Yes is one of the archetypes of progressive rock, a genre which merged the intricate aspects of classical and symphonic music with the grandeur of 1970s classic arena rock. “Yes are generally noted throughout their history for their lavish musical arrangements, psychedelic lyrics, ambitious stage performances, and a distinctive instrumental styling and unique harmony-oriented vocal style. This has been performed by a shifting team of distinctive and individual musicians” WK with bassist Chris Squire remaining the only constant member. WK
The group formed in 1968 and went on a brief hiatus in 1981. They returned two years later with their most successful lineup and even landed a #1 song in the U.S. (“Owner of a Lonely Heart”). The group continued to tour and release albums through 2001. After that, they continued touring, had another hiatus from 2004-2008, and returned with their first studio album in a decade in 2011.
Early Years (1968-70):
Singer Jon Anderson and bassist Chris Squire formed Yes in 1968. They met at a “nightclub in Soho, London and the two found common interest in Simon & Garfunkel and harmony singing in a group.” WK Several players came and went before the band settled on the lineup which would release their first album: Anderson, Squire, guitarist Peter Banks, drummer Bill Bruford, and keyboardist Tony Kaye. “The band played their first show as Yes on 4 August 1968 at the East Mersea Youth Camp in Essex.” WK On November 26 of that year, Yes performed at the Royal Albert Hall in support of Cream on their farewell concert. WK
In 1969, Yes released their self-titled debut album. It included covers of the Beatles’ Every Little Thing and the Byrds’ I See You. Another album (Time and a Word) followed in 1970. Banks departed shortly after, replaced by guitarist Steve Howe.
The Classic Albums (1971-72):
“Howe quickly established himself as an integral part of the Yes sound” WK over the next three studio albums, generally considered the pinnacle of the band’s work. 1971’s The Yes Album went top ten in the U.K. Kaye left after that album and was replaced by keyboardist Rick Wakeman.
The band’s next album, Fragile, was released at the end of the year and went top 10 in the U.S. and U.K. It “showcased the band’s growing interest in the structures of classical music. Each member contributed a solo, or near-solo, track.” WK The album also “marked the beginning of the band’s long collaboration with artist Roger Dean, who designed the group’s logo, album covers, and stage sets, along with his brother Martin.” WK The album was also significant for the song Roundabout, a top 20 U.S. hit and now a classic-rock staple.
1972’s Close to the Edge “was by far their most ambitious effort to date. At 18 minutes, the title track took up an entire side of the vinyl record and combined elements of classical music, psychedelic rock, pop and jazz.” WK The album went top 5 in the U.S. and U.K.
Bruford left before the release of the album to join King Crimson. He was replaced by drummer Alan White, who had worked in John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band.
The Classic Lineup (1972-74):
This brought into play what is generally considered to be the “classic” Yes lineup: Anderson, Squire, Wakeman, Howe, and White. This lineup released a triple live album, Yessongs, and another studio album, Tales from Topographic Oceans, in 1973. The latter “marked a change in the 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. Though extended compositions were by now a Yes hallmark, each of the four compositions on the album took up an entire side on each record.” WK The album went to #1 in the U.K. and became their third U.S. top ten and fourth consecutive studio album to sell a million copies.
Wakeman Leaves and Returns (1974-79):
Wakeman left after the supporting tour. He was critical of Tales, saying “sections were ‘bled to death’ and contained too much musical padding.” WK His 1974 solo album, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, topped the UK charts.
Among the keyboardists to audition for the vacancy was Vangelis Papatheanassiou, who would later collaborate with Anderson and also have a smash hit with the instrumental “Chariots of Fire” in 1981. Swiss electric-jazz musician Patrick Moraz would eventually take over keyboards for the 1974 album Relayer. The album “continued certain traditions in featuring a side-long track, a cosmic battle epic initially inspired by Tolstoy’s War and Peace titled The Gates of Delirium. Its closing section, Soon, was released as a single for a limited time.” WK
Wakeman returned for 1977’s Going for the One. “He liked the group’s new material which he considered to be more energetic and interesting…Going for the One was structured in a similar way to Fragile, with shorter tracks. Wonderous Stories was released as a single in the UK and reached the top ten charts.” WK
By 1978’s Tormato, England was at the height of the punk rock era and Yes was often criticized as “as representing the most bloated excesses of early-1970s progressive rock.” WK The band responded with shorter songs and “played with a tighter rock feel that at points approached New Wave styling…The band have since said that they were not sure about some of the material on the album.” WK
The End? (1979-81):
By 1979, the band were at odds with Anderson and Wakeman preferring “the more fantastical and delicate approach while the rest preferred a heavier rock sound.” WK They left the band, replaced by keyboardist Geoffrey Downes and singer/bassist Trevor Horn, who had both been in the Buggles (“Video Killed the Radio Star”). The English press dismissively labeled the lineup “the Yuggles.” WK
That lineup released 1980’s Drama. After the tour to support the album, Horn left to pursue a career in music production. White and Squire then also left, leaving only Downes and Howe. Yes was officially announced as over in 1981.
Downes and Howe would end up in the supergroup Asia, along with King Crimson bassist and singer John Wetton and Emerson, Lake & Palmer’s drummer Carl Palmer. Squire and White continued working together, first in a proposed band called XYZ which would have included Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page. Then they turned their attention to a band which was to be called Cinema with South African singer, songwriter, and guitarist Trevor Rabin. Tony Kaye returned to play drums and Horn re-entered the fold as the album’s producer. The band’s management wasn’t sure if Rabin was a strong enough vocalist and when Squire crossed paths with Anderson at a party, he played some of Cinema’s demos for him. Anderson had recorded two solo albums and a pair of albums with Vangelis. However, he “late confessed that he had been ‘missing the band terribly’” WK and he joined up with the Cinema project. Now the record company pushed to market the new project as the relaunch of Yes.
