Yes: The Yes Album
Atlantic Records (February 1971)
This is a review of an album as a way to pay tribute to Chris Squire.
The nearest I can figure it was 1973. I was eleven or twelve and I remember it like it was yesterday. While hanging around the house I overheard an 8-track tape (remember those god-awful things?) my older brother was playing of Close To The Edge. It stopped me in my tracks. This was not just the “groovy” music being played on the radio - although some of that was very cool as well! It sounded like it came from heaven or something, with Jon Anderson’s ethereal voice, Rick Wakeman’s church-like keys, Bill Bruford’s intricate percussion, and Steve Howe’s amazing guitarwork that would remain so influential throughout my musical life. But what on Earth were those low notes? I never heard people playing low notes on their own like that before.
This was my introduction to Chris Squire.
Not long afterward I purchased what I believe was just the third and fourth rock albums I ever purchased, The Yes Album and Fragile. These albums solidified my interest and firmly set me on a musical path from which I would never leave and for which I am forever thankful.
I chose The Yes Album to pay tribute to Chris Squire because for me it best highlights the contribution he gave to the genre of progressive music. From the perspective of a musician the songs on this album are incredibly freeing. This is a beautiful album where time restrictions are ignored, dramatic changes in tone and metre within a single song are introduced, and a sense of very talented musicians working intimately to produce simultaneously powerful and complex rock pieces is pervasive. It represents the very essence of progressive music, and all of it begins and is driven by the band’s co-founder and carrier of the heaviest load, Chris Squire.
The Yes Album was released in 1971. Of course, some of the techniques and recording styles sound a bit dated, but the music is still as fresh and intriguing as it was when I first played the record, some 29,764 listens ago. The deepest roots of the whole progressive music genre are wonderfully present and can still be heard in various iterations of the genre to this day.
There are many things to love about this album. I especially enjoy the “bass parts”. I placed that term in quotations because it is often difficult to refer to Squire’s performance fundamentally as a bass part. True, he’s playing a bass guitar, but what Squire is playing on “Yours Is No Disgrace”, for example, is not really a supporting rhythmic bass line. A more accurate description would be a melodic line that happens to fall below 800 Hertz. Even with keyboardist Tony Kaye’s establishment of the main tune and Howe’s virtuosity up top it is Squire’s offering that guides the listener through the song in a way not typically given to the bass player, especially for rock music of the late sixties and very early seventies. While playing the song in my head it is often his part I am hearing most. The strength of his contribution is so solid that it frees the other band members to play with the complexity and seemingly unrestricted style that turned a good rock tune into an iconic progressive classic.
And speaking of iconic progressive classics, another gift of this album is “Starship Trooper”. This album marks Steve Howe’s first studio efforts as a member of Yes. “Starship Trooper” gave Howe a wonderful platform for displaying his melodic magic and fantastic right hand dexterity on six string and twelve string electric guitars, as well as brief moments of acoustic beauty in the middle. It’s a great “welcome to the band, Steve” piece that also includes graceful vocal harmonies from Anderson and Squire.
“Starship Trooper”, as well as “I’ve Seen All Good People” (also present on this album) are two of the best songs I’ve had the privilege to hear live. Again, the power and complexity of the pieces make them intriguing and captivating in the studio recording. Additionally, the strength of the songs and talent of the artists allowed them to turn these songs way up on stage and present them in a wholly different, high energy level. The Yes Album is a must own for any progressive music lover.
Listening to this album it is difficult to come to grips with the fact that Squire has left us. We are reaching the age when those musicians who brought us so far throughout our lives are taking their final leave. The great supergroups of our adolescence are slipping into history. Chris Squire redefined what it meant to play bass in a rock band. His style is heard so much over the progressive landscape nowadays that it bears remembering a time when it first opened the door and gave others a new direction to follow. Upon hearing of his passing many of the great bassists of today began reflecting on social media about his immense impact on their own unique styles. For this, fans of all rock genres owe him a debt of gratitude. He was truly one of the greats.
To progressive fans who do not own this album: First ask yourself “why the hell don’t I?”, then get it and enjoy what you have been missing. To those who have it: Put it on, turn it up loud and salute a great musician.
Cheers, Mr. Squire. Your impact upon musicians both great and small cannot be overstated. As one of those small musicians and a lifelong fan, I sincerely thank you for what you gave us and will miss you dearly.
TRACK LISTING (Original Album):
Yours Is No Disgrace
I’ve Seen All Good People
By Roy Rahl