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+ {Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe} + {Anderson, Rabin, Wakeman}

Refined, theatrical and cerebral, YES have outlasted their prog-rock counterparts (GENESIS, EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER, KING CRIMSON, PINK FLOYD, etc.) by a good innings or so, attracting many younger disciples along the way. Perpetually changing and evolving with every movement of their neo-classical symphonics, main components Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Jon Anderson and a raft of others (including Rick Wakeman) have been undaunted by rock music’s angularities.
Although London-based YES formed in July 1968; singer Jon Anderson and bassist/vocalist Chris Squire had been veterans of the mid-60s beat era, the former with The Warriors (one 45, `You Came Along’), the latter with psychedelic act The Syn (two 45s for Deram Records). Recruiting guitarist Peter Banks (from their previous incarnation, Mabel Greer’s Toyshop and The Syn), keyboard-player Tony Kaye (from The Federals) and drummer Bill Bruford (ex-SAVOY BROWN Blues Band), the quintet chose the simplistic name of YES.
A residency at the Marquee, a fill-in gig replacing SLY & THE FAMILY STONE at London’s Speakeasy and a prestigious support slot at CREAM’s Royal Albert Hall farewell concert (November 26th, 1968), led to the band signing a deal with Atlantic records (home to LED ZEPPELIN); meanwhile (the following April), they opened for JANIS JOPLIN’s own “RAH” gig.
Although inspired by American vocal acts like SIMON AND GARFUNKEL and the Fifth Dimension, YES chose the rock route, characterised by a myriad of genres such as classical, jazz, folk and hard rock.
In the summer of ‘69, the band released their self-titled debut album YES {*6}, a record that featured original material such as `Survival’ (from the pen of Anderson), `Beyond And Before’ (from Squire) and flop singles `Sweetness’ and `Looking Around’ (by both aforementioned), interspersed with two covers: The BYRDS’ `I See You’ and The BEATLES’ `Every Little Thing’. Incidentally, the `Sweetness’ 45 was flipped with a version of Bernstein & Sondheim’s `Something’s Coming’ from the musical West Side Story.
YES slipped into the UK Top 50 by way of transitional sophomore set, TIME AND A WORD (1970) {*5}, a slightly overreaching record that combined an orchestra with the prog-rock interplay of Bruford, Squire, Kaye, Banks and the ethereal high-pitches of Anderson. The singer had written the bulk of group material (bar `The Prophet’ with Squire), via `Clear Days’ and `Astral Traveller’ (both highlighting Kaye’s masterful keyboard work), while the harmony was peaked on another flop 45, `Sweet Dreams’. Just as their previous effort, YES put their unique takes on two covers, RICHIE HAVENS’ `No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed’ and BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD’s period cut `Everydays’. On most copies of the album sleeve, the departing Banks was supplanted by Steve Howe, an innovative guitar-plucker from the beatnik grounds of The Syndicats, The In-Crowd, TOMORROW and Bodast; Banks joined the ranks of BLODWIG PIG and FLASH, before issuing a solo LP.
THE YES ALBUM (1971) {*9}, deservedly found its way into the UK Top 10, a breakthrough centred around original and meticulously-crafted group combinations (except Howe’s `The Clap’) for prog-rock epics such as `Yours Is No Disgrace’, `Starship Trooper’, `I’ve Seen All Good People’ (interpolating US hit `Your Move’) and `Perpetual Change’; all tracks going some way to crystallising the typical YES sound.
With Kaye and his “limited” Hammond organ quitting to form BADGER (and later FLASH – with Banks), the more stylish and flamboyant keyboard-wizard, Rick Wakeman (from STRAWBS), was drafted in for the band’s 4th album, FRAGILE (1971) {*8}. A little self-indulgent, the set nevertheless garnered widespread critic acclaim (especially in the US where it reached the Top 5) and was the first to feature Roger Dean’s sci-fi/fantasy sleeve artwork. Record sales were boosted by the near US Top 10 smash of the drastically edited 45, `Roundabout’, while shorter individually-exercised fractions such as Anderson’s `We Have Heaven’, Squire’s `The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)’, Howe’s `Mood For A Day’, Bruford’s 35-second `Five Per Cent Of Nothing’ and Wakeman’s `Cans And Brahms’ (the latter actually extracts from Brahms’ 4th Symphony in E Minor Third Movement), balanced their pop appeal somewhat. With Wakeman and his arsenal of keyboard equipment on board, the group gelled with the uni/college circuit, other LP faves being `Long Distance Runaround’ and 10-minute closer, `Heart Of The Sunrise’.
