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” – minus all the heaviness and mystery.
171. "Countryside" (from reissue of 1978's Tormato)
Spanish guitar, rumbling bass, afterthought drums. Howe later reworked this leftover into "Corkscrew" from his 1991 solo LP Turbulence. But in this half-assed form, it's hard to sit through.
170. "Walls" (from 1994's Talk)
Where to start? Worship group harmonies, Trevor Rabin rhyming “out” with “out,” White sounding like he’s been replaced by a Macintosh. Saddest of all, Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson co-wrote this drivel.
169. "In the Tower" (from reissue of 1980’s Drama)
After the strained Tormato sessions, Yes reconvened in Paris with famed Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker in November 1979. But they wound up losing more momentum – with Anderson and Wakeman writing ethereal songs, and Howe / Squire / White aiming for the harder, heavier approach that wound up defining their next LP, Drama. Several tracks from the aborted Paris sessions (like “Golden Age”) have emerged through bootlegs or bonus tracks, and the flat-lining “In the Tower" perfectly encapsulates the band’s creative confusion, as Anderson belts pseudo-mystical lyrics over classical church organ and a lumbering, overproduced drum part.
The whole project fell apart when White was injured while skating at a roller disco. “Regarding the Paris sessions," the drummer told Scottish Yes Network in 2014, "when I broke my ankle it may have been a blessing in disguise, because it wasn’t turning out like we wanted it.”
168. "Can I?" (from 1999’s The Ladder)
For some reason, Anderson decides to reprise – and not finish – his Fragile interlude "We Have Heaven." The vocal scatting doesn't help.
167. "Crossfire" (from 2002's In a Word)
This bluesy guitar strut feels unsure of why it exists.
166. "Picasso" (from reissue of 1978’s Tormato)
Acoustic strum, twinkly guitar lead – pointless but harmless.
165. "Amazing Grace" (from reissue of 1977's Going for the One, 1991 compilation Yesyears)
Squire’s bass-only arrangement of “Amazing Grace” felt divine when incorporated into his live solo showcase. But this fuzzy studio outtake feels like an afterthought.
164. "Angkor Wat" (from 1991's Union)
For this ambient doodle, Anderson reprises some dumb gags from the Tormato era, like sound effects (storms!) and spoken-word segments (a random segment of Cambodian poetry).
163. "Dangerous (Look in the Light of What You’re Searching For)" (from 1991's Union)
Generic hard-rock riff, squealing lead lines, a dreadful section with hilariously dated dance remix-styled breakbeats. Not even Tony Levin's slap-bass tone can rescue it. More depressing, Howe isn’t even on the finished product – like many other Union cuts, his parts were re-recorded by session player Jimmy Haun (who did an admirable job under the awkward circumstances). "I think that the record is very palatable and has a lot to offer musically,” Haun said years later. “I do understand the fan reaction, and I think a lot of it has little to do with the musical aspect, but rather the political and the fact that there isn't much Yes there. And if I was Steve Howe, I would have been ticked off if someone came in and replaced my parts, too. But I did try to be sensitive to his sound and style."
162. "Love Conquers All" (Union outtake from 1991’s Yesyears)
"Union outtake" pretty much sums it up.
161. "Days" (from reissue of 1978's Tormato)
Jon Anderson sounds worryingly strained on this acapella folk ditty, which he later reworked for his 1980 solo LP, Song of Seven.
160. "Circus of Heaven" (from 1978's Tormato)
Tormato is a strange album to pick apart: It's full of compelling songs ruined by perplexing arrangements, murky production, and the claustrophobic feel of overplaying. Anderson's "Circus of Heaven" checks every box: Like many tracks on the LP, it opens with an accessible melodic structure that Yes proceeds to slowly tarnish. When the frontman's young son pops in for a wide-eyed spoken-word cameo, you know the wheels have fallen off.
159. "You Can Be Saved" (from reissue of 1978's Tormato)
A monochrome cousin to "Onward."
158. "The Calling" (from 1994's Talk)
Standard Yes-in-arena-mode affair, with Tony Kaye's intricate organ work elevating a generic blues-rock riff.
157. "Light of the Ages" (from 2014's Heaven & Earth)
"A beacon is shining/ ‘Cross the cosmos, it's guiding/ Igniting the pathway for us," Davison sings in his best (read: worst) Anderson impression. File under "adult-contemporary Yes." Then burn the file.
156. "To Ascend" (from 2014's Heaven & Earth)
Howe's yearning Portuguese guitar opens this Davison / White collaboration – a promising start. Then enters the plodding New Age chorus, highlighted by one of the flimsiest drum sounds ever recorded. “[Roy Thomas Baker] is quite meticulous about which microphones get the right sound,” White told Scottish Yes Network of the Heaven & Earth sessions. “We were using about $50,000 worth of microphones on the drums alone." Too late for a refund?
155. "Don't Take No for An Answer" (from 2018's Fly From Here – Return Trip)
As in "the argumentative approach that resulted in Steve Howe handling lead vocals."
154. "It Will Be a Good Day (The River)" (from 1999's The Ladder)
Howe's birdsong guitar fills almost rescue this sappy ballad. Almost.
153. "Wonderlove" (from 1997’s Open Your Eyes)
Opens within waves of pedal-steel and harp-like acoustic guitar ... then morphs into a tuneless pop song.
152. "Lift Me Up" (from 1991's Union)
This Rabin / Squire composition flaunts one of the heaviest riffs in the Yes songbook. But Rabin’s generic crooning kills the vibe immediately, adding a queasy Christian-rock vibe.
151. "Cans and Brahms" (from 1971's Fragile)
On paper, it seemed like a logical plan to democratize and ego-drain, but allowing each member to record his own "solo" song on Yes' fourth LP was pretty clunky in practice. Rick Wakeman's harmless instrumental throwaway, a keyboard-only adaptation of Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 in E minor, is the reason skip buttons were invented. With its stuffy spread of electric and acoustic pianos, synthesizer, electric harpsichord, and organ, "Cans and Brahms" does serve as a pleasant-enough palette cleanser after the prog-pop journey of "Roundabout" – but have you ever put on Fragile and played this track in isolation? Imagine if they’d cleared some space with these solo pieces and included their version of Simon & Garfunkel's "America"? Then you’re looking at a Top 5 prog-rock album.
150. "Big Generator" (from 1987's Big Generator)
In which Yes attempt to recapture the Top 40 magic of 90125 ... and fail. “Big Generator" opens with some wall-to-wall scatting reminiscent of “Leave It,” incorporates some brash synth noises a la “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” and lumps in some random Phil Collins horns – but no amount of studio twiddling and emergency arrangement surgery could rescue this chunky, DOA rocker. "The danger was Big Generator was chasing that dream again, chasing that crazy hit record," Jon Anderson told Music Players in 2010. "It never happens if you chase it. It should come very naturally."
149. "Where Will You Be" (from 1994's Talk)
As cheese is concerned, this is grade-A gouda. But the New Age-y programmed arrangement, coupled with Rabin's elevator music leads and Anderson's bouncy vocal, makes it palatable.
148. "Step Beyond" (from 2014's Heaven & Earth)
Alan White briefly breaks into a jagged shuffle groove – a rare burst of human warmth in a zonked-out pop song with a feel best described as "pre-set Casio backing track."
147. "The Game" (from 2014's Heaven & Earth)
Computerized synth, lighter-than-air drums that seriously sound like samples. (Seriously, it’s hard to believe White actually played drums on this track.)
146. "Love Will Find a Way" (from 1987's Big Generator)
Rabin originally wrote this chiming 12-string rocker for Stevie Nicks, but producer Trevor Horn persuaded him to keep it in-house. It became a minor hit, so not a bad call commercially; but the arrangement is a bit lightweight for Yes, even the late-'80s edition.
145. "The More We Live – Let Go" (from 1991's Union)
Co-written by Squire and future recruit Billy Sherwood, this art-rock synth atmosphere isn’t much of an actual song. (How sad is it that, on an album that united Yes' two chief keyboardists, 11 other people played keys during the sessions?)
