2007-10-05 16:53:04 UTC
big for Yes being one of the greatest rock band of all time.
Unfortunately, they are not yet in Rock N Roll HOF and didnt even make
the top 100 VH1 rock n roll list.
Yes are a rock band with a strange and interesting history. Back in
the 1970s, they were among the most popular, best-loved and biggest-
selling bands on the planet. In 1976, they packed out the JFK stadium
with over 110,000 enthusiastic fans, just about the largest concert
attendance ever at that time.
Today they enjoy only limited media exposure; you will seldom hear
them on radio or see them discussed by critics and few under-20s will
now even have heard of them. And yet, many teenagers of 2003 are found
to be open and willing to listen to this band. Given the opportunity,
they hear the music with fresh ears and are amazed at it; indeed they
are frequently incredulous at Yes's lack of presence on the music
So what accounts for today's lack of market profile?
First, they have never been mainstream pop or dance - nor are they a
'singles' band. This is album music to be listened to and enjoyed for
its own sake. And like all good music, it needs more than one hearing
to be fully appreciated. Those who give it time will be richly
Also, they are not natural 'celebrities'. These are professional
musicians first and seldom attract publicity for their own actions.
They are not 'hotel wreckers'.
A brief fall in their fortunes, back in the late 1970s, was due to the
advent of punk, with its emphasis on simple, direct music and blunt
aggression. The music press naturally jumped on the bandwagon and
anything that didn't fit in with the New Wave was peremptorily
'dropped' overnight. The trend then was towards three-chord songs,
with keyboards used less often. At that time Yes were probably the
best-known exponents of more involved and interesting musical forms.
Some of their output certainly approaches classical music in grandeur,
scale, invention and sheer musical ability. Their lyrics are positive,
poetic, full of hope. In contrast, the punk movement embraced street
language, anger and often a sense of despair.
This hurdle overcome, they later rose to the top again, briefly, with
their massive 90125 album and the single 'Owner of a Lonely Heart'.
Unfortunately, subsequent line-up changes and managerial difficulties
resulted in a couple of weaker albums and, again, a loss of market
These days it is difficult to say how popular Yes are, without access
to their global sales figures. There is certainly a massive global
following. At the time of writing, Yes are still together, still
working hard and playing to packed houses around the world; their fans
are loyal. The latest albums The Ladder and Magnification (2001) are
real quality, full of vibrant, fresh material.
A Brief History
The band formed around 1968, with the meeting of Jon Anderson (vocals)
and Chris Squire (bass). The first line-up included Peter Banks
(guitar), Tony Kaye (keyboard) and Bill Bruford (drums).
The first two albums were Yes and Time and a Word. These are
interesting collectors items for the established fan, but are
certainly products of their era and sound a little dated now. Later
albums have a timeless quality.
Two significant changes then occurred: firstly, the arrival of a new
producer, Eddie Offord. He was to remain with the band for several
years and would bring great continuity and invention to their sound.
The second change was the departure of Banks and arrival of Steve Howe
on guitar. Howe was to become the most widely respected rock guitarist
of his time. Unlike other contenders, such as Jimmy Page of Led
Zeppelin, Howe was happy to move outside blues and rock scales into
classical and jazz modes.
The 'Classic' Period
There was a certain amount of record company pressure for the next
album to be successful; it was make-or-break time for the band. The
Yes Album turned out to be a masterpiece - the breakthrough had come.
It contained six tracks, five of which are still played regularly on
tours, and it became almost a one-record greatest hits collection.
Keyboards on the next album, Fragile, were taken over by Rick Wakeman.
Quite apart from his general flamboyance (and golden cape) he brought
even more musicality to the band, with his classical training and rock
experience. He was a pioneer of synthesizer technology, always at the
forefront of developments1. To achieve the sounds he wanted, he would
tour with banks of keyboards that he played simultaneously. He also
brought his own playful sense of humour to the shows.
Jon Anderson has always been a dynamic and strong leader for the group
in terms of musical direction. Lyrically, he began to explore more
mystical and spiritual themes, creating word-pictures with sometimes
profound imagery: a new language that he brought to a huge public. Yes
were extremely popular at this time - their concerts invariably sold
The fifth album, Close to the Edge, was a truly massive hit worldwide.
It established the group as leaders in their art, with an inspired
title track. This was 18 minutes long, a fact in itself challenging
for many who wanted to categorise Yes as a pop/rock group. It featured
four sections, the first a wonderfully crafted rock/jazz intro,
leading into powerful melodies, a beautifully harmonised third 'slow'
movement and a final climactic return to the 'Close to the Edge'
theme, with truly spine-tingling effect.
