Yes is a progressive rock band that formed in London in 1968. Despite many lineup changes, occasional splits and many changes in popular music, the band has endured for over 35 years and still retains a strong international following. Their music is marked by sharp dynamic contrasts, often extended song lengths, and a general showcasing of its members' instrumentalism. Probably the most ambitious musically of their wave, Yes manage to use symphonic and other so called "classical" structures with their blend of musical styles - including some innovations - in a happy constructive "marriage" of music.
Founding members Jon Anderson and Chris Squire are often considered the core of the band since Squire has performed on all official Yes albums and Anderson has performed on all but one. Rick Wakeman, on the other hand, has been in Yes five different times. A journalist once remarked that the band could be called "The Squires" as Squire has been a steady guiding influence throughout the band's history playing a similar role to Mick Fleetwood in Fleetwood Mac.
Yes was formed in 1968 by vocalist Jon Anderson and bassist Chris Squire. The original lineup also included guitarist Peter Banks, keyboardist Tony Kaye, and drummer Bill Bruford, who was to become one of the most acclaimed drummers of his time. They played their first show at a summer camp in England on August 2, 1968. Early on, the group earned a reputation for taking other people's songs and drastically changing them into expanded, progressive compositions (much like Deep Purple did). Unlike many artists doing this at the time, especially with Beatles material, Anderson and his band made the music their own. Their self-titled debut album was released in 1969. From the beginning, Yes was a band of excellent musicians with ambitious goals. Peter Banks was immediately a break-out star among fans and critics, and the harmony vocals of Anderson and Squire were an immediate trademark of the Yes sound.
In 1970, the group took their ambitions to the extreme, especially for this period, by recording their second album with a 30-piece symphony orchestra. Time and a Word featured original compositions with the exception of two songs, Richie Havens's "No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed", and "Everydays" by Stephen Stills. The epic reworking of Haven's song also included excerpts from the theme song of the television series The Big Country. Although musically exeptional in terms of melody and a powerful delivery of songs, unfortunately, the orchestra (and keyboardist Tony Kaye) overpowered Banks and much of the vocal work, leaving Time and a Word as somewhat of an uneven effort. Before the album's release, guitarist Peter Banks was fired. The American release shows Steve Howe on the front cover along with the other members as if he had played in the album, though the back cover does portray Banks.
The "classic" lineup
The early 1970s Yes recordings are still considered the classic Yes sound by many fans. These albums feature complex classically-influenced arrangements, unusual time signatures, virtuoso musicianship, dramatic dynamic and metrical changes and oblique, stream-of-consciousness lyrics. Their repertoire often exceeded the standard three-minute pop-song structure with lengthy multi-part suites lasting 20 minutes or more, making the band now a leading 70s prog. rock combo. Vocal verses alternated with atmospheric instrumental interludes, frenetic ensemble passages and extended guitar, keyboard and bass improvisations. The most recognisable sonic features of this 'classic' period are Anderson's distinctive high-register lead vocals, their strong vocal harmonies, Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe's respective keyboard and guitar solos - Kaye, although a talented keyboards player who contributed memorable chord passages on the hammond organ (particulary on the classic "Yours is No Disgrace"), could not match Howe's guitar improvisio, whereas Wakeman brought keyboards up to level pegging with guitar (still a rare situation for a rock group even today), Bruford's polyrhythmic drumming and the distinctive sound of Squire's Rickenbacker model 4001 stereo bass.
Squire was one of the first rock bass players to successfully adapt electronic guitar effects such as tremolo, phasing and the wah-wah pedal to the instrument. The rhythm section of Squire and Bruford was considered by many to be one of the best in rock music at this time.
Their first two Yes LPs mixed original material with covers of songs by their major influences, including The Beatles, The Byrds, and Simon & Garfunkel. The departure of Peter Banks in 1970 and his replacement by ex-Tomorrow guitarist Steve Howe gave Yes a new edge. The group's emerging style coalesced on their next LP, the critically acclaimed The Yes Album, which for the first time consisted entirely of original compositions by the band; it was also the record that united them with long-serving producer and engineer Eddie Offord; his studio expertise was a key factor in creating the Yes sound.
In 1971, original keyboard player Tony Kaye left to form his own group, Badger. He was replaced by classically trained Rick Wakeman, who had just left The Strawbs and was already a noted studio musician with credits including David Bowie and Lou Reed.
As a soloist, Wakeman proved to be a perfect foil for Steve Howe. He also brought two vital new additions to the group's instrumentation—the Mellotron and the Minimoog synthesizer. Surrounded by banks of keyboards, his flowing blonde hair and sequined cape provided a strong visual focus on stage, although they later became the object of ridicule in some quarters.
