Sunday 18 February 2024


 A positive title for a largely positive post.

Tough job getting back into this "spilling your brains on a given subject" blogging thing.
And my return has been further delayed by a certain malaise because I have spent more time than is probably healthy listening to the catalogue of Yes.

Actually, that's not fair - much if it (very much of it) was a fine listen - wonky guitar solos and over-indulgent keyboard tinklings included.  But it has taken a while, and much re-listening, to get my thoughts clear on a few of the offerings (particularly the later ones)

Yes came together in 1968 - Chris Squire was bassist in Mabel Greer's Toyshop alongside guitarist Peter Banks.  Drummer Bill Bruford joined the line-up in mid-1968, followed soon by pianist Tony Kaye.
Jon Anderson worked in the club that Mabel Greer's Toyshop often played live, and had become friends with Chris Squire.  He was drafted in as vocalist in late 1968, just as the band were concluding that their name had run it's course, and it was time for a fresh start.  The suggested name came from Peter Banks but one can't be sure if it was a suggestion, or whether he was just answering one of the other suggested names when he said "Yes".
The newly-monikered 5 piece went straight into the rehearsal rooms and into performance wherever a gig could be found in London, and by the end of the year had snuck onto the bottom of the bill at Cream's final show at the Royal Albert Hall - a performance Bill Bruford had to be convinced to return for as he had quite the band to go to University.
In Spring 1969, after more gigging, the band were invited to audition for Atlantic Records, and secured a contract.  And by Summer, their first album was on the shelves.

Now, this is something new to me that I never knew before starting this thing - I always believed that the first Yes album was 1971s 'The Yes Album', I was completely unaware of the existence of 2 albums before it, and that guitarist Steve Howe is on neither of them.

The first Yes album was released in Summer 1969, and if you have a slight knowledge of Yes in their heyday, the sound and content of this one is very different.  It has the sound of equal parts The Byrds, The 5th Dimension, and the musical Hair.
The musicianship - especially the rhythm section of Squire and Bruford - is exceptionally tight, with Jon Anderson's falsetto sitting on top of everything.  There is a suggestion in some of the tracks where the band would head later, but only in slight moments (and perhaps more with the benefit of hindsight.  Commercially it was a flop, but Atlantic (At that time) were loyal to their charges, and a second album was planned.

Time and a Word
And their second chance 12 months later probably wasn't what Atlantic had hoped for on their investment.  In terms of scope, it isn't a huge step forward from it's predecessor, but does start to incorporate more of the future tropes, including orchestral parts, and referencing back to classical music and passages.  Unlike the debut album, this one actually feels like it was planned and has an endpoint, where the debut just seemed to stop.
And on the subject of endings, this album marked the final turn of guitarist Peter Banks, who was replaced by Steve Howe soon after work on the album was finished (the US Rel;ease featured a picture of the band, including Howe, on the back cover even though he didn't actually play on it.

The Yes Album
After the commercial non-performance of their previous 2 albums, Atlantic were on the verge of pulling the plug.  A change of manager, and renewed inspiration with the presence of Steve Howe who had a wider scope and style than Peter Banks, gave Yes a reprieve and studio time.
With stronger production, and a more technical approach to song (including multi-part songs, and  moments where the band play different tunes in different time signatures but make it sound tuneful rather than cacophonous), The Yes Album starts to give a return to record company patience, and is the launch pad for what many cliche quoting commentators term as "Classic Yes"

With increasing confidence, Yes were looking to expand their sound and songs.  However, organist Tony Kaye wasn't so sure it was the correct move, and soon found himself replaced by Rick Wakeman - someone who did want to expand and explore.
On the same day as the Yes offer, David Bowie invited him to join his touring band.  Rick declined believing he would get more artistic freedom with Yes.
And they got to work quickly - within a couple of days of rehearsals they had the shape of two key songs from the album - "Roundabout" and "Heart Of The Sunrise", and a collective desire to share ideas and get this next record done.  These 2 songs bookend the album, with 6 of the remaining seven clocking in under 3 minutes (and one barely breaking 35 seconds).
Who says Yes songs are over-expanded and bloated ...

Close To The Edge
Well ... here's the opportunity to level that very accusation - a 40 minute album consisting of just 3 tracks.  Track 1 (basically side one) is the title track in 4 movements ... stand by for Prog tropes in excelsis ... inspired by  J R R Tolkien, Symphonies #6 and #7 by Sibelius, and Herman Hesse.
There's a lot of ideas and playing going on - almost like the band is fighting each other to get their "bits" heard.  And there is much truth in that thought - by the end of the recording drummer Bill Bruford (tired of being asked to play a certain way to match Chris Squire's bass parts, and general bad feeling in the studio) downed sticks and left Yes.  Side 2 (which contains 2 tracks) is for my money the more enjoyable half, but can still feel ponderous. 
And talking of ponderous...

Tales from Topographic Oceans 
Rick Wakeman's take on the album was "we had too much for a single, not enough for a double, so we padded it.  And it wasn't very well padded."
Alan White (late of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, George Harrison's 'All Things Must Pass', and stints with Ginger Baker's Airforce and Steve Winwood) joined up after Bill Bruford's departure, and ushered in a more sol,id rock based style and opposed to the jazz-esque swing of Bruford.
Not that it was truly in evidence here.  As is usual  with Yes, the creation and development of the album was fraught with disagreements and confusion - "what is the concept?", "how do I get my little flourish heard?", "why is the studio dressed up like a farm?", "remind me, what actually is the concept here?".
In fairness, despite it being hard work and not truly feeling like it hangs together, it isn't actually that bad (it just takes several listens).
The stories of Rick Wakeman eating a take-away Curry on stage during some of the instrumental passages may be an urban myth, but by the end of the tour Rick Wakeman had left the band.