All this was guaranteed to win many, many fans, but also baffle others
who were more addicted to the three-minute pop song and the epidemic
of soul/disco sweeping the world at that time.
Bill Bruford was replaced by Alan White, a former drummer for John
Lennon, bringing a more rocky, less jazzy approach to the instrument.
Tales from Topographic Oceans was the sixth album, a double, and it
went to No 1 in the album charts despite marketing and release
difficulties. This was probably their most challenging album: four
pieces in excess of 20 minute each, featuring various musical styles.
By now though, the band had their own distinctive sound and this was
unlike anything else on the market. It alienated some critics, who
considered it a step too far outside their strict categories of 'rock
'n' roll', disco, etc. With hindsight, the band were steering their
own course and it was brave and original. Those who gave the album a
fair hearing are generally still passionate about it to this day, but
it needed listening to, just as a Sibelius symphony does: it makes
demands of the listener, but the reward is great.
Album number seven was Relayer. This was what many consider to be
their greatest-ever recording. It beautifully tackles the great themes
of war, peace, love and hate. Again, like much that is profound, it
needs more than one listening to appreciate its genius. Patrick Moraz
replaced Wakeman on keyboards for this one album and brought a fast
playing jazz-fusion feel to the overall rock sound. Yes were riding
high and it was 1976, the year of their great stadium concerts.
The Punk Era
The 'New Wave' hit hard in 1977, but the next album, the superb Going
for the One, flew in the face of the movement and confounded the
critics. It reached No 1 in the album charts. However, Yes had
officially become the 'Old Wave' and the music press began
systematically to write them off; or rather not write about them at
all. The tragedy of this was not that it badly affected the band, but
that future audiences were denied even the opportunity to hear about
Yes, other than by word of mouth.
The band were shaken and probably hurt by the wave of criticism, and
the ninth album, Tormato, sounded musically changed, unsure of itself.
The final mixdown sounded surprisingly hurried and even the album
sleeve betrayed a lack of self-belief within the band, the planned
cover-photo splattered in tomatoes. Be that as it may, the record
still contained some great ideas and was followed by a hugely
successful and innovative tour 'in the round' ie, on a revolving
At some point during this 1978 tour, Anderson and Wakeman decided to
call it a day. Things were just not gelling within the band.
Controversially, they were replaced by former Buggles members, Trevor
Horn (vocals) and Geoff Downes (keyboards). This appeared strange at
the time, as Buggles had presented a distinctly 'pop' sound - it
seemed that neither Yes fans nor Buggles fans were happy with the new
However, the next album, Drama, put paid to many of their fears. This
was tight, clever music. The keyboards were solidly played, without a
foreground presence, but certainly held their own. The vocals were
performed satisfactorily and suited the songs. However, it was a
different sound, and the loss of Anderson meant the loss of some
ethereal, enigmatic quality - spirituality, if you will. It was the
difference between a mountain-top experience, and simply a hike over a
mountain. Oddly enough though, these feelings perfectly suited the
material; 'Machine Messiah', for instance, seemed to speak of a
mechanistic, soulless universe. Drama remains a popular album because
the band were true to themselves, and the material has freshness after
the change in personnel.
The subsequent tour was successful but proved difficult for Trevor
Horn, as his voice was severely challenged by the older material.
After the tour, the band split; apparently Yes had finished.
Wakeman undertook various solo projects, Howe formed Asia and Trevor
Horn now settled into his future successful role as producer. Jon
Anderson meanwhile, teamed up with Greek synthesizer wizard, Vangelis,
and enjoyed great success (and hit singles) as Jon and Vangelis.
Squire, White, former keyboard man Tony Kaye, and South African
guitarist Trevor Rabin teamed up to form a proposed new band, Cinema.
However, with much of an album already recorded, Jon Anderson rejoined
and the band was happily reborn as Yes.
The new album 90125 was a tremendous resurgence for the band, with its
No 1 single 'Owner of a Lonely Heart'. The instrumental track 'Cinema'
won the 'Best Rock Instrumental Performance' Grammy Award in 1984.
However, they were quite a different band from earlier days. Rabin's
influence was a strong one and the band would sometimes rely on power
chords rather than the subtle imaginations of Steve Howe. They became
a harder, louder version of Yes, with a very 'produced' sound. Rabin
also sang vocals and this territory became vaguer: who was the singer?