144. "New Language" (from 1999's The Ladder)
A common tactic of late-period, long-form Yes, "New Language” is an anonymous pop-rock tune bookended by proggy instrumental fireworks. It’s like a sandwich built with delicious artisanal bread and expired meat.
143. "It's Over" (from reissue of 1983's 90125)
Uneventful New Wave rocker brimming with 90125's candy-coated surfaces but none of its hooks.
142. "Believe Again" (from 2014's Heaven & Earth)
Howe's volume pedal guitar and Geoff Downes' twiddly synths open this mawkish, painfully soft track. With a more organic mix (not to mention Anderson behind the mic), this could have been a keeper.
141. "The Messenger" (from 1999's The Ladder)
Yes go slightly reggae on this middle-of-the-road Ladder cut. The brooding final minute sparks some intrigue, but it's a non-starter overall.
140. "Love Shine" (from 1997's Open Your Eyes)
“I won’t sleep again until I sleep again with you.” Boy, that lyric sure comes across as creepy on paper, eh? Hooky pop tune weighed down by dumb lyrics ("1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7" – really?) and a general lack of arrangement ideas.
139. "Have We Really Got to Go Through This" (from reissue of 1980's Drama)
In its studio form, this rockabilly-prog instrumental comes off like a twangier take on “Tempus Fugit.” So, there's obvious potential, but it would have felt redundant on Drama. A fleshed-out version with vocals simply called "Go Through This" appears on Yes’ 2005 concert box set, The Word Is Live.
138. "Friend of a Friend" (from reissue of 1980's Drama)
Humdrum but still worth exploring – if only for White’s funky drum groove.
137. "Never Done Before" (from 2002's In a Word)
Saloon piano and bluesy guitar highlight this serviceable Paris-sessions outtake.
136. "Final Eyes" (from 1987's Big Generator)
The Anderson and Rabin modes of Yes were at war on Big Generator, and this confused track makes that painfully clear. The intro briefly conjures their classic ambiance, with Anderson crooning over Howe-ish 12-string acoustics. But the wall-to-wall harmonies and slick synths quickly disrupt the vibe.
135. "Dear Father" (from B-side of 1970 single "Time and a Word")
Instead of masking his spiritual references in hippie-isms, Jon Anderson dives into Christianity on this limp leftover. “Here are the books of Luke,” he sings. “You'll need them to open the seed / To see what goes on in the world.” It’s hard to decipher whether the song embraces or critiques organized religion (or even both), but it’s also so boring that it’s hard to care.
134. "Sweetness" (from 1969's Yes)
“She knows just what to say to make a sunny day,” Anderson coos on this snoozy, atmospheric love song. His bandmates try to keep the ship afloat, piling on high-octave bass riffs and tremolo guitar effects. Their efforts are in vain.
133. "Clear Days" (from 1970's Time and a Word)
"I once knew a sweet young girl/ Her body was her world of love," Anderson sings, ushering us into a Baroque-pop fantasia of piano and staccato strings. "Clear Days" feels half-formed, without a rhythm section to speak of. And the words, removed from the frontman's signature rasp, are embarrassing. He'd soon learn to mask his sentimentality in acid-trip spirituality – and we’d all be better off for it.
132. "Five Per Cent for Nothing" (from 1971's Fragile)
Squonk, plonk, boink, dink. Bill Bruford clearly wasn't putting much thought into this hilarious jazz-fusion doodle, so let's follow suit in this blurb. ("[It] was my first attempt at composition," he said in Yesstories: Yes In Their Own Words. "Of course completely naive, but we've all got to start somewhere.")
131. "Madrigal" (from 1978's Tormato)
"Celestial travelers have always been here with us," Anderson coos over classical guitar and dopey electric harpsichord. The best thing you can say about "Madrigal" is that, unlike the dopiest moments on Tormato, it's hard to say anything about it.
130. "High" (from reissue of 1978's Tormato)
Howe churns out a Topographic Oceans-worthy 12-string riff on this charmingly ragged outtake. It’s a glimpse at a band in the weeds, seemingly figuring out their parts in real time – and a fascinating, frustrating glimpse behind the curtain. It’s a shame they never finished it, though the guitarist did rework it into the instrumental “Sketches in the Sun” for 1986’s GTR, the debut LP of his supergroup of the same name.
129. "Rhythm of Love" (from 1987's Big Generator)
Yes wrote lots of songs about love in the cosmic sense, but they rarely explored that subject from a carnal viewpoint. "Why should I escort you to your secret needs / Climbing up your ladder I keep falling down," Anderson shouts over a bluesy riff. "Anyway will do, anyone will do / When you dance to your darkest tune / Surrounded as you crawl around the room." Eww. Hearing our reliable spiritual guru belt about dirty deeds feels like catching your parents in the act. "Rhythm of Love” was a minor hit, the band’s last Top 40 entry – but it’s all downhill after the opening round of Beach Boys harmonies.
128. "Children of Light" (from 1997's Keys to Ascension 2)
Anderson’s frequent writing partner Vangelis collaborated on the opening section of this wordy, sleepy cut. Pedal-steel, lumbering drums, and sitar-guitar keep the engine running.
127. "Sign Language" (from 1997's Keys to Ascension 2)
A collaboration between Wakeman's synth-strings and Howe's jazzy, extended guitar solo.
126. "Miracle of Life" (from 1991's Union)
A vintage organ pattern scurries within a dense web of contrapuntal guitar/keyboard lines. Is this a quality song? What’s happening? Oh, wait, here comes Trevor Rabin to the non-rescue, tanking this one with his generic radio-rock chorus.
125. "Shock to the System" (from 1991’s Union)
Hats off to pinch-hitting guitarist Jimmy Haun, whose delicate acoustic bridge and barnburner solo help rescue a rote blues-rock riff.
124. "Almost Like Love" (from 1987's Big Generator)
Anderson belts about “brotherly love” in the nuclear age – a generic sentiment for a generic, arena-friendly chorus. A waste of a funky Rabin riff and White’s rapid-fire percussion.
123. "No Way We Can Lose" (from 1997's Open Your Eyes)
This laid-back half-ballad is nowhere near the crap-fest most prog fans make it out to be, though certainly no highlight on any Yes album.
122. "From the Balcony" (from 1997's Open Your Eyes)
"Now I hear you singing, saying that you know me well," Anderson chirps over Steve Howe's classical guitar. "Take me to your promise – new state of mind." Yawn.
121. "Song No. 4 (Satellite)" (from reissue of 1980’s Drama)
With Squire’s bass effects, White’s monster drumming, and Howe’s punky guitar stabs, “Song No. 4 (Satellite)” feels like a summary of Yes’ instrumental approach on Drama. The rhythm section later reworked the song into the demo “Telephone Secrets,” part of an aborted collaboration with Jimmy Page called XYZ.
120. "New World Symphony" (from 2004 compilation The Ultimate Yes: 35th Anniversary Collection)
Chris Squire adapts a portion of Antonin Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 in E minor for this soulful solo bass piece.
119. "City of Love" (from 1983’s 90125)
118. "Some Are Born" (from reissue of 1978's Tormato)
It’s clear why Yes left this one off Tormato: "Some Are Born" is too ragged in its current state, with too many strained vocals and guitar flubs, to be considered album-worthy. But the track – which Anderson later reworked for Song of Seven – is compelling as a demo, with the frontman’s folk reverie leading to a tranquil texture and a surprising accelerando.
117. "The Man You Always Wanted Me to Be" (from 2011's Fly From Here)
Keyboardist Gerard Johnson, Squire’s frequent collaborator, helped craft this track – the lamest, limpest moment on Fly From Here. Kudos to the late bassist, though, for the most confident Yes vocal he ever recorded.
116. "Time Is Time" (from 2000's Magnification)
Steve Howe's unexpected dobro lines highlight this pleasant-enough acoustic ballad.
115. "I Would Have Waited Forever" (from 1991's Union)
Like most of Union, “I Would Have Waited Forever” feels like the end product of too many cooks in a crammed, hostile kitchen. There are tons of great ideas (Haun’s opening 6/4 riff, Levin’s thumping bass), but the song is overproduced within an inch of its life.