Neo-classical in its ingenious format and mystical vision, CLOSE TO THE EDGE (1972) {*10} – with Eddie Offord on production – was as exuberant, atmospheric and graceful as anything in music’s prog-rock canon. Utilising a high-tech, multi-layered sound (much like that of their prog counterparts, ELP), the album was split into three epic sections, with the title track – complete with i.-iv. integrated passages – complementing the whole of side one. From the bird-chirping intro proliferation and the high-octane staccato rhythms of `The Solid Time Of Change’, to the funky diversions of `Total Mass Retain’, to The BEACH BOYS/“Pet Sounds”-era harmonies of `I Get Up, I Get Down’ (with Wakeman a loud 11!), to the thematic finale `Seasons Of Man’, the 19-minute track was/is just sensational. Side two is equally impressive, the beautiful but complex `And You And I’ – also split four ways – coming off a smidgen better than the funk-prog that was `Siberian Khatru’. The former song was also edited to fit a 2-part single in the US, where, like a previously released take of SIMON AND GARFUNKEL’s `America’, hit the Top 50.
To mark the quintet’s meteoric rise to fame, a chart-topping live triple-set YESSONGS (1973) {*7} was delivered. However, it marked the end of Bruford’s tenure (he’d joined KING CRIMSON a year earlier), his drum-stool boots filled on all but three cues, by ex-PLASTIC ONO BAND member Alan White. While all YES classics were present and correct on this two-hour-long extravaganza (Wakeman was granted a segment from his `The Six Wives Of Henry VIII’ set), it actually opened with an excerpt from Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite”.
With pockets empty from the band’s previous effort, all YES fans needed now was a double-set. Based on Parmhansa Yogananda’s Shastric scripture, “Autobiography Of A Yogi”, TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS (1973) {*7}, was overindulgence at its highest level, songwriters Anderson and Howe taking the bulk of the blame from certain sections of the music press – due to its four conceptual, side-long manifestos. Eastern religion, myths/legends and spiritual leanings transgressed on all its insubstantial diversions, Wakeman once described it as “like wading through a cesspool to get to a water lily”. That aside, TFTO has its moments, mainly the “Nous Sommes du Soleil” harmonies during finale side, `Ritual’. Love it or loathe it – and it has split many YES fans for years! – the set is still good enough listening, but not all at once.
With WAKEMAN on a “Journey To The Centre Of The Earth” (or was it just a trip down the pub!), vegetarians YES almost immediately recruited the un-showman-like, back-to-basics Patrick Moraz (from REFUGEE). RELAYER (1974) {*6} – and its format of three tracks split over two sides – harked back to the ambitious “Close To…” years, although structurally the songs/tracks lacked the organic coherence of their previous work. The side-long `Gates Of Delirium’ created atmosphere and grandiosity, but the album’s staying power was missing on `Sound Chaser’ and the poignantly-titled `To Be Over’.
The group subsequently took a sabbatical in which each individual member released solo LPs, only one YES set was issued YESTERDAYS (1975) {*5}), although this was a fan-only early-compilation exercise. Each set took their place in the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, Chris Squire’s `Fish Out Of Water’ and STEVE HOWE’s `Beginnings’ arriving towards the end of ’75, while Alan White’s appropriately-titled `Ramshackled’ (1976) and JON ANDERSON’s dreamy `Olias Of Sunhillow’ surfaced the following year; PATRICK MORAZ’s `The Story Of I’ completed the full-house of decadent cards. While WHITE’s set took some flack for its outsider approach to songwriting (several tracks had been penned by folkies Ken Craddock, Pete Kirtley and Colin Gibson), SQUIRE’s effervescent album was decidedly dazzling and YES-like.
In 1977, when punk rock was a principle factor, YES re-grouped once again; RICK WAKEMAN was now back in the fold for comeback album GOING FOR THE ONE {*7}. By this stage, the pomp-rock excesses had been slimmed down somewhat to accommodate a more commercial sound; much in evidence on the hit single (first in the UK), `Wonderous Stories’ and a second 12”-only Top 30 entry `Going For The One’. As mystical and abstract as their halcyon days of the early 70s sets, Anderson and the lads were back to their harmonious best; Wakeman’s church organ truly inspiring and dare one say it, spiritual and joyous, on Squire’s excellent `Parallels’. Of course, YES wouldn’t be YES without a little OTT self-indulgence through the 15-minute workout `Awaken’.