The great thing about Rabin, though, was his energy and drive. It was
he who kept the band in existence and present fans have him to thank
The 90125 album had won many new fans. Unfortunately the next album,
Big Generator, was less well received. It seemed that Rabin was
completely in charge at this point and his agenda was harder, driving
rock without the beauty or grace of earlier albums. Nevertheless,
there are many who prefer this period of the group's development, and
many who 'discovered' the band at this time. It should also be said
that a 'weak' album by Yes' standards is still a good deal more
ambitious and interesting than most other bands could ever lay claim
to: their sheer musical proficiency almost guarantees this.
Yes again split after the Big Generator promotional tour in mid-1988.
There was a dispute about ownership of the name and the members
settled into two camps.
ABWH (Anderson-Bruford-Wakeman-Howe) released an album and toured,
while Rabin, Squire, Kaye and White continued, rather unproductively,
as Yes. Eventually, some of the arguments calmed down and it was
decided to unite the two factions to record a new album, appropriately
named Union. The subsequent tour was one of their most successful
ever, although the album itself was recorded under conditions of
rancour, disputation and pressure. It is of variable quality, though
there are wonderful moments. It must have been difficult pulling
together two drummers, two keyboard players, two guitarists!
The union was temporary and they looked like fragmenting again. Label
changes and management quarrels seemed to conspire against the music,
but once more Rabin was inspirational in moving the band forward to
the next project: Talk, the fourteenth studio album.
Talk was largely produced by Rabin, but unlike the previous two albums
the effect here was magnificent. The line-up of Anderson, Squire,
Kaye, Rabin and White seemed finally to be pulling in a unified
direction. The title itself indicated a new level of togetherness and
communication. The album's sales were comparatively weak, but it was
still a real achievement.
After the tour, however, Rabin now left to pursue other projects,
including film music. There was now a hiatus, as the members
collectively drew breath. This period was punctuated by various
concerts around the world.
Keys to the Future
The next significant development was a concert at San Luis Obispo,
California in 1996, which resulted in a return to the 'classic' line-
up of Anderson, Squire, Howe, Wakeman and White. Two albums of new and
live material, Keys to Ascension 1 + 2 followed, to rapturous acclaim
from many long-time fans. The new material was brimming with
confidence, ideas and imagination. Yes were back! (Eventually, the new
material from the Keys albums was collected on one studio album,
Unbelievably after this, Wakeman drifted away from the band again.
Chris Squire was working with a guitarist/producer, Billy Sherwood,
who was brought into the band, along with a young Russian keyboard
player, Igor Khoroshev.
The next album Open Your Eyes (1997) was again a confident-sounding
record although the overall sound lacked some clarity. It was a guitar-
based album with keyboards taking a backseat. The material on this
album is surprisingly varied; at times simple, at times complicated,
but always permeated powerfully by Anderson/Squire's vision and
Yes's commitment to touring remained as constant as ever, with another
series of concerts.
Onward and Upward
The Ladder was next (1999). Khoroshev on keyboards really came into
his own here, wowing Yes fans with his ability and creativity. The
Ladder was in some ways a return to the magic of those 1970s albums,
but without in any sense being a retrograde step. Terrifically
uplifting and positive, with great melodies and arrangements, they
were really sounding like masters of their instruments and of their
own lives. It was as though they had finally begun to understand just
how much they were really loved around the world.
The title track (sub-titled 'Homeworld') was used on the computer game
of that name, and probably brought many new, young fans into the Yes
family. The Ladder could undoubtedly have been marketed to even
greater effect: this Researcher has introduced many young people to
Yes's music by lending them this record.
Their most recent release Magnification is a marvellous album,
released in 2001. Undertaken without any keyboard player (after the
departures of Sherwood and Khoroshev), the band decided to replace the
keyboards by an orchestra. Many fans were rightly suspicious of this
plan, wary of the 'classics play rock' scenario, but they need not
have worried. The orchestra was scored by Larry Groupe, a skilled
orchestrator and a long-time Yes fan. He wrote sympathetically to the
songs and helped produce a record that was a true masterpiece.
Many artists have used the events of 11 September, 2001 as inspiration
for new work. Magnification was different. It was finished just before
those tragedies unfolded. Miraculously, it seems to capture the
feeling of that time perfectly. It points towards healing and renewal
through commitment to love.
The triumphant European and American tours which followed have
featured some of the greatest (and happiest) concert performances in
Yes's career. Rick Wakeman has finally rejoined, and the classic line-
up continues to perform with energy and virtuosity at every show. A
'Full Circle' tour commences in 2003 to include Australia, Japan,
North America and Europe.