Sunday, 7 August 2016

Yes album by album

Needs finishing.... March 2019



I got into Yes in 1972 when my then girlfriend (Beverley Brown, bless her) encouraged me to listen to The Yes Album. That album remains my favourite, though I also got into Close to the Edge. I had Tales of Topographical Oceans, but try as I might, that album was not quite as enjoyable as the others. I don't think I bothered listening to any more Yes albums after that. Until I decided to do this blog, of course....

The band were formed in 1968 by Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, and Bill Bruford, along with guitarist Peter Banks, and keyboardist Tony Kaye, when  Mabel Greer's Toyshop had a personnel shuffle with all founding members being replaced, and changed its name to Yes. Mabel Greer's Toyshop had been founded in 1966, with Squire and Banks joining in 1967 when their band, The Syn, broke up.

Banks was only present for the first two rather dull albums. Apparently ex Sniffin Glue and NME journalist Danny Baker once said that Banks was the architect of progressive rock, though nobody seems to know when or where he said this, even though some sources report that he "often" said it. Be nice to see the context, as in "Banks was as much the architect of progressive rock as Sid Vicious was the godfather of bubblegum music." The evidence of the importance of his guitar playing is not there on the second Yes album. On  Time and a Word he is mainly swamped by the keyboards and orchestration. Squire's fluid bass playing is striking, but Banks' guitar work is stilted and often clumsy. His most obvious playing is on "Sweet Dreams" when he attempts and often fails to produce some fast, fluid and high pitched guitar work - but it's rather amateurish stuff. There are notes coming from his guitar on "The Prophet", but boy how stiff and awkward they are - there's nothing crisp, sweet, or confident let alone electrifying or elegant. This is no Steve Howe, and the band did the right thing in getting rid of him. However, there is something quick, neat, melodic and interesting going on during the first album.The sounds he makes there  - a flash of flamenco, some hard rock, are confident, amusing, imaginative, and do set the groundwork for what Howe would later do. The contrast between his playing on the two albums do show that he wasn't happy with what was going on during the making of Time and a Word.

It seems widely acknowledged that the band's best album is Close to the Edge, with The Yes Album, and Fragile being the next best, though opinions vary on which of those two is favourite. Tales of Topographic Oceans divides opinion, with many seeing it as overblown and pretentious, while others find it rich and ambitious, and there are plenty in the middle, who acknowledge both the ambition, and the failure of that ambition - the point at which Yes over-reached themselves and discovered the limit of their talent; a discovery from which they wouldn't quite recover. Essentially the band had a peak lasting for just two years.

Albums


Yes  (July 1969)

The band's first album. It's listenable, but largely unremarkable psychedelic pop which lacks focus. The guitar playing by Banks on this album is in marked contrast to his dismal lack of performance on the next.

Score: 2

TV appearance of Yes in  January 1970



Time and a Word  (July 1970)

This has a dated symphonic rock feel, which reminds me of ELP though it predates the first ELP album by four months. I recognise the album cover, and no doubt heard it back in the early 70s, but I don't really recall the music, and it's not making an impression on me now.

Some albums released in the 12 months prior to recording (which ran from Nov 1969 to Jan 1970) which may have influenced the music style on Time and a Word:

Shine On Brightly (Sept 1968) Procol Harum
The Soft Machine  (Dec 1968)   Soft Machine
Caravan  (Jan 1969)  Caravan
On the Threshold of a Dream  (April 1969)  The Moody Blues
A Salty Dog  (June 1969) Procol Harum
Renaissance  (June 1969)  Renaissance
Stand Up  (Aug  1969)  Jethro Tull
Ahead Rings Out  (Aug 1969)   Blodwyn Pig,
The Aerosol Grey Machine  (Sept 1969)  Van der Graaf Generator
Nice  (Sept 1969)  The Nice
Ummagumma  (Oct 1969)  Pink Floyd
In the Court of the Crimson King  (Oct 1969)  King Crimson
To Our Children's Children's Children  (Nov 1969) The Moody Blues

The late Sixties & early Seventies was probably the most fertile, experimental and interesting in musical history.  Time And a Word is an example of that, but is not in itself that interesting.

