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Original members include Jon Anderson (born October 25, 1944, in Lancashire, England; left group, 1980, rejoined, early 1980s, left, late 1980s, performed with Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe [ABWH], beginning in 1989, and with Yes, 1991), vocals; Peter Banks (left group, 1969), guitar; Bill Bruford (born May 17, 1948, in London, England; left group, 1972, performed with ABWA, beginning in 1989, and with Yes, 1991), drums; Tony Kaye (left group, 1969, rejoined, 1982), keyboards; and Chris Squire (born March 4, 1948, in London), bass. Later members include Geoff Downes (joined group, 1980, left, early 1980s), keyboards; Trevor Horn (joined group, 1980, left, early 1980s), vocals; Steve Howe (born April 8, 1947, in London; joined group, 1969, left c. 1981, performed with ABWH, beginning in 1989, and with Yes, 1991), guitar; Patrick Moraz (born June 24, 1948, in Morges, Switzerland; joined group, 1973, left, 1976), keyboards; Trevor Rabin (joined group c. 1981), guitar; Rick Wakeman (born May 18, 1949; joined group, 1971, left, 1973, rejoined, 1976, left c. 1979, performed with ABWH, beginning in 1989, and with Yes, 1991), keyboards; Alan White (born June 14, 1949, in Durham, England; joined group, 1972), drums. Addresses: Record company-- Atco, 1290 6th Ave., New York, NY 10104.
The English band Yes were among the pioneers of what came to be known as "progressive rock" or "art rock." Their tightly orchestrated songs--usually outfitted with vaguely mystical lyrics--are noted for their dense harmonies, wild time signatures, and virtuosic soloing to produce what singer and co-founder Jon Anderson called "arranged excitement," though detractors have singled the band out as purveyors of pompous, overwrought soundscapes. From their formation in 1968, Yes have gone through numerous personnel changes and stylistic explorations, surviving over two decades of changing musical fashion; in 1991 they brought together most of their alumni for the collective effort Union.
Yes was the brainchild of two musicians: singer Jon Anderson and bassist Chris Squire. The two met in 1968 at London's Marquee Club, Anderson told Rolling Stone 's Steve Turner, and the singer figured Squire to be "a Simon and Garfunkel type." He was correct in assuming the bassist liked Simon and Garfunkel; in any case they found enough in common musically to begin writing songs together. They found drummer Bill Bruford through an advertisement in Melody Maker --Bruford appeared in the add with his cheap drumkit, which he had painted to look like a more expensive brand--and enlisted guitarist Peter Banks and keyboardist Tony Kaye. The band began to work toward a new sound that would blend the intensity of rock with the formal grandeur of classical music and the stylistic and rhythmic adventurousness of jazz.
The band made converts with their early live appearances and released their first LP, Yes, for Atlantic Records in 1969. In addition to their originals, Yes featured cover versions of songs by The Beatles and The Byrds. Lester Bangs, reviewing the album for Rolling Stone, declared Yes "a fine, developing group" and called the record "a pleasurable one," though "the excitement of true innovation is missing." Their sophomore effort, Time and a Word, released in 1970, included a souped-up rendition of folk star Richie Havens's "No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed" that sported symphonic keyboards and a theme from a cowboy film. The record was engineered by Eddie Offord, whose consistent production work with Yes in ensuing years would make him virtually a band member.
Neither of these two albums, however, had much commercial impact; meanwhile, Banks had left the band, and Yes had to find a new guitarist. They hired Steve Howe, a classically trained musician whose style was heavily influenced by jazz players like Django Reinhardt and Wes Montgomery. With Howe's creative input, the group set to work on its next record. Released in 1971, The Yes Album marks the beginning of the signature sound that would bring them international fame in the seventies. In addition to epic tracks like "Starship Trooper," "Yours Is No Disgrace," "Perpetual Change," and "I've Seen All Good People," the LP sported a live solo acoustic piece by Howe entitled "The Clap," Anderson's story-song "A Venture," and several others. Anderson's lyrics, like the band's sound, took their most recognizable form beginning with this record. The world seemed ready for rock and roll with words like, "On a sailing ship to nowhere leaving anyplace/If the summer change to winter yours is no disgrace." Rolling Stone 's praise for the album was measured: reviewer John Koegel admired the band's new maturity and original material but lamented the lack of cover versions; even so, he wrote that the band "play[s] as though of one mind," singling out Squire's "creative bass work."
