Atco, 1991

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


If any band could justify having two box sets of four CDs or more in print, it's probably Yes. Never mind their 35-year tenure and 25 or so albums… (don't look for a definitive answer on that one -- you could argue all night about which albums should be considered "official" and whether or not to include various compilations and live discs)… all you really need to know is that this is a band that put out a double album with only four "songs" on it.

In any case, the first of the group's two super-size collections was 1991's four-disc YesYears. It was made possible at the time by (perhaps even mandated by) the temporary merger of the YesWest (Trevor Rabin, Chris Squire, Alan White, Tony Kaye) and Classic Yes (Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman) factions. This "mega-Yes" issued the stitched-together Union album, toured successfully, and then issued this collection as a kind of capstone.

As with any box set, the main issue for any prospective buyer of YesYears is track selection. If you're gonna shell out thirty or forty or fifty bucks, you want the right songs on there, and something new to sink your teeth into. In both respects, the band did a good, if not outstanding, job with YesYears.

With respect to the band's best-known and best-loved tracks, all the obvious picks are here ("Starship Trooper," "I've Seen All Good People," "Roundabout," "Close To The Edge," "Owner Of A Lonely Heart," "Rhythm Of Love," etc.). It's on the second tier that things get interesting.

The band is generous in terms of space allotted for their first two (relatively neglected) albums. I, for one, get a kick out of their psychedelic takedown of West Side Story's "Something's Coming" and the Beatles' "Every Little Thing." You could sense from the start that this band was not going to play by the rules; Bill Bruford's drumming is jazzy and sassy, and Chris Squire's bass playing is already off the charts in terms of inventiveness and agility.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The second disc is fairly predictable, though the choices are sometimes hard ones; of course you have to have the full 18 minutes of "Close To The Edge" -- it was a musical milestone -- but it's a shame to exclude both of the other two great tracks from that classic album. The choice of "Ritual" to represent Tales From Topographic Oceans is a good one -- it's probably the most accessible of the album's four long suites. But after those two long pieces, the band opts to omit the terrific epic "Gates Of Delirium" from Relayer, instead including the inferior "Sound Chaser" and an edit of the "Soon" section from "Gates" -- a beautiful moment that's about one-tenth as powerful lifted out of the context of the longer piece.

Disc three is where Yes fans start to scratch our heads. Of the 16 songs on this disc, about half truly belong. The rest are less-than-captivating outtakes from Going For The One ("Vevey," "Montreaux's Theme") and Tormato ("Money," "Abilene"), and a pair of non-Yes curiosities. First there's Chris Squire's bass-solo version of "Amazing Grace" (reminds me of Hendrix's "Star-Spangled Banner" in that hearing it once is cool, but a second time seems unnecessary), and then there's Squire and White's Christmas novelty single "Run With The Fox," which is cute and well-orchestrated, but ultimately forgettable.

Next looms disc four, a.k.a. the Rabin Years. The band's '80s singles are all here (oops, except for "Leave It"), and that's fine by me, as there are some decent pop hooks to be found. Plus, there's an intriguing alternate version of 90125's "It Can Happen," recorded before Jon Anderson rejoined, and featuring Chris Squire on lead vocals. Unfortunately, you also get treated to a thankfully unreleased Rabin track from the 90125 sessions -- the grating Foreigner wannabe "Make It Easy" - and some fairly wretched live tracks featuring the YesWest '80s lineup. Worst of the bunch is a horrific slaughter of the Classic Yes ballad "And You And I," whose master tapes should be shot, burned and probably irradiated as well. (If you're curious about Steve Howe's hair falling out during the 90s, my guess is it started when he heard this tape.) Finishing with a whimper, not a bang, the set closes with a new, unreleased song from the YesWest faction plus future Yes member Billy Sherwood, a saccharin wankfest called (grit teeth and shudder) "Love Conquers All."

Those missteps aside, YesYears does contain about 90 percent of the Yes tunes you really want to hear from the band's '70s and '80s lineups, along with a few additional items of interest. Also on the plus side is the jumbo-sized booklet, featuring a wealth of unreleased band photos, comprehensive liner notes and a Yes family tree. Note that there is a version of YesYears that includes a video documentary on VHS tape; although I bought mine without the video, I kind of regret it, having later rented the video and found it pretty informative and, in the case of the Rick Wakeman interview snippets, amusing as well.

Next week we'll cover the band's 2002 box set, In A Word. If you're looking for a definitive statement of which set is the better buy, I'm not sure I can offer that; both have unique features, and neither is perfect. I'm afraid you'll just have to study up and judge for yourself.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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