Score: 2




The Yes Album  (Feb 1971)

I love this album. It was introduced to me in 1971 when I was 15 by my 12 year old girlfriend Beverly Brown.  She introduced me to a lot of things. She was very advanced for a 12 year old. Now, it's difficult to know how much my affection for this album is influenced by the circumstances of my first hearing it, but it has certainly stood the test of time. There are some strong songs here which the band continued to play throughout their career. This is my favourite Yes album, and for me this is the best line-up of the band.  The band suffered somewhat when Wakeman joined; even though he is a supremely skilled keyboardist, and the band's sound required the depth and richness his keyboards could bring, he is also a little inclined to go overboard, to lose focus, and to go for bright sounds rather than emotional impact. I wonder how the band would have developed with Kaye remaining on the keyboards.

Score: 8


Fragile  (Nov 1971)

Wakeman joins, and the band develop an overblown sound which I'm not quite sure about. There's stuff to like here, but this does feel like a transition album between the excellent Yes Album and the classic prog album Close to the Edge.

Score: 5



Close To The Edge   (Sept 1972)

Probably, along with Dark Side of The Moon, one of the most successful and popular progressive rock albums of all time. It works. It serves as a template (good and bad) for all progressive music since its release in 1972. The lyrics are daft, but somehow certain lines and phrases resonate, and Anderson has a compelling voice. Yes clearly had very competent musicians, because the playing on the album is impressively competent. However, while technical competence is admirable in itself, when it comes to rock music we tend to look for other things than simple technical accomplishment. Louie Louie is awesome because of the feel of the thing, the sweat, desperation and sheer joy of the playing not because of the playing, which is simple and clumsy. While Bruford called the album "Close to the Edge" because he felt the band were at the edge of reason and madness while making it, citing Squire spending over two hours balancing just two controls on the recording desk, it could also apply to the music being close to the edge of rock music - there is a fair degree of jazz playing and formulations, especially in Bruford's drumming and Squire's bass; however, though the music and lyrics are close to the edge of disengagement from emotion, and close to the edge of frippery and meaninglessness, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and is held together by Steve Howe's guitar work which flips elegantly from jazz to rock via country, folk, classical and several other genres. Such a virtuoso display could be another barrier to emotion engagement and enjoyment, yet there is a cool ease about the playing, and it always appears to be fitting rather than showboating, so it somehow works. Wakeman's keyboards, especially on the organ, is less effective, and can be described as distractingly showy at times; while it adds a sonic depth and richness which overall aids the album, I suspect the album would have been better had Tony Kaye been playing instead of Wakeman, whose excesses do grate at times.

Score: 7



Tales from Topographic Oceans  
(Dec 1973)

This was the point I left Yes. I had this album and would play it. There is promise here of something like Close to the Edge - it is symphonic and at times compelling in its breadth and depth, but it is also indulgent and boring. At half the length it would work so much better, but even then it doesn't have the majestic melodic sweep of Close to the Edge, or the playful, aspirational bravado of  The Yes Album. For many people this is everything they hate about prog rock. For some symphonic-prog enthusiasts, this indicated what was possible. Ultimately it is a failure, but it is a fairly admirable and reasonably pleasant failure. Yes, however, never fully recovered from the failure of this album; in particular the mocking scorn it received, which spread to all prog bands, apart from Pink Floyd, was devastating and humiliating. The band's fan base was enough to sustain it on a fruitful career which still continues, but they were never again a musical force that critics paid attention to.

Score: 3


Relayer  (Nov 1974)

There are some who prefer this to Tales. Each to their own. This to me lacks the scope and ambition of Tales. It's a boring album that borders on Heavy Metal. At this point Yes are no longer creative or new and are just rehashing their earlier ideas, but with a lack of imagination and self-awareness. I comment below in the Popular songs section on the "Gates of Delirium" track, with reference to other albums released at the time, as to why the band are now clearly past it.

Score: 1



Going For The One  (July 1977)

After a three year break, and the return of Rick Wakeman, the band released Going For The One which contained the hit "Wonderous Stories". For many people, "Wonderous Stories" is Yes, and they would have bought the album based on hearing that single, so the album was reasonably successful. This is a more varied album than the band's main prog-rock albums,  and is closer in style to The Yes Album. It's an accomplished and listenable album, and "Wonderous Stories" is a classic track. The 15 minute Awaken is a dire return to plodding prog-rock, and significantly holds the album back, but other than that I can see myself returning to this now and again.