Yes embarked on its first U.S. tour to support The Yes Album, but shortly thereafter keyboardist Tony Kaye left the band, joining Banks to form a new group called Flash. Yes sought out Rick Wakeman, formerly of the folk-rock band The Strawbs, to take Kaye's place. Wakeman, a classically trained pianist and rock session player who had already been deemed a new superstar by the British rock press, brought to Yes a flashy virtuosity that suited the band's increasingly challenging arrangements. The ensemble's next record, Fragile, would become one of the textbook examples of the "progressive rock" LP. Released in 1972, Fragile included the band's first hit single, "Roundabout," a few other group compositions, and a solo turn by each band member. Wakeman's solo track was an electronic rendition of a piece by composer Johannes Brahms. The record is noteworthy not only as the band's breakthrough hit but as the first of many Yes albums to feature cover art by graphic artist Roger Dean. Dean's fantasy landscapes and distinctive lettering would become the visual coefficients of the Yes sound for legions of fans worldwide.
Fragile was also the group's first hit with critics. Richard Cromelin's Rolling Stone review--though not an unqualified rave--suggested that Yes had cleared a big hurdle. Cromelin noted the "show-off syndrome" marring some of the songs but admired the record overall; he called "Roundabout'"s instrumental break "a tour-de-force, a complete knockout, and perhaps the most quietly devastating moment to appear on a record in recent memory." The 1972 follow-up album, Close to the Edge, broke even more new ground. With its title track taking up the entire first side--separated into "movements"-- Close to the Edge gained a reputation over time as one of the band's finest works and perhaps the definitive "progressive rock" album. Containing three symphonic tunes--"Close to the Edge," "And You & I," and "Siberian Khatru"--the LP fulfills the genre's promise to provide a mental and emotional journey. The elaborate arrangements, critics and fans agreed, had never seemed so integrated before. Cromelin's review again chided the band somewhat for its signature faults and Anderson's "inaccessible" lyrics but noted that "Yes have formed a coherent musical language from the elements that have been kicked around by progressive rockers for ages."
Yes went on tour to support the two albums in 1972, but Bruford left the band before the tour began and was replaced by Plastic Ono Band alumnus Alan White. Highlights of the shows appeared on a three-record live set, 1973's Yessongs, and in a concert film with the same title. While on tour, Anderson was reading Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi and--inspired by a footnote--began to write songs with Howe that would form the group's next opus, the two-record Tales From Topographic Oceans. Released in 1973 and divided into four "movements," Tales tried the patience of critics and even alienated some fans. Gordon Fletcher began his Rolling Stone review by remarking bluntly that "this album is too long" and went on to complain about the band's "psychedelic noodling" and the "mechanical" feel of the music. "Composers Jon Anderson and Steve Howe no doubt understand the relationship between Tales and their personal search for Truth, Knowledge, Culture and Freedom," he added, "but they haven't clued in the rest of us." Rolling Stone 's 1975 review of the next Yes album, Relayer, reminded readers that Tales was "four sides of hopelessly dense complexity that left many observers recoiling in utter dismay and taxed even the group's most ardent supporters."
Even Wakeman found Tales a bit too pompous to stomach and took a hiatus from the group. As Pulse! critic and avowed progressive rock fan Steve Hochman remarked, something too overblown for Wakeman had to be pretty overblown: "This is a man possessed of such refined taste and sense of proportion that he later staged his rock version of the Arthurian myths as an ice show!" Anderson and company hired Swiss-born keyboardist Patrick Moraz to take Wakeman's place. The group's next LP, Relayer, hit the stores late in 1974 and went gold, despite mostly negative reviews. Relayer, commented a writer for Rolling Stone, "may exhaust even the devoted. Singer Jon Anderson's words plumb the depths of turgidity," while the record as a whole, despite some nice moments, "is an excessive, pretentious and ill-conceived album. The folly of Yes's extreme approach is becoming only too apparent." Reviewers for Melody Maker continued to favor the group, however, and commented approvingly of Moraz's contribution to the live sound in a 1976 concert review. Even Rolling Stone admitted as much: "The evening's surprise," commented Elliot Cahn, "was how much the five-man group sounded like Yes before the departure of Wakeman."
In 1975 Atlantic released Yesterdays, an anthology of tracks from the first two Yes albums and a ten-minute rendition of Paul Simon's "America" recorded in 1972 with Wakeman and Bruford. That year Yes won five awards in a Melody Maker readers' poll, indicating, along with their impressive concert turnouts, that critics and fans differed over the band's direction. The various band members had done some solo work, and started work on some new material; Moraz expressed dissatisfaction with the new songs. By 1977, Moraz had departed and Wakeman returned to Yes. A 1977 Rolling Stone article suggested that the veteran multi-keyboardist's return brought the group back to earth, quoting White as saying that "I feel a touch of lightheartedness now in the band. Rick brings that touch of humor back into the music." The group completed its next LP, Going for the One, for a fall release. Rolling Stone 's John Swenson wrote that with this record the band had overcome its "cosmic torpor." A writer for Melody Maker was more enthusiastic, labeling Going for the One a "triumphant return ... a classic Yes album." The album features several hardrocking songs, including the title track, Squire's "Parallels," and "Awaken."
