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Best Yes Songs: 20 Prog-Rock Classics You Can’t Refuse
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List & Guides

Best Yes Songs: 20 Prog-Rock Classics You Can’t Refuse

From prog-rock masterworks to art-pop reinvention, the best Yes songs prove why the virtuoso British legends are so genre-defyingly original.

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Long considered to be one of the leading pioneers of progressive rock, Yes have enjoyed a hugely successful career that has seen them experiment with genres as diverse as psychedelia, folk, symphonic rock and even new-wave pop. From the unanimous critical praise that greeted their 1972 prog masterpiece, Close To The Edge, to the chart-topping commercial heights they reached in 1983, with the single Owner Of A Lonely Heart, Yes have undergone numerous line-up changes over the years but have consistently proven that the best Yes songs aren’t specific to any one era of the group’s long-running history.

Whether you enjoy the richness and complexity of the band’s early 70s output, or the radio-friendly pop brio of their 80s resurgence, Yes songs never fail to surprise with their musical prodigiousness and their melodic ingenuity. Here, then, are the group’s finest moments on record…

Listen to the best of Yes here, and check out our best Yes songs, below.

20: Don’t Kill The Whale (from ‘Tormato’, 1978)

Swimming along to a delectably funky groove, Don’t Kill The Whale sees Yes vocalist Jon Anderson tackle ecological concerns while guitarist Steve Howe makes a splash with a flurry of excitable riffs. With keyboardist Rick Wakeman upgrading his Mellotron to a Birotron, Don’t Kill The Whale was released as the sole single from the band’s ninth album, Tormato, and became a Top 40 hit, peaking at No.36 in the UK in September 1978.

19: Tempus Fugit (from ‘Drama’, 1980)

Following the sudden departures of singer Jon Anderson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman, Yes surprised many by enlisting The Buggles’ frontman, Trevor Horn, as their new lead vocalist. As the brain behind the 1979 hit Video Killed The Radio Star, Horn’s quirky presence was instantly felt on the music video for Tempus Fugit, with his Buggles bandmate, Geoff Downes, joining for the ride on keyboards. Sweeping prog fans up in an art-rock whirlwind with nods to The Police, the gleefully eccentric bluster of Tempus Fugit succeeded in launching Yes into the new wave era with aplomb.

18: Love Will Find A Way (from ‘Big Generator’, 1987)

Kicking off with a luscious string arrangement before launching into a driving rock riff, Love Will Find A Way was released as a single in September 1987 and saw Yes attempt to replicate the success of their earlier hit Owner Of A Lonely Heart. Peaking at No.30 in the US, it is one of the best Yes songs written by Trevor Rabin and has all the ingredients of a power anthem. “I was very happy with that song,” Rabin later said. “It’s a feel-good song.”

17: Time And A Word (from ‘Time And A Word’, 1971)

Written by Jon Anderson and sometime songwriting partner David Foster, the slow-burn ballad Time And A Word soars into our list of the best Yes songs courtesy of a sky-scraping orchestral accompaniment by Tony Cox. “We decided to use real musicians, string and brass, things like that,” Anderson said. “So, in some ways, it was kind of an adventure really.” With optimistic lyrics that ebb and flow with affirmation (“There’s a time/And the time is now and it’s right for me”), Time And A Word failed to enter the UK chart upon its release as a single, but it’s hard to fathom why: it still has all the hallmarks of a radio-ready singalong.

16: Going For The One (from ‘Going For The One’, 1977)

Rising to the challenge of the punk era, Yes scored themselves a UK Top 30 hit with the punchy 1977 single Going For The One. Verging close to boogie-rock at times, with Steve Howe’s pedal steel wizardry, the song’s ever-shifting rhythm and unconventional song structure proved the prog pioneers had something to offer in punk’s “Year Zero”, despite insistence that bands of their ilk were dinosaurs. If anything, Going For The One proved Yes were far from extinct.

15: Then (from ‘Time And A Word’, 1970)

Lulling listeners into a prog-rock daze thanks to Tony Kaye’s Hammond organ intro, Then is a luxuriant listen, flush with brass and strings and a stupefyingly tight drum groove from Bill Bruford. Often turning on a dime by shifting tempos, this masterful song, from the band’s third album, Time And A Word, found Yes growing more adventurous by mixing a richer array of orchestral instrumentation into their rock-oriented sound, before surprising the listener with a blissfully angelic vocal turn from Jon Anderson.