114. "In the Presence Of" (from 2000's Magnification)
A bit overlong at 10-plus minutes, without enough melodic content to support that heft. But there are some intriguing moments, like Howe's buzzing E-bow, on this tranquil easy listening-prog track.
113. "Foot Prints" (from Keys to Ascension 2)
“Getting ready for the big bang” is a good summary of listening to “Foot Prints.” Some nice tonal colors from Squire’s bluesy bass and Wakeman’s wailing organ, but this is basically middle-of-the-road AOR-prog.
112. "To Be Alive (Hep Yadda)" (from 1999's The Ladder)
It shouldn’t work, but dammit, it kinda does. Anderson’s staccato delivery masks the stupidity of the lyrics, and the harmony-laden AOR chorus is catchy enough to offset the lack of instrumental prowess.
111. "Somehow, Someday" (from 1997's Open Your Eyes)
"So the blue bird will fly o'er the world and the stars/ In the moonlight we prays for forgiveness that's ours," Jon Anderson sings. "Only now can she rest from the singing of songs / And the freedom of love." Oof. Luckily, the chorus, with its angular rhythms, makes up for the corniness.
110. "Our Song" (from 1983'’s 90125)
"Our Song" has the rare distinction of being a dual B-side (to "Owner of a Lonely Heart") and a minor hit single. The arrangement is arena-rock Yes on auto-pilot, pairing heavy guitar riffs with a synth-powered chorus hook; the only distinct part of the song is its seemingly random allegiance to Toledo, Ohio, where Yes allegedly played a sweltering 1977 show that reached 126 degrees inside the city's Sports Arena. "Toledo's got to be the silver city/ In this good country," Anderson sings. Forget "Caesar's Palace, morning glory" – those could be strangest Yes lyrics ever written.
109. "Without Hope You Cannot Start the Day" (from 1991's Union)
Anderson teamed with producer Jonathan Elias for this arty mini-epic. The synth balladry falls flat, but the King Crimson rhythm section of Bill Bruford and Tony Levin ramp up the energy on a brooding 9/8 chorus.
108. "Give & Take" (bonus track from 1991's Union)
Trevor Rabin is a great pop songwriter when he avoids cock-rock riffs, and this chiming Union leftover is one of his hidden gems.
107. "Take the Water to the Mountain" (from 1991's Union)
Like "Evensong," which essentially functions as its intro, "Take the Water to the Mountain" should have been developed into a more dynamic piece. But given the creative clutter of Union, we shouldn't complain too much: With Haun's ambient leads and Anderson’s soothing chants, it ends the LP with a moment of welcome calm.
106. "Be the One" (from 1996's Keys to Ascension)
Anderson sings about love and children and stars and dreams and truth and ponies. OK, maybe not that last part, but it wouldn't be out of place on the inoffensively bland "Humankind" section. Yes finally wake up after the four-minute mark, letting Howe's guitars do most of the talking.
105. "Finally" (from 1999's The Ladder)
Anderson adopts a raspy, bluesy tone on this guitar-heavy rocker. Howe, meanwhile, utilizes every tool in his arsenal – from sitar-like chime to a volume-pedal swells.
104. "Hold On" (from 1983's 90125)
"Hold On" is a rote, bluesy rocker with two areas of interest: Anderson and Squire’s booming New Wave chorus harmonies and White’s shifting, out-of-left-field drum patterns (see: 1:08).
103. "Tango" (from 2002's In a Word)
One of the few bright spots from the Paris sessions, “Tango” features Anderson barking out a strained vocal over intricate keys and a throbbing hard-rock riff.
102. "Vevey (Revisited)" (from reissue of 1977’s Going for the One, 1991 compilation Yesyears)
This funereal instrumental duet finds Anderson picking out a shaky, rudimentary guitar melody over Wakeman’s wheezing organ chords. It’s so raw and intimate, you can hear the sound of every pick scraping the strings, every random background creak. (The track is credited to Anderson / Wakeman, so one must assume that isn’t Howe on the guitar. Plus, the playing sounds too shaky to be him.)
101. "Make It Easy" (from 1991 compilation Yesyears, reissue of 1983's 90125)
The intro, with its frantic synth / guitar lines, became a signature moment of Yes’ '80s live show, leading into "Owner of a Lonely Heart." Makes sense that they lopped off the rest of this lackluster track.
100. "Show Me" (from 2004's The Ultimate Yes: 35th Anniversary Collection)
A protest song seemingly aimed at the entire world, Anderson's acoustic ballad "Show Me" should fall on its face. ("Show me the children who remember their own father now," he sings. “Show me the children who just don't sleep anymore.") But with that ageless, radiant voice, he manages to pull it off.
99. "Give Love Each Day" (from 2000's Magnification)
The string arrangement is a bit sappy. But the band utilizes an admirable amount of space, maximizing the impact of each hi-hat flutter and tremolo bass sparkle.
98. "We Agree" (from 2000's Magnification)
A pseudo-ballad with lush harmonies and arpeggiated acoustics, allowing Jon Anderson and company to gaze "through the eyes of the child."
97. "Soft as a Dove" (from 2000's Magnification)
Fitting title for this brief acoustic-symphonic ballad.
96. "Don’t Go" (from 2000's Magnification)
No getting around it: Sampling a honking horn after the line "stole her best friend's car" is worthy of the hardest face-palm in your arsenal. But even Anderson's supremely dorky lyrics can't ruin this windows-down pop-rock singalong.
95. "Silent Talking" (from 1991's Union)
Part of this bluesy hard-prog song is in 9/8, so you know they’re onto something. Kudos to Howe for those textured lead guitars – or, wait, that’s session player Jimmy Haun, king of the Union overdubs.
94. "Hearts" (from 1983's 90125)
The closest 90125 comes to vintage prog – at least briefly: “Hearts” opens with an Asian-tinted vocal / keyboard melody that recalls the symphonic atmosphere of Going For the One or Relayer. Aaaand then comes the lacquered pop chorus (“Two hearts are better than one”).
93. "Universal Garden" (from 1997's Open Your Eyes)
With its cinematic, symphonic arrangement, "Universal Gardens" previews the orchestral approach of Magnification.
92. “Holy Lamb (Song for Harmonic Convergence)" (from 1987's Big Generator)
"At the start of every day / A child begins to play," Anderson sings on Big Generator’s strummy, grandiose finale. It’s cheesy, but the frontman sounds rejuvenated in this context, viewing the world with his third eye.
91. "Holding On" (from 1991's Union)
Not to be confused with 90125 rocker “Hold On,” and you certainly shouldn’t. This one’s a moody art-rocker with atmospheric guitar leads, synth pads, and a groove that (fittingly) recalls Discipline-era King Crimson. One of Union’s few highlights.
90. "Parallels" (from 1977's Going for the One)
Rick Wakeman’s regal, blaring church organ – recorded at St. Martin's in Vevey, Switzerland – is the obvious high point of his Squire-helmed rocker. “I suggested to the rest of the band that we link up lines from the church to the studio,” the keyboardist told Circus that year. “So they sat in the studio and played and I sat in the church and played, and we put it down at the same time. It was absolute magic."
89. "Golden Age" (from reissue of 1980's Drama)
The crown jewel of the lost Paris sessions, "Golden Age" is a sturdy combo of Wakeman’s spooky synths and Howe's bluesy guitars – certainly more memorable than most of what ended up on Tormato. (Wakeman later incorporated some of his parts for "Maybe 80" from his 1982 solo LP Rock 'n' Roll Prophet; Anderson salvaged some material for "Some Are Born.")
88. "Face to Face" (from 1999's The Ladder)
Sure, The Ladder often sounds pitiful in its attempts to sound modern. But the digital whooshes and modern synth tones of "Face to Face" actually feel essential to the mix, adding a bit of urgency to this jovial art-pop tune.
