Yes’ Self-Titled 1969 Debut Album Makes a Welcome Return on Cobalt-Blue Vinyl With Original Pop-Art Cover Design Reinstated, But How Does It Stack Up Sonically With Its 2019 AAA Counterpart?

The first two albums by legendary British progressive rockers Yes — respectively, their eponymously titled July 1969 debut and its followup, July 1970’s Time and a Word — are something of a collective anomaly for fans of the group here in America. Featuring original guitarist and band co-founder Peter Banks, who left the fold before the generally considered classic era of the group emerged, many new and casual fans alike overlook these two fine releases. Instead, they opt to start with February 1971’s breakthrough The Yes Album, which features then-new replacement guitarist Steve Howe.

And, yes, The Yes Album is a recording which is arguably a sort-of ground zero for the band in a number of certainly valid ways. While that logic is understandable, it’s also not exactly fair to the group’s legacy — and for fully understanding their musical trajectory — as there is some genuinely excellent music on those two albums. The band’s label at the time, Atlantic, didn’t help matters much here in America by delivering those first two LPs with different — and, frankly, rather lackluster — cover-art treatments compared to the mod pop-art splendor delivered on what was released in Europe. Also, the sound quality of those early U.S. vinyl releases left something to be desired, especially if you’ve heard the UK versions.


For those who want a good, basic, reasonably priced copy of the band’s first album with the original cover art restored, Rhino reissued Yes as part of their “Start Your Ear Off Right” series (a.k.a. SYEOR) back in January. (From the official press materials, we found this particular SYEOR series features 18 limited-edition titles from artists such as Black Sabbath, The Doors, The English Beat, Grateful Dead, Stevie Nicks, and The Velvet Underground, among others.)

Each of these SYEOR releases are pressed on standard weight vinyl, and Yes comes our way having been pressed initially on a “limited” run of cobalt-blue vinyl. (The number of copies in this run was not provided, however.) The cover recreates the original LP’s gatefold design and is made out of lightweight oaktag-type cardboard. It also recreates the look of the original UK Atlantic Records label — orange and purple — and it includes a one-sheet lyrics insert.


We’ve yet to find out many concrete details regarding the mixing/mastering DNA underlying this specific SYEOR release of Yes — i.e., is it digital, or analog-sourced — but if we get confirmed insights from the label, we’ll certainly update the review specs here accordingly. There have been online reports that this new version seems to have been crafted from the 2003 remaster (which was itself likely to have been digital), but, again, we have not verified that firsthand, as of this posting.

At any rate, according to Rhino, these exclusive SYEOR releases are available at “participating brick-and-mortar and online retailers.” While we have not found an officially listed SRP for Yes per se, a quick search of several interweb sellers uncovers prices ranging from as low as $24.99 on up to $38.99. Unless you have a favorite local independent record store you like to support at any price, you might want to shop around a bit if you plan on buying this LP via the web.

Before I go a bit deeper into exploring this new SYEOR Yes reissue, it is important to note this is not the first time Rhino has looked to re-introduce Yes to the U.S. audience. For Record Store Day in 2019, Rhino issued a limited-edition AAA Kevin Gray-mastered run of 6,500 copies of Yes pressed on lovely (and somewhat surprisingly) great-sounding 180g opaque orange vinyl. More on that edition in in a moment — but first, I can report that the 2024 SYEOR edition of Yes does indeed sound pretty good. The vinyl pressing is quite solid, happily quiet, and well-centered. Taken on its own, this new 2024 version of Yes sounds fine — if, well, unremarkable.


True, I am admittedly biased toward that earlier 2019 RSD orange vinyl edition. When you compare the new SYEOR edition to the 2019 RSD edition — which, again, features then-fresh lacquers cut in an all-analog process by Cohearant Audio’s Kevin Gray — the latter LP delivers a bigger punch with more bass detailing and midrange fidelity. Gray’s mastering is a little quieter than that of the SYEOR LP, and as you pump up the volume, richer, warmer dynamics start to shine. The soundstage is bigger. and the instrumental presence is greater.


On the new 2024 edition, the music sounds okay, but overall is more compressed and, ultimately, conservative. The soundstage doesn’t feel quite as widescreen. Chris Squire’s throbbing percussive bass lines are not as distinct on tracks like “Looking Around” (Side One, Track 4), comparatively speaking. On the 2019 RSD edition, you can feel the air around Bill Bruford’s jazzy cymbal work on tracks like “Survival” (Side Two, Track 4), while that detail is less apparent on the new 2024 edition.

That the 2019 RSD edition was mastered off the original tapes — probably for the first time since its original 1969 UK release (and no, I don’t own a copy of that version, sorry to say) and likely for the first time in the U.S. off the actual master — is a significant bit of information. Honestly, hearing the 2019 version was a revelation for this near-lifelong Yes fan. (I started getting into them when I was about 10 years old, the year my brother brought home The Yes Album.) The RSD version revealed the embryonic heart and soul of the band — the energy and the spirit — which was all but lost on the original U.S. LPs that sound flat and unexciting, comparatively speaking.


Inevitably, that 2019 RSD edition was no doubt snapped up by serious fans and vinyl flippers alike, in that it now commands some serious coin on the collector’s marketplace. For example, the four sealed or NM copies on Discogs at the time of this posting range in price from about $50 to $90, with shipping, so the SYEOR edition will run you one-third or less than that cost, if you’re so inclined.

In terms of our numeric ratings for the 2024 SYEOR edition go, we here at AP rank the Sound of this SYEOR edition of Yes somewhere between 6.5 and 7 overall, while I would personally give the 2019 orange RSD edition at least a 9 (with the acknowledgement that the AAA Yes might sound somewhat better still on a hopefully eventual 180g black vinyl edition). The Music comes in at a solid 8, as Yes is a fine start to what has been a brilliant, and still ongoing, career.


While overall this new Rhino SYEOR edition is indeed welcome and a decent spin, I sincerely wish they had gone the extra mile to create a genuinely fantastic release that sounds as good as it looks, one that at least would have better approached the fidelity of the RSD edition. That said, if you absolutely must have a new copy of this very first Yes album (and/or are a Yes completist like my compatriot, AP editor Mike Mettler, is), you’ll probably be fine with obtaining the new Rhino SYEOR edition — especially if it serves as a placeholder until you’re able to find a reasonably priced 2019 RSD orange LP or get lucky and score a clean 1969 UK original.

Mark Smotroff is an avid vinyl collector who has also worked in marketing communications for decades. He has reviewed music for, among others, and you can see more of his impressive C.V. at LinkedIn.



1LP (Atlantic)

Side One
1. Beyond and Before
2. I See You
3. Yesterday And Today
4. Looking Around

Side Two
1. Harold Land
2. Every Little Thing
3. Sweetness
4. Survival


JoeESP9's picture

My original has a different cover. It's also black.

Tom L's picture

didn't like the UK pop art cover with the big, bright "YES". Your version has the standard American cover. As Mark says, this release restores the original UK cover art.

Cam08529's picture

My ‘24 blue version has kpg@ca (Kevin P Gray at Cohearent Audio) etched in the side 1 deadwax. This is the only copy of this record I have but to my ears it sounds better than a 7. More like an 8 to me. YMMV.