The first recording by this 'classic' lineup of the group (Anderson, Bruford, Howe, Squire and Wakeman) was a dynamic ten-minute interpretation of Paul Simon's "America", which originally appeared on the album "The Age of Atlantic", a compilation with several acts from the roster of Atlantic Records. The excellent organ work on the track is actually played by Bruford. It was both the end of one era—their last non-original track—and the beginning of another, showcasing all the elements of the new Yes sound in place.
With Wakeman on board, Yes entered what some consider their most fertile and successful period, cutting two highly acclaimed LPs. Fragile (1971) went Top Ten in America, and Close to the Edge (1972) was also a huge seller. Yes enjoyed enormous commercial and critical success around the world and became one of the most popular concert attractions of the day. They also notably benefited from the tremendous advances in live music technology that were taking place at that time, and they were renowned for the high quality of both their sound and lighting.
Fragile also marked the beginning of a long collaboration with artist Roger Dean, who designed the group's logo and their album covers, as well as their light shows. Some consider the album Close to the Edge to be the high point of the whole progressive rock genre. Fans of this era commonly describe themselves as "Troopers", after the 3-part track "Starship Trooper" from The Yes Album.
Shortly after the release of Close To The Edge, at the height of the band's success, Bill Bruford stunned fans with the news that he was quitting to join King Crimson. He was replaced by former Plastic Ono Band drummer Alan White, a more conventional rock drummer, though as talented as Bruford, who debuted on their next release, the three-record live collection Yessongs, recorded on their world tour in late 1972 and early 1973.
Yessongs was a hugely ambitious project and undoubtedly a major gamble for their label, Atlantic Records. It was one of the first rock triple-album sets, featuring live versions of all-original material from the previous three studio albums. Presented in one of the most lavish album packages to date, Roger Dean's artwork spread across a triple gatefold cover and continued the cosmic-organic design concepts of the two previous albums. The album was another bestseller and was recently voted among the top twenty live records of all time.
Their next studio album, Tales From Topographic Oceans marked a sea change in the band's fortunes, polarizing fans and critics alike. Although extended compositions were by now a Yes hallmark—the title track of Close to the Edge took up the entire first side of that album—the four tracks, each roughly 20 minutes long, that comprised the two-disc Topographic Oceans earned mixed reviews and left many feeling that the band was beginning to overreach itself. Rick Wakeman, in particular, was not pleased with the album. Increasing interpersonal tensions between Wakeman and the rest of the band led him to quit at the end of the Tales tour.
Wakeman was replaced by Swiss musician Patrick Moraz for Relayer in 1974. Again, the album featured a side-long track, "The Gates of Delirium," from which the "Soon" section was put out as a limited single release. The vast difference between Moraz' contributions to Yes and Wakeman's was more of a novelty than a disappointment, Moraz being a distinctive electric-jaz musician in his own right. This reached Number One on the Spanish charts. Following an extended tour through 1975–76, each member of the group released his own solo album. At the same time, Yesterdays was released, containing tracks from the first two albums, as well as "America" as the opening track.
The group commenced sessions for a new album. There is some confusion about the chain of events, but after a considerable amount of negotiation, Rick Wakeman rejoined the band on a "session musician" basis. The confusion comes from Moraz being on record as saying he feels he deserves credit for much of the music on the resulting album. Certainly Howe has also stated that the group "tried to remove as much of Patrick from the songs as possible", so it would appear that he did contribute to the initial sessions. Ultimately Moraz ended up at the top of the ambiguous "thanks to..." list on the album sleeve. In any case, after hearing and being impressed by the new material Wakeman once again became a permanent band member. Apart from the 15 minute track "Awaken", the album Going for the One was mostly made up of shorter songs, including Wonderous Stories, released as a single in the UK in 1977. The album, along with 1978's Tormato, was successful in spite of being released at the height of the punk rock era in Britain, during which Yes were often criticized by the music press as representing the most bloated excesses of early 1970s progressive rock. Ironically, Yes outlasted almost all the groups of that era as well.