87. "Subway Walls" (from 2014's Heaven & Earth)
Yes' sanitized 21st studio LP closes with one admirable attempt at prog – the equivalent of a teacher passing out candy after a lecture. It's a patchwork of a track full of clumsy drum editing and forced transitions, but all of the individual sections have their merit – from Geoff Downes' opening synth-string overture to Squire's biting bass riff in the verses to a manic math-funk finale set partially in 17/8.
86. "Homeworld (The Ladder)" (from 1999's The Ladder)
Anderson barks out monotone, rhythmic lines over pulsating bass and twangy guitar riff. Too bad he succumbed to temptation and ended with corny crooning (“I will always need you inside my heart!”).
85. "Fortune Seller" (from 1997's Open Your Eyes)
Yes fans should really give Open Your Eyes a second – or 28th – listen. Like many other tracks on the LP, "Fortune Seller" is built on the kind of subtle sonic touches that cut through clearest in headphones: Howe’s jazzy guitar fills and pedal-steel, random triangle accents, phaser-lathered vocal harmonies midway through.
84. "Changes" (from 1983's 90125)
"Changes" is a tale of two unrelated songs pasted together. The first is White's furious, rhythmic, marimba-led instrumental; the second is a charmingly campy blast of power chords and New Wave crooning.
83. "Looking Around" (from 1969's Yes)
Yes approach the hard-rock Hammond thunder of Deep Purple on this heavy early cut. But even though it’s nice to hear them let loose a bit, this one feels a bit too raw and one-dimensional to leave much of a lasting impression.
82. "Everydays" (from 1970's Time and a Word)
Pizzicato show tune strings zoom in, framing the rhythm section’s breezy cool-jazz groove. Anderson croons in his scratchiest tone. Peter Banks’ rippling guitars swim through the mix, occasionally peeking above water. This Buffalo Springfield revamp, with its dramatic quiet-loud dynamics, is fairly standard stuff for Yes Mach I: You almost wish they’d just let this simmer.
81. "Spirit of Survival" (from 2000's Magnification)
Yes try their hand at a spy theme, piling loads of brass onto shadowy guitar / bass riffs.
80. "Harold Land" (from 1969's Yes)
A collaboration between Anderson, Squire and Bruford, "Harold Land" documents the harrowing story of a soldier returning from war, only to a realize he's "lost his love and youth." The mournful Hammond organ and piano recall the same airy drama Genesis conjured one year later on Trespass – but despite its clever tempo shifts, the arrangement feels half-baked.
79. "Australia" (from 2004's The Ultimate Yes: 35th Anniversary Collection)
Steve Howe strips back a 1975 solo track for this guitar-only acoustic rendition – and the raw emotion of his arrangement cuts through in this context without the overdub distractions.
78. "Shoot High Aim Low" (from 1987's Big Generator)
Yes set aside their commercial ambitions for this admirably atmospheric piece – seven minutes of droning guitars, tag-teamed vocals, and funky bass.
77. "Open Your Eyes" (from 1997's Open Your Eyes)
By the late '90s, most Yes fans had learned to block out Anderson's camp-counselor lyrics (“You’ve got a great imagination," he sings here) and focus on the arrangements. And this one more than delivers on the latter front, with Anderson, Sherwood and Squire harmonizing around an atmospheric group riff.
76. "Don't Kill the Whale" (from 1978's Tormato)
A minor hit single, "Don't Kill the Whale" is Yes at their funkiest and most accessible. Anderson and Squire harmonize about animal conservation over tense chord changes, handclaps, and a restrained drum pulse. Simply put, Howe and Wakeman kill the vibe: The guitarist and keyboardist, as they do elsewhere on the LP, seem to be dueling for sonic space, cramming as many notes into their solos and fills as possible – Howe with his bluesy, out-of-tune wankery and Wakeman with his dorky synth tones.
75. "Release, Release" (from 1978's Tormato)
"That's the one I called the punky one, it reminds me of a punk song – a Yes punk song anyway," Squire said in 1996. The sharp edges and air-drum-worthy energy of "Release Release" find Yes tightening up their arrangements without sacrificing musicality. Too bad they couldn't keep it interesting for more than a couple minutes. Yes clearly had no idea how to finish this song, as evidenced by the ghastly "No way, did they really just do that?" drum solo (with the bonus of sampled arena applause).
74. "Arriving UFO" (from 1978's Tormato)
Half anthem, half absolute shit-show, "Arriving UFO" opens as jovial sci-fi art-pop before nose-diving into a bridge built on Wakeman's comically – not cosmically – piercing synth. (His entire performance feels unsteady; check the flubbed note at the 1:50 mark.) "Everything was going well, and then we did the Tormato album in 1978, which was potentially one of the best Yes albums ever," Wakeman reflected in 2008’s Close to the Edge: The Story of Yes. "But it suffered from appalling production. By that time Eddie Offord had gone to Mars and was unavailable. Everybody was using their own engineers, so you never saw so many hands on faders. The whole thing ended up so compressed it was tragic. I would love to get hold of that album and have it remixed. There is some fabulous stuff on there. 'Arriving UFO' is a great track and could have been one of the great Yes stage features of all time, but it suffered on the record." What a wasted opportunity.
73. "Nine Voices (Longwalker)" (from 1999's The Ladder)
Howe’s acoustic strumming recalls the pastoral folkiness of “I’ve Seen All Good People” – a comparison that Anderson drills home by quoting the “diddit” chorus vocals. But the arrangement, with its textured tablas and shakers, still manages to sound fresh. (“Nine Voices” was a favorite of producer Bruce Fairbarn, who died unexpectedly at the end of the mixing sessions. Howe and Anderson performed the song at his funeral.)
72. "Montreux's Theme" (from reissue of 1977’s Going for the One, 1991 compilation Yesyears)
Howe’s lead guitar snakes around Squire’s melodic bass and White’s shimmering cymbals. It’s tempting to wish they’d developed this further, but its simplicity and brevity is part of what makes “Montreux’s Theme” so lovely.
71. "White Car" (from 1980's Drama)
With its lush synth-strings, “White Car” earns its rightful spot on Yes' finest '80s LP. But the song just sorta stops mid-thought, as if the rest of the band walked in on Horn and Downes then unplugged their gear.
70. "We Have Heaven" (from 1971's Fragile)
Anderson’s tantalizingly slight acoustic ditty feels like the intro to a song that never develops. “Tell the moon dog, tell the march hare” to finish this one someday.
69. "Solitaire" (from 2011's Fly From Here)
Sublime Steve Howe acoustic piece, with more of a traditional folk vibe than some of his other guitar excursions.
68. "Masquerade" (from 1991's Union)
You know why Howe’s haunting 12-string showcase stands out on Union? It’s hard to over-produce a 12-string guitar.
67. "Cinema" (from 1983's 90125)
Before Anderson’s inclusion prompted the band to re-christen themselves Yes for 90125, the Squire / White / Rabin / Kaye quartet collaborated under the name “Cinema” – and this Grammy-winning instrumental rave-up tips its hat to the band’s transitional era. (Kudos to White for his jolting hi-hat work.)
66. "Bring Me to the Power" (from 1997's Keys to Ascension 2)
A bit of a roller-coaster, both in quality and dynamics, "Bring Me to the Power" incorporates some biting Howe leads and folky Anderson interludes ("If we don't give them the keys, how are they supposed to get ready?")
65. "Hour of Need" (from 2011's Fly From Here)
It's a bit lightweight – no arguing against that. But Howe's never sounded more confident as a solo songwriter than on this autumnal folk-pop track. (Check out the extended version on Fly From Here – Return Trip for the song's art-rock finale.)
64. "New State of Mind" (from 1997's Open Your Eyes)
In the post-Drama era, a lot of Yes' vocal harmonies started to sound like synth-pads swathed in reverb. Cheers to Sherwood for accentuating the members' individual voices on Open Your Eyes, particularly this strutting, mid-tempo rocker.
63. "Dreamtime" (from 2000's Magnification)
One of Yes' last great epics, "Dreamtime" leaves no instrument sitting idle. Everything's here: primal tom-toms, heavy orchestrations, droning sitar-guitar, a lengthy orchestral tag.