The quintet failed to emulate this success, critically, at least, on their 1978-released follow-up TORMATO {*3}, although it did provide a minor hit in `Save The Whale’. It was not the whale that needed saving as tracks such as `Future Times / Rejoice’ and the twee-ness of `Arriving UFO’ and `Circus Of Heaven’ proved.
In the early 80s, two of their most fundamental creative forces, WAKEMAN and ANDERSON, split ranks, leaving YES to pick up the pieces. However, fans were aghast at the pieces they picked up from The BUGGLES: Trevor Horn and Geoffrey Downes, who’d just topped the pop charts with the novelty hit `Video Killed The Radio Star’. Despite the initial shock, inquisitive fans still parted with their hard-earned cash for the resultant DRAMA (1980) {*5} album – yes, an improvement nevertheless. The 80s had arrived with the sound of musak, and both Horn and Downes were effective in small measures to clone the enigmatic ANDERSON, at least on the two long-ish bookend cuts `Machine Messiah’ and `Tempes Fugit’.
YES split again in 1982 when Howe and Downes joined the soon-to-be successful British supergroup ASIA. Anderson returned from a solo career that included a lucrative collaboration with VANGELIS on the hit 45 `I Hear You Now’, to a newly re-formed YES the following year. From the ashes of Squire and White’s short-lived Cinema project (HOWE was another to say no), the new line-up also included old hands Tony Kaye and a new guitarist, the South African born Trevor Rabin. It looked like YES was in a mess. Retaining Horn on production duties only (and a handful of songwriting credits), the re-vamped YES delivered the 90125 (1983) {*6}, an album that spawned surprise US chart-topper `Owner Of A Lonely Heart’. The remaining tracks were distinctly 80s, glossy and synthetic to the max, although YES could pull it off in spades, as follow-on Stateside hits `It Can Happen’ and `Leave It’ proved. Once again, the need for a live cash-in was indeed unnecessary. 9012LIVE: THE SOLOS (1985) {*3} was a souvenir-type set, which tempted some of their richer fanbase while alienating escapee acolytes now into something that didn’t empty their pockets as much.
Returning with the same line-up after four years in the wilderness, BIG GENERATOR (1987) {*5} received its fair share of detractors; their new-found mainstream/AOR success of `Rhythm Of Love’ and `Love Will Find A Way’ (the latter a Rabin-dominated dirge), was exasperating for ye olde fans from their heyday; equally frustrated by the level of criticism, JON ANDERSON departed yet again.
Over the next two years, a bitter dispute was fought over the rights to the YES name. Squire and the last remaining members of 1987 won, while ANDERSON BRUFORD WAKEMAN HOWE (1989) {*6} – to many the “real and authentic” YES! – were forced to record a surprisingly successful album under their own surnames. The complex constructions were back in prog-ish full flow, as was the undeniably coherent indulgences that branded the YES of old; the 10-minute `Brother Of Mine’ and the 9-minute `Order Of The Universe’ were of particular beauty and insight.
Come 1991, the two opposing camps had reconciled their differences, recording the appropriately-titled UNION {*5} together, as well as selling out arenas across the globe. Creating an hour-long addendum to YES’s musical portfolio (and another entry to both UK and US Top 20s), one could concede that their was just too much of a good thing here – and something had to give. Wakeman, Bruford and Howe were first to let go of the proverbial rope, as the disappointing Trevor Rabin-produced TALK (1994) {*3} – a more lightweight affair which was yet another pointless exercise in dinosaur rock – left even their most ardent of fans shell-shocked. The band were once again at a low-point in their buoyant history.
A friend of Squire’s and a one-time member of World Trade, Billy Sherwood was drafted in at this point to seal up gaps left by the departure of Kaye and Rabin, although earlier fractions and “unions” had made it easy for two YES incarnations to exist in parallel. The classic YES (Anderson, Squire, Howe, Wakeman and White) re-grouped for concerts and an accompanying sets KEYS TO ASCENSION (1996) {*6} – a double stretching the full span of their times – and another part live/part studio two-disc KEYS TO ASCENSION 2 (1997) {*5}. Concentrating on the group’s fresh studio outings, there was nice material on show such as the 18-minute `Mind Drive’ for ageing YES fans to sink their teeth into, but it was nothing to shout about in the grand scheme of things; WAKEMAN again took his leave to continue his unassailing solo repertoire.
Confusingly, released with Sherwood and to coincide with the “Keys 2”, OPEN YOUR EYES (1997) {*4}, completed for some a backward step in the group’s newfound stature.
