Yours Is No Disgrace by Yes
I’ve been revisiting some old favorites lately. I listened to a lot of Yes during my college years. An unhealthy amount, perhaps. I was mostly into their real classic period, i.e. The Yes Album through Tales from Topographic Oceans (which has a debatable “classic” status among the faithful, it seems, but it might be my favorite Yes album).
While Yes is easy to vilify as the poster children for the excesses of ’70s rock in general and progressive rock in particular, I think it masks the fact that their music is often quite simple at the core level, it’s just wrapped up in virtuosic musicianship. For example, the main riff idea for this song* is just three chords: E major, A major, and D major. Watching Steve Howe’s hands as he plays them, they are the most straightforward, primary forms of these chords, the kind that every guitar player learns in their first lesson. Of course, the band develops it far beyond this simple idea, but it’s that easy entry point that later progressive bands like Dream Theater lack. Dream Theater fans might say that a more challenging listening experience is the point, but I prefer a more balanced approach.
This performance comes from the band’s 1972 tour in support of Close to the Edge. The entire band is on fire here, in particular Howe’s guitar playing. He plays the parts on the record almost note for note, but there is so much more intensity in them, I find it much more engaging. The country-tinged intro is a great touch, as well, and showcases a side of his playing that I often forget about. It’s interesting to watch his right hand as he not only uses a pick but has this kind of claw finger technique that he mixes in effortlessly. Unfortunately, his guitar solo about two-thirds of the way through the song is of dubious quality, in my opinion, but he pulls it out towards the end.
This performance also showcases Alan White on drums. White joined the band for this tour to replace the departed Bill Bruford, who had left to play with those other prog-rock stalwarts King Crimson. White’s drumming is harder hitting and lacks the loose, jazzy feel of Bruford’s. After spending a few years playing in the Plastic Ono Band, I can’t imagine how jarring the transition must have been for him. Though he didn’t play on the original recording of this song, he does a great job giving it his own spin.
* I know it’s a bit laughable to think of a song like this as having a single primary riff, but it’s the part between 1:49 and 2:16.