Rick Wakeman has gone, Patrick Moraz is in - it was going to be Vangelis (who Jon Anderson would work with later in the 80s), but despite shipping his keyboard rig to London, Brain Lane (Yes manager) was informed of Vangelis fear of flying, so potentially putting elongated US Tours at a bit of a risk.
Patrick Moraz was invited to audition (using Vangelis rig) and then went straight into the studio to finish writing, buff up existing demos and commit to tape.
'Relayer' continued the "3 tracks, 1 on side one, 2 on side 2" principle, as per 'Close To The Edge'.  Economic times were tough in 1974, so Yes made sure of optimum use of vinyl be squeezing 22 minute in to 1 track.
This is an odd album in the timeline - it is well played, with some great invention and experiments, well produced, and hangs together as well as anything before - but it doesn't truly hit "the spot"

Going For The One
As the tour in support of 'Relayer' ended, the band took a break, and each member recorded a solo album.  Reconvening a year later ,and as is often the case in the late 70s, for Tax reasons many big bands spent time working and living abroad, and Yes decamped to Switzerland - home land of new keyboarder Patrick Moraz.  However, within weeks of starting rehearsals for the next album, Rick Wakeman returned to the fold and Patrick Moraz was out.  Stories/reasons vary, ranging from Moraz was "playing, but not participating", his sound was too clean for the what the band wanted to do, and Rick Wakeman was skint.  Whatever the reasoning, and possibly down to being outside the UK, the newly reconvened band was often getting on in the studio and seemed to be pulling in the same direction and supporting each others work.  That is, until the departure of producer Eddy Offord, and the bands decision to produce the record themselves.  Then the relationships in the band returned to old ways, where they were effectively working on their own and arguing for their own contributions.  Without a producer, one would expect the resultant album to be something of a mess.
They still had the one long song (in this case "Awaken" clocking in at 15 minutes) but 'Going For The One', but the supporting songs were shorter and more direct (allowing a total of 5 tracks this time), and the album as a whole is one of their stronger outings (if not always held in that esteem by contemporary reviewers)

Apocryphally, Punk was supposed to kill off Prog Rock excess like Yes and ELP.
Recorded and released during the ending days of Punk, The original intention was to have 2 albums at each of the year, but when it came down to it, there was only really enough strong material for a single album
And lack of self-discipline in the self production, the continuing deterioration of inter-band relationships (again), their propensity to try and fit more notes into a single bar than each other, and some terrible artwork saw to it that 'Tormato' is perhaps the least fondly remembered of all the albums (certainly by the band, as proved by the lack of live outings for these songs since release).
Punk killed off the Prog hippies?  Nope, Yes were managing to do that for themselves.

The creation of 'Tormato' was difficult, as was the ensuing tour.  By the time the band got back to the studio for the next opus, divisions were forming over direction, sound and presentation.  The division was strong enough for Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman to leave.
Yes manager Brian Lane had recently taken on The Buggles as clients, so rather than cast around for auditions, Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes were drafted in.  A seemingly peculiar move on the face of it, but both Horn and Downes were Yes fans, and Chris Squire wanted to move into a more new wave-esque direction (and the presence of The Buggles may facilitate that).  'Drama' was fairly quickly recorded (at least in comparison to previous Yes albums), but what came out was neither a Yes album, nor a Buggles album, nor a hybrid.  It's not a bad album, just not a good one either.
Steve Howe and Geoff Downes would - within a year - join forces again in Asia.  For my money, the first Asia album is what 'Drama' could've been

Yes effectively disbanded in 1981, but a year later Chris Squire and Alan White starting to seek new musicians to work with the band.  Session musician Trevor Rabin was found (pre-armed with a bunch of demos, which appalled to Chris Squires desire for a change of sound), and the new band was named Cinema.  And in the circular world of Yes membership, original keyboard player Tony Kaye was back in the band.  With more circularity, Trevor Horn was engaged as producer.  With the music recorded, Horn expressed doubts with Rabin's vocal abilities for the material, and Jon Anderson was invited to add vocals.  At this point, the Cinema name was dropped and the Yes flag raised again.
It may say Yes on the title, but the album is a shift in sound resulting from Rabin's drive and Horn's production.  Despite being Prog royalty and over a decade in the game, this album was their biggest seller in America and gave them a new calling card in the shape of "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" 

Big Generator
After the success of '90125', the record company wanted more of the same.  And Trevor Rabin had a bunch of songs that could deliver on that.  But the drawn out recording process, and the loss of Trevor Horn as producer meant the 4 year gap between releases lost any momentum.
It wasn't really '90125 Part 2', but it could certainly be seen/heard as an accompanying album, almost like the off-cuts that didn't make the original.
Jon Anderson, who had been sidelined in the creation and recording process, left the band and soon after re-joined with Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe to release the album 'Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe' - which I believe is a stronger album, and despite the absence of Chris Squire, is the last Yes album.

I do know that the 2 factions of the band came together for the album 'Union' in 1991, but never actually played together as a collective and split the tracks between the 2 groupings - one suspects a record company thought it a good idea (Rick Wakeman renamed this album Onion "as it makes me cry!").
But I believed that 'Big Generator' and 'Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe' were the last outings for the band.  Not so, wikipedia tells me there are 10 more albums to listen to (with possibly another coming in 2024).
I'm sure that these will be spotified at some point in the future, but right now I think I am Yessed-out ...


  1. Yes!!!

    Good to have you back.

    90125 is the only Yes album in my collection. I've listened to some of the others, and wouldn't turn them off if they came on the radio (ha!) but I guess I'm with the Americans on this...

    1. Thanks Rol - hopefully will get my fingers plonking some more streams of drivel in the near future.

  2. I'm not a fan but some friends are.
    An interesting read.