You can say a lot of nasty things about progressive rock, and many people have — most frequently, that the genre emphasizes musical chops over soulful expression. But in the case of Yes, the British band’s often overbearing pretentiousness resulted in moments of rare grace and beauty, a bizarre and fleeting — if totally unrealistic — coupling of classical textures with rock & roll pathos.
Yes are an English progressive rock band that formed in London in 1968. Their music is marked by sharp dynamic contrasts; often extended song lengths; esoteric, abstract lyrics; and a general showcasing of its members’ instrumental skills. Yes blends symphonic and other ‘classical’ structures with their own brand of musical style. Despite a great many lineup changes, occasional splits within the group and the ever-changing trends in popular music, the band has continued on for nearly forty years and still retains a following. The band planned to have a 40th anniversary tour, Close to the Edge and Back, but, due to an asthma attack that vocalist Jon Anderson suffered, the tour was cancelled.
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 Scottish group Gun. Squire had been a member of The Syn, a flower-pop outfit that 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). After the breakup of The Syn, Squire 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 soon afterwards.
Squire was in a band called Mabel Greer’s Toyshop with Clive Bayley, and Anderson also 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 also included guitarist Peter Banks.
With Bayley’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).
Yes played their first show at East Mersea Youth Camp in England on August 4, 1968. Soon after this, they opened for Cream at their 1968 Farewell Concert from Royal Albert Hall. Early on, influenced by bands like 1-2-3 (later Clouds), the group earned a reputation for taking other people’s songs and drastically changing them into expanded, progressive compositions. 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, when Melody Maker columnist Tony Wilson selected them and 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 eponymous 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 band’s vocal harmonies and deft song-construction. Notably, the album was given a favourable review by Lester Bangs in Rolling Stone magazine, which described the band as promising, the album displaying a “sense of style, taste and subtlety”
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, originally recorded by Buffalo Springfield. 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 was included in the front cover photo of the American release despite not having played on the album.
The 1970s Yes recordings are still considered the classic Yes sound by many fans. These albums feature complex classically influenced arrangements, unusual time signatures, virtuoso musicianship, dramatic dynamic and metrical changes and oblique, stream-of-consciousness lyrics. Songs often exceeded the standard three-minute pop-song structure with lengthy multi-part suites sometimes lasting 20 minutes or more, making the band a leading 70s progressive rock combo. Vocal verses alternated with atmospheric instrumental interludes, frenetic ensemble passages and extended guitar, keyboard and bass improvisations. The signature sonic features of this ‘classic’ period are Jon Anderson’s distinctive high-register lead vocals, the group’s strong vocal harmonies, Rick Wakeman (and Patrick Moraz) and Steve Howe’s respective keyboard and guitar solos, Bill Bruford’s and later Alan White’s polyrhythmic drumming and Chris Squire’s highly melodic and discursive bass playing, enhanced by the sound of his Rickenbacker model RM1999 bass.
Chris Squire was one of the first rock bass players to adapt successfully electronic guitar effects such as tremolo, phasing and the wah-wah pedal to the instrument. The rhythm section of Squire/Bruford and Squire/White was considered by some to be one of the best in rock music at this time.
The first two Yes LPs mixed original material with covers of songs by their major influences, including The Beatles, The Byrds and Simon & Garfunkel. The departure of Peter Banks in 1970 and his replacement by Steve Howe gave Yes a new cutting edge. The group’s emerging style coalesced on their next LP, the critically acclaimed The Yes Album, which for the first time consisted entirely of original compositions by the band. It was also the record that united them with long-serving producer and engineer Eddie Offord, whose studio expertise was a key factor in creating the Yes sound.