I note that "Awaken" appears to be a track that Anderson thought was particularly good, and some fans and commentators feel it is one of the band's best. I comment below in the Popular songs section on why I feel this is Yes at their worse rather than their best.

Score: 4


Tormato  (Sept 1978)

This has all the familiar Yes features, but it's uninspired. The band just seem to be going through the motions. It's not a bad album, it's just not that good. After this Anderson and Wakeman left the band for a while.

Score: 2

Drama  (Aug 1980)

Wakeman and Anderson have left. Trevor Horn of Buggles is now the vocalist. It sounds like Yes, but Yes on a bad night. Or, perhaps, it sounds like a Yes cover band who have written their own pastiche material. It's not bad as such, but other than a cleaner, crisper sound, this has not advanced the band beyond 1972. There's nothing original or meaningful here - it's just too much pastiche. Horn's voice is not as pleasing as Anderson's, and its jerky harshness begins to grate after a while.

Score: 2


90125  (Nov 1983)

Anderson returns, and they release their biggest single, "Owner of a Lonely Heart", which makes them sound like a cross between Buggles and Genesis, and very Eighties (though it's a better song than that makes it sound!).  The band have moved on, but the movement is toward commercialism and popularity rather than the symphonic musical vision which had clearly propelled Anderson and Squires since 1969. It's a more attractive album than Drama and Tormato, but it's superficial, and seems to be as far from Yes as its possible for the band to get. Oddly, at this point, Yes appear to be copying Genesis rather than Genesis copying Yes. The short instrumental "Cinema" won the band a Grammy.

Score: 3


Big Generator (Sept 1987)

There's a big Eighties sound to this, with drums mixed to the fore, and lots of spacey echo.  It's not exactly ugly, but it's not my thing. It feels clinical, mediocre, and lacking in soul and musical finesse. It's a crude album of musical notes which doesn't really amount to music.

Score: 2



Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe  
(June  1989)
After the dire Big Generator, Anderson left the official Yes to form an alternative Yes with other ex-Yes members. They released this one studio album, and two live albums of Yes material.




Union  (April 1991)

The two bands, Yes and Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, record an album together, but each band plays separately, Anderson being the only common factor. Apparently most people dislike it. I dislike the Yes tracks - they are superficial and glassy; the Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe tracks are more approachable, but reach too much into the past, so they sound like a Yes pastiche band.

Score: 2


Talk  (March 1994)

On first hearing I hated this - plodding Eighties drums, hollow production spaces, slashing wannabe heavy MOR rock guitar. Pretty trashy and unlistenable. I was just about to disregard the whole album as I couldn't take much more, when  I got to "Where Will You Be", and was pleasantly surprised. This is where the heart of what was good about Anderson's vision for Yes in the 70's meets modern production and arrangements. Yes, the song structure is simple, and is merely pleasant rather than engaging, but the track is decent, and is probably the best thing that's come out under the Yes name since Close To The Edge.  The next track "Endless Dream" also has moments that hark back to classic Yes, while keeping a foot in the modern day, but is a much weaker track. It feels like a genuine attempt has been made to write a Yes song, rather than a commercial song, or a throwaway pastiche just to keep the fans interested. But there's not enough here to sustain repeat listenings. Ultimately the album is a failure, but the last two tracks save it from being an epic failure.

Score: 2

Open Your Eyes  (Nov 1997)

Wakeman leaves - again. He is replaced with Billy Sherwood, and the band make an album totally lacking in ideas. I think the band, the critics, the buying public, and the fans all dislike this album. It is pretty dreadful. The most interesting track is the hidden 15 minute one at the end of "The Solution", which consists of some irritating low white noise and what sounds like artificial bird song with occasional snatches of Anderson's singing from the album dropped in randomly here and there. And that sums up the lack of creativity in the band at this point.

Score: 1


The Ladder  (Sept 1999)

Igor Khoroshev joins the band, taking over keyboards from Sherwood who moves to second guitar. It's another dreary plodding album lacking in ideas. It was generally seen as an improvement on Open Your Eyes, but pissing on an electric socket would be an improvement on listening to that album again. This is pretty bad.

Score: 1/2


Keystudio  (May 2001)
This is an album of just the original material from the two Keys To Ascension albums which mainly consisted of older material recorded live.




