Yes had an auspicious start in 1968, they were the opening act for Cream’s farewell gig at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
They were signed to Atlantic in late ’68, debuting in the summer of ’69. Yes didn’t make any chart impact but its follow up Time and a Word made the lower rungs of UK album charts in June 1970. The line up for these 2 albums was Anderson, Bruford, Squire, Tony Kaye and Pete Banks. But the Yes we all came top know and love really hit their stride with The Yes Album in 1971. This was largely due to guitarist Steve Howe joining and Peter Banks leaving. The band also stopped doing cover versions and wrote a whole album of original material.
Howe immediately announced his arrival with the opening classic Yes track ‘Yours is No disgrace’. An extraordinary melange of sonic dynamics, catchy melodies and profound-when-you’re-tripping-lyrics became Yes’s trademark and they were all present on The Yes Album. It was an earth shattering record which appeared to have arrived out of nowhere It had no obvious influences and was in a style all of its own.
The Yes Album made number 7 in UK and broke into the American top 40 too.
Their 4th album Fragile brought Rick Wakeman in on keyboards at Kaye’s expense. It was the first to feature Roger Dean’s distinctive artwork that was to become a quintessential part of the Yes vinyl experience. It was an even bigger seller, making top 10 in the States and garnering them a hit single with an edited version of Roundabout in USA.
Close to the Edge was bigger and more epic in its ambition. Probably a concept album, it was as lyrically undecipherable as ever but it sounded divine, the final track Siberian Khatru was to become a much loved live favourite. Critics often accused the band of clinically cold exercises in progressive rock but that overlooked such tender melodies like And you and I.
At this point Bruford left and Geordie Alan White came in on drums.
The band gave the critics more ammunition with their next release – the triple live Yessongs which came in a huge tripe gatefold Roger Dean designed sleeve. The next album, Tales from Topgraphic Oceans was their biggest hit to date, following Yessongs to number 1 in UK but with a side for each band member, even the bands biggest fans suspected self indulgence was becoming a way of life for the band. Stories of Anderson having a portable pyramid erected over his bed in hotel rooms are not far from the mark.
Wakeman’s more bluff down to earth nature – he once ordered a curry in the middle of a show and even found time in between solos to eat it – led to him falling out with the others. So in early ‘74 he left, taking his splendid floor length silver capes with him and went on to huge solo success with records like Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
Refugee’s Patrick Moraz was in. This line up produced a little cracker of an album in Relayer which featured the superb ‘Soundchaser’; a magnificent romp based a frenetic Steve Howe riff and Squire’s elastic bass.
Yes were huge but Relayer was their last album for nearly 3 years. Everyone did solo work of which the best is Squire’s Fish out of Water
When they remerged punk rock was in full cry. Yes rightly ignored it totally, brought back Wakeman, and released Going for the One. A tighter more commercial sounding album it was a huge success. Yes fans had not gone away; they put it to 1 in UK and 8 in USA. Wondrous Stories was lifted as a single from the album and made top ten in UK. The follow up Tormato yielded another nit single in ‘Don’t Kill the Whale’ but was widely regarded by fans as a dip in form.
In 1980 there was a Yes revolution. , Anderson left along with Wakeman. To many, Anderson was Yes. His high pitched voice full of his native Accrington, Lancashire inflections was so much an intrinsic part of the bands sound, another vocalist was unthinkable. But it happened.
Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes came in from the Buggles for Drama. You have to admire Horn’s bravery to tour with the band; facing as he did every night calls for Anderson. Vocally he tried hard, but he was not Anderson and never would be. Fan still bought Drama and made it a big hit album though.
But it was no surprise when Anderson was coxed back in 1981 for 90125. Horn was kept on as producer, a role he was eminently more comfortable with. Trevor Rabin played guitar and Kaye came back to play keyboards
90125 were like the beginning of the second half of Yes’s career. Amazingly, they had a massive number 1 US single with ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’. Thanks to Horn’s production Yes sounded credible and relevant again.
The 80’s were not prolific years for the band. Only a live album and 1987’s underrated Big Generator were released.
From the late 80’s onwards there was a series of complex legal wrangles and manoeuvres which saw Yes tour and the Yes in all but name Anderson, Bruford Wakeman and Howe recording an eponymous record. ABWH was the most Yes like record we’d heard for 12 years and it was a big hit.
Then in 1991, quite insanely, both line ups came together for Union. Wakeman calls this the worse period of any in the Yes drama with up to 8 of them on stage at once.
The 90125 line up recorded the oddly lightweight Talk in 1994. Then Wakeman and Howe came back for the two volumes of Keys to Ascension. Then Wakeman left once more and was replaced by Billy Sherwood on 1997’s Open you Eyes and 1999’s The Ladder and a live at the House of Blues album.
2001’s Magnification was made without Sherwood as a four piece
The reality is Yes are still massive. They can pretty much sell out any size tour they want to do. Their albums still sell well. Their back catalogue is stone cold classic rock. And to think their critics wrote them off as irrelevant in 1973!
A critic once said to Wakeman, “progressive rock is all about 2 hour long concept albums about obscure myths and legends, 10 minute solos by every member of the band, lyrics about eastern mysticism, and everyone wears silver capes. “ Yes it is” replied Rick enthusiastically “ great isn’t it”!