This came out in 2002 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):
If you asked some people to sum up prog-rock in a word, it wouldn’t be Yes. It would be ‘Noooooooooooo!’
Thankfully, I am not one of them. I love prog. But even I have to admit that the whole late-’60s / early ’70s era has something to apologize for. After all, if it weren’t for the likes of Yes, Genesis, King Crimson and ELP, we would never have had to put up with Laser Floyd, half-hour Mellotron solos and — worst of all — Marillion.
Still, if you’re gonna give props to any of the bands from that era, you could do worse than pick Yes. Despite a revolving door of lineup shuffles over the decades, they not only outlasted, outplayed and outsold all their competitors, but also managed to do it without abandoning their trademark sound. From their self-titled debut album to 2001’s Magnification, Yes songs are unmistakably defined by their soaring vocals, lightly grinding bass lines, delicate guitar arpeggios and wickedly complex rhythms.
And believe me, I know what I’m talking about. I just spent nearly seven hours wading through In A Word: Yes (1969 – ), the retrospective box set from Rhino Records. With 55 songs on five discs and a full-colour, 100-page book housed in a gorgeous hardcover case, it’s a pretty exhaustive piece of work. Not to mention an impressive one. In A Word spans the band’s career, compiling all the hits and essential tracks in roughly chronological order and excavating a few rarities to lure and reward the faithful.
Each disc of the set encapsulates an era of the group’s history. Disc 1 records their first steps and successes. Beginning with their dramatically revamped take on John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s Every Little Thing, it offers a handful of lesser-known cuts (including the gently beautiful Sweetness) from 1969’s Yes and 1970’s Time And A Word. After that, there weren’t many lesser-known Yes songs. Their third album, 1971’s Yes Album, broke through with multiple hits: Yours is No Disgrace, I’ve Seen all Good People, The Clap and Starship Trooper.
Discs 2 and 3 capture the band’s golden age from ’72 to ’78, the tenure of the group’s classic lineup: Singer Jon Anderson, guitarist Steve Howe, keyboardist Rick Wakeman, drummer Alan White and bassist Chris Squire. Hitting their creative stride, the group effortlessly reeled off classics and hits such as Roundabout, Heart Of The Sunrise, Close To The Edge, Siberian Khatrui, Long Distance Runaround, Gates Of Delerium and Going For The One. Then, naturally, as all groups that can seemingly do no wrong do, they split up. Anderson quit, only to be replaced for one album by two members of The Buggles. He came back, but by that time Howe and Wakeman had left. Then Anderson teamed up with them and original drummer Bill Bruford in another band while bassist Chris Squire formed a band with White and guitarist Trevor Rabin, who had replaced Howe in Yes, but then quit.
Confused? Don’t sweat; In A Word comes with some long essays and even a couple of charts to help you unravel the whole soap opera, which lasted for most of the ’80s. Disc 4 provides the soundtrack to that decade, which included a couple of big hits — the early video staple Owner Of A Lonely Heart and It Can Happen — along with a variety of tracks from the band’s various incarnations and a few unearthed demo tapes that are kinda nifty but hardly earth-shattering. Disc 5, finally, documents the band’s recent history, from their ’90s reunion to the nostalgic-sounding albums they continue to issue to this day. It doesn’t exactly end the set with a bang, but it does give the whole saga a nice, neat sense of closure.
In a word: Comprehensive.