Magnification  (Sept 2001)

With Sherwood gone and Khoroshev fired after being accused by two female security guards of sexual assault during a concert (which appears not to have gone to court, so the full truth of that incident is unlikely to come out) the band were down to the core members of Anderson, Squire, Howe and White. They brought in an orchestra to compensate for lack of a keyboard player. It's not an unpleasant album, though there's little here to encourage repeat listens. It sounds like soundtrack music to a cheap movie.  The simplistic string arrangements add nothing - sometimes detracting with their slushy simplicity, and are not an adequate replacement for a creative keyboardist like Wakeman.

Score: 2



Yes Acoustic: Guaranteed No Hiss 
(Jan 2004)

I like this. Yes unplugged, with the core members. This was originally broadcast live to 25 cinemas in America. There's a pleasant atmosphere, and nice choice of songs. The playing is a little crude and clumsy at times as though the band were under-rehearsed, but that sort of adds to the casual charm. Not a great album, but pleasant enough.

Score: 4



Fly from Here  (June 2011)

BenoĆ®t David  replaces Jon Anderson to create an imitation Yes album.  It's not unpleasant, but after a while I am left wondering why I am listening to this. It's all been done before and so much better.

Score: 2



Heaven & Earth  (July 2014)

Still containing some core Yes members, and still with a sound recognisably that of Yes, this has Jon Davison  on vocals, sounding like Anderson, but without the magic, and  Geoff Downes  on keyboards going through the motions.  The band are clearly trying to recapture some of the sound and structure of their classic past, but for whatever reason, it ultimately fails. I wonder if a track like, say One Step Beyond, had appeared on The Yes Album would it now be part of the canon. It sounds like classic Yes, and it's a pleasant breezy track. But I suppose the problem is that it is out of time. In 1970 or 1971 it would have fitted in fairly nicely with it's psychedelic pop sound, but in 2014 it is out of time, and clearly an attempt to imitate.

Score: 2/3



Significant songs 

These are the most significant Yes tracks in my opinion, ranked from most to least significant.

1) "Yours Is No Disgrace" from The Yes Album, Feb 1971

* The Yes Album studio version  (the classic)
* Yessongs live version (overblown and lacking focus)
* Beat Club live 1971  (probably the most electric and stunning version)

The opening track on the classic The Yes Album introduces both Steve Howe, and a new direction for the band - one which will shape Yes for the rest of the band's career. The band themselves particularly liked this track as they all had a part in creating it. It is the only track that Tony Kaye is given writing credit for.

Much has been written on the song - Bill Martin goes into deep and tortuous whirlpools to try to define and describe it. On the one hand he is reluctant to pin down the lyrics, and yet examines at great length and in precise detail the notion that it's about the Vietnam War. I can't see any reference to the Vietnam War in the song, and it appears that people have been working hard to make the lyrics fit that concept. While the meaning is not clear, what we can say is that the song is addressed to an imaginary or actual listener: "Yours is no disgrace", "a smile upon your face", "tell/show me where you are", "that's just where you are", etc. While this person could be an individual, perhaps an elusive lover, there is also the possibility it might be humanity as a whole ("a smile upon your face ... silly human race")  or the planet Earth:  when the morning comes the Sun shines on the face of the Earth. There are seasons changing, and a lot of movement - "a sailing ship to nowhere", "flying", "travel very far", "gather near", "crawling out", etc. There is the sense of something lost or gone - the song is foregrounded with "Yesterday", "Lost" comes twice, along with "losing", "leaving" and "disappear". There seems to be some form of quest going on to find what or who has been lost: "tell me where you are", "show me where you are", "Lost in losing circumstances, that's just where you are". However, whatever it is that has been lost, or needs to be found, we get the repeated refrain "Yours is no disgrace", emphasising, perhaps, that there is no blame here. Summer is associated with warmth, life, richness and gaiety, while winter is cold, harsh, unforgiving, and deadly. Yet there is a reassurance to the person or thing addressed in the song, that "If" (interestingly not  "When") the summer changes to winter, there will no blame or disgrace. It's a reassurance to us, perhaps, that whatever changes are being made, whatever is happening, the "you" of the song is not at fault. From this a listener can insert whatever personal meaning suits their mood or thought. If a listener wishes it to be about war in general, or even a specific war, it can be. If the listener wishes it to be about a relationship ending, and there being no regrets, it can be. If the listener wishes it to be about mankind destroying planet Earth, it can be.  The lyrics are too vague to pin anything down exactly; though personal, even idiosyncratic meanings, can be found  - and this accords with what Anderson said during the Sounding Out documentary a few months after the song was released, and which finishes with a live version of the song: "I think I work a bit backward because I write a tune and then I write the lyrics, not so much for the idea behind the lyrics but for the sound of the words. After you've written a song and put it together and recorded it I start to look at the thing as a whole and then decide there is a meaning to it; if I can find a meaning then possibly people that listen to it will find different meanings."

