Contrary to what the title gives you the impression of, this was not Yes' first album. It was in fact their third album, and it was their final chance to prove to Atlantic that they shouldn't be dropped from the label. Yes previous to efforts, "Yes" and "Time and a Word" hadn't made much of an impression among record buyers, even if reviews had been very positive. Since this was in a time where groups were allowed to mature and develop instead of being dropped at the spot if they at least didn't go gold, Yes were given the green light to record their third album in as many years. Yes themselves were oblivious of the fact that this was their last chance when they gathered together in a cottage in Devon, a reclusive spot in the english country side, to hammer out material for the album. The band was flat broke at the time and it was less than a year since they fired their original guitar player, Peter Banks, out of their ranks and in to oblivion. The mood should've been depressive, but it wasn't. You see, their new guitar player, Steve Howe, brought with him ideas and a talent that rubbed off on the rest of the band, who in adition to Howe now conisted of Jon Anderson (vocal), Chris Squire (bass), Bill Bruford (drums) and Tony Kaye (keyboards).
The album was released in 1971 to very positive reviews. After an appearance on Top of the Pops and continously touring as a support band for various groups in the US, this became their breakthrough. It also helped that the "Your Move," a section from the song "I've Seen All Good People", became a radio hit when it was released as a single. The reason for calling this "The Yes Album" is obvious. It was the first album with all original compositions and after feeling dissapointed with the two first albums, it was clear that the band felt that this was an album that stood as a testament that they could musically break new ground.
Where to start. Even people who hate Yes and progressive rock in general admits that this album is rock solid. The whole thing opens up with a nine minute tour de force called "Yours is No Disgrace," a track that both rocks and makes you hum along while it still finds time for tempo and mood changes. On top of that we have harmony vocals singing Jon Anderson's surreal lyrics. What really strikes you in this track, and through the whole album for that matter, is that these guys are real musicians. All musicians are allowed to shine without making it sound like they're showing off, and this feat is repeated on several other tracks. Steve Howe is especially allowed to shine and he is given his own solo track called 'Clap' where he plays a very intricate and equally catching accoustic guitar solo piece in front of a concert audience.
Another highlight of the album is "Starship Trooper," wich is also a nine minute offering, but one that introduced a new concept for Yes, namely dividing their songs into different sections. ST has three distinct sections and while Yes also rocks out on this one, especially in the last section, Würm, it's a totally different, almost romantic, feel to this song.
In the track" I've Seen All Good People," Yes goes folky in the first section while the second section is pure rock'n roll delight with Steve Howe's guitar taking centre stage. There's obvious Beatles influences in the first section (chanting "Give Peace a Chance" towards the end doesn't diminish that feeling) and the way the vocal harmonies are used is awe inspiring.
I also want to mention the track "A Venture" wich is a real hidden gem. There are a few Yes-songs that have been completely forgotten through the years, and that's one of them. A shame because it's a nice ditty.
The only piece I haven't mentioned so far is "Perpetual Change." While most Yes-fans, and the band who put it back in their live set again a few years back, will consider it as a classic, I have to say that it leaves me cold. It's not an easy piece to either play and it's obvious that the band laid down hard work on it, but the song just drags on without any of the hooks that the other tracks on the album have. It also has to be said that there are a few moments on the early albums where Jon Anderson's voice and the vocal harmonies can be a less than pleasant experience, and I really don't think Anderons' voice pulls it off here.
At the time this was Yes' best produced album, and their producer Eddie Offord was an unofficial sixth member of the band for years, even doing the sound mix on their tours. Even so, there are times that the production quite doesn't stand up, especially in a section of PC where the band plays two different parts of the song at the same time. The first part suddenly moves to the left speaker and then it's like you open the door to another room and another band just storms in playing the second part.
This album showcases Yes as a tight unit and it shines with wonderfull compositions and energy. It's probably the best starting point if you want to check this band out, and a lot of the material on this album has been the back bone of their live repertoir for most of their career.
* = Standout tracks
1. Yours is No Disgrace *
3. Starship Tropper:*
a) Life Seeker
4. I've Seen All Good People*
a) Your Move
b) All Good People
5. A Venture
6. Perpetual Change
7. Your Move (Single Version)
8. Starship Trooper: Life Seeker (Single Version)
9. Clap (Studio Version)