In 1980, the band's career took a serious left turn, even by its own standards. Wakeman had again grown disenchanted with the band, but this time so had Jon Anderson, who was enjoying success out of the band in partnership with Vangelis. This left Squire, Howe, and White to start sessions for a new album without a singer or a keyboard player. At Yes manager Brian Lane's suggestion, Squire invited The Buggles - who were coming off an international success with their album "The Age of Plastic" and the acclaimed single "Video Killed the Radio Star" - duo Geoffrey Downes (keyboards) and Trevor Horn (vocals) to help out on a new Yes album. Initially, the plan was that Downes and Horn would help write some new material - they already had a song called 'We Can Fly From Here' which had been written with Yes in mind. Soon, Howe, Squire and White confessed that their singer and keyboardist had actually left the band. To Downes and Horn's surprise, they were invited to join Yes as full-time members. They accepted the invitation and performed on the Drama album in 1980. While Drama was well received by many fans (nicknamed "Panthers" after a feature of the album's artwork), many other Yes followers missed Anderson's unique lyrics and vocal style.
After the Drama tour, Yes broke up. Downes and Howe went on to form Asia, Horn went into producing, and Squire and White began sessions with Jimmy Page, fresh from Led Zeppelin's recent demise. The band was to be called XYZ, said to be short for "ex-Yes-Zeppelin," but nothing came of the sessions, except for a few demo tracks, elements of which would appear in later Yes music.
"A Ridiculously Successful Comeback Album"
In 1983, over two years after the breakup of Yes, Chris Squire and Alan White met guitarist Trevor Rabin (late of the band Rabbitt) and formed a new group, dubbed Cinema, which also included original Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye. Formerly a solo artist with three albums to his credit, Trevor Rabin's writing contributions included the catchy riff-oriented "Owner of a Lonely Heart," but Rabin also played a role in making music which fit the MTV era, while retaining certain aspects of Yes' original style - particularly the vocal harmonies. Originally, the lead vocals were shared between Rabin and Squire, but in early 1983, Chris Squire played Jon Anderson some of Cinema's music at a party in Los Angeles. Impressed with the band's new approach, Anderson decided to join the project, resulting in the "accidental" reformation of Yes. Rabin was initially sceptical of naming the group Yes, but eventually relented when he heard "Owner..." with Anderson's vocals, stating "My God, it sounds amazing!".
To distinguish them from those who prefer the classic Yes, fans of this lineup were often called "Generators", taken from this line-up's second album, Big Generator. However, it should be noted that many Yes fans enjoy both periods of the group's music.
The album, 90125 (produced by former vocalist Trevor Horn), was a radical departure from their earlier sound. It was more visceral, with modern (for the time) electronic effects. 90125 is Yes' most succesful album by far, eventually selling over six million copies and securing a new lease on life for Yes, who toured over a year to support their comeback album. The song "Owner of a Lonely Heart" from this album was even a top hit in R&B charts (and sampled countless times since), resulting in the band's only Number One single. Yes also scored significant hit singles with "Leave It" and "It Can Happen," also garnering a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Instrumental ("Cinema"), demonstrating that the group had not totally abandoned their musicianship in favor of commercial success -- as some fans would later allege. The popular album also spawned a live album and concert video, both entitled 9012Live.
In 1986, Yes began recording Big Generator. Unfortunately, interpersonal problems (chiefly between Squire and Anderson) kept the album from timely completion, and ultimately Trevor Rabin took a hand in its final production. Although 1987's Big Generator did not fare as well as 90125, it still sold well over two million copies and remains the band's last successful album to date. Some Yes fans have considered Big Generator more faithful to the vintage Yes sound than its predecessor due to a concentrated effort to record longer songs such as "I'm Running" as well as more poppy tunes. Trevor Rabin's radio-friendly "Love Will Find a Way" charted moderately well, with the Beach Boys-inspired "Rhythm of Love" barely scraping the Top 40. The 1988 tour ended with a gig at Madison Square Gardens as part of Atlantic Records 40th anniversary celebrations, but left Yes members exhausted and frustrated with one another.
Union and reunion
By the end of the 1980s, Anderson grew tired of the "new" Yes line-up (and perhaps Chris Squire in particular). He also wanted the band to return to its classic sound. While Yes was on break after the 1988 tour, Anderson began working with former Yes members Rick Wakeman, Steve Howe, and Bill Bruford. However they did not all record together as in the early 70s and instead their parts were slotted into place on the album by Anderson. Howe has stated publicly that he was unhappy with the mix of his guitars on the album (a version of "Fist of Fire" with more of Howe's guitars left intact eventually appeared on the "In a Word" box set in 2001). It is also worth noting that according to Bruford, the four way writing credit does not reflect the actual writing process and was instead an incentive to have the ex-Yes men take part in the recording sessions. Some in the group (particularly Bill Bruford) wanted to distance themselves from the "Yes" name. As it turned out, the former Yes members were contractually unable to use the name, as Squire, White, Kaye, Rabin (and, ironically, Anderson) held the rights, dating back to the 90125 contract. Subsequently, the new group called themselves "Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe", or simply ABWH. The project included Tony Levin on bass. Appealing to old and new Yes fans, their eponymous 1989 album featured "Brother of Mine," a popular MTV video in its own right, and went gold in the United States. However, legal battles (sparked by Atlantic Records) soon followed over the title of ABWH's tour, An Evening of Yes Music Plus, the live recording of which featured none other than Jeff Berlin in Levin's bassist spot who was forced to sit out for two weeks due to illness.