14: Soon (from ‘Relayer’, 1975)

Forming the prayer-like final section of Yes’ 21-minute opus The Gates Of Delirium, from their 1974 album, Relayer, the single release of Soon sees singer Jon Anderson deliver a rousing vocal performance complemented by Steve Howe’s soothing and atmospheric guitar work. Ostensibly an anti-war song making a plea for lasting peace, it’s one of the best Yes songs for showcasing the band at their most thought-provoking and meditative.

13: Leave It (from ‘90125’, 1984)

As the follow-up single to Owner Of A Lonely Heart, Leave It had a lot to live up to. Thankfully, the majestic combination of Jon Anderson and Trevor Rabin’s multi-layered a cappella vocal melodies, Tony Kaye’s glistening synth hooks, and Chris Squire’s walking bass line did just the trick. Peaking at No.24 in the US, Leave It saw Yes venture further away from prog-rock complexity to dive head-first into art-pop immediacy. By embracing the changes wrought by new wave synth-pop, the band proved their innovative spirit was undimmed.

12: Wonderous Stories (from ‘Going For The One’, 1977)

With Jon Anderson inspired by the beauty of Montreux to muse on the art of storytelling, Wonderous Stories was the dreamy lead single from Yes’ eighth album, Going For The One, and it saw former keyboardist Rick Wakeman rejoin the group to sprinkle his much-missed magic on the track. With Wakeman’s shimmering Polymoog synths colliding with Steve Howe’s 12-string acoustic strumming, the song peaked at No.7 in the UK in September 1977 and, as a result, became Yes’ biggest hit up to that point.

11: Changes (from ‘90125’, 1983)

Beginning with a marimba-led instrumental workout from drummer Alan White, Changes quickly settles into a Message In A Bottle-esque guitar riff before letting rip with Trevor Rabin’s rollicking rock groove. As one of the best Yes songs from their 80s pop-rock era, it saw the group relish ditching proggy experimentalism in favour of thumping new-wave power chords. Garnering itself airplay in North America, the song would go on to reach No.6 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Chart.

10: Sweetness (from ‘Yes’, 1969)

A divine slice of late-60s pop balladry that showcased Yes’ fondness for rich vocal harmonies (it’s easy to see where Queen found their inspiration) Sweetness was released as the band’s debut single in September 1969. Buoyed by Tony Kaye’s church-like organ playing and a delicately poised melody, Jon Anderson’s voice on this song is truly captivating. All the ingredients of Yes’ later evolution are here – both their melodic leanings and their classicist tendencies – so it’s hard to deny Sweetness a place on our list of best Yes songs.

9: Owner Of A Lonely Heart (from ‘90125’, 1983)

Emboldened to move in a more pop-oriented direction, singer Jon Anderson rejoined his Yes bandmates Chris Squire and Alan White, and teamed up with producer Trevor Horn to throw their weight behind the new-wave explosion. Joined by newcomer guitarist Trevor Rabin, the resulting single, Owner Of A Lonely Heart, became a commercial smash hailed as one of the best Yes songs after reaching No.1 in the US upon its release in October 1983. An upbeat synth-rock blast of fuzz-guitar and gut-punching 80s-era production, Owner Of A Lonely Heart was a world removed from Yes’ prog-rock stomping ground, but with over 180 million Spotify streams and counting, it remains hard to beat.

8: Starship Trooper (from ‘The Yes Album’, 1971)

Few songs are as ambitious as Starship Trooper, a nine-minute-long three-part suite from the band’s third album, The Yes Album. Taking in leisurely psych-rock, jaunty folk and concluding with otherworldly guitar lines, it showcases the band’s genre-defying sonic fearlessness and ever-growing ambition, bringing a symphonic sweep to their guitar-based foundation. With Steve Howe turning in one of his most rapturous guitar solos, Starship Trooper made clear the limitless potential of progressive-minded rock music.

7: Siberian Khatru (from ‘Close To The Edge’, 1972)

From its Hendrix-esque intro to its jittery funk-laced groove, the nine-minute epic Siberian Khatru is easily one of the best Yes songs from their 1972 masterpiece, Close To The Edge. Containing some of Jon Anderson’s most wilfully enigmatic lyrics, the song is off-the-scale musically, with Bill Bruford’s drum grooves shifting time signatures on a whim, while Rick Wakeman seemingly throws down an electric harpsichord solo just for the hell of it. Elsewhere, Chris Squire’s squelching bass and Steve Howe’s hyperactive guitar work is truly exemplary, making Siberian Khatru a prog-rock classic for the ages.

