Yes are an English rock band who achieved worldwide success with their progressive, art and symphonic style of rock music. Regarded as one of the pioneers of the progressive genre, Yes are known for their lengthy songs often with complex instrumental and vocal arrangements, mystical lyrics, elaborate album art, and live stage sets. Seventeen musicians have been a part of the band's line-up, which currently comprises singer Jon Davison, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, drummer Alan White, and keyboardist Geoff Downes. Yes have sold 13.5 million certified units in the United States.
Far and away the longest lasting and the most successful of the '70s progressive rock groups, Yes proved to be one of the lingering success stories from that musical genre. The band, founded in 1968, overcame a generational shift in its audience and the departure of its most visible members at key points in its history to reach the end of the century as the definitive progressive rock band. Where rivals such as Genesis and King Crimson altered their sounds so radically as to become unrecognizable to their original fans, Yes retained the same sound, and performed much of the same repertoire that they were doing in 1971 for a decade, and for their trouble, they found themselves being taken seriously a quarter of a century later. Their audience remained huge because they had always attracted younger listeners drawn to their mix of daunting virtuosity, cosmic lyrics and powerful yet delicate lead vocals.
Formation and first three albums (1968–1971)
Yes was formed in 1968 by vocalist Jon Anderson and bassist Chris Squire. Anderson was a member of The Warriors with his brother Tony, and had performed on singles under the pseudonym Hans Christian. Squire was part of The Syn, and spent time to develop his bass-playing technique following the band's split in 1967. He formed Mabel Greer's Toyshop in January 1968 that consisted of singer and guitarist Clive Bailey, drummer Bob Hagger and former Syn guitarist Peter Banks. They played at The Marquee club in Soho where Jack Barrie, owner of the nearby La Chasse drinking club, saw them perform. Barrie introduced Squire to Anderson at La Chasse, where they found common interests. Peter Banks left Mabel Greer's Toyshop to join Neat Change, but Squire invited him back into a reformed group after the departure of Bailey and the addition of Anderson on lead vocals.
Hagger was replaced by Bill Bruford, a jazz aficionado who placed an advertisement in Melody Maker. Bruford first met the band on 7 June 1968 and performed that day at the Rachel McMillan College in Deptford. Classically trained organist and pianist Tony Kaye, who had been in Johnny Taylor's Star Combo and The Federals, was the fifth and final member to join. With the line-up complete, Mabel Greer's Toyshop was renamed Yes at the suggestion of Banks. They rehearsed in the basement of The Lucky Horseshoe cafe on Shaftesbury Avenue between 10 June and 9 July 1968.
Their first live show under the Yes name followed on 4 August at East Mersea Youth Camp in Essex. Early sets were formed of cover versions of songs by artists such as The Beatles, The 5th Dimension and Traffic. On 16 September 1968, Yes performed at London's Blaise's club as a substitute for Sly & the Family Stone, who failed to turn up. They were well received by the audience, including host Roy Flynn, who became the band's manager that night. Spots at The Marquee soon turned into a residency, but Bruford decided to leave in September to study at Leeds University. He was replaced by Tony O'Riley of The Koobas, who struggled to perform with the group on-stage. Anderson and Squire pleaded for Bruford to return, who after being refused a year of sabbatical leave, rejoined for Yes' supporting slot for Cream's farewell concert at the Royal Albert Hall on 26 November 1968.
In early 1969, Yes signed a deal with Atlantic Records. Their self-titled debut album was released in August, and included renditions of "Every Little Thing" by The Beatles and "I See You" by The Byrds, as well as original material. Lester Bangs gave a positive review in Rolling Stone, and complimented the album's "sense of style, taste, and subtlety". Melody Maker columnist Tony Wilson chose Yes and Led Zeppelin as the two bands "Most Likely to Succeed". After a tour of Scandinavia with The Small Faces in February 1970, Yes performed their first major solo concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London on 21 March. The second half consisted of excerpts from their upcoming second album, Time and a Word, accompanied with a 20-piece youth orchestra.
Released in July 1970, Time and a Word featured the orchestra with band-composed material and two cover songs, "Everydays" by Buffalo Springfield and "No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed" by Richie Havens. Peter Banks, who had been particularly dissatisfied with using the orchestra and the sacking of Roy Flynn earlier in the year, left the group before the album's release on 2 May 1970. Banks' replacement was Tomorrow guitarist Steve Howe, who was included on the cover of the American issue of Time and a Word, despite not having played on it. The album reached number 45 on the UK Albums Chart, and Howe played his first show with Yes on 15 July at London's Lyceum Theatre.
