The AM Radio Side of Yes (review)

Yes – Yessingles – (Rhino/Atlantic)

Collection examines the radio-friendly side of Prog Rockers

On the surface, this is one of the strangest compilations ever.  Take Yes, arguably the most successful band of the Progressive Rock genre, known for their extended songs, and put together a list of their singles, meaning the drastically-edited versions that were handed to AM radio and put on 45 rpm singles.  Seems crazy, right?  Yet, it’s a great compilation.  

What has always set Yes apart from all other Prog Rock bands, is their uncanny knack for writing great melodies.  Sure, they could stretch out and solo endlessly with the best of them.  But, they also knew how to write hooks.

The album opens with “Your Move” – essentially part one of the fantastic “I’ve Seen All Good People” suite, it’s just missing the end, about half the song. You wait for the next part to come in, and it isn’t there. Same with “Starship Trooper: Life Seeker”  – an oddity, since it’s in mono, and also about 1/3 the album track’s length.  It’s basically the first 3 minutes of the song, and then it fades out.  

“Roundabout” was the song that put Yes on the map, due in part to a highly-edited version that climbed to #13 on the Billboard singles chart.    They did a better job of truncating this one. Sure, it cuts an eight-minute track down to three, but it still hits all the high points.

Yes would then issue the strange Simon & Garfunkel cover, “America” – as a single only.  The album-length version is somewhat of a rarity, showing up from time to time on reissues and clocking at more than 10 minutes in length.  Another example of Yes’ brilliant melodicism is “And You And I” – the album version runs again around 10 minutes, but the single is tight at 3 1/2 mins. 

As the band’s music became more expansive, the singles were a great place to keep things concise.  The bloated, 22-minute, “The Gates of Delirium,” was condensed into the beautiful “Soon.” Although truncated, “Sound Chaser” is a mess – noisy, lacking melody, it’s an odd choice for a 45 rpm.  “Wonderous Stories” is the first Yes single that was included in its full length (in this case, 3:50), same with “Don’t Kill the Whale,” which clocks in at a mere 3:55. 

“Into the Lens” is an interesting oddity – a single cut without singer Jon Anderson.  Instead, Trevor Horn and Chris Squire handle the vocals, but it still has that distinct Yes quality.

But, after that proved unsuccessful, the band asked Anderson to rejoin.  Now, with guitarist Trevor Rabin in the fold, they scored their biggest hit to date, the forward-leaning, “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” Full of synthesizer tricks, it would climb all the way to #1 on the charts.  Oddly, even though this is touted as a singles collection, this is, in fact, not the single version, which is shorter than what’s included here.  The album closes with the mostly-acapella “Leave It.”  

While it is nice to have many of these single edits in one place, there’s no clear definition for this track list.  Yesingles is not the “best of Yes” (it’s missing some of their biggest songs:  “It Can Happen,” “Love Will Find a Way,” and “Rhythm of Love,” come to mind).   It’s also not a “complete” singles collection, as there were many songs issued as 45’s that were left off (“Going For the One” and “Lift Me Up” are two more omissions). 

Yesingles is a nice summation of many of the high points of Yes, albeit in abbreviated versions.  —Tony Peters