   The unique lines (removing repetitions) are:

Yesterday a morning came, a smile upon your face.
Caesar's palace, morning glory, silly human race,
On a sailing ship to nowhere, leaving any place,
If the summer change to winter, yours is no disgrace.

Battleships confide in me and tell me where you are,
Shining, flying, purple wolfhound, show me where you are,
Lost in summer, morning, winter, travel very far,
Lost in losing circumstances, that's just where you are

Death defying, mutilated armies gather near, [usually misprinted as "scatter the earth"]
Crawling out of dirty holes, their morals, their morals disappear.


The track's length at 9.41 was the longest that Yes had recorded to date, and pointed the direction the band would go in: extended free flowing exploration of song structure.  Such a length, though, was not unusual for the time. Since Dylan's 1966 Blond on Blond, with the  the record buying public had been used to songs of over 11 minutes, and a number of the early symphonic rock and progressive rock bands like Procol Harem with the 17.31 minute  "In Held 'Twas in I" from 1968's Shine On Brightly album, and Renaissance with the 10.51 minute "Kings & Queens" from their eponymous 1969 album, had made good use of the ability to extend themselves musically on the album format.

"Yours Is No Disgrace" opens with a musical section that leads into the main music motif. After the intro the track is essentially an RnB jam, where the music motif is explored repeatedly, changing each time. Steve Howe explained in 2003 that the jam was done slowly and methodically rather than organically as it would with a band like Cream.  Where "Yours Is No Disgrace" perhaps differs from similar RnB jams or keyboard-led symphonic rock tracks, is in the thoughtfulness and democracy of the band which shows in the range of ideas they have, share, discuss, and develop, and in the  musicianship of the band, which gives the music an authority and a joy. Cream were accomplished musicians, but perhaps came at what they were doing more organically, while Yes thought about it more, and structured it in advance, so the ideas when played out come quicker and are crisper.  "Spoonful" by Cream is awesomely skilful, ground-breaking, and inventive, but the roots of the organic jam can be heard in the slowly shifting changes to the main motif. I like "Spoonful" (probably more than "Yours Is No Disgrace"), and I like those organic developments, but the end result is a serious or "heavy" atmosphere compared to the lightness and joy of "Yours is no Disgrace".

The richness of orchestral sounds (sometimes using a full orchestra, or more commonly using modern keyboard instruments that give a similar range and depth, such as organs and synthesisers)  and a symphonic structure where a musical piece may have separate "movements" or musical sections, is key to the success of Yes. Consciously or unconsciously Anderson may have been thinking of the Moody Blues album  Days of Future Past  when writing the lyrics, as the theme of time passing is similar to Anderson's theme, and Graeme Edge's poem "Morning Glory" opens and closes the album.

The jazzy guitar playing (reflecting contemporary British jazz-fusion bands such as Soft Machine, King Crimson, Caravan, and Colosseum, and other jazz-tinged musicians such as Frank Zappa) ignites the song and clues us in as to why Yes are different - Howe is a supremely gifted player supported by very accomplished and creative musicians.The band are symphonic, yes, but they also rock in the style of Cream. The blend of symphonic pop, jazz-fusion and "progressive" British RnB with Anderson's pleasant, ephemeral voice and flighty, suggestive lyrics is compelling. On this first track with Steve Howe they get it all together; from this point forward the band would explore the basic structure they had found on this track. For a couple of albums such development worked very well, but eventually started to repeat itself in a downward spiral. 

2) "Close To The Edge" from Close To The Edge,  Sept 1972

Close To The Edge album version (the classic)

There's a teasing opening of tinkling noises which get louder until the band bursts in in full flight. After several abrupt pauses for a brief choral from Anderson, the band come together with the main theme. It is probably the most audacious start of any Yes track. This is musically sound from start to finish, and is the heart of the Close To The Edge album.