62. "Endless Dream" (from 1994's Talk)
Yes saved all their prog for Talk’s thunderous 15-minute finale, most notably on the opening instrumental “Silent Spring,” a 5/4 whiplash of bone-crunching guitar riffs and whirring Hammond organ. The rest fails to match the rush of that opening salvo, but there are plenty of notable moments, including Trevor Rabin’s usage of wonky alt-metal guitar tones.
61. "The Solution" (from 1997's Open Your Eyes)
The Sherwood line-up merge the prog-pop sensibility of late-'70s Yes (say, "Going for the One") with contemporary rock production that highlights the muscle of their rhythm section, bouncing through time changes with the glee of a band half their age. (No reason for the 15-minute ambient doodle at the end, though.)
60. "Richard" (from 2002's In a Word)
With its singalong vocal harmonies and ethereal vibraphone, this Tormato outtake would have been a centerpiece on that iffy LP. Luckily, Anderson later resurrected the track for a solo tour.
59. "Evensong" (from 1991's Union)
It makes perfect sense that Union’s purest moment is its least cluttered – and has nothing to do with producer battles or session overdubs. Bruford and Levin’s tantalizingly brief duet between Chapman Stick and tuned electronic percussion is breathtaking in its focus and symmetry – if only it were 10 times longer.
58. "It Can Happen" (from 1983's 90125)
“It can happen to you; it can happen to me,” Squire and Anderson harmonize. “It can happen to everyone eventually.” Very specific! Lyrical deficiencies aside, “It Can Happen” adds some colorful twists – like Deepak Khazanchi’s electric sitar and Squire’s melodic, repetitive bass – to what could have been a generic hard-rocker.
57. "I'm Running" (from 1987's Big Generator)
Big Generator’s proggy centerpiece harkens back to the ambition of classic Yes – weaving marimba textures, Spanish guitar segments, and experimental drum parts into a messy, nearly eight-minute hodgepodge.
56. "Mind Drive" (from 1997's Keys to Ascension 2)
A story as old as time (or at least Talk), the 18-minute centerpiece from Keys to Ascension 2 begins in vintage symphonic-prog mode (synths, xylophones, marching snares, metallic riffs – it's all there) before Anderson crashes his own party with lazy acoustic balladry. At least 10 minutes are top-tier, but "Mind Drive" can't help but suffer in comparison to "That, That Is," the more fluid epic from the first Keys to Ascension set.
55. "The Ancient (Giants Under the Sun)" (from 1973’s Tales From Topographic Oceans)
Do a quick Internet poll about Tales From Topographic Oceans and you’ll probably get two general responses: 1) It’s a bloated, misguided disaster that serves as a Spinal Tap-style parody of the entire prog movement, and 2) It’s one of the genre’s unsung masterpieces, with every passage of noodling and slow-motion ambience an essential part of the whole. As usual, both are wrong. “The Ancient (Giants Under the Sun),” which makes up the double-album’s third side, highlights both its strengths and weaknesses: All the individual elements are intriguing – White’s manic percussion approaching an electronic rumble, Howe’s dissonant pedal-steel lines, the closing classical guitar passages – but it’s probably eight minutes longer than necessary, and the seamless continuity of Close to the Edge has devolved into choppiness.
54. "No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed" (from 1970’s Time and a Word)
Squire’s bass, captured in all its rumbling glory, is like an orchestra in itself. So the string players from London’s Royal College of Music just cramp his style here – as they do on most of Time and a Word. Despite the obtrusions, this Richie Havens rework gets by on sheer zest alone. Yes rarely sounded like they were having so much fun.
53. "Every Little Thing" (from 1969’s Yes)
Yes pay tribute to a lesser-praised Beatles classic with their joyous take on 1964’s “Every Little Thing.” After a blaring psychedelic intro march (and Peter Banks’ random guitar quote from “Day Tripper”), the band weaves in widescreen vocal harmonies, volume pedal guitar swells, and a surprising amount of snarling garage-prog attitude.
52. "Can You Imagine" (from 2000's Magnification)
Chris Squire takes a rare lead vocal (and an even rarer falsetto) on this elegant piece, which he originally recorded with Jimmy Page for the aborted XYZ project under the demo name “Can You See." (That version is also worth tracking down, though be warned: Squire struggles to sing pretty much all of it.)
51. "Magnification" (from 2001's Magnification)
Fluttering flutes, frollicking Anderson – not usually the recipe for a high-caliber Yes song. But they make it work here. Just listen to the nuance of how White develops the drum part – how his subdivisions of the beat offer the track a subtle momentum, like a captain steering the ship in shadow.
50. "Life on a Film Set" (from 2011's Fly From Here)
Horn and Downes reworked their Buggles demo “Rising a Tide” into this hooky, late-era Yes piece, expanding the arrangement to include tuned percussion and Squire's nimble, Geddy Lee-esque bass.
49. "Into the Storm" (from 2011's Fly From Here)
When Yes think outside of 4/4, good things usually happen. The punchy prog-pop opening is charming enough, but "Into the Storm" leaps to a new level of quality during the grandiose 7/8 section.
48. "I See You" (from 1969's Yes)
It’s easy to forget that, for all their technical prog showmanship, Yes initially formed over Anderson's and Squire's shared affinity for vocal harmony. "I See You" is proof of that bond, adapting the atmospheric Byrds track to a jazzier, heavier setting.
47. "The Prophet" (from 1970's Time and a Word)
It feels a bit stitched together, but all the individual sections of “The Prophet” are riveting on their own – from Kaye’s classical organ intro to the snazzy horn parts to a stomping middle section led by Bruford’s cascading snare rolls and Squire’s absurdly thick, tuba-like bass.
46. "Clap" (from 1971's The Yes Album)
A country-folk intermission after the prog onslaught of “Yours Is No Disgrace,” the live-recorded “Clap” remains Steve Howe’s essential guitar showcase – a foot-tapper filled with wild hammer-on licks, reflective strumming, and flashy key changes. “Clap” is so dense with ideas, it almost feels improvised – but it’s more than mere muscle flexing. It’s a relic from an era when showmanship was a virtue.
45. "The Remembering (High the Memory)" (from 1973's Tales From Topographic Oceans)
Vocal chants, disorienting bass harmonies, folky guitars – Yes had the ingredients of a classic piece here, but they just overloaded the recipe. "I didn't understand where we were going as a band," Rick Wakeman later reflected, noting his departure from the line-up after the Tales tour. "We adapted the music to fit four sides of an album. It didn't naturally evolve. There are some great things, but an awful lot of padding. If the CD format was around then, it would have been a different album."
44. "On the Silent Wings of Freedom" (from 1978's Tormato)
Squire's bass behemoth opens with one of his signature riffs, a barrage of thumping, wah-wah-styled lines shaped by the Mu-Tron Envelope Filter pedal. Anderson's chirpy vocal keeps things moving – but Yes lose that momentum over eight minutes, filling the gaps with Howe's obtrusive, squawking bird guitar flourishes.
43. "The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)" (from 1971's Fragile)
Any time Squire played on a track, you knew you’d get more than enough bass. So recording his own miniature low-end symphony was probably predestined (Of course the loudest player on every cut would want to hear more of himself) and a little redundant (Did we really need more bass, Chris?). "The Fish," full of wild wah-wah and piercing harmonics, is easily the king of the Fragile solo songs – and a future concert showcase (with only one bass, naturally).
42. "Mood for a Day" (from 1971's Fragile)
Howe took a graceful flamenco approach with "Mood for a Day" – the tonal opposite of his previous acoustic showcase, the giddily meandering "Clap." It's the perfect opportunity for a deep breath before the relentless prog pummel of "Heart of the Sunrise."
41. "Yesterday and Today" (from 1969's Yes)
Yes reinterpreted the Beatles' "Every Little Thing" elsewhere on their debut, but their daydreamy acoustic ballad "Yesterday and Today" is even more indebted to the Fab Four. (It can't be a coincidence that the latter band issued a U.S. LP by that name in 1966.) Anderson adopts an appealingly smoky vocal tone (as if he cut the track after finishing off a carton of Kools), crooning over an oceanic mist of seventh chords played on acoustic guitar and piano. It's like a lost John Lennon track interpreted by a psychedelic wizard.
