When I hear even a snatch of a song by Yes — Steve Howe piling on the harmonics and baroque licks during the guitar intro to “Roundabout,” Jon Anderson singing like a member of the Venusian Boys Choir, Rick Wakeman challenging Keith Emerson for the title of heavyweight champion of keyboard-solo overkill — it takes me back to listening to the radio at the age of 12 or 13. Hanging out on my neighbors’ stoop with their radio playing, listening to my own staticky bedside radio with the sound turned down low as I drifted off to sleep, I inhaled a lot of secondhand Yes in the 1970s.
Yes was in the air back then, and while I never sought out or even particularly liked the band’s music, I felt that its sincere commitment to being a prog-rock juggernaut of bombast commanded a certain respect. It seemed to me at the time that Yes’s conviction that it was expanding listeners’ minds and elevating their taste was simply part of what the era obliged one to endure. After you’d heard “I’ve Seen All Good People” a hundred times on the radio, you deserved an imaginary merit badge in Ecstatic Woe.