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Episode 120 – Top 5 Yes tracks not to play to the sceptics

Top 5
Top 5 Yes tracks…?

The one hundred and twentieth episode of the Yes Music Podcast, featuring my top 5 Yes tracks not to play to sceptics.

  • Which tracks would appeal least to Yes sceptics?
  • Are there any complete albums which would qualify?
  • Will any albums yield more than one track in the top 5?

Listen and see if you agree with me, then let me know by contacting me via any of the methods below.


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Show links

Top 5 on YouTube:

1 Madrigal
2 Circus of Heaven
3 Close to the Edge
4 Sound Chaser
5 Awaken

Theme music

The music I use is the last movement of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. This has been used as introduction music at many Yes concerts. My theme music is not take from a live concert – I put it together from the following two creative commons sources: thanvannispen and

10 replies on “Episode 120 – Top 5 Yes tracks not to play to the sceptics”

I will never forget trying to win a skeptical high school friend over to my favorite band. He was into Parliament/Funkadelic and the Isley Brothers. He kind of liked Rick Wakeman’s crazy costumes, but otherwise steered clear of my music. I picked up Tormato when it was first released and thought Squire’s new ‘harmonized’ bass would have enough ‘funk’ to win him over. So I went to his house, put the platter on his turntable, and dropped the needle down on the first song of side two. I will never forget the look on his face after Anderson started singing. “What is this $%#?”

These days, I usually play 90125 to newbies and critics. I have yet to meet a critic who did not like that album.

What a great fun episode, Kevin, and in the main I agree with your analysis.
However, I fear you fell at the last hurdle, letting your personal preferences overrule your impartiality with your number one slot. Madrigal (which happens to be my own favourite on Tormato) is one of the least “Yessy” or progressive of all their material. At worst I would have thought it could be considered inoffensive. Let’s briefly analyse it:
Instrumental Arrangement – simple, mainly harpsicord, acoustic guitar & vocals, – some mellotron choirs towards the end.
Structure: A short track, one section.
Prog points: All in one time signature, no contrasting mellow/harsh, acoustic/electric, consonant/dissonant sections.
Lyrics – well OK, I’ll give you that one!

It seems to boil down to the fact you dislike the use of the harpsicord (even though this has uite a pedigree in pop/rock), but even here “Golden Brown” by the Stranglers should be considered more offensive to Yes sceptics – not only is the harpsicord prominent but that song features frequent switching between 6/8 and 7/8 and some “ba dah, ba dah” singing used for it sound quality rather tham meaning.

I rest my case!

Thanks for that really thoughtful and detailed response, Tim. As you say, the lyrics to Madrigal are dubious and may cause offence. I agree that it certainly doesn’t have a progressive structure and is more of a pop song. I do think that the harpsichord, as it is used here, is a big problem because of its ornamentation of the accompaniment in a very non-pop or rock fashion. Wakeman plays the instrument in a very classical (or actually Baroque) way as accompaniment to a sweet, melodic vocal line. You make a good point about the Golden Brown track (which I remember loving as a teenager) but I think The Stranglers have created a genuine – although quirky and unusual – pop song with a catchy hook there, and the harpsichord is used in a very imaginative but not traditional way. I think the Wakeman style here makes Madrigal jarring to the untrained ear – especially an already sceptical one. (Not sure ears can be sceptical actually.)

With hindsight, I agree it was wrong to put Madrigal at the top of this list but it probably deserves to be in the group of ‘almost’ tracks.

Incidentally, I absolutely love Madrigal, especially the way in which Wakeman manages to make a Baroque instrument and technique work as the accompaniment to an Anderson vocal.

Thanks again, Tim – happy to continue the debate of course!

Your “jarring to the untrained ear” comment might hold the key. Whilst I’d hardly consider my ear particularly trained, as a youngster I spent 7 years in a church choir, singing and listening to much Bach and Handel so perhaps the Baroque style doesn’t sound to me as it might to someone brought up purely on Elvis and the Beatles. By coincidence (mainly because my daughter had just bought me a new CD for my birthday) the music in my car CD player on my journey to/from work yesterday was a recording of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos – a further indication that this style of harpsicord playing is perhaps more familiar to me than to a typical (?) Yes sceptic.

And you’re absolutely right about the use of harpsicord in Golden Brown – clearly more Brubeck then Bach!

As an aside, I’ve often thought the melody and phrasing of Anderson’s vocals in Madrigal harks back to his style of vocalising in much of “Olias of Sunhillow”.

Are here any other bands where it is possible to have such wide and varied discussions about the music, I wonder?

As you say, Tim, one of the joys of being a Yes fanatic is the depth and variety of the music which encourages deep consideration. I also enjoy a lot of more ‘frivolous’ music but the fact that I’ve managed to produce over 120 episodes on Yes music must mean there’s more to say about it than other kinds. It’s also possible, of course, that I’m just spreading the prog butter far too thinly on this particular oatcake… 😉

I think you are right about the sceptical listener – of course it’s always going to depend on their own musical experience and taste. What worries me is when there is a total inflexibility and refusal to listen to music of whatever kind once you know it’s in a particular genre pigeon hole.

Is it possible to do a ‘blind taste test’ on music?

This was a great idea for a podcast. I followed your reasoning through most of it, however I’m shocked by most of your choices.

The skeptic would of course have to be somewhat musically literate. I mean no point trying to impress a teeny bopper or modern equivalent.

For me, the worst songs to play would be those which lack the conviction of proper prog, and are purely self indulgent.

Top of the list is
Don’t kill the whale. This is a terrible song, Yes doesn’t do politics, and this feeble rant is hardly ‘Biko’

That song was the start of the decline. Anything before though I’d say were Yes in their pomp. Glory in them without apology. Leave the teeny boppers to their rubbish.

There are a couple of pretty bad offerings on Talk, and since then it is open season.

Hi Jeremy and thanks for the comment. I did have my specific friend in mind and as you don’t know him I can fully appreciate your comments. I agree with what you say about conviction and self-indulgence. That really does ruin things.

I do think (as you know) that there is more good stuff to discover after Tormato but I know I’m not going to change your mind on the later stuff – and that’s the brilliant thing about Yes fans and about this podcast – all opinions are equally valid and it would be dull if we all agreed!
Thanks for your continued support!

Been trying to find the other podcast you mentioned about what tracks to play to get people to listen to Yes. BTW, Close to the Edge was the first Yes song I ever listened to in 1977 and I’ve been a fan ever since!

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