6: I’ve Seen All Good People (from ‘The Yes Album’, 1971)

Taking inspiration from the medley on Side Two of The Beatles’ Abbey Road album, Yes started recording longer suite-inspired compositions, such as I’ve Seen All Good People, for The Yes Album. Moving from Steve Howe’s folk-tinged acoustic riff to a rambunctious bluesy groove with a singalong refrain, it almost felt as though Yes were channelling voices from the spirit world. In fact, that might even be true. “We had a spirit in the house – a lady – who liked what we were doing,” Jon Anderson said. “So we thought that was a good sign.”

5: Long Distance Runaround (from ‘Fragile’, 1972)

With Steve Howe’s fingers winding around peculiar guitar tonalities before hurtling into a gleefully off-kilter prog-rock rhythm, the song Long Distance Runaround, from Yes’ fourth album, Fragile, revels in defying expectations. It was rock’n’roll, but not as we knew it, aided by Bill Bruford’s jazzy drum patterns before being upended by Chris Squire’s speedy bass breakdowns. Released as the B-side to their 1972 single Roundabout, Long Distance Runaround couldn’t have had a more fitting title – it’s prog-rock’s answer to a whirling dervish.

4: Yours Is No Disgrace (from ‘The Yes Album’, 1971)

Though it starts with a guitar riff that recalls early mod hits by The Who, Yours Is No Disgrace took most of its cues from classical music composers such as Benjamin Britten. From its stop-start introduction, Tony Kaye unleashes a cosmic barrage of organ-based noise before Steve Howe’s jagged riffing brings things back to Earth. Undoubtedly one of the best Yes songs, Yours Is No Disgrace is a musical tour de force that gave prog-rock fans a lesson in poise, restraint and virtuosity, often all at the same time. It’s positively awe-inspiring.

3: Heart Of The Sunrise (from ‘Fragile’, 1972)

The closing track from Fragile, the 11-minute epic Heart Of The Sunrise is an ultra-busy prog-rock opus with some of drummer Bill Bruford’s most feverish drumming and Steve Howe’s most delightfully ornate guitar riffs. Elsewhere, Jon Anderson’s sun-worshipping lyricism hits like a solar flare, while Rick Wakeman’s laser-guided keyboard solos threaten to give the listener third-degree burns. A landmark song for Yes, Heart Of The Sunrise is also considered by Rick Wakeman to be a defining moment for progressive rock. “When anybody asks me what prog rock is about or whatever you’d like to call it – symphonic rock, prog rock, or whatever,” Wakeman said, “I’d play Heart Of The Sunrise.”

2: And You And I (from ‘Close To The Edge’, 1972)

A highly poetic nine-minute love song, And You And I tells the story of a pair of soul mates as they grow old together, from birth to eventual death. “It was going to be a very pretty folk song that I wrote with Steve,” Jon Anderson said. “Soon we decided that it was to be surrounded by very big themes.” One of the best Yes songs, the prog-rock ballad unfolds in three distinct phases, with Steve Howe’s 12-string acoustic guitar swelling warmly like a grateful heart in the throes of romance. As the finest song on Close To The Edge, And You And I is a musical marriage made to last.

1: Roundabout (from ‘Fragile’, 1972)

Propelled by Chris Squire’s hammering bass groove, Steve Howe’s juggernaut guitar riff and Bill Bruford’s tarmac-thumping drum beat, and ignited by Rick Wakeman’s Hammond organ soloing, Roundabout still shows no signs of stopping. Peaking at No.13 on the US Billboard Hot 100, the song became Yes’ breakthrough hit and flaunted the group’s prog-rock credentials for the world to see. At eight minutes long, Roundabout not only proved to be a drive-time radio favourite, but it also paved the way for long-form rock compositions to make commercial headway. The likes of Free Bird, by Lynyrd Skynyrd, or Stairway to Heaven, by Led Zeppelin, may not have had a look in were it not for Yes getting there first. Moving faster than a race car on its final lap, Roundabout is the sound of a band careening their way to sure-fire glory, and that’s why it tops our list of the best Yes songs of all time.

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