Yes, this is 40.
March 23, 2013
The Yes Album (1971 Atlantic)
I recently turned 40. Honestly, it arrived like any other day. The same things that brought joy to my life prior to this milestone still plastered a grin on my life the day after. My son still wanted to skateboard around the living room like a tazmanian devil and I continued my nightly tradition of a home-cooked meal with my lovely wife. Despite what I’ve read in the funny papers, the middle of my life is a time of contentment and wonder at what the next day may bring, not a crippling blow to my kneecaps as I slowly stumble into oblivion. Sorry to get all existential on your asses, but sometimes you gotta take a look around and appreciate your surroundings and bask in all that is good in your universe. Oh yeah, I was trying to pontificate about the nature of the number forty. Anyhow, I got to thinking about something when I was using a gift certificate to the local record store given to my by my sister-in-law. That something was that I realized that I had gripped an unlikely trio of albums that would have made me wretch twenty years ago. I kind of was looking to stretch out my dollars like hamburger helper and go for the cheapies, so my stubby fingers unconsciously gravitated towards Yes’ The Yes Album, Grateful Dead’s Reckoning and Steely Dan’s Aja. Once I realized my faux pas, I reflexively peered out of each eye to see if anyone had glimpsed what I had wrought. I honestly felt a flash of shame, but then I came to my senses and realized that I didn’t give a shit that I had crossed the line where my listening habits have come full circle and I now adore notes and refrains that I used to sneer at without a second thought. I guess that is one of the minor gifts of my nascent middle age. If it gets my toes tapping, then we’re cool and you can keep me company when I listen to you while I write weirdo odes to Yes and the Grateful Dead while my wife goes out to eat pizza with friends.
I’ve always kind of liked Steely Dan’s particularly smooth brand of sleaze all along and my wife finally broke down the barriers to an unadulterated love of Grateful Dead bootlegs a few years ago. However, Yes was the one band that I could tow the line on and take comfort in the fact that some things were okay to hate forever. Outside of a mercifully short phase where I would get depressed about working in a record store in Indiana, PA and listen to Yessongs incessantly since its overwhelming optimism seemed like the only thing that could fend off the realization that I would most likely have to listen to a Collective Soul album at some point in my day, there was nary a moment when I felt lie dipping my toes into the discography of Yes. However, I figured it was worth a shit if I’m now the kind of guy who actually pays his hard-earned money on Pure Prairie League and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band records. I picked up The Yes Album as if it were the canary in the coal mine to see if I could actually hang with “I’ve Seen All Good People” and I can attest that I surely can.
The Yes Album is kind of their last step before they dove off the deep end into a crazy-ass pit of songs about Topographic Oceans. It’s followup, Fragile, at least had “Long Distance Runaround” and “Roundabout” to even out the balance between pretentious and “pretentious”, but this one was the last time they bothered with the pretension of rocking out instead of finding new ways to noodle away their days. The best thing about the Yes Album might be how its opener “Your’s Is No Disgrace” begins like an gritty also-ran- from a Nuggets compilation and all off a sudden sprouts wings and soars into some proggy wonderland of multi-tracked harmonies and slap bass reveries. It’s so preposterous and over the top that it shouldn’t work, but thank god it does. The next track, “Clap” might be Yes’ only attempt at a jaunty folk instrumental, but it’s a damn fine piece that honestly wouldn’t sound out of place on John Fahey’s Yellow Princess. Plus, it has “I’ve Seen All Good People” which might be their crowning achievement. It’s like Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young at their finest, except it has a flute solo and mandolin breakdown and an extended metaphor involving chess and the Vietnam War. Yeah, The Yes Album is overly earnest and a bit too satisfied with itself, but it’s kind of brilliant once you strip away the contexts and memories you have assigned to it. Let me bring this to a close before my own ramblings take on the characteristics of a Yes double LP. In short, getting older is enjoyable and a doubleheader of Yes and the Grateful Dead sounds pretty sublime on a Saturday afternoon these days. I’ll post more re-ups next week.