In 1971, original organ/piano player Tony Kaye left the band, and though some reports attest that he was fired, others indicate that he left voluntarily. It is typically reported that the decision had to do with his unwillingness to use modern keyboard technology, as he considered himself to be simply an organist. He soon formed the group, Badger. Although a talented player who contributed memorable chord passages on the Hammond organ (particularly on the classic “Everydays” and “Yours is No Disgrace”), Kaye, arguably, could not match Howe’s guitar improvisation. He was replaced by the classically trained Rick Wakeman, who had just left The Strawbs and was already a noted studio musician with credits including David Bowie and Lou Reed. Wakeman brought the keyboards up to a level of improvisational skill comparable with that of Howe’s guitar. Tony Kaye and ex-Yes guitarist Peter Banks eventually formed their own progressive rock band, Flash. Oddly, Flash was accused of stealing Yes’s musical sound – a sound Peter Banks and Tony Kaye themselves were instrumental in creating.
As a soloist, Wakeman proved to be the perfect foil for Steve Howe. He also brought two vital additions to the group’s instrumentation: the Mellotron (which Kaye had been unwilling to employ) and the Minimoog synthesizer. Surrounded by banks of keyboards, his flowing blond hair and sequined cape provided a strong visual focus on stage.
The first recording by this lineup (Anderson, Bruford, Howe, Squire and Wakeman) was a dynamic ten-minute interpretation of Paul Simon’s “America”, which originally appeared on the album “The Age of Atlantic”, a compilation with several acts from the roster of Atlantic Records. However this song was frequently played live during the touring cycle before Wakeman joined the band. The Mellotron part on the end of the track was actually played by Bruford. It was both the end of one era (their last non-original track) and the beginning of another, showcasing all the elements of the new Yes sound in place.
With Wakeman on board, Yes entered what some consider their most fertile and successful period, cutting two highly acclaimed LPs. Fragile (1972) went Top Ten in America, as did Close to the Edge (1972). Yes enjoyed enormous commercial and critical success around the world and became one of the most popular concert attractions of the day. They also notably benefited from the tremendous advances in live music technology that were taking place at that time, and they were renowned for the high quality of both their sound and lighting.
Fragile also marked the beginning of a long collaboration with artist Roger Dean, who designed the group’s logo and their album covers, as well as their stage sets. Some consider the album Close to the Edge to be the high point of the whole progressive rock genre. Some fans of this era describe themselves as “Troopers”, after the 3-part track “Starship Trooper” from The Yes Album.
Before the release of Close To The Edge, and at the height of the band’s success, Bill Bruford announced that he was quitting to join King Crimson. He was replaced by former Plastic Ono Band drummer Alan White, a more conventional rock drummer and a distinct contrast to the jazz-influenced drumming of Bruford. In fact, White was brought into Yes several months before the September, 1972, release of Close To The Edge. Their early touring with White was featured on their next release, the three-record live collection Yessongs, recorded on their world tour in late 1971 and early 1972. The album included two tracks with Bruford, notably the song “Perpetual Change” with an extended Bruford drum solo, as well as backing Chris Squire in his solo “The Fish,” while White played drums on the rest of the tracks. White learned the tremendously ambitious repertoire in a matter of three days before embarking on the tour. (White, a friend of Anderson’s and Offord’s, had sat in with the band once during the weeks before Bruford’s departure. After trying each other out for three months, Squire threatened to throw White out the window if he did not join.) White has lasted with the group for over thirty years, contributing great drumming, navigating ambitious time changes and shifts, and maintaining a reputation for having a collaborative and “down to earth attitude”.
Yessongs was a hugely ambitious project and undoubtedly a major gamble for their label, Atlantic Records. It was one of the first rock triple-album sets, featuring live versions of all-original material from the previous three studio albums. Presented in one of the most lavish album packages to date, Roger Dean’s artwork spread across a triple gatefold cover and continued the cosmic-organic design concepts of the two previous albums. The album was another bestseller and was recently voted among the top twenty live records of all time. A video of the tour, released under the same name, featured concert footage (with Howe garnering a large amount of the focus due to his brother-in-law being the editor!) intermixed with psychedelic visual effects.
