Yes, “I’ve Seen All Good People” from The Yes Album (1971): YESterdays

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Yes’ “I’ve Seen All Good People” is an unlikely rock masterpiece. The song, an arrangement of two separate pieces (“Your Move” by Jon Anderson and “All Good People” by Chris Squire), contains many elements not commonly contained in rock music. The combination works in this case, however, producing the most-played Yes song in the band’s cannon.

“I’ve Seen All Good People” starts with a compelling three-part harmony a capella opening by Anderson, Squire and Howe. The Yes choir has never sounded so resolved as it starts the song, with the metaphor comparing relationship with a chess match. Instead of an electric power-chord introduction, Steve Howe utilizes a Portuguese guitar in a fleet-fingered opening to accompany Jon Anderson. His vivid lyrics are in turn buoyed only by the bass drum of Bill Bruford. In another unusual move, Yes utilizes a non-band member in Colin Goldring, whose recorder adds additional colors to the song.

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By this time, Anderson’s lyrics shift from person to spiritual: “ … ’cause his time is time in time with your time … ” – referring to being one with God. The harmonies build to a powerful wave of voices. Other musical touches are present too, such a maraca and shakers, in addition to those octave-swooping bass licks by Squire. Tony Kaye’s Hammond organ joins over a background chorus, which references John Lennon’s classic “Give Peace a Chance.”

Yes then picks up the pace smartly with a driving bass and electric guitar flourish over a repeated theme: “I’ve seen all good people turn their heads each day, so satisfied I’m on my way.” Howe provided a now-classic electric guitar solo, one which is remarkably tasteful for rock and roll, while Bill Bruford and Chris Squire continue to amp up Yes’ energy.

By the coda of “I’ve Seen All Good People,” the vocals are descending, supported by a touch of piano. Once Tony Kaye’s church-like Hammond organ reenters the song, this classic is all but over – and you’ve experienced one the very best songs recorded by the world’s greatest progressive rock band.

Preston Frazier’s YESterdays is a song-by-song feature that explores the unforgettable musical legacy of Yes. The series runs every other Tuesday.

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier

Preston Frazier is a bass-playing lawyer living in Atlanta. His first Steely Dan exposure was with an eight-track cassette of 'Pretzel Logic.' He can be reached at slangofages@icloud.com; follow him on Twitter: @slangofages. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Preston Frazier
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