Released on: The Holy Bible (Album #3) Epic Records, 29 August 1994
The Holy Bible does not descend gradually into the abyss of its dark lyrical and thematic concerns – it is immersed in them from the very beginning. As a meditation on prostitution in various senses bookended by quite shockingly frank quotes on the subject from a documentary shot in New York, ‘Yes’ is as affecting in its bleakness as almost anything else on the record and makes a blunt and effective opener for what is to come.
Musically, ‘Yes’ is a fairly classic example of the quiet/loud verse/chorus dynamic so beloved of American grunge bands like Nirvana. During the relatively calm verses Bradfield sings quite plaintively of the crushingly cynical reality of the sex trade and the wider trends it represents – of which more later – but during the choruses and the curious kind of anti-bridge which follows rather than precedes them the buzzsaw guitars are amped up to thrilling effect. In the album context the song serves as the introduction to Moore’s new drum style, which is much more crude and savage compared to the technique he used on Gold Against the Soul.
In addition to quite clearly being themed around conventional, literal prostitution, Edwards also had some more metaphorical concerns in writing the lyrics. In particular, he sought to draw a comparison between the sex trade and the world of work in general – he pointed out that “the majority of your time is spent doing something you hate to get something you don’t need”. Very much the same kind of critique of capitalism found on Generation Terrorists, but presented in a far more gut-wrenching and yet cryptic and subtle way.
In a separate idea, in his August 1994 interview with Melody Maker Wire explored the status of the band as people who, by that point, genuinely could do pretty much whatever they wanted – not unlike the exploitative customers of prostitutes. Conversely, the Manics sometimes felt that they were being prostituted themselves, being the object of huge media attention they could always control.
The US mix of the song released on the tenth anniversary edition is not one of the remixing efforts which improves a Holy Bible track. Tom Lord-Alge’s efforts here add a kind of buzzing texture to the guitars which can be somewhat distracting, and he also causes the guitar in the outro to fade out in a way which dampens the deliberately numbing impact it possesses in the original UK mix.
It is known that ‘Yes’ was originally intended to be released as the fourth single from the album in early 1995, but this was aborted. A number of good reasons for this have been proposed – crucially, the highly explicit lyrics would have required heavy editing for radio which would have seriously undermined the impact of the record; the band themselves expressed concerns over this. Additionally, the other singles had not performed particularly strongly and it was probably felt that another single would not improve upon their chart rankings. Finally, at five minutes long the song was probably at the very upper limits of a commercially viable release, which might have resulted in further damaging cuts.
Supposedly, a US promo was made in preparation for the single release but if this exists it will be extremely rare. Inside the sleeve of the tenth anniversary edition there is a graphic that reads, “MSP the band that likes to say YES”, which has been suggested as a possible cover for the single; an alternative theory is that it was the design for a t-shirt which ultimately never went into production.
Choice Lyric (Full Lyrics)
“there’s no part of my body that has not been used”
‘T’ – slang used be prostitutes for “toss off”. Apparently learned by Edwards from the same documentary from which the opening and closing quotes are taken.
Purgatory – in Roman Catholicism, a place of temporary punishment or purification, neither heaven nor hell.
Ambulance at the bottom of a cliff – a phrase, quite well known in some places, to refer to the idea of planning for disaster instead of the much easier route of planning to prevent them (i.e., building a fence at the top of a cliff).
The Eleventh Commandment – a reference to the Ten Commandments or “Decalogue”, which are a set of religious laws set out in the Bible.
“You can buy her, you can buy her / This one’s here, this one’s here, this one’s here and this one’s here / Everything’s for sale” – spoken by a New York pimp in the Channel 4 documentary Pimps, Pros, Hookers and Their Johns.
“Two dollars you rub her tits / Three dollars you rub her ass / Five dollars you can play with her pussy / Or you can lick her tits / Choice is yours” – as above.