No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed
No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed
The Yes Album, the band's third, was released in January 1971. It was the first to solely feature original compositions, which the band wrote and rehearsed in a rented farmhouse in Devon. Howe quickly established himself as an integral part of the Yes sound, and played a wider variety of instruments including the Spanish laúd. The Yes Album also united the group with their long-serving producer and engineer Eddie Offord. According to Offord, the recording sessions would last for 12 hours or more. Each track was assembled from small sections, typically 30 seconds to one minute in length, which he pieced together to form a complete track. Only after the final mix of each track would the band then learn to play the song right through for live performances. The Yes Album peaked at number 4 in the UK and number 40 on the US Billboard 200 charts. To promote it, Yes embarked on a 28-day tour of Europe with Iron Butterfly in January 1971. The band purchased Iron Butterfly's entire public address system which improved their on-stage performance and sound. Their first date in North America followed on 24 June 1971 at Edmonton Gardens in Edmonton, Alberta, supporting Jethro Tull. Tony Kaye performed his final show with Yes at the Crystal Palace Bowl that August. The decision was made after friction arose between Howe and himself on tour, and his reported reluctance to play the Mellotron and the Minimoog synthesiser.
I've seen all good people
Fragile, Close to the Edge and Topographic Oceans (1971–1974)
At the time of Kaye's departure, Yes had already found their new keyboardist, Rick Wakeman, a classically trained player who left the folk rock group Strawbs earlier in the year. He was already a noted studio musician, with credits including T. Rex, David Bowie, Cat Stevens and Elton John. Squire commented that he could play "a grand piano for three bars, a Mellotron for two bars and a Moog for the next one absolutely spot on", which gave Yes the orchestral and choral textures that benefited their new material. Released on 26 November 1971, the band's fourth album Fragile showcased their growing interest in the structures of classical music, with an excerpt of The Firebird by Igor Stravinsky being played at the start of their concerts since the album's 1971–1972 tour. Each member performed a solo track on the album, and it marked the start of their long collaboration with artist Roger Dean, who designed the group's logo, album art, and stage sets. (Later, for the 1976 American tour, his brother Martyn was the main designer behind the extraordinary 'Crab Nebula' set, while Roger and fabric designer Felicity Youette provided the backgrounds.) Fragile peaked at number 7 in the UK and number 4 in the US after it was released there in January 1972, and was their first record to reach the top ten in North America. The opening track, "Roundabout", was released as a shortened single that peaked at number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. In February 1972, Yes recorded a cover version of "America" by Paul Simon. The single reached number 46 on the US singles chart. The track subsequently appeared on The New Age of Atlantic, a compilation album of several bands signed to Atlantic Records.
Released in September 1972, Close to the Edge, the band's fifth album, was their most ambitious work so far. At 19 minutes, the title track took up an entire side on the vinyl record and combined elements of classical music, psychedelic rock, pop and jazz. The album reached number 3 in the US and number 4 on the UK charts. "And You and I" was released as a single that peaked at number 42 in the US. The growing critical and commercial success of the band was not enough to retain Bruford, who left Yes in the summer of 1972, before the album's release, in order to join King Crimson. His replacement was former Plastic Ono Band drummer Alan White, a friend of Anderson and Offord who had once sat in with the band weeks before Bruford's departure. White learned the band's set list in three days before embarking on the 1972–1973 tour. By this point, Yes were beginning to enjoy worldwide commercial and critical success. Their early touring with White was featured on Yessongs, a triple live album released in May 1973 that documented shows from 1972. The album reached number 7 in the UK and number 12 in the US. A concert film of the same name premiered in 1975 that documented their shows at the Rainbow Theatre in December 1972, with added psychedelic visual images and effects.
Close to the Edge
And you and I
Tales from Topographic Oceans was the band's sixth studio album, released on 14 December 1973. The band played the entire suite at The Rainbow Theatre before releasing the album. It marked a change in their fortunes and polarised fans and critics alike. The double vinyl set was based on Anderson's interpretation of the Shastric scriptures from a footnote within Paramahansa Yogananda's book Autobiography of a Yogi. The album became the first LP in the UK to ship gold before the record arrived at retailers. It went on to top the UK charts for two weeks while reaching number 6 in the US, and became the band's fourth consecutive gold album. Wakeman was not pleased with the record and is critical of much of its material. He felt sections were "bled to death" and contained too much musical padding. Wakeman left the band after the 1973–1974 tour; his solo album Journey to the Centre of the Earth topped the UK charts in May 1974.
