Keys to Ascension

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Keys to Ascension
Live album / studio album by Yes
Released 28 October 1996 (1996-10-28)
Recorded 4–6 March 1996 at the Fremont Theater, San Luis Obispo, California (Live)
Fall 1995–spring 1996 at Yesworld Studio, San Luis Obispo (Studio)
Genre Progressive rock
Length 116:12
Label Essential
  • Yes
  • Tom Fletcher
Yes chronology
Keys to Ascension
Something's Coming: The BBC Recordings 1969–1970

Keys to Ascension is the fourth live and fifteenth studio album by the English rock band Yes. It was released as a double album in October 1996 on Essential Records. After guitarist Steve Howe and keyboardist Rick Wakeman returned to the band in mid-1995, the group relocated to Anderson's hometown of San Luis Obispo, California and started writing and rehearsing for a new studio album. The reunion of this particular line-up was promoted with three shows at the city's Fremont Theater in March 1996, the five's first live performance together since 1979. The album features half of the live set from the 1996 shows and two studio tracks which marked a return to producing long-form pieces.

Keys to Ascension received a mostly positive reception from music critics, and reached number 48 on the UK Albums Chart and number 99 on the Billboard 200. Yes supported the album with a media tour which included live performances at record stores and television and radio appearances, and a same-titled home video of the concerts. After further studio tracks were completed in 1996 and 1997, these and the second half of the 1996 live set was released on the follow-up album, Keys to Ascension 2 (1997). The studio tracks from both Keys to Ascension albums were compiled on Keystudio (2001), and both albums were packaged in their entirety in 1998 and 2010, the latter with the concert video as a bonus disc.


In October 1994, the Yes line-up of lead vocalist Jon Anderson, bassist Chris Squire, keyboardist Tony Kaye, drummer Alan White and guitarist and vocalist Trevor Rabin wrapped their 1994 tour in support of the band's fourteenth studio album, Talk (1994).[1] The tour was met with crowds smaller than previous tours, and the album was a commercial disappointment among the ever changing music scene, with grunge and rock groups Guns N' Roses, Metallica, Pearl Jam, and Nirvana taking mainstream interest, leaving Yes in what band biographer Chris Welch wrote, "In danger of slipping back into an obscurity more dark and profound than at any time in their history".[2] They suffered a setback when, in 1995, Rabin felt he had done all he could artistically within the group and decided to leave after 13 years to become a film composer, with Kaye following suit to pursue other projects. Squire convinced Rabin to hang on for several more months, but escalating arguments between Anderson and himself convinced the guitarist that it was time.

With Yes reduced to a trio of Anderson, Squire, and White, the band replaced manager Tony Dimitriades, who had been with them since the early 1980s, with Jon Brewer of Left Bank Management. Soon after the change, Brewer was approached by Castle Communications, a British independent label with an interest in releasing a Yes album on its subsidiary label, Essential Records. Brewer and Castle agreed to the idea on the condition that the album featured the band's original or the "classic" line-up from the 1970s, which also included guitarist Steve Howe and keyboardist Rick Wakeman.[3] The pair had left in 1992 after the band's Union Tour and continued with their solo projects, but were interested to return and met with Anderson in Los Angeles for several days to discuss the situation.[4] They agreed after Yes invited them to return and make the album, Howe for his third stint and Wakeman his fourth. This marked the first time this line-up had played together since their unsuccessful attempt to record a new album in early 1980. Squire later revealed the initial plan of having both Keys to Ascension albums feature just live recordings, but Castle wished for them to contain new tracks recorded in the studio.[5] The group agreed to release the album with the aim of letting the public know that the five had reunited,[6] and Anderson wished to explore the music that the line-up had recorded in the 1970s and take Yes "into the 21st century".[2]


Studio tracks[edit]

