Yes are an English progressive rock band that formed in London in 1968. Despite many lineup changes, occasional splits and many changes in popular music, the band has endured for over 35 years and still retains a strong international following. Their music is marked by sharp dynamic contrasts, often extended song lengths, and a general showcasing of its members' instrumental skills. Yes manages to use symphonic and other so called "classical" structures with their blend of musical styles in an innovative "marriage" of music. Their multi-layered, highly structured soundscapes have long been cherished by fans and panned by critics who have accused them of being pretentious and over-produced.
Yes was formed in 1968 by vocalist Jon Anderson and bassist Chris Squire. Anderson had already recorded a single in 1964 as a member of The Warriors, a beat band formed by his brother, Tony, and later sang on a couple of 45s for Parlophone Records under the pseudonym Hans Christian. He was also briefly a member of the group Gun. Squire had been a member of The Syn, a flower-pop outfit who had recorded a couple of singles for Deram Records (one, "14-Hour Technicolour Dream", celebrating the "happening" held at Alexandra Palace on April 29/April 30, 1967). Squire, after the breakup of The Syn, spent a year developing his bass-playing technique, strongly influenced by The Who's bassist, John Entwistle. Then, in May 1968, he met Anderson in a Soho nightclub, La Chasse, where Anderson was working. The two had a common interest in vocal harmony and began working together the following day.
Squire was in a band called Mabel Greer's Toyshop with Clive Bailey and Anderson started singing with the group. Drummer Bill Bruford was recruited from an ad he had placed in Melody Maker, replacing Bob Hagger. A jazz aficionado, Bruford had played just three gigs with Blues revivalists Savoy Brown before leaving. The group had also included guitarist Peter Banks.
With Bailey's departure, Banks' return and the addition of organist/pianist Tony Kaye, the band became Yes. Banks came up with the three letter name, with the rationale that it would stand out on posters. The classically-trained Kaye had already been in a series of unsuccessful groups (Johnny Taylor's Star Combo, The Federals, and Jimmy Winston and His Reflections).
They played their first show at East Mersey Youth Camp in England on August 4, 1968. Soon after this, Yes opened for Cream at their 1968 Farewell Concert from Royal Albert Hall. Early on, the group earned a reputation for taking other people's songs and drastically changing them into expanded, progressive compositions (much like Deep Purple did). In September, they subbed for an absent Sly and The Family Stone at Blaise's and as a result of that appearance gained a residency at The Marquee club. Soon after, they made their first radio appearance on John Peel's programme and, after Melody Maker columnist Tony Wilson selected them along with Led Zeppelin as the two bands "Most Likely To Succeed" (as he states on the liner notes of the band's debut LP), it appeared that their future was assured.
Their self-titled debut album was released on July 25, 1969. The harmony vocals of Anderson and Squire were an immediate trademark of the Yes sound. The band's optimistic, vaguely futuristic outlook on the world was delivered with a combination of melody and virtuosity. Standout tracks were a jazzy take on The Byrds "I See You" and the album closer, "Survival", which displayed the bands vocal harmonies and deft song-construction.
In 1970 the band released their second album, this time accompanied by a 30-piece orchestra. Time and a Word featured mostly original compositions and two cover songs, Richie Havens's "No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed", and "Everydays" by Stephen Stills. The reworking of Havens' song also included excerpts from the theme song of the movie The Big Country. Although musically exceptional in terms of melody delivery, the orchestra (and keyboardist Tony Kaye) overpowered Banks and much of the vocal work, leaving Time and a Word somewhat uneven. Before the album's release, guitarist Peter Banks was fired and ex-Tomorrow guitarist Steve Howe was hired. Howe would be included in the front cover photo of the American release despite not having played on the album.
Wakeman was replaced by Swiss musician Patrick Moraz for Relayer in 1974. The vast difference between Moraz's contributions to Yes and Wakeman's was more of a novelty than a disappointment, Moraz being a distinctive electric-jazz musician in his own right. Again, the album featured a side-long track, "The Gates of Delirium," from which the "Soon" section was put out as a limited single release. This reached Number One on the Spanish charts. Following an extended tour through 1975–1976, each member of the group released his own solo album. At the same time, Yesterdays was released, containing tracks from the first two albums, as well as "America" as the opening track.