Meanwhile Yes were working on their follow-up to Big Generator. Chris Squire had been shopping around for a new singer, working with ex-Supertramp Roger Hodgson, and songwriter Billy Sherwood of World Trade, with Trevor Rabin rejoining the fold after his solo tour. Hodgson enjoyed working with the group but thought it unwise to attempt to pass off the music as Yes. Arista, ABWH's new label, encouraged ABWH to seek outside songwriters, and Trevor Rabin ultimately sent a demo. Predicatably, Arista sensed the commercial possibility of a Yes re-union. Throughout early 1991, phone calls were made and agreements struck, with Yes joining ABWH for the Union album. Each group did its own songs, with Jon Anderson singing on all tracks. Chris Squire sang background vocals on a few of the ABWH tracks (with Tony Levin doing all the bass on those songs). A world tour united all eight members on one stage in a short-lived "Mega-Yes" line-up of Anderson, Squire, Howe, Rabin, Kaye, Wakeman, Bruford, and White, but the album itself proved less than the sum of its parts. Clearly a combination of two recordings, none of the songs on Union featured all eight members at once; two-thirds were actually ABWH compositions, while Trevor Rabin and Chris Squire contributed four songs (including a Billy Sherwood collaboration). Nearly the entire band have publicly stated their disliking for the finished product due to producer Jonathan Elias' secret involvement of session musicians after the initial sessions. The Union tour itself featured tracks spanning the band's entire career, and it was one of the highest grossing concert tours of 1991 and 1992.
The 90s and beyond
At the end of the tour in 1992, Bruford quit the band. Anderson began writing with both Howe and Rabin seperately but eventually the former was not asked to be on the next album. By 1993, Wakeman's refusal to leave his long-serving management meant he also could not play on the new album, which by then was well into production (Rabin and Wakeman have both expressed regret that they never played together on a Yes album - excepting the patchwork of Union - although Rabin did guest on Wakeman's "Return to the Centre of the Earth" album in 1999). Yes was back to its popular 1980s lineup of Anderson, Squire, Rabin, Kaye, and White. In 1994, Yes released Talk on Victory, one of the group's poorest selling releases. Neither the record label nor US radio stations provided much promotion for "The Calling," perhaps their strongest single since "Owner of a Lonely Heart." (David Letterman heard the song while driving and immediately sought to find the "new band" in order to put them on the Late Show). Jon Anderson and Trevor Rabin's collaboration resulted in a near-perfect fusion of 'old' and 'new' Yes. Some of the fruits of the band's work with Roger Hodgson also appears on the album. On the 1994 tour, guitarist/vocalist Billy Sherwood, who co-authored Union's "The More We Live" with Squire, joined as a sixth member. After the tour, Tony Kaye, Billy Sherwood and Trevor Rabin left, with Rabin becoming a highly regarded film score composer.
Proving the truth of the old adage "never say never again," the band surprised and delighted fans by reforming with the classic '70s lineup of Anderson, Squire, White, Howe and Wakeman for a live performance in the California town of San Luis Obispo in 1996. The resulting live recordings were released, together with new music, on the Keys to Ascension albums, which are considered by many fans to be their finest music since their 1970s zenith. The new studio cuts from those two albums were later reissued on a single CD called Keystudio. As fans waited for a tour of the classic lineup, Wakeman left the group yet again before the release of Keys to Ascension 2.
Billy Sherwood replaced Wakeman on both keyboards and guitar. Open Your Eyes was released in 1997. While Sherwood's influence seemed to take the band back in the direction of the 90125 lineup, the tour also featured keyboards from Russian keyboard player Igor Khoroshev, who was later made a full time member for the following album The Ladder. Many fans considered it a return to the classic sound, largely because of Khoroshev's presence. His work was classical and also included sampling large sections of music by British techno group The Prodigy. Sherwood's live role was reduced to backup vocals and backup guitar, with a few notable spotlight moments for guitar solos in Rabin-era songs. Howe refused to duplicate Rabin's solos, citing that his style would not fit those solos. The 1999 tour resulted in a live DVD of the performance at The House of Blues in Los Angeles.