In October 1995, the group started writing and rehearsing in the city of San Luis Obispo, California without Wakeman, who joined soon after.[4] They chose the location after Anderson had moved there in August that year and suggested that they work there.[7] Wakeman particularly enjoyed his time working in a small and remote location as it gave the band the chance to focus without "the glare of everything and it gave everybody a chance to spend a bit of time together and just quietly almost reprogram ourselves".[6] To record the new material, the band leased a building that was once a bank and set up a recording studio inside that was later dubbed Yesworld Studio on the album's sleeve notes.[3][8][9] Working with them was co-producer Tom Fletcher, with Kevin Dickey, Zang Angelfire, and Bill Smith assisting with engineering and mixing duties. Dickey also edited the album using the Sonic Solutions audio software.[8]

Keys to Ascension contains two new studio tracks from the band. When it came to pooling ideas, Squire, Anderson, and Howe contributed pieces that they had been holding on to which were then developed further.[5] "Be the One" is a three-part song credited to Anderson, Squire, and Howe. The former revealed the song covers the idea of commitment, and how the band made a commitment to working together once again after a considerable amount of time apart.[10]

Live tracks[edit]

The live tracks were recorded at the Fremont Theater in San Luis Obispo, California

In addition to the new studio-produced songs, the band agreed to hold two shows at the city's Fremont Theater on 5 and 6 March 1996 and have them recorded and released with the new tracks. The concerts were advertised online through their website YesWorld, leading fans from around the world to book tickets.[2][11] To cater for the high demand for tickets, a third show was organised on 4 March.[3] The shows sold out, with approximately 650 people in attendance at each one.[12]

The setlist for the three shows was formed of thirteen songs originally released between 1970 and 1978.[13] This marked the first live performance of "Onward" from Tormato (1978) in the band's history and "The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)" from Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973) since 1974[6]. The encores were "Roundabout" and "Starship Trooper".[13] During the selection process, the band rehearsed Howe's suggestion of "A Venture" from The Yes Album (1971).[14] Wakeman, who is known for his overall distaste for Tales from Topographic Oceans, was happy to play "The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)" as it was the track out of the album's four that he was most interested to perform.[6] According to Howe, most of the second night's recordings were used on the live portion of the album.[14] The shows were also filmed for release on a same-titled home video in 1996.


Towards the end of the album's mixing stage, Fletcher had to end his involvement due to touring commitments with Steve Lukather. He had completed mixing the live tracks but the studio songs were incomplete, leading Squire to suggest Billy Sherwood, who had performed additional guitars on the Talk tour, to complete it with Smith.[9][14]

After recording, Howe had planned to remain in the studio and update his vocal tracks over the course of four days, yet his time there was extended to five weeks.[4] He oversaw the mixing process as he and the producers wished for an end product that he was happy with, as he was unable to attend the sessions for the previous two Yes-related albums he had played on. Anderson visited the studio each day during this time.[14] He later recalled this time in a negative light, pointing out the lack of support from the whole band, working to get the album sounding right without pay, and the lack of appreciation for his efforts. He concluded: "I thought, 'Wow, never again. Don't call me with a project like that".[4] When it came to producing Keys to Ascension 2, the band agreed to have Sherwood produce the studio tracks on Keys to Ascension 2 (1997).[15][9] Wakeman was particularly happy with Sherwood's involvement with the project, complementing his way of working and getting the best performance out from each member.[6]

The album's artwork was designed by Roger Dean,[10] and includes one titled "Arches Mist". The front cover features the band's logo used through the 1970s and the square shaped one he designed for their thirteenth studio album, Union (1991).


Keys to Ascension was released in October 1996 and reached number 48 on the UK Albums Chart and number 99 on the Billboard 200 during its two-week presence on the chart. Anderson thought the album was not promoted effectively due to the lack of funds at Essential.[10]

The studio tracks from both Keys to Ascension albums were compiled on Keystudio (2001), and both albums were packaged in their entirety in 1998 and 2010, the latter with the concert video as a bonus disc.