In 1982, over a year after the breakup of Yes, Chris Squire and Alan White formed a new group, dubbed Cinema with guitarist Trevor Rabin (late of the band Rabbitt). Original Yes organist Tony Kaye was invited to participate as Squire felt that Kaye's textural approach to keyboards would suit the band. Formerly a solo artist with three albums to his credit, Trevor Rabin's writing contributions included the catchy riff-oriented "Owner of a Lonely Heart," but Rabin also played a role in the making of music to fit the MTV era while retaining certain aspects of Yes' original style - particularly the vocal harmonies. Originally, the lead vocals were shared between Rabin and Squire, but in early 1983, Chris Squire played Jon Anderson some of Cinema's music at a party in Los Angeles. Impressed with the band's new approach in songs like "Leave It," Anderson was invited by Squire to add his vocals to the new project and Anderson accepted the invitation, resulting in the "accidental" reformation of Yes. Many fans call this lineup "Yes West," because of the band's relocation to Los Angeles and the more American, radio-friendly sound.
To distinguish them from those who prefer the classic Yes (sometimes called "Troopers"), fans of this lineup were often called "Generators", taken from this lineup's second album, Big Generator. However, it should be noted that many Yes fans enjoy both periods of the group's music.
The band's first album since the reunion, 90125 (produced by former vocalist Trevor Horn), was a radical departure from their earlier sound. It was more visceral, with then-modern electronic effects. 90125 is Yes' most commercially successful album by far, eventually selling over six million copies and securing a new lease on life for Yes, who toured over a year to support it. The song "Owner of a Lonely Heart" from this album was even a top hit on the R&B and disco charts (and sampled countless times since), resulting in the band's only Number One single. The keyboardist appearing in the video for this song was Eddie Jobson. Yes also scored significant hit singles with "Leave It" and "It Can Happen," also garnering a Grammy award for Best Rock Instrumental ("Cinema," a short, highly compressed and complex track recorded live in the studio), suggesting that the group had not totally abandoned their musicianship in favour of commercial success -- as some fans allege. The popular album also spawned a concert video (9012Live) and a short live album (9012Live: The Solos, which included solo pieces from Anderson, Rabin, Squire and Kaye plus a Squire/White jam).
Jon Anderson grew tired of the musical direction of the "new" Yes line-up. He wanted the band to return to its classic sound. Following the 1988 tour, Anderson, asserting that he would never stay in the band purely for the money, began working with former Yes members Rick Wakeman, Steve Howe, and Bill Bruford. Some in the group (particularly Bill Bruford) wanted to distance themselves from the "Yes" name. As it turned out, the former Yes members were contractually unable to use the name, as Squire, White, Kaye, Rabin (and, ironically, Anderson) held the rights, dating back to the 90125 contract. Subsequently, the new group called themselves "Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe", or simply ABWH. The project included Tony Levin on bass, brought in by Bruford after the two had worked together in King Crimson. Appealing to old and new Yes fans, their eponymous 1989 album featured "Brother of Mine," a popular MTV video in its own right, and went gold in the United States. However, they did not all record together as in the early 70s and instead their parts were slotted into place on the album by Anderson. Howe has stated publicly that he was unhappy with the mix of his guitars on the album (a version of "Fist of Fire" with more of Howe's guitars left intact eventually appeared on the In a Word box set in 2001). It is also worth noting that according to Bruford, the four-way writing credit does not reflect the actual writing process and was instead an incentive to have the ex-Yes men take part in the recording sessions. After the album's release, legal battles (sparked by Atlantic Records) soon followed over the title of ABWH's tour, An Evening of Yes Music Plus, the live recording of which featured Bruford colleague Jeff Berlin in Levin's bassist spot, who was forced to sit out for two weeks due to illness. In addition, the live sessions were augmented by second keyboardist Julian Colbeck and guitarist Milton McDonald. The tour alternated between music from AWBH and vintage Yes classics, and each night opened with short solo stints from all four Yes members.