"Starship Trooper" from The Yes Album, Feb 1971

 

"I've Seen All Good People" from The Yes Album, Feb 1971

 

"Clap" from The Yes Album, Feb 1971


You know, pretty much every track on The Yes Album is solid. The only relatively weak track is A Venture, and even that is more likeable and listenable than much of their output after Close To The Edge. All the tracks, including A Venture, would continue to be played live for the rest of the band's career.

"Siberian Khatru" from Close To The Edge,  Sept 1972

Close To The Edge album version (the classic)
Yessongs live version (fairly close to the studio version)

Everything works well on this. Tight rhythmic drumming, playful clear guitar picking like crystal ice tinkling. sweeping and varied keyboards, expressive but binding bass that holds it all together, and Anderson's airy voice with meaningless but evocative lyrics containing lines like "River running right on over my head". The song doesn't do anything new, but it works well, and creates an impressive mood. This is a band at their confident peak.

"And You And I" from Close To The Edge,  Sept 1972

Close To The Edge album version  (the classic)
Yessongs live version   (messy and barely listenable)

This has pleasant moments, and in general I like it, but it does feel like an album or live concert track - something that is barely able to stand on its own, but is perfectly fine as part of a longer moment of music. Essentially this is wall paper music. Dum de dum, pleasant waffling.  It is, however, a staple of the band's live performances, and is frequently highly placed on Yes song lists. The live Yessongs version is painful to listen to - the balance is poor, Wakeman is out of control, and Anderson is sometimes out of tune.

"Roundabout" from Fragile, Nov 1971

One of the most popular and acclaimed Yes songs.


Roundabout

Starts with Spanish guitar. Most Yes songs seem to have a guitar intro before the band comes in.


Popular but over-rated songs

"Awaken" from Going For The One, July 1977

A number of Yes fans like this track, but by 1977 the band had already developed their sound  and their structure, so nothing new happens on this track. The band follow their by now familiar style of moving the music forward in stages - there is a solo intro (this time piano) and then more sounds are added before the whole band comes in and they rock along in a pleasant enough but unremarkable and fairly familiar (almost plodding) manner, with the slight shifts in tempo and bursts of electric guitar that previously would delight, but here sound strained, as though the band have run out of new musical ideas, and are simply running along on what they know the fans like. There are musical changes, different sections, but the changes are often done in a clumsy manner, and the new sections add little to what has gone before, other than as a different mood. At times it feels rather messy. The lyrics are trivial and uninviting - there are few images to delight as in mountains coming out of the sky, or phrases that excite thought as in "Yesterday a morning came, a smile upon your face". We have an over-indulgent Wakeman going too far on the organ, and the the band throwing in a cheap angelic choral section as though that would impress. Far from being great Yes, this is Yes bereft of new ideas, and flogging a very dead and bloody horse. This is Yes pretty much at their worse. I can only imagine folks like this because they came to it before they heard the band at their best, and we tend to have emotional attachment to such discoveries.

"Gates of Delirium" from Relayer, Nov 1974

Another track liked by Yes fans only. Gee, it's tedious. The anti-war lyrics are the sort of undisciplined vague nonsense that some sixth formers write before they get a sense of perspective. The music is both overblown and boring. Only a Yes fan could like this. And to think that this track was made after albums like A Wizard, A True Star, Dark Side of the MoonPhaedra, The Faust Tapes, Angel's Egg, Here Come The Warm Jets, and Autobahn had been released. Me, I was listening to those other bright, inventive, intelligent albums which pointed the way to the future, so drivel like this did not attract me, and still doesn't.  By 1974 Yes were already musically stagnant and out of date, and they would remain so for the rest of their career.


Background


The Warriors   1962 - 67  Jon Anderson

"You Came Along" (1964)   "Mr Nobody Nothing"  "Don't Make Me Blue"  


The Syn  1966 - 67  Chris Squire & Peter Banks

"Created By Clive"   "14 Hour Technicolour Dream"   "Flowerman"   "Grounded"

Significant people

Rick Wakeman

Wakeman started his music career as a session musician; notably playing the Mellotron on "Space Oddity" (1969), and piano on Hunky Dory (1971). The day that Bowie's death was announced, Wakeman was interviewed on Radio Two, and was asked to play the piano part of Life On Mars? at the end of the programme, which he did with great feeling and perfect timing, filling the space available exactly. While working as a session musician he was also briefly a member of The Strawbs, a folk-rock group led by Dave Cousins. He worked as a session musician on Dragonfly (1970), after which he joined the band for two albums,   Just a Collection of Antiques and Curios (1970) and From the Witchwood (1970) . He then joined Yes to record Fragile, Close to the Edge, and Tales of Topographic Oceans, At the same time he recorded the solo albums The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1973) and Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1974), at which point he left Yes. He recorded another solo album, The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (1975).