Their next studio album, Tales From Topographic Oceans, marked a change in the band’s fortunes, polarizing fans and critics alike. Although extended compositions were by now a Yes hallmark — the title track of Close To The Edge took up the entire first side of that album — the four roughly 20 minute tracks on the two-disc Topographic Oceans earned mixed reviews and left many feeling that the band was beginning to overreach itself. Coming after extensive touring, the album was later described by Jon Anderson as “the meeting point of high ideals and low energy.” Rick Wakeman, in particular, was not pleased with the album, and to this day speaks ill of much of it. It is said that the mockumentary film, This Is Spinal Tap, was largely inspired by the album and its tour. On the other hand, many prog-rock fanatics consider it to be one of the greatest progressive albums of all time. As divided as the opinions get, the one thing that is certain is that this album leaves behind an impression – whether it be positive or negative.
Increasing interpersonal tensions between Wakeman and the rest of the band, as well as Wakeman’s own burgeoning solo career, led him to quit at the end of the Tales tour in 1974. (By 1976, Wakeman worked to put together a prog-rock triumvirate rivaling Emerson, Lake & Palmer, but in the end Wakeman did not participate in that project. That band, eventually featuring Bruford, his King Crimson bandmate John Wetton, guitarist Allan Holdsworth, and Roxy Music’s wunderkind keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson, formed under the name UK.) Wakeman himself embarked on a long, productive solo career, in addition to his projects with the English Rock Ensemble, film scores, and collaborations with other artists.
Initially, Yes auditioned Vangelis of Greece, to replace Rick Wakeman. However, that plan was quashed by immigration issues. Ultimately, Yes settled on a replacement for Wakeman: Patrick Moraz, a Swiss musician, 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.
The group commenced sessions for a new album. There is some confusion about the chain of events, but after a considerable amount of negotiation, Rick Wakeman rejoined the band on a “session musician” basis. The confusion comes from Moraz being on record as saying he feels he deserves credit for much of the music on the resulting album. Certainly Howe has also stated that the group “tried to remove as much of Patrick from the songs as possible”, so it would appear that he did contribute to the initial sessions. Ultimately, Moraz ended up at the top of the ambiguous “thanks to…” list on the album sleeve. In any case, after hearing and being impressed by the new material Wakeman once again became a permanent band member. Apart from the 15 minute track “Awaken”, the resulting album, Going for the One, the first not to feature Roger Dean artwork since The Yes Album (although it does display the Yes logo he designed), was mostly made up of shorter songs, including “Wondrous Stories,” released as a single in the UK in 1977. This album and the next, 1978′s Tormato featuring the same lineup, were successful in spite of being released at the height of the punk rock era in Britain, during which Yes were often criticized by the music press as representing the most bloated excesses of early 1970s progressive rock. Ironically, Yes outlasted almost all the groups of that era as well.
The Tormato album is another that has sparked dissension among fans, with many feeling half the album is mere filler and others defending it as a logical progression from the more poppy Going for the One. Fans of the “classic” Yes sound were happiest with the last track, the driving, symphonic and jazzy “On the Silent Wings of Freedom,” propelled by White’s energetic kick drum and Squire’s harmonized bass. The band members themselves have said that they were not sure of some of the material on the album. The album artwork would see large changes as well, with design firm Hipgnosis taking a turn once again with their combination of manipulated photography and graphical elements in lieu of the traditional Roger Dean approach. For many fans, this artwork did not properly capture the iconic “Yes” look, though it was arguably as much of a visual departure as that of the music. However, despite internal or external criticisms of this latest album, the band enjoyed successful tours in 1978 and 1979.