Anderson told Melody Maker that year that he was moving away from the "cosmic interplanetary thoughts" of his past songwriting, and promised that the following year the group would "put out a really hot album." In the studio in 1978, the band expressed excitement over its new material. "Rejoining the band was the best day's work I ever did," Wakeman confided to Melody Maker 's Chris Welch. Welch was similarly enthusiastic about the album when reviewing Tormato a few months later: "Anybody who has followed Yes from their inception will be delighted with this in some ways startling rebirth of their music." A writer for Rolling Stone , however, had little good to say about anything on Tormato but Squire's playing, deriding the album with tomato-related puns like "squishy," "overripe," and "rotten." Fans, however, showed enthusiasm over the album and its single "Don't Kill the Whale," which helped Tormato to become Yes's radio breakthrough in the U.S., going gold and ultimately platinum.
Despite this success, a new shakeup changed the Yes lineup. Squire, Howe, and White differed with Anderson about the new album's direction; Wakeman wanted to send his parts in on tape from his home in Switzerland. As a result, the singer and keyboardist drifted away from the project, leaving Squire and company to try to piece something together. An unlikely solution came in the form of Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, known for their work as the new wave duo The Buggles. Horn and Downes had submitted a song to the band, were invited into the studio to help record it, and soon found they'd been recruited as members of the group. Many Yes fans were shocked at the news, but as Howe told Melody Maker 's Karl Dallas, the new lineup seemed "the logical next step." Horn took over vocals and Downes played keyboards, and the group put together a new Yes album, Drama. The lyrics and arrangements for songs like "Into the Lens," "Tempus Fugit," and "Machine Messiah" were consistent with classic Yes stylings, but a writer for Melody Maker found Drama "mediocrity disguised as majesty." The band toured "in the round"--using a unique revolving stage--to support the LP.
After Drama the group was quiet for a while. In 1981 Atlantic released an anthology of live material called Yesshows, which Dallas found "a better album than Drama on the whole" and a more interesting variation on the recorded version of the songs than was offered by Yessongs. Steve Howe left the group to play with the pop supergroup Asia--a brainchild of Horn's and Downes's--so he wasn't available for the next project, 1985's 90125. But that project took a while to assemble.
In 1982 Squire and White had hired South African guitarist Trevor Rabin, while Tony Kaye reclaimed the keyboard position. The new lineup was going to be called Cinema when it recorded the album, with Horn producing. The lead vocals weren't working out, however. As Squire told Rolling Stone, "I just threw this out one night--'Let's get Jon Anderson back'--and it sort of freaked everyone out." Anderson listened to the new material, and agreed to return as lead vocalist. His presence made everyone comfortable with calling the group Yes again. 90125 was Yes's first album on the Atco label (its title came from its catalog number).
The new sound was extremely streamlined, as best exemplified by the radio-smart single "Owner of a Lonely Heart," penned by Rabin. Thanks to the single, the album zoomed up to the U.S. top ten albums chart. Squire told Rolling Stone that this was "not really a reunion; it's more a reestablishing, I think." J. D. Considine, reviewing the LP for the magazine, lauded its "surprisingly spritely and poppish" sound, crediting Horn for skillfully orchestrating the band's "choirboy vocal harmonies." Musician noted that the new Yes's concerts were impressive as far as new material was concerned, "but the old songs sat there like a lump. Trevor Rabin isn't Steve Howe. Tony Kaye isn't Rick Wakeman or Patrick Moraz.... Having made a stunning rock comeback, Yes can afford to leave 'Starship Troopers' behind on its path toward new music."
By 1987 musical fashion had so changed that Melody Maker lumped its former darlings in with other "dinosaurs" of progressive rock: "More carefully informed observers of the genre might disagree, but if only for the sheer long-windedness of virtually everything they ever recorded, Yes deserve to be recognised as the definitive prog-rock band." Yes had left that image behind, however, and in 1987 released another slick pop album for Atco records, Big Generator, which a writer for Guitar Player called "a mixed offering, but in the balance a fine showcase for [Rabin's] wide-ranging talents."
By 1989, new divisions caused new squabbles. Rolling Stone reported that Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe were working on a new project but couldn't call themselves Yes because Squire, White, and Kaye owned the name. The foursome had signed to Arista, and the two record companies issued conflicting statements about which band was really Yes. Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe was the name of the non-Yes LP released in 1989 by Arista. A Stereo Review writer gave the album a mixed review: "Singing about transcendence is not necessarily the same thing as getting there." People was less kind: "The toothless foursome flail around for almost an hour, trying to recapture some of their old glory.... The end result is tedious." Rolling Stone 's Jimmy Guterman ventured, "On Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe, four musicians play their parts without coming into any contact, without establishing any common ground." Nonetheless, the album yielded a hit single, "Brother of Mine."
