For more than 40 years, Bill Bruford drummed with a murderer's row of prog outfits, from Genesis to King Crimson and his own Earthworks project. Of course, it's Yes that he might be most famous for - he co-founded the band and sat behind the kit for their first four years together, from 1968 to 1972 (plus a brief reunion in the early '90s). Here's a few of our favorites from that time - a perfect introduction into Bruford's - and Yes' - early career!
“I See You” (from Yes, 1969): Looking back at it now, it’s hard to wrap your head around the idea of Yes covering a song by The Byrds, but keep in mind that this is also the band that covered songs by both The Beatles and Stephen Sondheim, so they weren’t 24/7 prog-rock.
“Every Little Thing” (from Yes, 1969): Speaking of the band’s Beatles cover, this is a song that Chris Squire famously didn’t realize how much he liked until he heard it on the radio a decade and a half after it was recorded and didn’t even realize it was Yes’s version until Jon Anderson’s voice kicked in.
“Then” (from Time and a Word, 1970): In a look back at the band’s catalog, Something Else Reviews described this as a durable Yes tune, giving at least partial credit to “an inventive and frenzied drum part courtesy of Bill Bruford...[who] had a habit of propelling the band in a way more conventional drummers would not.”
“Starship Trooper” (from The Yes Album, 1971): Divided into three parts – “Life Seeker,” “Disillusion,” and “Wurm” – this song was not, in fact, inspired by the Robert Heinlein novel, although Anderson did like the title, which is why he borrowed it. As he told Songfacts in 2013, “I just like the idea of ‘Starship Trooper’ being another guardian angel and Mother Earth. The third verse was all about, ‘You know who I am, just take care of my soul.’ So it was as though I was writing about my search for truth and search for an understanding of what God truly is.”
“South Side of the Sky” (from Fragile, 1971): When the band performed this song at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2003, Anderson informed the audience that the song was about “climbing mountains: it’s dangerous, but we must all climb mountains every day.” On the other hand, the liner notes for Fragile refer to the song as being about a polar expedition that ends...poorly. All things being equal, we prefer Anderson’s description.
“Five Per Cent for Nothing” (from Fragile, 1971): Okay, we know this isn’t exactly the longest song in the Yes canon, but it’s a key inclusion because it was reportedly the first song Bruford wrote on his own. You can’t dismiss something as important as that.
“Heart of the Sunrise” (from Fragile, 1971): Co-written by Bruford, Anderson, and Chris Squire, this is one of those songs that just about every member of Yes has described as one of their all-time favorites, and with good reason: it’s a complicated effort that really shows what the band was capable of doing.
“And You and I” (from Close to the Edge, 1972): Divided into four parts - “Cord of Life,” “Eclipse,” “The Preacher The Teacher,” and “Apocalypse” - it’s the bit between 7:11-8:20 that Bruford described to Rolling Stone as “a passage I play if I want to remember the good times with the band,” adding that “before automation and click tracks, music used to breathe a little more.”
“Siberian Khatru” (from Close to the Edge, 1972): Described by Steve Howe as one of the more collaborative efforts by the band, this track is ostensibly about how, no matter where we may be from, we’re all basically the same.
“Perpetual Change” (from Yessongs, 1973): In its studio version on The Yes Album, this song is - as described by Something Else Reviews - “a wonder of polyrhythms, poetic lyrics, tight harmonies, elegant and non-obtrusive piano and organ, and sometimes melodic, always innovative guitar.” Yet somehow Bruford’s performance on the live version makes the song even more impressive. That’s just the kind of drummer he is.