* Wikipedia
* Alchetron  
* Website 


Jon Anderson

Yes is mainly Jon Anderson's band. It is clear that he and Chris Squire drove the shape and direction of the band, and of the two, Anderson - as the lead singer and main song-writer - is the person most associated with the band. His singing style and his lyrics are a significant feature of the band. The bass playing is superb, but you don't recognise Yes by the bass playing, you recognise Yes by the voice and lyrics.

Anderson's first band was The Warriors.  He was with them from 1962  to 1967, and recorded two singles for Decca "You Came Along" / "Mr Nobody Nothing" (1964),   and  "Don't Make Me Blue" (1964). He split from The Warriors in 1967, briefly joining The Party, before returning to London to record two singles for Parlophone under the name Hans Christian: "Never My Love" and  "Mississippi Hobo".  He then joined Mabel Greer's Toyshop, a band with Chris Squire on bass.  The line-up changed to include Banks on guitar, Bruford on drums, and Kaye on keyboards. They recorded "Beyond and Before" (1968) before they changed their name to Yes, and the rest is history.


* Wikipedia
* Alchetron  
* Jonanderson


Chris Squire


* Alchetron

Steve Howe


* Alchetron


Bill Bruford


The original drummer in Yes, and present for  the first five albums, including the three classic albums, so he is the essential Yes drummer. He left Yes in July 1972 for King Crimson, playing on Larks Tongues In Aspic (1973),  and other albums. He played with Genesis from 1975 to 1977, from then on he would play on and off  in  Yes and King Crimson, while also forming his own bands Bruford and Earthworks.


* Alchetron
* Website

Roger Dean


* Wikipedia
* Website


Peter Banks

 

Original guitarist. Decent guitar work on the first album but seemed hardly there on the second, so was replaced by Steve Howe who lifted the band, and along with Anderson, made the distinctive Yes sound. Went on to work with Flash and Empire, as well as releasing solo albums. He died in 2013.

Flash  (1972)
The first Flash album is probably the most representative of Banks' playing. It is competent and varied, though not quite on the same technical level as Howe. It's not really my thing. The band here are decent enough, with some particularly attractive bass playing, but the overall sound is like a Yes pastiche band, which is probably the level of their ambition. They do sound like a minor footnote to the history of progressive rock.


* Wikipedia
* Alchetron 
* Website


Tony Kaye


The original Yes keyboard player, Tony Kaye had played with the Federals, recording several singles including In A Persian Market (1963) which is drenched in Kaye's lush Hammond organ, and several other bands before he joined Mabel Greer's Toyshop  just as that group became Yes.  Kaye's playing is OK, but Anderson had visions of something grander and more orchestral than the Hammond alone could offer, but Kaye had no interest in expanding, so he was dropped after The Yes Album, and Wakeman brought in because he was both willing and able to play a range of keyboards, thus expanding Yes' sound.  Kaye played on Peter Banks' Flash album (above), before forming his own band Badger and releasing two albums, One Live Badger (1973), and White Lady (1974), both of them quite soulful, and at times funky.  He toured with Bowie in 1975-1976, joined Badfinger for the Say No More (1981) album, before rejoining Yes, via Chris Squire's Cinema band, just in time to record the 90125 album, with the big hit "Owner Of A Lonely Heart", though his continuing insistence on only playing Hammond organ and piano led to frictions with producer Trevor Horn, and the need for others to play most of the keyboards. He temporarily left the band, his place being taken by Eddie Jobson who appears in the Lonely Heart video. He returned for the tour of the album, and the next two albums, before going into semi-retirement. He currently plays in Circa, a Yes side-project formed in 2006.