The Revealing Science of God
The Revealing Science of God lyrics
80's to present
In October 1979, the band convened in Paris with producer Roy Thomas Baker. Their diverse approach was now succumbing to division, as Anderson and Wakeman favoured the more fantastical and delicate approach while the rest preferred a heavier rock sound. In 1980 Howe, Squire and White liked none of the music Anderson was offering at the time as it was too lightweight and lacking in the heaviness that they were generating in their own writing sessions. The Paris sessions abruptly ended in December after White broke his foot while roller skating. When the band reconvened to consider their next move, their growing musical differences, combined with internal dissension, obstructed progress. By May that year, relations had deteriorated and Anderson departed from Yes. Wakeman immediately followed suit, thinking that the band could not continue without their primary voice. Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes (from the new-wave band The Buggles of “Video Killed the Radio Star” fame) were recruited to replace them, and the band recorded Drama, their first album without Anderson on vocals. The resulting sound was much heavier than previous albums, particularly the opening track Machine Messiah, and a strong synth-pop influence due to the involvement of Downes and Horn, which drew some criticism and the dismissive label “Yuggles”. While the new Yes was well-received in America, the band encountered more hostile audiences in England. The group split up in 1981.
The band reformed in 1983 with a new lineup featuring Squire, White, South African guitarist Trevor Rabin, and the return of Jon Anderson on vocals and Tony Kaye on keyboards. This line-up, which was eventually nicknamed “Yes West”, recorded 90125 and Big Generator and enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. During these years, Yes championed digital sampling technologies and sold millions of records, adopting a pop rock sound and influencing a generation of digital musicians with hits such as “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and “Rhythm Of Love”. By the end of the 1980s, Jon Anderson formed a side project with former Yes members Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman and Bill Bruford, releasing Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe in 1989. This led to a merger in 1990 and the album Union and the following tour with all 8 members. However, while the tour and album were commercial successes, many of the band members were dissatisfied with the album. Union was comprised of a demo recorded by the “Yes West” lineup attached to what was originally recorded as the second Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe album, and was finished using session musicians. Bruford has disowned the album entirely, and Wakeman was reportedly unable to recognise any of his keyboard work in the final edit. The “Yes West” lineup went on to release Talk in 1994, but sales were poor, and in 1995 Rabin and Kaye left the band. Howe and Wakeman re-joined to produce the mainly live albums Keys To Ascension in 1996 and Keys to Ascension 2 in 1997, which featured both live performances and new studio tracks, returning to their progressive style of the 1970s. Wakeman left the band shortly thereafter due to disagreements about the albums and tour.
The band collaborated with Billy Sherwood to produce the album Open Your Eyes in 1998, and Sherwood became an official member at the end of the sessions due to his significant contributions. Igor Khoroshev also performed on a few tracks and performed on the following tour, eventually becoming a full member as well. Moving through the 1990s and into the new millennium, the band has moved back towards progressive influenced music and today keeps pushing the boundaries by using the latest hard-disk recording techniques. In 1999 they worked with Relic Entertainment, providing the song “Homeworld (The Ladder)” for the PC game Homeworld. Although Sierra Entertainment later released a CD with the soundtrack they, for no apparent reason, chose not to include this song on the CD. It can however be found on the 1999 album The Ladder.
After the departure of Sherwood in 2000 and Khoroshev in 2001, Yes recorded Magnification in 2001 without a keyboardist, instead featuring a full orchestra. Rick Wakeman re-joined the band the next year, and in 2003 the band recorded five tracks that were added as a 3rd CD in the compilation Ultimate Yes: 35th Anniversay Collection, including acoustic versions of “Roundabout” and “South Side of the Sky”. In 2008, when the band was about to begin their 40th anniversary tour, Jon Anderson suffered from a throat infection and was unable to participate. Benoit David, from Yes tribute band Close To The Edge, was recruited to fill in on vocals for the tour. In 2009, he was named as Anderson’s permanent replacement. Rick Wakeman’s son Oliver Wakeman also joined the band on keyboards. The band recorded Fly From Here in 2011, their first new album in 10 years, with David on vocals and Trevor Horn as producer. Before the album was completed, Wakeman was replaced by Geoff Downes, bringing together the Drama lineup and a similar sound. The title track was originally conceived in 1981, and it was refined and extended into 20-minute six-part epic.
Time and a Word (1970)
The Yes Album (1971)
Close to the Edge (1972)
Tales from Topographic Oceans (1973)
Going for the One (1977)
Big Generator (1987)
Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (1989)
Keys to Ascension (1996, mainly a live album)
Keys to Ascension 2 (1997, mainly a live album)
Open Your Eyes (1997)
The Ladder (1999)
Fly from Here (2011)