In October, 1979, Yes convened in Paris with producer Roy Thomas Baker, fresh off his success producing The Cars. There are a number of statements by band members and rumours as to why the sessions did not produce a formal album. Howe, Squire, and White said later in 1980 that none of the three of them liked the music Anderson had offered the band, claiming it was too lightweight and lacking in a heaviness that the trio felt they were generating during their own time together. (Bootlegs of these sessions would suggest that Howe et al. were correct in their descriptions of Anderson’s music, some of which appeared on his 1980 solo album Song of Seven.) In December, the sessions ended when Alan White broke his foot. There is also strong specualtion that Anderson and the remaining members of the band had a falling out over money issues and claims and counterclaims of members spending more than their fair share of their group monies. By May, 1980, the situation reached a conclusion with Anderson departing Yes as no agreement could be reached over musical direction and financial remuneration. With Anderson leaving, Rick Wakeman followed suit, thinking that Yes could not continue without its primary voice.
At Yes manager Brian Lane’s suggestion, Squire invited the Buggles duo of Geoffrey Downes (keyboards) and Trevor Horn (vocals) – who were coming off an international success with their New Wave album The Age of Plastic and the acclaimed single “Video Killed the Radio Star” – to help out on a new Yes album. Initially, the plan was that Downes and Horn would help write some new material – they already had a song called ‘We Can Fly From Here’ which had been written with Yes in mind. Soon, Howe, Squire, and White confessed that their singer and keyboardist had actually left the band. To Downes and Horn’s surprise, they were invited to join Yes as full-time members. They accepted the invitation and performed on the Drama album in 1980 (on which ‘We Can Fly From Here’ was not included). Drama clearly displayed a heavier, harder sound than the material Yes recorded with Anderson in 1979, opening with the hard rock, lengthy track “Machine Messiah.” While Drama was well received by many fans, and often regarded as one of the finest moments for the trio of Squire, Howe, and White, despite the Horn/Downes contribution, many other Yes followers missed Anderson’s unique lyrics and vocal style. The album’s artwork (the album was nicknamed “Panthers” by some fans after the black cats featured in the cover) raised eyebrows as the inside cover also displayed a bit of a horror-house style in photo and graphic design, an anomaly that perplexed some fans. The band undertook a North American tour in September, 1980. The general consensus is that Horn performed the vocals for their new material on tour very well (although he had no experience fronting a band that performed on the scale of Yes shows) but that he struggled on the classic Yes material as it was not in his range. When the band returned to England later in 1980, the English press heaped great criticism on Horn and Yes.
Meanwhile, Jon Anderson reunited with Papathanassiou (who became best known for his “Chariots of Fire” soundtrack) as Jon & Vangelis. Their collaboration worked well enough to produce three albums including the North American FM hit “Friends of Mr. Cairo” and the U.K. hits “I Hear You Now” and “I’ll Find My Way Home”.
After the Drama tour, Yes reconvened in England to decide the band’s next step. Ultimately, Trevor Horn left to pursue music production. Alan White and Chris Squire left Yes but continued working together, beginning sessions with former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. The band was to be called XYZ, said to be short for “ex-Yes-and-Zeppelin,” but nothing came of the sessions when ex-Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant failed to get interested. XYZ produced a few demo tracks, elements of which would appear in later Yes music (most notably “Mind Drive” from Keys to Ascension 2, and “Can You Imagine,” from Magnification). Later in 1981, Squire and White released the Christmas single “Run With The Fox.” Downes and Howe, who were left holding the bag of Yes as it were, opted not to continue Yes. Instead, they went on to form “supergroup” Asia with former King Crimson and UK bassist/vocalist John Wetton and Carl Palmer from Emerson, Lake & Palmer on drums.
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 that introduced Yes to a massive fan-base and a reinterest in their older material. Yes made many new and younger fans over the next years due to the 90125 album.
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 was a radical departure from their earlier sound. It was more visceral, with then-modern electronic effects – attributable chiefly to producer (and former Yes vocalist) Trevor Horn. Yes’ most commercially successful album by far, 90125 eventually sold over six million copies and secured 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), and remains a defining song of 80′s-era pop. The keyboardist appearing in the video for this song was Eddie Jobson since Tony Kaye could not appear due to scheduling conflicts. 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, directed by Steven Soderbergh (9012Live), and a short live album (9012Live: The Solos, which included solo pieces from Anderson, Rabin, Squire and Kaye plus a Squire/White jam).
