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The Ultimate Yes

Review by Gary Hill

This 35th Anniversary collection of Yes shares a lot of material with other compilations of theirs. Where it really shines, though, is in the third CD, which is all new and previously unreleased material. The acoustic version of “Roundabout” alone makes this worth having, but they didn’t stop there.

It should be noted that since I had already reviewed the bulk of the songs here on other album reviews, I’ve adapted these reviews from those for the sake of consistency.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 1 at

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Time and a Word

The title track from Time and A Word is an intriguing, but not spectacular balladish piece. Although this one has a special place in the hearts of most Yes fans (myself included) listening to it critically it just isn't all that special.

Starship Trooper
A mid-paced jam starts this one, the band working through it and basing the first verse on it. It drops back in an almost stuttering break, then moves back up the previous segment to carry forward. The main melody is both straightforward and quirky, and the musicians go forth on various short musical excursions from time to time as they work through the discovery of it. Eventually it drops to a fast paced acoustic guitar line that serves as a bridge into the next section as well as the backdrop for the next set of vocal elements. An airy jam ensues with an almost jazzy texture, seeming to stream skyward. This new melody carries the cut for a time. As this resolves out a new guitar strumming pattern takes the piece. The band eventually works this up to be the backdrop for a fairly frenzied prog excursion that serves as the extended outro. This segment is a trademark Yes musical exploration. This comes from The Yes Album.
Yours Is No Disgrace

Coming from The Yes Album, staccato pattern starts this, quickly joined by Tony Kaye's organ playing melody over top. After this segment, the band bursts into a fast paced jam, Steve Howe soloing all over it. They move this one forward in this way for a time, then drop back to just keys. The first verse is sung with just those organ chords as backing, then Howe screams out on his strings, and the band push the jam back to where it was earlier. This mode is the order of the day for a time; instruments laid over top at different points, 'til they drop it back to a walking bass line for the next verse. Squire holds the piece with Howe providing ornamentation for a time until the band returns to the staccato section. They create a new instrumental segment from this until Howe solos again, this time punctuated at points by the entire group. They then move this into a soaring instrumental segment, moving the track to new heights. This extended jam shows elements of the sound that come to fruition on Fragile. Howe cuts loose with some his most tasty riffing ever on this cut. After a long time working through this, they drop it back to just organ, then a new mellow melody takes over, providing both the transition and resolution to the earlier frenzy. They build this new melody line forward recreating it for a time until Howe takes over again, then the band rejoin for a reprise of the earlier quick modes. This one really is a showcase for Steve Howe's guitar work and a real smoker.

I've Seen All Good People

Another originally from The Yes Album, this begins with an acapella chorus round sung by Squire and Anderson, Howe's gentle acoustic guitar heralds the coming of the other instruments. They join in a bouncy folk rock style jam. Trails of melody are woven over top of this at times, and the vocal harmony arrangement is stellar. When the organ enters later it hints at majesty to come, and the band quote John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance." This crescendos, then a new bouncy rock and roll jam comes in, Howe's guitar playing awesome leads all over it. The guitar solo break is especially potent. The cut shifts shortly after this to a short syncopated change of pace, then returns to the previous section. A reprise of the chorus with only organ accompanying it replaces this section and fades down to end the cut.


Other than the Trevor Rabin era "Owner of a Lonely Heart" this song from Fragile is probably the most well-known Yes track of all time and sits near Zep's "Stairway to Heaven" in the category of most recognizable '70's rock song. Guitarist Steve Howe's harmonic-based intro gives way to a thundering groove that combines quirky changes into a hard rocking anthem that is actually quite catchy. This one certainly suffers from over-exposure, but truly is a masterwork.

Long Distance Runaround

Another song from Fragile that has become a Yes classic, this one features an especially strong vocal arrangement and intriguing rhythmic pattern. It is quirky, dramatic and smart. When separated from the bass solo “The Fish” that was originally its counterpart, it seems a bit odd, though.

