In 1968, Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Peter Banks, Tony Kaye, and Bill Bruford banded together to form Yes. After two unsuccessful albums, they finally hit pay dirt with their third studio album, The Yes Album. Since then, they’ve gone through multiple lineup changes, dappled in numerous musical styles, and experienced huge ups and equally mammoth downs. In the process, they’ve established themselves as one of the most respected prog-rock groups in the world. Here’s how we rank all 23 Yes albums.
23. Heaven & Earth
Most albums have pros and cons. Heaven & Earth isn’t that kind of album. It is, as progressivemusicplanet.com says, a dud. The songs are lame, the sound is tame, there’s no energy, and the paper-thin production may as well not be there for all the value it adds. New lead vocalist Jon Davison took a lot of flack for the quality of the album, but its problems go way beyond one man. Strangely enough, it was a moderate chart success, taking the band to No. 20 on the UK Albums Chart (their highest charting album on the chart since 1994’s Talk) and reaching No. 26 on the US Billboard 200.
22. Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe
Sure, it’s not ‘technically’ a Yes album, but it’s close enough to count. It’s not a disaster, with songs like Brother of Mine, Themes, and Quartet all warranting a listen. The problem is, a few good moments don’t make a great album, and Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe is a far cry from one of those. Released in June 1989, it stalled at No. 30 on the Billboard 200 and No. 14 on the UK Album Chart.
21. Open Your Eyes
Open Your Eyes was very much a Billy Sherwood project. He’d already been in and out of the band for years, but here, he’s the driving force, serving as mixer, engineer, guitarist, keyboardist, backing vocalist, and co-writer. Maybe it was all a little too much for him. Either way, it’s a hard listen. There are a few nice moments (the title track is irresistible, as is the slow-burning Universal Garden and the punchy New State of Mind), but once they’re over, the album plods its way to an underwhelming conclusion.
Talk was the last album from the classic 90125 lineup. Listening to the album, you get the sense that they called it at the right time. The spark had gone, and Talk passes from one inconsequential tune to the next. The 5-minute finale Endless Dream is an absolutely glorious song, but the rest of the album is almost utterly forgettable. Released on 21 March 1994, it reached a disappointing No. 20 in the UK and No. 33 in the US.
Rick Wakeman once called Union “Onion” because listening to it makes him cry. He’s not the only one. It’s too complicated, too tedious, and, with the exception of the stunning centerpiece Silent Talking, too clumsy to work. Despite that, it still fared modestly well in the charts – released on 30 April 1991, it reached No. 7 in the UK and No. 15 in the US, eventually certifying Gold.
18. Big Generator
By rights, Big Generator should have been a great album. It ticks all the same boxes as the uber-successful 1983 album 90125 – monstrous guitar riffs, glossy production, big shots of synth – and tracks like Shoot High Aim Low and I’m Running are hard to argue with. But the rest of the album falls decidedly short. It feels formulaic, rather than vital, and the magic of 90125 is, for the most part, MIA. Released on 21 September 1987, it peaked at No.15 on the Billboard 200 and No. 17 on the UK Albums Chart.
17. The Quest
After the disappointment of 2014’s Heaven & Earth, Yes regrouped, re-gathered, and re-emerged with the far superior The Quest. It’s not a perfect album, and large sections could have been happily cut without anyone missing them. But the musicianship is wonderful, the ambitions are laudable, and tracks like Leave Well Alone and Dare to Know are classics. It might not be in the same league as Yes in their prime, but it’s still an enjoyable album.
16. The Ladder
The Ladder is by no means a bad album, with tracks like Homeworld (The Ladder) and Nine Voices (Longwalker) going some way to recapturing the band’s glory days. It received a warm reception initially, with many critics hailing it as a return to creative form. On reflection, it’s not – or at least, not a wholly successful one. Despite some killer tracks, it’s stuffed with too much filler to compete with their earlier albums. Released on 30 September 1999, it stalled at No. 36 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 99 on the US Billboard 200.
15. Keys to Ascension 2
By 1995, guitarist Steve Howe and keyboardist Rick Wakeman had returned to the fold for Keys to Ascension 2. A mix of live and studio cuts, it’s a slightly strange album that seems to have had everything but the kitchen sink thrown at it. When it works, it’s wonderful, but there’s too little consistency to make it come together as an album. After receiving a lukewarm response from the critics, it charted at No. 62 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 169 on the US Billboard 200.
14. Keys to Ascension
Keys to Ascension, Yes’ fifteenth studio album, has a few moments that will make your jaw hit the floor. Steve Howe’s guitar work on Be the One is flabbergasting, but almost pales into irrelevancy in the face of the majestic swirls and swells of the 19-minute epic, That, That Is. If there were just a few more songs like those two, the album would rank amongst their very best. As it is, there’s just a little too much filler for comfort.
Magnification is one of the most divisive albums in Yes’ canon. A lot of fans consider it one of their very finest albums. Others think it would do better without the orchestra and with a better song selection. Regardless of which side of the argument you favor, most people would agree that at over an hour in length, it’s simply far too long. Still, there’s no denying the beauty of cuts like the title track and Can You Imagine. With more judicious editing, it’d be magnificent.