40. "Astral Traveller" (from 1970's Time and a Word)
Thank prog for Eddy Offord, the greatest rock engineer ever. His behind-the-boards brilliance accentuates the bite of Squire’s bass, the riveting tumble of Bruford's tom-toms, and the alien aura of Anderson’s phaser-heavy vocals.
39. "Something’s Coming" (from 1997's Something's Coming: The BBC Recordings 1969–1970)
Yes weren’t exactly breaking the mold by covering Lennon/McCartney on their debut – but Bernstein/Sondheim? That was a different ballpark of ballsiness. Stretching out the West Side Story piece to over seven minutes, the band reworked pristine melodic themes into jagged psych-rock riffs and jazzy asides.
38. "America" (from 1972 compilation The New Age of Atlantic, 1975 compilation Yesterdays)
This is a little overlong when you get down to it (did Howe’s greasy country-funk guitar solo really need to stretch for over three minutes?), but Yes’ radical rework of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” remains the essential cover track in their arsenal. (This was an important tribute for Anderson, who told UCR in 2014 that Paul Simon remains his “favorite songwriter.”)
37. "Run Through the Light" (from 1980's Drama)
Yes attempted to organize a half-formed version of this prog-pop cut during their disastrous Paris sessions with Wakeman and Anderson. It didn’t go well: That version, dubbed “Dancing Through the Light,” plodded along with dopey synths and what could be the most out-of-tune bass guitar ever recorded on a rock song. Luckily, with Horn and Downes in the fold, Yes buffed out the song’s awkwardness – weaving spidery synth and guitar leads over the frontman’s fretless bass.
36. "Ritual (Nous Sommes du Soleil)" (from 1973's Tales From Topographic Oceans)
"We love when we play," Anderson sings. And do they ever play. Electric sitars, dancing hi-hat patterns, tumbling congas, wordless vocal chants: Yes summarize the full scope of their astral travels on Topographic Ocean’s fourth and final side, ending with a touch more zeal and poignancy than the album’s more rambling middle section.
35. "The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)" (from 1973’s Tales From Topographic Oceans)
Alan White was a pure rock drummer – much fonder of primal pound than the jazzy experimentation of Bill Bruford, whom he replaced for the band’s sixth LP. So, imagine being in his shoes, trying to sort out a role within the bizarre soundscapes of Tales From Topographic Oceans. But White found his niche immediately: His heavy tom fills and cymbal crashes highlight the album’s opening side, grounding the band’s spacey chants, synth spikes, and volume pedal swells. “What happened to this song we once knew so well?” Anderson sings. Many confused fans were probably asking themselves that same question. But, thanks in part to their new drummer, “The Revealing Science of God” is the record’s closest brush with classic Yes.
34. "Future Times / Rejoice" (from 1978's Tormato)
Yes’ least satisfying album of the '70s opens with with a glimpse of promise. “Future Times / Rejoice” soars on Squire’s wah-wah bass, White’s marching snare pattern, and Anderson’s lively vocal melody. But all of the album’s technical and structural deficiencies are evident immediately: The mix is weirdly grimy, and Howe seems to be improvising his awkwardly loud guitar doodles. “There was lots of notes being played by Rick and Steve on mostly every track on it,” Squire admitted years later – the most diplomatic way of expressing his disappointment.
33. "Into the Lens" (from 1980's Drama)
A flawless example of progressive pop, "Into the Lens" finds Squire exploring a borderline slap-bass tone over Downes' Wakeman-like organ and Howe's pedal-steel. The Buggles later reworked the song into the scaled-back "I Am a Camera" for their 1981 LP, Adventures in Modern Recording, and Horn has maintained that he prefers the latter version. "I don't mind ‘Into the Lens’ – the melody's unadulterated while the arrangement's a lot more complicated,” he wrote in the liner notes for Recording's 2010 reissue. "I think Geoffrey's brilliant on the Buggles version."
32. "Wonderous Stories" (from 1977's Going for the One)
“I awoke this morning / love laid me down by a river,” Anderson sings within a fittingly dreamy landscape of 12-string acoustic, synth pads, and steam train cymbals. The frontman recounts, in fairy-tale language, a narrator longing for the wisdom of a grand storyteller – much like we long for his.
31. "Tempus Fugit" (from 1980's Drama)
Ska? Punk? New Wave? Synth-pop? These are the genres that were wiping prog off the planet. With “Tempus Fugit,” Yes said, “Screw it” and embraced all of them at once – while still managing to sound proggy. From Howe’s choppy guitar to Downes’ sleek “yes, yes” vocoder” to Squire’s jittery, flanged riff – this track is like a Russian nesting doll of sonic surprises.
30. "Turn of the Century" (from 1977's Going for the One)
“Turn of the Century” is a rare writing collaboration between Anderson, Howe and White, and the percussionist’s credit is a surprising side-note, given the song’s ambience, texture, and overall lack of drums. It commences with an elongated, mystical crescendo – building acoustic guitars, ornate vocal melodies, bass, synth, harp, and faint cymbals. You wait for a traditional Yes-ish climax but even at its peak, with White tapping out some twinkling tuned percussion, it stays in a dreamy first gear.
29. "Leave It" (from 1983's 90125)
"Leave It" is often overshadowed by “Owner of a Lonely Heart” – a somewhat inevitable fate. But the two tracks feel like two sides of the same coin: catchy and quirky, intricately produced, and full of odd sonic touches. Yes never got funkier than “Leave It,” riding out a nimble bass groove, ping-ponging choral vocals, and Graham Preskett’s unexpected violin flourishes. (It also spawned one of the dumbest music videos of the decade – a literally head-spinning affair.)
28. “A Venture” (from 1971’s The Yes Album)
Compact yet deceptively complex, "A Venture" sadly remains the Yes Album "skip track" for many fans. At a brief 3:21, it appears designed as an intermission, a breather – arriving after two lengthy epics ("Starship Trooper” and "I’ve Seen All Good People") and before another (nine-minute finale “Perpetual Change”). But the song’s brevity only underscores its singularity: The band wastes no time, with Anderson recounting a wise tale of regret ("better men have realized 'alone' is not a venture") in a staccato lullaby vocal that ping-pongs against the rhythmic bounce of Bruford / Squire.
27. "Perpetual Change" (from 1971's The Yes Album)
Yes did a lot of wild stuff in the '70s, but this middle section is easily the most indulgent: A carnivalesque full-band riff in 7/8 enters the mix and pans to the left speaker, at which point an instrumental reprise of the soulful chorus (set in 14 – essentially five "bars" of 3/4 with the last beat axed off) drifts to the right, giving us two Yeses playing in two different time signatures simultaneously. It’s hilarious, and sort of endearing, in its audaciousness – a combination of "wow, wouldn’t that be interesting?" and "what the heck, why not?" The rest of the song is more conventional, like the stampeding intro chords or Anderson's flowing cadences on the daydreamy verses.
26. "Sound Chaser" (from 1974's Relayer)
After failing to replace the exited Wakeman with future New Age icon Vangelis, Yes found a wildly different recruit in Swiss keyboardist Patrick Moraz. The synth master brought a jazz-fusion flair to their tool kit, pushing them toward Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever levels of intensity and technicality. "Sound Chaser" is pure fire, building from Moraz's cascading electric pianos to a breakneck groove anchored by White’s aggressive tom fills and hi-hats.
25. "Does It Really Happen?" (from 1980's Drama)
Laser beam synths, punk-funk bass, White playing straight 4/4 against a fluctuating meter: "Does It Really Happen?" is full of tasty prog touches. But with its sculpted vocal harmonies and bright production style, the song was primed for mainstream rock radio. Surprisingly, it developed through goofing around in the studio: "Chris was playing a bass riff with Alan, and I started whacking some chords over the top of it," Downes told Songfacts in 2018. "It was more of a jam, how it initially started out."