Heart of the Sunrise
Chris Squire once was quoted as saying that this track from Fragile is the definitive Yes song, capturing all of what the band does well. Truly it is another masterpiece, and is full of emotion. The virtuosity is all over this, but as part of making a stronger song rather than "showing off.” Squire's bass line drives much of the cut. It showcases the group's contrasting soft and hard-edged sides quite well. In fact, Mr. Squire might well be right on the money with his assessment of this piece. 
South Side of the Sky
One of my personal all-time favorite Yes pieces, this one has to take a bit of time to grow on you, but when it does - wow! It is a great example of how this band are able to take a considerably complex, syncopated song structure and create a compelling and accessible song with it. I have always loved segments where the guitar solos and screams throughout the vocal lines, and this one is chock-full of Howe's fretboard frenzy too intense to just stay in little compartments. Wakeman manages to squeeze in some beautiful piano based classically oriented interludes that truly set this on its ear, and bring it a sense of grounding. This cut is absolutely timeless and one of the finest works of the whole genre. In some ways this is one of the crunchier pieces the band did during their classic era. It is another that comes from Fragile.
And You and I

This song from Close to the Edge begins tentatively with Howe on acoustic guitar. As the piece begins to take on a bit of melody, it rather quickly turns a corner as the rest of the band begins to join the maestro. This takes the form of a rather folky sort of acoustic guitar laden ballad, but the arrangement adds a fairly quirky progressive rock element. Eventually it moves out to a new melody, driven heavily by Chris Squire's bass. This is short lived, though, then a brief chord moves it to a slow moving, but highly expansive segment that feels very joyous and spiritual. After a time this moves to a crescendo, then How takes over on the acoustic guitar again, eventually heralding another folky segment. Eventually this moves to another groove oriented section that moves quite well. This is probably one of the most organic prog rock tunes of all time, each segment feeling like it flows naturally from the one before. It is a very powerful and uplifting number. It ends with a brief and airy chorus based on acoustic guitar, vocals and gentle keys.

Yes' cover of Paul Simon's piece, this one feels more like older Yes in many ways, seeming like it might have felt quite at home on one of the Banks era albums. It is a solid reworking of the song, and the group finds plenty of opportunities to shine here.
Wonderous Stories
Coming from Going For the One, mellow, but quite complex prog wonderment is used to create a composition that is both other worldly and accessible. This was a bit of a hit for the band in some parts of the world. Sections of this one have sounds that were destined to show up on the band's next release Tormato.
Disc 2
Siberian Khatru
Another track from Close to the Edge, Steve Howe screams out the intro to this one, foreshadowing it as a frantic and hard rocking Yes jam. There aren't a lot of wholesale changes here, but each member of the band works towards smaller change ups, adding a vitality and freshness as the cut moves on. This has always been a personal favorite of mine, and Howe contributes some of his most frantic and high energy guitar work of any Yes song.

This song is the closing section of the epic "Gates of Delirium" from Relayer. As part of that piece this represents the final vocal segment, and it quite poignant, the peace after the horrors of war. The lyrics portray a vision of hope amongst the madness. Howe works some stunningly beautiful slide guitar over top of the melody here. This works through to a satisfying resolution. As a single without the music that preceded it, it still works quite well.

Going for the One
Fast-paced, hard-edged, guitar-dominated prog, this title cut really rips forth. It features a quirky jam section in a rock and rolling manner at the 5:30 mark. It is a bit brief, but quite effective. The ending segment seems to just soar ever higher. This is achieved by vocals that feel like they are building and ever increasing jamming of guitar and keys. Before it reaches its resolution, the tension is released in a joyous Beatlesesque manner.
Don't Kill the Whale
This is a somewhat funky rocker that seems a bit contrived by today's standards. It is still a very good song, and features a strong vocal dominated segment towards the end. That vocal segment is followed by a potent guitar driven outro. It came from Tormato.
Tempus Fugit

Keys start this, and while Howe lays down a bouncy Police like rhythm guitar Squire's bass simply runs like crazy. This is definitely not your typical Yes music, but Squire and Howe are both on fire at times, and the general tone and quirky changes really do work. This came from Drama.

Owner of a Lonely Heart

A quick percussion run gives way to the familiar crunch guitar line. While this cut is an understated hard rocking piece, it has been quite influential, in off all music, R & B, in its production. This is not what one would normally think of as "Yes music". It's not prog and is definitely overplayed. Still, it does have its moments. It first appeared on 90125.

Leave It
The vocal arrangement is the best part of this track, and indeed that aspect alone made this one a standout on the 90125 album.
It Can Happen

One of the stronger cuts on the 90125 disc, this one seems to do a decent job of merging prog sensibilities with the Rabin pop-rock stylings. This actually feels quite a bit like later era Pink Floyd at times.