12. Fly From Here
For some fans, there’s no Yes without Jon Anderson. And yet Fly From Here proved that Yes could survive without him. His replacement, Benoît David (a former Yes tribute band member, of all things), does a decent job of stepping into Anderson’s shoes, and the album has some exceptionally solid songs, including the wonderfully dramatic title piece. There’s a little too much filler and whoever handed Steve Howe a mic on Don’t Take No for an Answer should have their credentials checked, but it’s still a very satisfying album.
Tormato, the band’s ninth studio album, was recorded in chaos. After numerous arguments over direction, engineer Eddy Offord left, leaving the band to produce the album themselves. Unsurprisingly, the result is messy, pushing and pulling in too many directions to be cohesive. But weirdly, it kind of works, resulting in a strong (if inconsistent) collection of songs and one of the band’s most interesting albums. Released in September 1978, it was a commercial success, peaking at No. 8 in the UK and No. 10 in the US.
On their self-titled debut album, Yes are still a long way away from the band they’d become over the next decade. The number of cover songs suggests they’d yet to decide on a direction, while the original material isn’t as strong as their later work. For all that, the potential is plain to see, especially on standout tracks like Beyond and Before and Survival. Released in July 1969, it failed to make it into the charts but was received favorably by the critics, with Lester Banks describing it as “the kind of album that sometimes insinuates itself into your routine with a totally unexpected thrust of musical power.”
9. Time and a Word
As ultimateclassicrock.com says, the orchestral concept of the 1970 album Time and a Word was basically a non-starter, adding little to the overall dynamic and blunting the impact of Kaye’s Hammond and Peter Banks’ guitar. But the songs (particularly the title track) are excellent, and a big leap forward from their debut. Despite receiving a mixed reception from the critics, it was a moderate chart success in the UK, peaking at No. 45 in the album charts.
By the early 1980s, Yes’ heyday had already come and gone. But as 1983’s 90125 proved, they still had plenty of tricks left to play. Much of the album’s success is thanks to Trevor Rabin, who helped steer the band in a more commercial direction with tracks like Owner of a Lonely Heart – their only single to ever top the US Billboard Hot 100. With enough pop-orientated tunes to attract new fans and enough complex artistic numbers to keep the old guard happy, the album was a huge hit, reaching No. 5 on the US Billboard 200 and No. 16 on the UK Albums Chart.
Drama came in the wake of Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman’s departure. Fortunately, the addition of Trevor Horn on lead vocals and Geoff Downes on keyboards made up for their absence. The sound was more muscular, the songs were more accessible, and the overall album was a joy. Ten albums into their career, and Yes sounded as ambitious and purposeful as ever. Released in August 1980, it was a critical and commercial success, peaking at No. 2 in the UK and No. 18 in the US.
6. Tales From Topographic Oceans
When Jon Anderson and Steve Howe came up with Tales From Topographic Oceans, Rick Wakeman hated it. He didn’t like the elaborate concept, disliked the structure, and felt he had nothing constructive to add to the music. His frustrations culminated in him leaving the band – but not before he’d vented his anger by spending one show on the tour sat on stage eating a curry. To a degree, he had a point. The album is simply too big for its boots, resulting in something that, at times, feels bloated and awkward. But when it’s good – as it is on the heavenly Close to the Edge – it’s jaw-dropping. With better editing, it could have been incredible.
5. Going for the One
According to The Daily Tar Heel, with Going for the One, Yes “made itself interesting again.” They’ve got a point. There’s less focus on concept, the songs are shorter (with the notable exception of the 15-minute epic Awaken), the playing is precise, and it’s altogether more approachable than their previous efforts. Released on 15 July 1977 as the band’s eighth studio album, it enjoyed an overwhelmingly positive reception, spending two weeks at the top of the UK Albums Chart and peaking at No. 8 on the US Billboard 200.
4. The Yes Album
Although Yes’ first two albums enjoyed a positive reception with the critics, they failed to find an audience. On the verge of being dropped by their record label, they pulled out all the stops for their third LP. It worked. The Yes Album was a commercial success, soaring to No. 4 in the UK and peaking at No. 40 in the US, where it eventually certified Platinum.
After achieving their commercial breakthrough with 1971’s The Yes Album, Yes returned the following year with Fragile. It was an outstanding follow-up, with Roundabout and Long Distance Runaround easily ranking as two of their most enjoyable songs to date. Released on 26 November 1971, it hit No. 4 on the US Billboard 200 and No. 7 on the UK Album Chart.
As prog-sphere.com says, 1974’s Relayer might be a little uneven and rough around the edges, but that’s all part of what makes it such an outstanding record. It’s chaotic but charming, and on songs like Delirium To Be Over, the band have rarely sounded quite so touching. It might not be in quite the same league as our next album, but creatively, this is Yes at their peak.
1. Close to the Edge
Prog doesn’t get much better than Close to the Edge. The title track deserves every bit of praise it’s been lavished with over the years, but in truth, there’s not a weak song anywhere on the album. A faultless album from a band at the very peak of their powers. Released in September 1972, it stormed the charts, peaking at No. 4 on the UK Albums Chart and No. 3 on the Billboard 200 – the band’s highest-ever position on the chart.