When the tour was over in 1992, Bill Bruford and Steve Howe recorded an album of Yes instrumental music reinterpreted by an orchestra, which featured Jon Anderson's vocals on two songs. Entitled "The Symphonic Music of Yes," the album offered fresh sonic presentations of Yes masterpieces and was produced by progressive rock legend Alan Parsons. After the release of this album, Bill Bruford chose not to remain involved in future Yes possibilities. Jon Anderson began writing with both Howe and Rabin separately but eventually the former was not asked to be on the next album by the record label (Victory Music), which had approached Rabin with a proposal to produce an album solely with the 90125 lineup, to which Rabin initially countered by requesting Wakeman be included. By 1993, Wakeman's refusal to leave his long-serving management meant he also could not play on the new album, which by then was well into production (Rabin and Wakeman have both expressed regret that they never played together on a Yes album - excepting the patchwork of Union - although Rabin did guest on Wakeman's Return to the Centre of the Earth album in 1999).
Yes was back to its popular 1980s lineup of Anderson, Squire, Rabin, Kaye, and White. In 1994, Yes released Talk on Victory Records, one of the group's poorest selling releases. Neither the record label nor US radio stations provided much promotion for "The Calling," perhaps their strongest single since "Owner of a Lonely Heart." (David Letterman heard the song while driving and immediately sought to find the "new band" and have them appear on the Late Show, which they did on June 20, 1994, just days into their Talk tour, performing "Walls" from Talk). Jon Anderson and Trevor Rabin's collaboration resulted in a remarkable fusion of 'old' and 'new' Yes. Some of the fruits of the band's work with Roger Hodgson also appears on the album. On the 1994 tour, guitarist/vocalist Billy Sherwood, who co-authored Union's "The More We Live" with Squire, joined as a sixth member. By the end of 1995, Tony Kaye and Trevor Rabin left, with Rabin going on to become a highly successful film score composer and Kaye retiring (though Kaye did provide Hammond organ on several tracks on the Billy Sherwood-produced Return To The Dark Side Of The Moon in 2006).
Proving the truth of the old adage "never say never again," the band surprised and delighted fans by reforming with the classic 1970s lineup of Anderson, Squire, White, Howe and Wakeman for a three-night live performance in the California town of San Luis Obispo in 1996. The resulting live recordings were released, together with new music, on the Keys to Ascension albums. Keys to Ascension 2, in particular, featured 48 minutes of new music. The band was disappointed the new material wasn't released as a single studio album, which had the working title of 'Know.' The new studio cuts from those two albums were later reissued on a single CD called Keystudio. Wakeman left the group yet again before the release of Keys to Ascension 2 after a Yes tour was planned without his input, and because of his frustration over the decision to bury the Keystudio studio tracks on redundant live albums.
Billy Sherwood immediately joined Yes on keyboards and guitar. A close friend of Squire, Sherwood had had some success as lead vocalist/bassist of the 1980s prog-pop band World Trade. Open Your Eyes, released in 1997, was originally intended as a project by Squire-Sherwood called Conspiracy. However, it was basically co-opted by Yes as Open Your Eyes in order to fulfill a need to get a new record out by the then-current lineup. The tour that followed featured only a few pieces from the new album, and mostly concentrated on the revival of classic Yes material such as "Siberian Khatru." The return of Steve Howe to the touring Yes, along with a heavier emphasis on 1970s-era Yes music, was considered an exciting development by many fans. The tour also featured keyboards from Russian keyboard player Igor Khoroshev, who had played on a few of the Open Your Eyes tracks. Khoroshev was later made a full time member for the following album The Ladder.
Many fans were reminded of the band's classic 1970s sound, largely because of Khoroshev's keyboards. His work was classically-oriented and also included sampling large sections of music by British techno group The Prodigy. In live performance, Khoroshev also reproduced Wakeman-era keyboard parts more faithfully, perhaps, than Wakeman himself. Sherwood's live role was limited to backup vocals and backup guitar, with a few notable spotlight moments for guitar solos in Rabin-era songs. Howe refused to duplicate Rabin's solos, citing that his style would not fit those solos (Howe was never fond of Rabin as a member of Yes, claiming that Rabin had undermined his guitar parts in performances by Yes West, as well as sanitizing the sound of the band on albums, particularly Talk; Rabin, of course, disagrees). The 1999 tour resulted in a live DVD of the performance at the Las Vegas House of Blues. "Homeworld (The Ladder)", a track from The Ladder, was written for Relic Entertainment's Homeworld real-time strategy computer game and was used as the credits and outro theme.
