Top 10 Yes Songs of the ’70s
The 1970s were a particularly creative period for Yes, a time that found them working without boundaries or time restrictions. We came up with a list of our favorites from the era and spoke with founding member and bassist Chris Squire (as he was preparing to hit the road for a tour spotlighting three classic Yes albums from that same decade) to get his thoughts on most of the songs. (Former vocalist Jon Anderson also shared thoughts on a few other songs during a separate conversation prior to that.) Here is our list of the Top 10 Yes Songs of the '70s.
The origins of the Yes version of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘America,’ which kicks off our list of the Top 10 Yes Songs of the '70s, were fairly organic, as Chris Squire recalls. “Both Jon Anderson and myself were big fans of Simon & Garfunkel and we liked the song a lot. So we just took it and decided to 'Yesisize' it and of course that was also around the time when Steve Howe was still fairly new in the band.
He was bringing in his slightly country style of guitar that he uses on that track and that was also at the point where Rick Wakeman had just come into the band and if I recall, the Mellotron on ‘America’ was actually played by Bill Bruford. Rick had just joined and he threw a few overdubs on the end of the sessions and that was that, really. But it turned out to be really good.”
Squire shares that “'Heart of the Sunrise' has always been one of my favorite Yes songs, even though I don’t really have favorites, because I think that everything that we’ve done has value and [there are] little gems of music in pretty much everything we’ve done.
But ‘Heart of the Sunrise’ sort of started the trend that would move us towards ‘Close To The Edge’ in that it had movements within it as opposed to just being a song in one time signature, it had different fast bits and slow bits and hectic bits and calm bits. It was like a mini-’Close To The Edge,’ I suppose, a precursor to what was to come.”
‘The Gates of Delirium' found initial life as a piece of music that Jon Anderson had written on the piano, “very badly” in his words. The collaborative spirit of Yes helped to bring the song to life in its proper form. Anderson notes that “me and Steve Howe were very connected in the early-‘70s,” adding that Howe was “an incredible guy to have around with so many chords at his fingertips.”
'Gates' came about In the midst of both the Vietnam War and the Cold War and Anderson recalls that onstage, he was trying to “exorcise the demons out of war and the demons out of our consciousness.” Singing “soon, oh soon the light” in “Gates,” was Anderson’s way of saying that “we should be collectively reaching for the light in this lifetime” and that’s a feeling that he says he retains to this day.
At the beginning of ‘Eclipse,’ the second movement of ‘And You and I,’ Rick Wakeman weaves together swirling passages of Mellotron (with a very Moody Blues-like tint to the feeling of his playing) and Mini-Moog that virtually blackout the sun within your musical mind, as Anderson’s cresting vocals obliterate the remaining senses.
“Coming quickly to terms of all expression laid / Emotions revealed as the ocean made / As a movement regained and regarded both the same / All complete in the sight of seeds of life with you.”
The title track from the band’s second album, which ends the first half of our list of the Top 10 Yes Songs of the '70s, carries an overwhelming amount of positivity and hope in the lyrics penned by Anderson and his former Warriors bandmate David Foster (not that one, by the way). “Have you heard of the word that will stop us going wrong/ Well the time is near and the word you’ll hear / When you get things in perspective.”
Squire’s signature bass sound began developing on this album, thanks to an unknown quirk with a headphone output that was light on the low end, which caused the producers to accidentally mix the album so that Squire’s bass featured very prominently in the final released mixes. What began as a mistake would become a trademark element of future Yes music that would follow.
‘The Yes Album’ brought the entry of Steve Howe into the lineup and Squire says that Howe’s arrival “upped our level of writing.” ‘Starship Trooper’ closes the first side of the album and plays out in three movements. “Steve brought in the third section ‘Wurm,’ which was something that Steve had written and combined with the sections that Jon and myself wrote for that song, it made it a really interesting song. The more people you have writing usually the better things are.”
Occupying a full album side, ‘Close To The Edge’ was the title track of the album that found Yes really pushing the boundaries to the limit when it came to song length. It remains one of the most epic songs the band has ever put to tape. (Witness the stately organ from Rick Wakeman which elevates the third movement, ‘I Get Up, I Get Down.)
Squire notes that the band had “become comfortable doing long songs” and in addition to the title track, the ‘Close To The Edge’ album was rounded out by two additional longer pieces, ‘And You And I’ and ‘Siberian Khatru.’ When it came to recording the title track, the band had actually already worked the song out, performing the track in full prior to entering the studio developing a version that they knew would fit within the constraints of one album side on vinyl.
‘Long Distance Runaround’ is a track that Squire is naturally quite fond of, because of his now-famous bass feature ‘The Fish’ which segues out of ‘Runaround.’ In concert, 'The Fish' became the forum for Squire’s bass solo, the length of which would sometimes stretch into double digits during concerts.
‘Long Distance Runaround’ itself has untapped potential in the view of Squire, who notes that he’s “surprised that it’s never been used for a long distance phone company as a jingle,” acknowledging that “now that we’re in the cellular age, it’s irrelevant” and therefore chances of them cashing that check at this point are probably slim. But hey, Verizon, if you’re listening....
“I’ve seen all good people / Turn their heads each day / So satisfied I’m on my way.” How many good people? Quite a lot. Nearly 45 years after Squire co-wrote the track with Anderson, it remains the second most played track of Yes on radio behind the ‘90125’-era ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart.’
The song opens with a capella vocals from the band before moving into the first half, which is titled ‘Your Move.’ Hitting the midway point, the band inserts lyrical strains from John Lennon’s ‘Give Peace a Chance’ as they begin the transition into the second half, which moves at an appropriately lilting pace for the remainder of the song.
‘Roundabout’ is one of the most recognizable songs in the Yes catalog and came in at #88 on our list of the Top 100 Classic Rock Songs, so it's a natural to top our list of the Top 10 Yes Songs of the '70s. As Squire recalls, it was a track brought the band a lot of important attention and new fans in the early days. The genesis of ‘Roundabout’ came about during a concert tour when the band was driving from Aberdeen to Glasgow.
Jon Anderson remembers that he thought of the title, because he and Steve Howe were “messing around with an idea of a song” while en route and they crossed “so many roundabouts” during the trip. Looking up, Anderson saw that the mountains surrounding them seemed to be coming out of the sky, an event which completed the early birth of a song that remains a concert favorite to this day.