24. "Fly From Here" (from 2011's Fly From Here)
No one could replace Jon Anderson, and Yes were painfully aware of that fact, so they decided to clone him. Or, well, as close as they could get – hiring Benoit David, the frontman of Yes tribute act Close two the Edge. But as he proves on this majestic, multi-part suite, the man proved to be a quality vocalist on his own merits, with a high range and soulful timbre somewhere between Anderson and his one-time replacement Trevor Horn. (Considering Horn co-wrote this lengthy piece and coached David through the full performance, the comparison is more than ideal.) "Fly From Here" almost feels like cheating since it originated from an unrecorded track debuted on Yes' 1980 tour. But it works brilliantly, from the textural synths of "Sad Night at the Airfield" to the carnivalesque instrumental romp of Howe's "Bumpy Ride."
23. "Beyond and Before" (from 1969's Yes)
The signature elements were already secured: Squire’s trebly, growling bass tone; lush three-part harmonies; open-your-third-eye lyrics about nature and aging and love and the universe, man. Funny then, that “Beyond and Before” originated as a piece from Squire and guitarist Peter Banks’ previous band, the psychedelic proto-prog combo Mabel Greer’s Toyshop. The 4/4 churn is tame by Yes standards. You can practically hear Bill Bruford squirming in his seat. But the piece’s tranquil simplicity is part of its charm, marking an era before whiplash complexity.
22. "Then" (from 1970's Time and a Word)
Yes' orchestral gamble on Time and a Word paid off on "Then," the album’s dynamic centerpiece. Every player achieves full flight here – from Bruford’s on-the-upbeat cymbal groove to Kaye's whirring Hammond – and the subtle strings and brass complement these parts, rather than drowning them out. The only downside is Anderson dispensing some questionable medical advice: "Hate," he sings, "is the root of cancer." (Bonus points if you’ve seen the promo clip, in which Squire and Kaye switch their instruments and noodle around for the camera.)
21. "Sweet Dreams" (from 1970's Time and a Word)
"Sweet Dreams" finds the early lineup mingling their pop and progressive sides: With a few exceptions ("I've Seen All Good People"), Jon Anderson rarely wrote in such a tightly melodic verse-chorus format, even as the arrangement subtly veers into unexpected key changes and bluesy chord changes ("Come on and write your letter").
20. "That, That Is" (from 1996's Keys to Ascension)
How did Yes pull this off? The awkwardly titled "That, That Is" holds together as a 19-minute piece without a single flubbed transition or moment of dead space. It opens with a lovely Spanish guitar reverie ("Togetherness") and builds from there into Topographic-styled vocal chants, menacing bass riffs, and spectral synth ambience (but not too much). Even Anderson's lyrics sidestep hokey sentimentality, exploring drug addiction and gang violence.
19. "Going for the One" (from 1977's Going for the One)
With "Going for the One," Yes entered the punk era with heads held high. Three years after the jazz-fusion detour of Relayer, the title-track of their eighth LP signaled a tighter, punchier, more song-oriented rebirth for the figureheads of a genre on the verge of extinction. Howe's twangy pedal-steel runs rampant around a boogie-ing rhythm section, with Anderson offering an addictive hook built on chromatic lines.
18. "Onward" (from 1978's Tormato)
Yes tucked this star-gazing ballad – the most nakedly poignant moment in their catalog – deep into the second side of their clunkiest album, perhaps nulling some of its impact. Squire wrote "Onward" for his then-wife, Nikki, and Anderson was the perfect proxy, belting his words of devotion ("Proclaimed in everything I write / You're the light, burning brightly") over plinking bass notes and a spare orchestral arrangement from Andrew Pryce Jackman, Squire's former bandmate in psych-prog band the Syn. As the pizzicato strings cycle upward at the climax – in tandem with Howe's (thankfully) restrained guitar – it's tough to maintain a dry eye.
17. "Machine Messiah" (from 1980's Drama)
Yes opened the '80s with a snarling, metallic guitar riff – a statement of purpose and clarity after the confusing slog of Tormato. The 10-minute “Machine Messiah” is the band’s final prog masterpiece, winding through brooding guitars, New Wave synths, and cinematic tempo changes. "'Machine Messiah' was much more of a group collaboration,” Downes said in 2017. "We all had different bits that we put in. That's why for me, and I think for all of us, that's a defining piece of the Drama album. Because that encompassed all of the great Yes playing, along with the modern writing that Trevor [Horn] and myself were doing."
16. "Long Distance Runaround" (from 1971's Fragile)
The intro of "Long Distance Runaround" is the sound of riding a fanciful Martian carousel – the contrapuntal blend of Squire’s bass and the harmonized, stereo-panned attack of Howe’s guitar and Wakeman’s keyboards can leave you dizzy, in a good way. The track also highlights Bruford’s ability to color outside the lines of even the most rigid 4/4: Check out his bizarre snare placement in the verses and weirdly abrupt kick drum beats (see: 1:20).
15. "To Be Over" (from 1974's Relayer)
After the flashiness of "The Gates of Delirium" and "Sound Chaser," Yes end their fusion-y seventh LP with a welcome respite of slow, atmospheric psychedelia. Steve Howe dominates the track, from his waterfalls of pedal-steel to his chunky Telecaster solo.
14. "Time and a Word" (from 1970's Time and a Word)
Anderson co-wrote this swooning art-pop anthem with David Foster, his former bandmate in Beat-rock act The Warriors (and Kaye's future cohort in post-Yes group Badger). It's easily the most radio-friendly song in the group's entire oeuvre, with the frontman crooning peace-and-love platitudes over acoustic strums and Squire's moaning, Paul McCartney-like bass.
13. "Survival" (from 1969's Yes)
Yes' first masterwork, "Survival" runs the gamut from classical organ themes to jazzy interludes to mystic folk daydreaming. As "Sweetness" proved, Anderson hadn't quite figured out his signature cosmic shaman lyrical approach, but he was inching closer: "Yesterday's endings will tomorrow life give you" is exactly the kind of poetic nonsense that would only sound profound coming out of his mouth. And as a full ensemble work, the Anderson-Squire-Bruford-Kaye-Banks lineup was never more telepathically linked, previewing their long-form prog travels on The Yes Album.
12. "Yours Is No Disgrace" (from 1971's The Yes Album)
"Yesterday a morning came, a smile upon your face," harmonize the trio of Anderson, Squire and newly recruited Steve Howe. A classic Yes sentiment. "Caesar's Palace, morning glory, silly human race" – wait, what? The Yes Album's triumphant opening cut signaled the band’s bold leap into headier, more complex territory, both musically and lyrically. Kaye, still clinging to his position behind the keys, contributes some brief flashes of Moog synth and a dizzying organ progression that keeps you fumbling for the downbeat; Squire moves from metallic bombast to suave, walking jazz lines; and Howe commands every second with wah-wah wankery and slashing distortion that threatens to rip through the fabric of space and time.
11. "South Side of the Sky" (from 1971's Fragile)
"['South Side of the Sky'] is a song about mountain climbing, which is a very dangerous thing to do," Anderson said onstage at the 2003 Montreux Jazz Festival, introducing this heavy piece. “But we've all got to climb mountains every day." The track emerged after the frontman read an article that labeled sleep as "death's little sister." "I thought it was poetic in many ways because most of us don’t have a real clue what death is really about," he said in Yesstories: Yes In Their Own Words. "It's always been used in really dark terms … you're going to die! There's a very strange attitude about it. Because life is very beautiful; why shouldn’t death be beautiful? And death be the next extension of life?" Yes crafted a fittingly stormy arrangement for a song about death and mountains: The riffs crash like thunder, and Wakeman’s piano interludes conjure mystical images.