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Alan White


Trevor Horn




Summary


Voice

Jon Anderson has a distinctive voice. It is pleasant enough, and its fey nature seems suitable to the slightly nerdy anti-rock approach of much prog-rock.  I quite like it, but it is fairly limited.
Score: 4/10

Image

The band are prog-rock so their image is going to be somewhat tarnished by that. Added to which they are the most notable for being somewhat overblown, partly/largely due to Rick Wakeman, and introspective thanks to Anderson's lyrics, and the excess of Tales of Topographical Oceans, which even Wakeman thought was a little too much. On the plus side, they are probably the most respected of the formative prog-rock bands, and their development of a symphonic approach to rock music is much lauded.
Score: 4/10

Lyrics

Famously meaningless, and probably held up more often as examples of daftness, and the pointlessness of prog-rock than any other act. Having said that, the lyrics seem suited to Anderson's voice, and the band's music, and they do seem to work on a certain level, so I'm not that negative.
Score: 3/10

Music

As with Genesis, there is a little too much intellectualising and shaping of what to many rock bands is an instinctive process. The band  perhaps approached music in a clinical mathematical way like Classical composers, and this doesn't seem to work as well for rock music, which is more instinctive and emotional. The band, unlike Genesis, didn't successfully develop on from their prog-rock origins, and so produced little of worth outside their classic period. However, the body of work they did produce in that period is possibly slightly better and more important than that of Genesis, who tended to seem to be a step behind Yes.
Score: 5/10


Impact/Influence

While Yes were just a fraction ahead of Genesis in terms of developing symphonic/prog-rock, they did not go on to gather the same level of attention, and so would ultimately have less impact and influence. Music critics tended to see Genesis as the more arty and worthwhile band partly to do with Gabriel's theatrics.
Score: 4/10

Importance

I am going to say the same thing about Yes, as about Genesis: Some fans feel that they were cutting edge, though they seem to be lacking and somewhat trivial when compared to some of their livelier and more interesting contemporaries such as Tangerine Dream (Alpha Centauri  1971 - Phaedra 1974), Can (Tago Mago 1971, Spoon 1972), Brian Eno (Here Come The Warm Jets 1974),  Kraftwerk (Kraftwerk 1970, Autobahn 1974), Faust (The Faust Tapes 1973), Pink Floyd (Dark Side Of The Moon 1973), Todd Rundgren (A Wizard, A True Star 1973), etc. The early Seventies was a fertile period, so there was a lot of playing around with music structure, time sequences, etc. The band's experiments were  tame compared to some of their contemporaries, and rarely were they that effective. I'm not seeing that they did anything new or unusual or particularly attention grabbing. As a significant part of the prog-rock movement they deserve some credit, and while the jury is still out on prog-rock, it is getting more serious attention these days.
Score: 5/10


Popularity

They have a loyal following, but they didn't catch the public attention in the way that Genesis did.
Score: 3/10

Star quality

Rick Wakeman became a star, but the rest of the band are known only by their fans. The band itslef doesn't attract attention, and they still haven't been accepted into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.
Score: 3/10


Emotional appeal

The music is prog. Little emotional appeal, though there are moment when Anderson can create a mood.
4/10

Legacy

The band mostly followed the prevalent music trend; however, they are considered one of the pioneering prog-rock bands, especially of symphonic-prog.Their classic period was short, and they tended to simply repeat themselves, but their three core albums are attractive and fairly representative of what was good about symphonic/prog-rock, while their worse albums epitomised what was bad about it.
6/10

Total:

41

Conclusion

I've enjoyed doing this study. I have like Yes since first hearing them, but stopped listening after Tales of a Topographic Ocean, so it was interestingt to discover their later albums, and to become more familiar with their early and classic albums. The Yes Album is an album I've always liked, but that has gone up in my estimation since paying closer attention top it. It is a classic album. I don't think I appreciate Close To The Edge as an album as I once did. The title track I still find impressive and enjoyable, but the other two tracks seem less interesting on reflection.

Links


* Yesworld.com
* Wikipedia
* Notes from the edge
* ProgArchives

*BBC documentary Sounding Out shown in 1972. The film concentrates on the band setting up for a concert at Hemel Hempstead Pavillion in Oct 1971 shortly after Rick Wakeman joined them. I think I saw the concert, as I used to go to the Pavilion regularly, but I can't actually remember. Sounds odd, but I hadn't at that time met the girl who got me into The Yes Album, and I did at that time see a lot of bands I didn't know, because concerts were cheap and easy to get into. It was cheaper to go to a concert than to buy an album. The 3 day Weeley Festival, for example, which I went to in Aug of that year, cost £1.50, while an album cost around £2.

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