Rhythm of Love
In my opinion this pop drivel with its Beach Boys like vocal arrangement is the worst cut Yes have ever recorded. I can't stand it. It was originally released on Big Generator.
Big Generator

This title track starts with an intriguing vocal section, then a cool, psychedelic and jazzy mode emerges. They drop it down to a sparse arrangement and the heavy weird, but oh so cool sounds return for the chorus. This has little in common with old-school Yes, but the arrangement is quirky and the number is very good. Indeed, this is arguably the best track that the Rabin lineup ever did, but it was will probably send many prog fans running with its heaviness. There are moments in this dynamic and awesome track that defy explanation or comparison - you simply have to listen.

Lift Me Up

After Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe did their touring, that group united with the other version of Yes and released Union, and this track is from that album. This one was the first song on Union to come from the Rabin incarnation of the group. For some reason this one comes across like a merging of the Rabin songwriting and the ABWH sound. It's actually one of the stronger numbers on that album.

The Calling

Based on the wall of vocals intro, this single from Talk is worlds better than "Rhythm of Love" and even features some quirky musical interludes. The bridge is anthemic, and feels just a little Beatlesish at time. The cut does feature a killer vocal arrangement. The reworked instrumental break late actually has a structure and some phrasing that remind one of classic Yes. In fact, the extended jam on this one is quite cool. The outro is also rather classy.

Open Your Eyes

This title track is far better than the rendition that the band were doing on the tour. This song does a very nice job of integrating the classic Yes sound with the late `70`s AOR sound of the Styx and Kansas genre. I also hear quite a bit of Chris Squire`s Fish Out of Water album and some Asia in this song. I feel that this is a strong number.

Homeworld (The Ladder)

Coming from The Ladder, an ambient intro leads to a guitar dominated segment that heralds the arrival of the vocals. The piece (by most definitions an epic) then moves into a groove oriented segment with classic Yes textures and structures. This in turn gives way to a bridge that calls to mind Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe. The presence of some Beach Boysish vocals here takes from the track just a bit, in the opinion of this reviewer. An instrumental break begins with a drone that is solid rock and roll with a classic Yes leaning to it, and an ABWHesque vocal segment. Next Igor shows his particular strength at reproducing others' sounds while making them his own. First he pulls in a The Yes Album sound, which gives way to tones that could easily fit on Close To The Edge. This break calls to mind both Kaye and Wakeman without copying them. This The Yes Album/Close To The Edge/The Yes Album inspired segment gives way to a triumphant ABWH styled vocal buildup. Eventually, the cut works its way to a balladic segment that ends the cut. This movement is based mostly on piano, vocals and guitar.


Beginning with an easy going, almost bouncy orchestral arrangement, this title cut begins slowly building on this mode until a crescendo ushers in the next movement. It is a fluid fast moving creation that is trademark Yes. This piece is one of the strongest the group has done in years. As it continues building and changing, the dynamic alterations are pretty hard to catalog, but the song is very powerful. It eventually drops back to the early elements of the composition, but seemingly with a renewed energy. The final instrumental movement truly calls to mind classic era Yes and both Steve Howe and Chris Squire get the chance to show off their chops. The cut dissolves into elegant chaos similar to that which began "Close To The Edge" all those years ago.

Disc 3
Roundabout (Acoustic)
Turning “Roundabout” into an acoustic jam really seems like a great way to breathe new life into something that was a bit old. There’s almost a bluesy feeling to this and it’s quite cool. I heard them do this on tour and it was the reason I bought this set. It’s just great.
Show Me

Here we get a Jon Anderson solo piece. It’s a pretty and soaring acoustic guitar driven balladic number. It gets more involved and more lushly arranged at times and, in some ways, this makes me think of the music from the lost post Tormato sessions.

South Side of the Sky (Acoustic)
Another acoustic version of a classic Yes song, the piano intro here is beautiful. Delivered in this acoustic telling some of the guitar work has an almost country feeling to it. This is a great tune, no matter how you slice it. I like this rendition quite a bit. I’m not sure that it tops the original, but it’s very strong.
Australia (Solo Acoustic)

Here’s a Steve Howe solo, a fresh recording of one of his older songs. This acoustic guitar telling it pretty and intricate and quite tasty.

New World Symphony

Chris Squire contributed this piece. It’s a bass guitar solo based on a classical piece. It’s quite cool.

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