"Common ground" was exactly what the various members of Yes were about to find. Anderson was working on the new Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe (ABWH) record when he ran into Rabin, who brought Anderson in to work on his solo project. Meanwhile, Squire, White, and Kaye had been working with Offord on a new Yes album, and asked Anderson to contribute some vocals. Squire was then persuaded to sing some parts for the ABWH record, and it became clear to everyone involved that a unifying project would be ideal.
After some negotiation, the new Yes came together for an album--1991's Union --and a tour. The group meant "union" in a literal sense, and so included Anderson, Howe, Rabin, Squire, Wakeman, Kaye, Bruford, and White. With two drummers, two keyboardists, and two guitarists, this new outfit struck progressive rock fans like Hochman as a wonderfully appropriate "monument to excess," but Arista--which got the new band as Atlantic combined Atco with another subsidiary--evidently found it just right. A press release gushed, "The unified Yes combines the best of classic Yes with the best of modern Yes," and quoted Anderson as saying, "It will be good for Yes to get under one banner and wave the Yes flag in the nineties."
Produced by Jonathan Elias, a longtime Yes fan, Union wasn't exactly the bona fide sensation that Arista hype suggested. Rolling Stone panned it as "an eclectic miscarriage that almost isn't worth laughing about." Such critical disapproval had accompanied some of the band's biggest successes, however; the band's apparent lack of enthusiasm was another matter. "It would be fair to say none of us are entirely happy in any way, fashion or form with the Union album," Wakeman told Parke Puterbaugh in a Rolling Stone profile. "However, having said that, there's a lot of really good songs--it shows in small areas what can happen, and it acts as a vehicle for this tour and the future." The single "Lift Me Up" garnered substantial rotation on Top 40 radio, and the group began its tour to sellout crowds. As if to put to rest any doubts about the ongoing appeal of Yes's older material, Atco--just prior to its merger with the EastWest label--assembled a four-CD boxed set of remastered Yes material entitled Yesyears. Reviewers may have sneered--"It isn't the package ... that makes this box set seem excessive," wrote Considine, "It's the music"--but fans were delighted.
Whatever critics might say about Yes, the band's unmistakable fusion of cosmic lyrics, symphonic arrangements, and rock and roll theatrics has struck a resounding chord with listeners for well over two decades. And in spite of various lineup changes, bad reviews, and a measure of infighting, Yes have managed to maintain their unique union and place in rock history.
Group formed in London, England, 1968; released first album, Yes, on Atlantic Records, 1969.
Five gold albums; two platinum albums.
- On Atlantic
- Yes 1969.
- Time and a Word (includes "No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed"), 1970.
- The Yes Album (includes "Starship Trooper," "Yours Is No Disgrace," "Perpetual Change," "I've Seen All Good People," "The Clap," and "A Venture"), 1971.
- Fragile (includes "Roundabout"), 1972.
- Close to the Edge (includes "Close to the Edge," "And You & I," and "Siberian Khatru"), 1972.
- Yessongs 1973.
- Tales From Topographic Oceans 1973.
- Relayer 1974.
- Yesterdays (includes "America"), 1975.
- Going for the One (includes "Going for the One," "Parallels," and "Awaken"), 1977.
- Tormato (includes "Don't Kill the Whale"), 1978.
- Drama (includes "Into the Lens," "Tempus Fugit," and "Machine Messiah"), 1980.
- Yesshows 1981.
- On Atco
- 90125 (includes "Owner of a Lonely Heart"), 1985.
- Big Generator 1987.
- Yesyears 1991.
- On Arista
- Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford, and Howe (includes "Brother of Mine"), 1989.
- Union (includes "Lift Me Up"), 1991.
- Stambler, Irwin, Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul, St.
- Martin's Press, 1989.
- Down Beat, May 23, 1974.
- Guitar Player, January 1988.
- Melody Maker, March 11, 1972; September 20, 1975; August 7, 1976; July 9, 1977; July 16, 1977; November 26, 1977; May 6, 1978; September 16, 1978; June 14, 1980; August 16, 1980; January 1, 1981; October 10, 1987.
- Musician, August 1984.
- People, July 24, 1989.
- Pulse!, December 1991.
- Rolling Stone, February 2, 1970; July 22, 1971; March 16, 1972; March 30, 1972; November 9, 1972; March 28, 1974; June 19, 1975; August 28, 1975; September 20, 1975; September 8, 1977; October 6, 1977; December/January, 1978-79; January 19, 1984; February 2, 1984; February 23, 1989; August 10, 1989; June 13, 1991; June 27, 1991; July 11, 1991; October 3, 1991.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from an Arista Records press release, 1991.
- --Simon Glickman
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