Track listing[edit]

Disc one (Live tracks)
1."Siberian Khatru"Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman10:16
2."The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)"Anderson, Chris Squire, Howe, Wakeman, Alan White20:31
3."America"Paul Simon10:28
5."Awaken"Anderson, Howe18:29
Disc two (Live/Studio tracks)
1."Roundabout"Anderson, Howe8:30
2."Starship Trooper"
  • a. "Life Seeker"
  • b. "Disillusion"
  • c. "Würm"
Anderson ["Life Seeker"], Squire ["Disillusion"], Howe ["Würm"]13:06
3."Be the One"
  • a. "The One"
  • b. "Humankind"
  • c. "Skates"
  • Anderson, Squire ["The One", "Humankind"], Howe ["Skates"]9:50
    4."That, That Is"
  • a. "Togetherness"
  • b. "Crossfire"
  • c. "The Giving Things"
  • d. "That Is"
  • e. "All in All"
  • f. "How Did Heaven Begin"
  • g. "Agree to Agree"
  • Anderson, Squire ["Crossfire", "Agree to Agree"], Howe ["Togetherness"], Anderson, Howe ["The Giving Things"], Anderson ["That Is"], Anderson, White ["All in All"], Anderson, Howe, White ["How Did Heaven Begin"]19:15


    Credits adapted from the album's liner notes.[8]



    • Yes – production
    • Tom Fletcher – producer, engineer, live mixing
    • Kevin Dickey – assistant engineer, live mixing, Sonic Solutions digital editing
    • Zang Angelfire – assistant engineer
    • Bill Smith – live mixing
    • Billy Sherwood – mixing on "Be the One" and "That That Is"
    • Roger Dean – paintings, logos, lettering
    • Gottlieb Bros./Yes Magazine – photographs
    • Martyn Dean – packaging design
    • Jon Brewer – management


    1. ^ Sullivan, Steve. "Yes Shows – 1990s – 1994". Forgotten Yesterdays. Retrieved 25 June 2017. 
    2. ^ a b c Welch 2008, pp. 240–241.
    3. ^ a b c Hughes, Rob (28 September 2015). "Former Manager And Friend Jon Brewer Remembers Chris Squire". Team Rock. Retrieved 25 June 2017. 
    4. ^ a b c d Welch 2008, pp. 242–243.
    5. ^ a b Prasad, Anil (1998). "Yes – Perpetual change". Innerviews. Retrieved 27 June 2017. 
    6. ^ a b c d e Tiano, Mike (1997). "Conversation with Rick Wakeman – From NFTE #171". Notes from the Edge. Retrieved 25 June 2017. 
    7. ^ Bondy, Coleen (23 February 1996). "Yes Singer Jon Anderson's Love Affair with SLO by way of Atlantis". San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune. Retrieved 25 June 2017. 
    8. ^ a b c Keys to Ascension (Media notes). Yes. Essential Records. 1996. EDF CD 417. 
    9. ^ a b c Tiano, Mike (1 October 1996). "NFTE: Interview with Chris Squire". Notes from the Edge. Retrieved 24 June 2017. 
    10. ^ a b c Welch 2008, p. 242.
    11. ^ Roberts, Carol (6 March 1996). "Yes Has New Fans: Merchants of SLO". San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune. Retrieved 25 June 2017. 
    12. ^ St. James, Adam (5 March 1996). "Yes, They Can Still Rock Out". San Luis Obispo County Telegram-Tribune. Retrieved 25 June 2017. 
    13. ^ a b Sullivan, Steve. "Yes Shows – 1990s – San Luis Obispo Shows". Forgotten Yesterdays. Retrieved 5 July 2017. 
    14. ^ a b c d Tiano, Mike (4 September 1996). "Conversations with Steve Howe – From NFTE #160 (11, 26 June 1996)". Notes from the Edge. Retrieved 25 June 2017. 
    15. ^ Welch 2008, p. 244.


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