10. "Owner of a Lonely Heart" (from 1983's 90125)
Yes earned their first chart-topping single with “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” It’s no surprise: The band erased any trace of prog on this glossy radio-rocker, updating their sound for the '80s with sampled drum loops, crunching power chords, synth-brass stabs, and a sculpted New Wave chorus that could hang with "Hungry Like the Wolf" in the same programming block and not sound awkward. Trevor Horn's modern production has come to feel more futuristic in the decades since its release – and we owe him for the song even existing, since he convinced Rabin to rearrange his demo for the LP (with some minor – but essential – tweaks). "The verses were [originally] so awful that I was convinced that if we didn't put loads of whizz, bangs and gags all over the verse that no one would ever listen to it. I always thought it was a hit chorus," Horn told Red Bull Music Academy, admitting that he "[crawled] around on the ground, pulling on people's trousers," begging them to record the song.
9. "The Gates of Delirium" (from 1974's Relayer)
"The Gates of Delirium" is the perfect title for Relayer’s opening free-for-all, a wild exploration of symphonic folk, Mahavishnu-ish jazz-fusion, and screwed-up funk-rock. Unlike any of the four aimless movements on Topographic Oceans, this behemoth surges forward with a sense of deranged purpose, never wasting a second of its 22 minutes – whether that involves Anderson belting a Close to the Edge-worthy chorus, Squire swiping a groovy riff from Italian prog icons PFM at 10:20 ("Mr. 9 'tll 5"), or White pummeling found objects.
"The percussion on that song is pretty unusual,” White recalled in Relayer’s reissue liner notes. "Jon and I used to travel together to Chris' home studio, where we recorded the album. We would stop at a junkyard along the way and pick up parts of cars. We'd just go there and bang on things. There were springs and pieces of metal, brake, and clutch plates. We'd buy them and bring them back to the studio. We built a rack and hung all these things off it, and we'd bang on them. During the recording, I pushed the whole thing over. That crash is what you hear on the album."
8. "Siberian Khatru" (from 1972's Close to the Edge)
Siberia may "[go] through the motions," but Yes sure as hell didn't on this funk-space-prog epic. That main verse groove is just downright nasty, and how often do you say that about this band? And, as was par for the course for Yes in this period, there’s so much more: guitar / rhythm section counterpoint, sky-high harmonies, random cameos from pedal-steel guitars and electric harpsichords. And holy hell, did Anderson get weird with the lyrics. "Sing, bird of prey / Beauty begins at the foot of you / Do you believe the manner?" he sings. "Gold stainless nail / Torn through the distance of man / As they regard the summit."
7. "Starship Trooper" (from 1971's The Yes Album)
"Starship Trooper" exemplifies the genre-blurring majesty of peak-era Yes. The first section, “Life Seeker," is heavy psychedelia grounded by Bruford’s quirky jazz fills; part two, "Disillusion," flows seamlessly into ornate folk; and it builds to a air-guitar-worthy classic-rock payoff in the closing piece, "Würm" (which recycles a riff from Howe's previous band, Bodast) – with the guitar solo leaning into twangy rockabilly.
6. "Awaken" (from 1977's Going for the One)
Yes ended their pure prog era with a top-shelf epic, the nearly 16-minute "Awaken." Howe’s opening 11/8 riff belongs in a space time-capsule, and the band's patient build is a masterclass in ensemble playing: There isn't a trace of "look at me" excess here, as the players deepen the arrangement with vocal harmony counterpoint and strange rhythmic accents, eventually receding into a hypnotic section of tuned percussion. ("Eastern Numbers," the early version from the Going for the One reissue, is less polished but equally compelling, touting an ambient stretch that recalls the spaciness of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here.)
5. "Roundabout" (from 1971's Fragile)
During an early tour, passing through a series of roundabouts en route from Aberdeen to Glasgow, Anderson gazed out of the band’s vehicle and took note of scenic lakes and mountains that seemed to descend from the sky. He and Howe were collaborating on a new song at the time, and all these threads converged into "Roundabout": Yes' definitive single, breakthrough U.S. single (peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100), and undying concert staple. (It’s the only moment in any Yes concert where you’re guaranteed to witness awkward people dancing.) The track has almost reached "Stairway to Heaven" levels of radio saturation – but, like that Led Zeppelin masterpiece, it holds up as well on the 500th listen as it does the first. Howe's ornate classical guitar intro (complete with Wakeman's whooshing reversed piano effect), the flashy hoedown Hammond solo, Squire’s mega hammer-on bass riff – it's all there to support the single hookiest vocal in Yes history. "The music dance and sing / They make the children really ring," Anderson observes, accurately.
4. "Heart of the Sunrise" (from 1971's Fragile)
Chris Squire attempted to emulate King Crimson with this track's brooding, chromatic opening riff. (Though he never confirmed which song, it seems to have been "21st Century Schizoid Man.") "I asked him, 'What happens after that, Chris?' and he went, 'No idea,'" Wakeman told Mix Online, recalling their writing process. "The music was a giant jigsaw puzzle of people bringing different pieces – 'That'll slide in there,' 'This will slide in here.' Anything we wanted to do, the answer was there amongst the band. I'd never been in a band quite like that." Like many of their early '70s epics, "Heart of the Sunrise" is a patchwork of disparate movements, built on intense dynamic shifts – but the individual threads feel more unified than they did in their earlier work. Take how the circular 6/8 pattern fades in again during the funky 4/4 bass section: It's the same technique previously used on "Perpetual Change," but instead of coming off like a show-off move, the experimentation is almost elegantly subtle.
3. "I've Seen All Good People" (from 1971's The Yes Album)
Yes essentially stopped writing singles with The Yes Album, but they made it easy on radio programmers with the folk-prog anthem "I've Seen All Good People," which they conveniently divided into two easily separated halves. In the single-issued first section, "Your Move," Anderson unfurls chess metaphors (“Make the white queen run so fast”) and Lennon references (shout-outs to “Instant Karma!” and "Give Peace a Chance”) over Howe’s chiming Portuguese guitar and pastoral recorders. (That's Colin Goldring of the obscure – but excellent – prog act Gnidrolog.) Ending there would have been logical, but Yes never shied away from a dynamic shift: Part two, "All Good People," ends with a strutting, lightly bluesy take on the main theme.
2. "And You and I" (from 1972's Close to the Edge)
Grab a pen and sheet of paper while listening to the first verse of "And You and I." Pick a starting point – doesn’t matter where – and draw the stair-step pattern of Anderson's vocal on the first verse. The melody is constantly in motion, beckoning you to follow its arc, as Howe strums a series of high-octave acoustic chords beneath. That section alone, "Cord of Life," would have been enough to make this one a classic. But there's more – from the slow-moving, mellotron / Moog-laden "Eclipse" to the folky, heart-tugging reprise, "Apocalypse."
1. "Close to the Edge" (from 1972's Close to the Edge)
Is it fair to even call this 18-minute rock symphony a "song"? Oh, well. Let's proceed. And about that "symphony" thing: When most critics throw around the "s"-word in the rock world, they're usually referencing bands like the Moody Blues and ELO, who often utilized strings as an integral part of their arrangements. But "Close to the Edge" is symphonic not in instrumentation but in overall structure. Throughout four breathtaking movements, Yes introduce and recapitulate melodic themes, change tempos and keys, and approach their instruments (as they usually do) with a studiousness largely reserved for an orchestral setting. But this piece is never stuffy. In fact, it's the most nakedly emotional song in their catalog. Anderson’s vocal in the "I Get Up, I Get Down" section – building from hoarse low notes to a full-throated melismatic peak – taps into a primal spirituality amplified by the wheeze of Wakeman’s church organ.
The eerie clatter of the opening section, "The Solid Time of Change," was inspired by an unlikely source: pioneering jazz-fusion act the Mahavishnu Orchestra. "We'd been working live with the Mahavishnu Orchestra at the time, and it might have been Jon who said to me, 'Why don’t we start this with improvisation? That would be really scary,'" Howe told Guitar World in 2014. "Normally, you start off with something you can grasp – an intro or a hook. But we inspired Yes to go into this improvisation. All I had on guitar was that octave jumping two-note phrase you hear on the record. But that was enough to kick off an improvisation. After that it was purely freeform. Although we did have those stops arranged. ... I can only look back in amazement that we were able to do some of that. But we did."
Decades later, "Close to the Edge" hasn't lost its capability to amaze. It's prog perfection.
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