Thursday, July 15, 2021

'I've Seen All Good People' -- many, many times

A sure sign you're a geezer: You wake up one day and realize it's the 50th anniversary of something that happened just a few years ago. That's happening to me a lot lately.

My latest such revelation happened yesterday while I was doing some quick reading about The Yes Album and its signature track, "I've Seen All Good People." We are months past the golden anniversary of the February 1971 release of The Yes Album. But when I say, "It really hasn't been 50 years, has it?" I can truthfully say it really hasn't, for me. That's because it's only been about 49 orbits since I first laid ears on it.

Like most fans Yes picked up in the United States back then, I discovered Yes with the release of "Roundabout" as a single in January 1972. I like that song a lot from the first time I heard it. I got my hands on Fragile pretty quickly and became an instant fan. Not too long after that, my buddy Dan popped The Yes Album into his car's eight-track player, and my relationship with Yes deepened. Dan and I will tell you more about how all that happened over at Geezerology on YouTube on Aug. 1, so join us then.

As I remember it, "Yours Is No Disgrace" is the track that pulled me into The Yes Album. A half-century on, though, there's no question that "I've Seen All Good People" is that album's signature. A quick fact check tells us that "People" is the most-listened-to song from The Yes Album on Spotify -- trailing only "Owner of a Lonely Heart" and "Roundabout" in the entire Yes catalog. According to, Yes has played "I've Seen All Good People" in concert 1925 times. Only the standard encore, "Roundabout," has appeared in a Yes setlist more frequently, 2141 times. (Rounding out the Top 5: "And You And I," 1692; "Yours Is No Disgrace," 1295; and "Starship Trooper," 1293.)

Inside gatefold of The Yes Album

It's easy to understand why the song is so popular among Yes fans as well as the dozens of musicians who have passed through the revolving door over the decades. Especially as Yes songs go, "I've Seen All Good People" is a simple, uncomplicated composition that is easy on the ears and probably fun for the band to play. It is two distinctly separate songs. "Your Move" is an airy, uplifting tune that puts Jon Anderson's gorgeous lead voice and Chris Squire's vocal harmonies way out front -- as beautiful a vocal passage as any you will ever hear in rock. When that one is done, the full band breaks out a rocking good time with "All Good People," as close as Yes ever gets to being a kickass rock-and-roll band. It all adds up to a wonderful seven-minute track that kicks off Side 2 of The Yes Album with a real bang.

Yes did make a little noise on the U.S. charts in December 1971 with the single "Your Move," an edited version of the first movement of "I've Seen All Good People." It kissed the Top 40 right around Christmas Day and helped sell a few copies of The Yes Album in the States. It definitely helped grease the wheels for Yes' big breakthrough here with "Roundabout" and Fragile a month or two later.

Atlantic Records was considering dropping the band before The Yes Album connected. The original lineup of Anderson, bassist Squire, guitarist Peter Banks, keyboard player Tony Kaye and drummer Bill Bruford recorded two albums -- Yes in 1969 and Time And A Word in 1970 -- that went nowhere. Howe replaced Banks in summer 1970, shortly before The Yes Album was recorded. Kaye departed, replaced by Rick Wakeman, shortly before Fragile was recorded in summer 1971. Bruford yielded to Alan White in summer 1972, after Close To The Edge was recorded and before it was released. And the door has been revolving ever since, with people coming and going and returning constantly. None of the original lineup is still around. Howe is the only one from The Yes Album still there, though he was absent from Yes for several years in the 1980s.

The Yes Album started a remarkable string of three envelope-pushing albums that transformed Yes from near-extinction to prog-rock deity within just a couple of years. The Yes Album has the band starting its exploration with complex compositions. Fragile was a showcase of virtuosity, both for the band and its individual players. Close To The Edge was the masterpiece, the LP all prog albums have been measured against for a half-century. Everything the band has done since, in whatever configuration, is shadowed by that 1971-72 run.

YouTube has several videos of Yes performing "I've Seen All Good People" over the years. This is from 2002, featuring Anderson, Howe, Squire and White: 

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