Sherwood was relieved of his duties prior to the 2000 Masterworks tour, which featured a revival of the Moraz-period extended piece "The Gates of Delirium" (from the album Relayer). Khoroshev was fired from the band after the tour due to a cloud of controversy over his backstage conduct including a sexual assault charge, just before the recording of the 2001 orchestral release Magnification. This album marks the only Yes album without a full-time keyboardist. The band was not only backed by a 60-piece orchestra, but specific parts and arrangements were written by notable film composer Larry Groupe and performed by the orchestra, sounding as if the orchestra was a permanent band member. On tour, however, the band hired keyboardist Tom Brislin to augment the orchestra since the orchestra alone could not faithfully reproduce some of the classic Yes keyboard material.
Fans short-changed in 1996 were delighted as Rick Wakeman announced his return to the group on April 20, 2002, and a world tour for Yes followed, including a return to Australia after more than 30 years. The classic lineup enjoyed a somewhat revitalized presence in the public consciousness, especially during the celebration of their 35th anniversary in 2004. Reacting to an online survey of popular Yes songs to play, the band added "South Side of the Sky" to the touring set list, a surprise given that it was rarely played before, even on the original Fragile tours.
This revitalization showed itself during a show in New York's Madison Square Garden. Near the end of the song "And You and I" where Howe finishes his pedal steel part, before the last few acoustic notes, the band was overwhelmed with thunderous applause. It lasted so long that by the time it subsided, the roadies had already removed Howe's guitar - Wakeman then had to play the last bit with Anderson singing.
In later legs of the tour, the band performed some songs in acoustic style towards the later part of the tour, after doing a live-via-satellite concert as part of the Yesspeak documentary's premiere.
In October 2002, "Owner of a Lonely Heart" appeared in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on the radio station Flash FM.
In 2005, DJ Max Graham sampled and remixed Yes' "Owner Of A Lonely Heart", credited to Max Graham Vs. Yes. The song reached the Top 10 on the UK Singles Chart.
Since 2005, Yes has been on indefinite hiatus; band members are pursuing varied solo projects. Alan White has formed a new group, White, featuring Geoff Downes of Asia (and Yes' 1980 lineup); their debut album, also called White, was released on April 18, 2006. Chris Squire joined a reformed version of The Syn, one of his pre-Yes groups from the 1960s, in 2004. Plans for a joint tour by White, Syn and Steve Howe, which would have included the Yes members (with the singer from White) performing songs from Drama, were cancelled as a result of visa problems for English members following the July 2005 London bombings. Alan White joined the band for a tour in 2006. Later, on May 16, 2006, Squire announced that he had left Syn. On the same day, the original members of Asia, including Howe and Downes, announced that they will be reuniting for a 25th anniversary tour, to commence in September.
In October 2005, Jon Anderson indicated that it was unlikely that Yes would tour in 2006 but that new studio work in early 2007 was "probable."
There are a number of Yes tribute bands. These include the UK based Fragile, who specialise in performing live cover versions of what they describe as "classic period" Yes numbers, e.g., predominantly material from The Yes Album up until Close to the Edge, interspersed with earlier and later songs such as "Time and a Word", "Astral Traveller", "Owner of a Lonely Heart", etc. The band has received positive endorsements from members of Yes, including featuring guest spots from Peter Banks and Steve Howe.
Other Yes tribute bands include Roundabout, the Brazilian group Yes Songs, and Northern California's Parallels. Freshly Squeezed of Perth Ontario, Canada have performed live versions of the Fragile album's Roundabout and Long Distance Runaround.
Ed Schaum covered a number of Yes/Howe tunes on his solo album Millennium Guitar.