On Record Store Day this year, legendary English progressive rock pioneers Yes issued a loving interpretation of the original UK version of their eponymously titled debut album. Yes is now available in a lovingly restored long playing record edition: 180-grams, well centered, dead quiet, pressed on beautiful opaque orange vinyl and housed in sweet recreation of the original album cover art (in a vintage “tip on” package by Stoughton). Thats all fine and good.
But what took me by surprise really shouldn’t have surprised me: this edition simply sounds better than any version of the album I’ve heard, so much so that I feel like I’m hearing the record for the first time. I’ve been a fan of Yes since, lets say, 1972 or so when one of my older brothers brought home the group’s third release, The Yes Album. I was hooked fairly instantaneously. But I have never had the good fortune (or, based on the prices asking on Discogs, simply the “fortune!”) to get an original orange / purple label UK first press edition from back in the day.
The difference and improvement in sound on this new edition was so striking that I thought I might be imagining things. So, I put on my original US pressing (different cover design but essentially the same album) and indeed that version was leaving me flat. Actually, this album has long left me cold so I have never spent much time with it.
Digging a bit deeper, I was a bit more stunned to go up on Tidal and stream the album at 24-bits and 192 kHz in MQA format only to find it sounds fairly tinny and weak. There is a 16-bit, 44.1 kHz “deluxe edition” version of the album (with the UK cover art and bonus tracks) streaming there, but that too sounds pale and wimpy. High resolution file size doesn’t always guarantee better sound.
So what is missing from all the digital versions and the old US pressing? Well, for lack of a better term I’ll say that all the other versions lack guts. In Alice in Wonderland terms, it lacks “muchness.”
That is all changed on this new edition.
The first song “Beyond and Before” which opens up album now sounds like some lost Guided By Voices track from their late ’90s Cobra Verde era of the band (the humor of that comment of which I’m sure some of you will chuckle over). Peter Banks’ guitar is positively ripping here and Chris Squire’s lead bass solos roar (relatively). On the digital versions it sounds like the music was run through a cheap transistor radio, set to the AM band. Ok, maybe that is extreme. How about FM then?
I think you get the idea of what I’m getting at: on this reissue I’m hearing for the first time the energy of a young driven band on the cusp of international fame… And you hear much more fully that rhythm section which would soon become world renown as among the finest musicians of their generation (drummer Bill Bruford and bassist Chris Squire).
Initially, I didn’t know what source tapes were used for making this version. so I considered for a moment that it might be just better mastering from the 192/24 files.
But, then, I thought not… I started poking around the web.
At Yes’ official Facebook page website I found a promotional video (click here for it) indicating that this new Record Store Day edition was mastered off the “original analog tapes,” probably for the first time since 1969, one would guess. And it got me to thinking : since the US pressings were likely made off of a slave copy back in the day — and who knows how many subsequent safety dubs were made over the years — its not surprising that so much of the guts of the recording was lost.
Thankfully its restored, so much so that that it sounds like a different band and recording than what I had previously heard. It is speaking to me in a far more direct and exciting manner. “Beyond and Before” rocks like mad and originals I’d previously overlooked such as “Harold Land” now pop out of the speakers.
I can’t say enough about this release of Yes’ debut. If you are a Yes fan, you need this one.