In 1986, Yes began recording Big Generator. Unfortunately, interpersonal problems (chiefly between Rabin and Anderson) kept the album from timely completion, and ultimately Trevor Rabin took a hand in its final production. Although 1987′s Big Generator did not fare as well as 90125, it still sold well over two million copies. Some Yes fans have considered Big Generator more faithful to the vintage Yes sound than its predecessor due to a concentrated effort to record longer songs such as the fan favorites “I’m Running” and “Shoot High, Aim Low” in addition to the more poppy tunes. Trevor Rabin’s radio-friendly “Love Will Find a Way” charted moderately well, with the Beach Boys-inspired “Rhythm of Love” barely scraping the Top 40. The 1988 tour ended with a gig at Madison Square Garden as part of Atlantic Records’s 40th anniversary celebrations, but left Yes members exhausted and frustrated with one another.
Jon Anderson grew tired of the musical direction of the “new” Yes line-up and 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.
Meanwhile Yes were working on their follow-up to Big Generator. The band had been shopping around for a new singer, working with ex-Supertramp Roger Hodgson, and songwriter Billy Sherwood of World Trade. Hodgson enjoyed working with the group but thought it unwise to attempt to pass off the music as Yes. Arista, ABWH’s new label, encouraged ABWH to seek outside songwriters, and Trevor Rabin ultimately sent a demo. Predictably, Arista sensed the commercial possibility of a Yes re-union. This would lead to the end of Yes having new albums released by Atlantic Records after more than 20 years of their initial recording contract. Throughout early 1991, phone calls were made, lawyers soothed, and agreements were struck, with Yes West joining ABWH for the Union album. Each group did its own songs, with Jon Anderson singing on all tracks. Chris Squire sang background vocals on a few of the ABWH tracks (with Tony Levin doing all the bass on those songs). A world tour united all eight members on one stage in a short-lived “Mega-Yes” line-up of Anderson, Squire, Howe, Rabin, Kaye, Wakeman, Bruford, and White. The album was clearly a somewhat forced combination of the music from the two line-ups, since none of the songs on Union featured all eight members at once; two-thirds were actually ABWH compositions, while Trevor Rabin and Chris Squire contributed four songs (including a Billy Sherwood collaboration). Nearly the entire band have publicly stated their disliking for the finished product due to producer Jonathan Elias’s secret involvement of session musicians after the initial sessions. (Bruford has disowned the album entirely, and Wakeman was reportedly unable to recognise any of his keyboard work in the final edit, and amusingly threw his copy of the album out of his limosine.) The Union tour itself featured tracks spanning the band’s entire career, and it was one of the highest grossing concert tours of 1991 and 1992. The album itself fared well, with approximately 1.5 million sold world-wide.
When the tour was over in 1992, Bill Bruford and Steve Howe recorded an album of Yes instrumental music reinterpreted by an orchestra for RCA Victor, which featured Jon Anderson’s vocals on two of the songs. Entitled Symphonic Music of Yes, the album offered some fresh sonic presentations of Yes masterpieces; it remains debatable, however, whether the concept warranted the length of the actual finished recording. String arrangements were done by David Palmer, and the record 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 Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Trevor Rabin, Tony Kaye, and Alan White. In 1994, Yes released Talk on Victory Music, 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. The “Talk” tour featured an innovative sound system via which fans at a concert could listen on their portable FM radios turned to a specific frequency to hear greater dynamic range and stereo effects during the concerts. By the end of 1995, Tony Kaye, Trevor Rabin, and Billy Sherwood 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 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 Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Alan White, Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman for a three-night live performance in the California town of San Luis Obispo in 1996. As the band formed a brief contract with CMC International Records, 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 rejoined 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 in order to fulfill a need to get a new record out by the then-current lineup. Squire and Sherwood were forced to release a different set of songs they were working on as Conspiracy. The band would release this and all the rest of their future releases on the Beyond Music label to ensure they have more of a say in packaging and titling the albums. 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. This would be the last album that record producer Bruce Fairbairn would work on before an untimely death.