Sherwood was relieved of his duties prior to the 2000 Masterworks tour. Khoroshev was fired from the band after the tour due to a cloud of controversy over his backstage conduct including a sexual assault charge, just before the recording of the 2001 orchestral release Magnification. The only Yes album without keyboards, Magnification is considered by some stalwarts as the best Yes studio album since the 1970s. The band was not only backed by a 60-piece orchestra, but specific parts and arrangements were written by notable film composer Larry Groupe and executed by the orchestra, sounding as if the orchestra was a permanent band member. On tour, however, the band hired a session keyboardist, Tom Brislin, as the orchestra alone could not faithfully reproduce some of the classic material.
Fans short-changed in 1996 were delighted as Wakeman announced his return to the group on April 20, 2002, and a world tour for Yes followed, including a return to Australia after more than 30 years. The classic lineup is currently enjoying a somewhat revitalized presence in the public consciousness, especially after the celebration of their 35th anniversary in 2004.
While Yes are on hiatus in 2005, band members are back to their varied solo projects. Alan White has formed a new group, White, featuring Geoff Downes of Asia (and Yes's 1980 lineup), with an album expected by the fall, and Chris Squire has reformed Syn, one of his pre-Yes groups from the 1960s. Plans for a joint tour (along with Steve Howe) of the United States and the U.K., which would have included the Yes members (and the singer from White) performing songs from Drama for the first time since 1980, were cancelled as a result of visa problems for English members following the July 2005 London bombings. As of September 2005, Rick Wakeman has officially denied rumors that he has left the group. In October 2005, Jon Anderson indicated that it was unlikely that Yes would tour in 2006 but that "new studio work in early 2007 was probable."
The Yes Atlantic Records catalog has undergone at least two remasterings and re-releases on CD. The initial CD releases appeared in the late 1980s, and the first remasters were released in the mid 1990s, with dramatically improved sound and much original album art restored. In 2003 a further remastering effort was begun by Rhino Records, this time including more original art, extensive booklet liner notes, and rare bonus tracks.
- "Your Move" (1971) #40 US
- "Roundabout" (1972) #13 US
- "America" (1972) #46 US
- "And You And I" (1972) #42 US
- "Wonderous Stories" (1977) #8 UK
- "Goin' For The One" (1977) #24 UK
- "Don't Kill The Whale" (1978) #36 UK
- "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" (1983) #1 US - 2 weeks, #28 UK
- "Leave It" (1984) #24 US, #56 UK
- "It Can Happen" (1984) #51 US
- "Love Will Find A Way" (1987) #30 US, #73 UK
- "Rhythm Of Love" (1987) #40 US
- "Lift Me Up" (1991) #86 US
|Band member||Instrument(s)||Dates||Albums recorded|
|Chris Squire||bass||1968 - present||all|
|Jon Anderson||vocals||1968 - 1980, 1983 - present||all except Drama|
|Steve Howe||guitar||1970 - 1980, 1991 - 1992, 1996 - present||
|Alan White||drums||1972 - present||
|Rick Wakeman||keyboards||1971 - 1974, 1976 - 1980, 1991 - 1992, 1996, 2002 - present||
|Bill Bruford||drums||1968 - 1972, 1991 - 1992||
|Tony Kaye||keyboards||1968 - 1971, 1983 - 1995||
|Trevor Rabin||guitar||1983 - 1995||
|Peter Banks||guitar||1968 - 1970||
|Patrick Moraz||keyboard||1974 - 1976||
|Billy Sherwood||guitar, keyboard||1994 - 1995, 1997 - 1999||
|Igor Koroschev||keyboards||1998 - 2000||
Homeworld computer game
There are a number of Yes tribute bands. These include the UK based Fragile, who specialise in performing live cover versions of what they describe as "classic period" Yes numbers, e.g., predominantly material from The Yes Album up until Close to the Edge, interspersed with earlier and later songs such as "Time and a Word", "Astral Traveller", "Owner of a Lonely Heart", etc. The band has received positive endorsements from members of Yes, including featuring guest spots from Peter Banks and Steve Howe .
Other Yes tribute bands include Roundabout and the Brazilian group Yes Songs.
- Yesworld: The Official Yes site
- Forgotten Yesterdays: A Comprehensive Guide to Yes Shows
- Full Circle Tour Melbourne 2003