Produced by Bruce Fairbairn and a Top 40 entry, THE LADDER (1999) {*6} – seeing the addition of 6th member Igor Khoroshev on keyboards – was much more in-tune with the prog-to-pop YES; the bouncy `Homeworld (The Ladder)’ opened proceedings as the group turned in their best studio set for yonks. Pity then, the obligatory concert companion, HOUSE OF YES: LIVE FROM HOUSE OF BLUES (2000) {*5}, that spoiled a good chapter in the group’s career. As if to compensate YES fans for lack of albums (sic!), Chris Squire and Billy Sherwood turned in a competent collaboration in CONSPIRACY (2002) {*5}, released when there was a lull in YES activities; worth checking it out for tracks `Days Of Wonder’ and `Violet Purple Rose’.
With the millennial MAGNIFICATION (2001) {*6}, YES went for broke and did what they’ve always probably secretly wanted to do, record a whole album in conjunction with a full blown symphony orchestra. A lowly chart placing of UK Top75 suggested that fans weren’t exactly thrilled with the results, but it took YES into the new millennium while keeping their hearts firmly glued to the 70s. The definitive YES line-up secured subsequent world arena venues, none more testing than at Montreux in 2003, a dvd/cd was finally delivered some four years later as er… LIVE AT MONTREUX 2003 {*5}. WAKEMAN would never stick around for too long.
Now into their sixth decade, YES (Messrs Howe, Squire and White) re-enlisted the services of keyboard genius Geoff Downes plus former Yes tribute-act frontman Benoit David to express their creative side on comeback set, FLY FROM HERE (2011) {*7}. As good as anything from their 70s heyday (at least in part and allowing points deducted for age), the Trevor Horn-produced recording found them in the Top 40 again – on both sides of the Atlantic. From `Fly From Here’s Avatar-friendly concept suites on side one to the thorny and technical revisionism on finale `Into The Storm’, YES had somehow managed to reverse their fortunes in one fell swoop. Though one expects a live set to appear at any time.
When old-timers YES asked loyal fans to `Believe Again’ (the opening salvo on 2014’s bright and buoyant HEAVEN & EARTH {*7} set), maybe they’d pushed the boat out too far. But despite flickering fickle reviews from the press expecting a second (or third) coming, and with attention to intricate instrumentation from Howe and crew, H&E soared toward its prospective given title. Gone was Jon, gone was Benoit, and in was former GLASS HAMMER chanter, Jon Davison – a ringer for both. Joyous and hook-laden cuts such `Step Beyond’, `The Game’, `Light Of The Ages’ and the STEELY DAN-esque `In A World Of Our Own’, made their chalk mark in the cosmic clouds. Worth dispensing with all one’s preconceptions and take in the definitive article and boldly go where the sun do shine.
The sad and tragic news of CHRIS SQUIRE’s passing of leukaemia (in Phoenix, Arizona on 27th June 2015) was shocking for any YES fan to take in; but with deputy Billy Sherwood (bass, vocals) returning as saviour (once again), there was no stopping the band going for another live one. Recorded in February 2017 and dispatched by Rhino Records at the end of the year, TOPOGRAPHIC DRAMA – LIVE ACROSS AMERICA {*6}, probably stretched their considerable concert catalogue a tad too far; furthermore, the double-CD/DVD didn’t stick to script – thankfully!
Just as culpable, 50th Anniversary YES: featuring JON ANDERSON, TREVOR RABIN, RICK WAKEMAN were glowing stronger than ever on the Top 60 double-disc, LIVE AT THE APOLLO (2018) {*6}. On paper, this version (with Lee Pomeroy on bass and Louis Molino on drums), should’ve been the bees knees. However, on this occasion, maybe the OTT enhanced canned audience went too far, ironically enough, on `I’ve Seen All Good People’ and `Long Distance Runaround’.
On the other side of the spectrum, YES men Davison, Howe, Downes, Sherwood and White (alongside auxiliary on tour sticksman Jay Schellen), were trotting out their own anniversary testament via 50 LIVE (2019) {*7}; recorded by Rhino a year earlier (July 20th/21st) at The Fillmore, Philadelphia. Completed, as always, by the esteemed artwork of Roger Dean; with guest performances from old hands Tony Kaye and Patrick Moraz, acolytes of the band’s 70s period would be enlightened by everything from `Close To The Edge’ to `Starship Trooper’.
© MC Strong 1994-2006 GRD / rev-up MCS Apr2012-Aug2019

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