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. 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. 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. The band was not only backed by a 60-piece orchestra, but specific parts and arrangements were written by notable film composer Larry Groupé 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 who felt they were 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 revitalised 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 revitalisation 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 premiere.
On November 11, 2004, for one night only, Trevor Rabin, Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Alan White, and Geoff Downes performed “Cinema, and “Owner of a Lonely Heart” at the Prince’s Trust concert at Wembley Arena, which was a tribute to former Yes vocalist/producer Trevor Horn. It remains somewhat unclear why Anderson did not perform that night, although since Horn was being honoured that night, (the other acts that played that night were all produced by Horn), there may have been a desire to emphasize Horn’s role rather than Anderson’s. One report said that Anderson needing time to rest, under doctors’ orders, and that Wakeman declined to join in because of Anderson’s absence. Whatever the exact reason, fans of the 90125 era were delighted to see Rabin perform with the group for the first time in ten years, and, as on the Union tour, the audience was treated to guitar solos by both Rabin and Howe.
Since 2004, Yes has been on hiatus. In lieu of releasing new albums, they formed deals with Image Entertainment and other video firms to release past concert performances, music videos, and interviews on DVD. Howe, Squire, Wakeman and White had all expressed an interest in recording and touring, but Anderson had been firmly opposed due to personal health concerns. Thus, band members have pursued varied solo projects. White has formed a new group, White, featuring Downes. Their debut album, also called White, was released on April 18, 2006. In 2004, Squire joined a reformed version of The Syn, one of his pre-Yes groups from the 1960s.
Plans for a joint tour by White, The Syn, and Steve Howe, which would have included the Yes members (with the singer from White) performing songs from Drama, were canceled as a result of visa problems for English members following the July 2005 London bombings. White joined the band for a tour in 2006. On May 16, 2006, Squire announced that he had left The Syn. On the same day, the original members of Asia, including Howe and Downes, announced that they would be reuniting for a 25th anniversary tour, which commenced in September. Anderson and Wakeman toured together in October of 2006, and the setlist for most shows featured Yes material along with songs from both their solo careers, and at least one ABWH song. In early 2007, Sherwood, Kaye and White — along with guitarist Jimmy Haun — formed a new band, CIRCA:. The band released its debut album, CIRCA: 2007, available from its website www.circahq.com. Their debut live performance was held on August 23, 2007, at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, at which time the band performed its entire debut album followed by an hour-long medley of Yes songs.
Anderson has also composed some new music with Trevor Rabin. How this music will reach the public has yet to be seen.
As of March 2008, Anderson is touring North America, Howe is touring with Asia, and White is touring with new band CIRCA.
In honour of the band’s 40th Anniversary, Yes had announced a 2008 world tour, entitled Close to the Edge and Back. Unfortunately, the tour was canceled on June 4 due to Anderson’s health problems. Per the press release, “Yes frontman and founding member Jon Anderson was admitted to the hospital last month after suffering a severe asthma attack. He has now been diagnosed with acute respiratory failure and was told by doctors this weekend that he needs to rest and not work for a period of at least six months or suffer further health complications. Upon receiving this news the band has determined that their tour plans need to be put on hold.”
The tour had been planned to feature Anderson, Squire, Howe, and White, and to also include Oliver Wakeman sitting in on keyboards, in lieu of his father, Rick (who bowed out on the advice of his doctors.
Anderson said the band was preparing four new “lengthy, multi-movement compositions” for the tour which are “very, very different,” however, after the weak sales of 2001′s Magnification, Anderson had said that “putting together an album really isn’t logical anymore” and no announcement has been made as to a release of recordings of this new material in any form.