During the progressive music boom of the early 70s, Yes were rivalled only by Emerson Lake And Palmer and Genesis for a brand of classical-laced rock that was initially refreshing and innovative. They evolved into a huge stadium attraction and enjoyed phenomenal success until punk and new wave came along in 1977 and swept them aside. After regrouping in the 80s, the band weathered a string of personnel changes to re-establish their popularity and continue to operate as a recording and touring unit into the new millennium.
Yes were formed in 1968 by vocalist Jon Anderson (John Roy Anderson, 25 October 1944, Accrington, Lancashire, England) and bass player Chris Squire (b. 4 March 1948, Kingsbury, Wembley, London, England). Both had played in 60s beat outfits, notably the Warriors and the Syn, respectively. They were completed by Bill Bruford (b. William Scott Bruford, 17 May 1949, Sevenoaks, Kent, England; drums), Peter Banks (b. Peter William Brockbanks, 15 July 1947, Barnet, Hertfordshire, England) and Tony Kaye (b. Anthony John Selvidge, 11 January 1946, Leicester, England). One of their early gigs was opening for Cream at their historic farewell concert at Londons Royal Albert Hall, but it was pioneering disc jockey John Peel who gave them nationwide exposure, performing live on his BBC radio programme Top Gear. Their inventive extended version of Buffalo Springfields Everydays and the Beatles Every Little Thing combined with their own admirable debut single Sweetness, made them club favourites in 1969.
Neither their debut Yes nor Time And A Word made much of an impression beyond their growing following. Following a disagreement over the use of an orchestra on their second album, Banks was replaced in the spring of 1970 by guitar virtuoso Steve Howe (b. Stephen James Howe, 8 April 1947, Holloway, London, England; ex-Tomorrow) who added further complexity to their highly creative instrumental passages. Now featuring Howe, the band created major interest and strong sales with the accomplished and dynamic The Yes Album. The Hammond organ-loving Kaye then departed (subsequently reuniting with Banks in Flash) and was replaced by the highly accomplished keyboard wizard, Rick Wakeman (b. Richard Christopher Wakeman, 18 May 1949, Perivale, Middlesex, England). Wakeman had made a name for himself as a member of the folk-influenced Strawbs. His improvisational skill, like Howes, took the band into realms of classical influence, and their solos became longer, although often they sounded self-indulgent.
Fragile was another success and the band found considerable support from the UK music press, especially Melody Maker. Fragile was a landmark in that it began a series of Roger Deans Tolkien-inspired fantasy covers, integrated with his custom-calligraphed Yes logotype. The album spawned a surprise US hit single, Roundabout, which almost made the UK Top 10 in 1972. Shortly afterwards Bruford departed and was replaced by ex-Plastic Ono Band drummer Alan White (b. 14 June 1949, Pelton County, Durham, England). Later that year Yes released what now stands up as their finest work, Close To The Edge. Much of the four suites are instrumental, and allow the musicianship to dominate Andersons often pretentiously abstract lyrics. Squires bass playing was formidable on this album, and he quickly became a regular winner of musician magazine polls. For many, the instrumental peak the band reached on Close To The Edge defined everything that the band had set out to do. Bringing melody and stunning musicianship together, combining rock with clever improvisation.
Now they were a major band, and they confidently issued a triple live album Yessongs, followed by a double, the overlong and indulgent Tales From Topographic Oceans. Both were huge successes, with the latter reaching number 1 in the UK. Artistically, the band now started to decline, Wakeman left to pursue a triumphant solo career. His replacement was ex-Refugee member Patrick Moraz (b. 24 June 1948, Villars-Ste-Croix, Morges, Switzerland), who maintained the classical influence that Wakeman had instigated. Following Relayer the band fragmented to undertake solo projects, although none emulated Wakeman, who was having greater success than Yes at this time. When the band reconvened, Wakeman rejoined in place of Moraz, and continued a dual career. Going For The One was a less astral album and moved the band back into the realms of rock music. Another hit single, Wonderous Stories, made the UK Top 10 in 1977, at the height of the punk era. Yes was the type of band that was anathema to the new wave, and while their vast following bought the poor Tormato, their credibility plummeted. Internal problems were also rife, resulting in the second departure of Wakeman, immediately followed by Anderson. Astonishingly their replacements were Trevor Horn (b. 15 July 1949, Durham, England) and Geoff Downes (b. Geoffrey Downes, 25 August 1952, Stockport, Cheshire, England; keyboards) who, as Buggles had topped the UK charts the previous year with Video Killed The Radio Star. This bizarre marriage lasted a year, spawning the UK number 2 album Drama, before Yes finally said no and broke up in 1981.
All the members enjoyed successful solo careers, while Howe and Downes moved on to the supergroup Asia, and it came as a surprise in 1983 to find a re-formed Yes (Anderson, Kaye, Squire, White and South African guitarist Trevor Rabin (b. Trevor Charles Rabinowitz, 13 January 1955, Johannesburg, South Africa), topping the UK singles chart with the excellent Trevor Horn-produced Owner Of A Lonely Heart. The subsequent 90125 showed a rejuvenated band with short contemporary pop songs that fitted with 80s fashion. No new Yes output came until four years later with the desultory Big Generator, and in 1989 Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe was released by four Yes members during a lengthy legal dispute. Yes could not use the name, so instead they resorted to the Affirmative; Anderson, Howe, etc. plays an Evening Of Yes Music (cleverly using the famous logo).
With the ownership problem solved, Yes announced a major tour in 1991, and the composite line-up of Anderson, Howe, Wakeman, Squire, Kaye, White, Rabin and Bruford were once again in the US Top 10 with their new album Union. The follow-up Talk, recorded by Anderson, Kaye, Squire, Rabin and White, was a sparkling album full of energy with two outstanding tracks, The Calling and I Am Waiting, even so the album failed to sell. Two live albums were issued in the mid-90s, and although well recorded, they failed to sell beyond the Yes fraternity. Wakeman had by now departed, this time owing to his health, although he vowed this would be for the last time. He was replaced by a young Russian, Igor Khoroshev (b. 14 July 1965, Moscow, Russia) and together with Anderson, Howe, Squire and White completed 1997s disappointing Open Your Eyes. The recording of the follow-up, The Ladder, was marred by the death of producer Bruce Fairbairn. The finished product echoed the commercial appeal of Close To The Edge, and although Andersons cosmic lyrics continued to irritate the songs featured strong melodies. It was their most accessible album for many years. The follow-up, Magnification, was their first recording without a keyboard player following the departure of Khoroshev. Wakeman confirmed in 2002 that he was rejoining the band for live dates.
The comings and goings of the band makes fascinating reading, and ex-Melody Maker editor Chris Welch has written the definitive chronicle. He championed the band from day one, and has accurately documented their every move. Over the years Yes has been lampooned by the music media, simply because they were the pioneers of the prog/pomp rock scene. While some of their album concept judgements now seem way off beam (notably Tales From Topographic Oceans), they have overall produced an important body of work. What has often been overlooked by musical cynics is the constantly high standard of musicianship. The various guitarists, keyboard players, the two exceptional drummers and Chris Squire, the lone virtuoso bass player, have individually, and as a whole, never let musical standards drop below excellent.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.