The “1983 comeback album – named 90125 after its serial number – eventually became Yes’ most commercially successful record by far, selling more than 6 million copies and securing a new lease on life for the band. The album's music varied from deftly arranged power pop (Owner of a Lonely Heart) and hard rock (City of Love and Hold On) to energetic minimalist riffs (Changes) and a more classic Yes-styled finale (Hearts).” WK
That same lineup, with Rabin now assuming production duties, returned in 1987 with Big Generator. “Some Yes fans have considered…[it] more faithful to the vintage Yes sound than its predecessor because of a concentrated effort to record longer songs…in addition to the more poppy tunes. Notably, the album fared less well than its predecessor as a launchpad for singles, with the radio-friendly, Rabin-written-and-sung Love Will Find a Way charting only moderately well, and Rhythm of Love barely scraping the US Top 40.” WK
Two Yes Bands – and Then a “Union” (1989-92):
Anderson tired of the new musical direction, wanting to return to the classic Yes sound. He enlisted Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe on what was initially a new solo album, but became a reunion of early ‘70s Yes. The project also included bassist Tony Levin, with whom Bruford had worked in King Crimson. Contractually, the Cinema-lineup had rights to the Yes name, so the album and group were referred to as Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, & Howe (or ABWH). Their 1989 album featured album-rock hit Brother of Mine and the album went gold. They toured as “An Evening of Yes Music Plus” and recorded a live album of the same name, but were dogged by legal battles over the use of the name Yes.
At the same time, the Cinema lineup, sans Anderson, were shopping for a new singer. Ex-Supertramp vocalist Roger Hodgson briefly worked with the group, but thought better of working under the Yes label. Meanwhile, ABWH’s second album, which was to be called Dialogue, was rejected as too weak. Anderson approached Rabin and wanted to use some demos Rabin had sent him for the ABWH project. Those four songs ended up integrated into the new Cinema project and both lineups were all lumped together under the Yes banner for the 1991 album Union. Anderson ended up singing on all the songs.
“The album was clearly a somewhat forced combination of the music from the two lineups, since none of the songs on Union featured all eight members at once; two-thirds were actually ABWH compositions, while Rabin and Squire contributed four songs…The album itself fared well, with approximately 1.5 million sold worldwide. However, nearly the entire band have subsequently – and openly – stated their disliking for the finished product.” WK “The Union 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 tour itself featured tracks spanning the band's entire career, and it was one of the highest-grossing concert tours of 1991 and 1992.” WK
The Return of the Cinema Lineup (1993-94):
With no one particularly excited about the full-fledged merger of so many Yes members on Union, the next project was a return to the Cinema lineup. This resulted in the 1994 album Talk. “It blended…radio-friendly rock with a more structurally ambitious approach taken from Yes’ 1970s blueprint, even including the lengthy epic Endless Dream across most of the second half.” WK “Although the first single from the album, The Calling, was perhaps Yes’ strongest single since ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart,’ neither the record label nor U.S. radio stations provided much promotion for it.” WK “Talk ultimately proved to be one of Yes’ poorest-selling releases, possibly affected by the sudden rise in the popularity of grunge music at the time.” WK Rabin and Kaye would leave after the tour.
The Return of the Classic Lineup (1996-97):
The departure of Rabin and Kaye left the door open for a reunion of Howe and Wakeman with Anderson, Squire, and White, thus reforming the band’s most celebrated 1970s lineup. They released a pair of projects, Keys to Ascension and Keys to Ascension 2, in 1996 and 1997 respectively, which both featured live material and studio cuts. The latter cuts were later combined as the album Keystudio. Not happy with this approach, Wakeman left again.
More Lineup Changes (1997-2001):
Squire had been working with Billy Sherwood, who’d worked with Yes during the ‘90s, on a project called Conspiracy. White had also contributed to the project and then Anderson and Howe were brought into the fold for what became 1997’s Open Your Eyes album. “Anderson and Howe were less involved with the writing and production at this stage and expressed dissatisfaction about the situation later. Sherwood’s integral involvement with the writing, production, and performance of the music led to his formally joining Yes as a full member at the end of the sessions, taking on the role of keyboard player, harmony singer, and second guitarist.” WK
Russian keyboardist Igor Khoroshev had toured with the group in support of the album and was brought in as a member for their next album, 1999’s The Ladder. “Many fans were reminded of the band's 1970s sound – largely because of Khoroshev’s classically oriented keyboard approach – although White also brought in a strong world-music influence.” WK “Sherwood’s role continued to be limited to backup vocals and backup guitar.” WK
Sherwood “left the band before the 2000 Masterworks tour” WK and “shortly before the scheduled recording of Yes' next album, Khoroshev was fired amidst a cloud of controversy over his backstage conduct, which included a sexual-assault charge.” WK Yes’ 2001 album Magnification “was recorded without a keyboard player in the band. Instead, Yes were backed by a 60-piece orchestra performing specific parts and arrangements written by notable film composer Larry Groupé.” WK
Hiatus and Another Return (2004-11):
The band followed with several years of touring sans new studio efforts, notably celebrating their 35th anniversary tour and welcoming Wakeman back to the fold once again. The group went on hiatus in 2004. In 2008, Howe, Squire, and White teamed with Rick Wakeman’s son Oliver and Canadian singer Benoît David, who’d worked in a Yes tribute band, to tour again. Anderson had been sidelined by illness, but expressed disappointment over “the move and by the lack of contact the other members had had with him since his illness.” WK This group toured through 2010. At one point, Asia served as the opening act and Howe played with both bands.
With Trevor Horn on board again as a producer, this lineup went into the studio in 2010 with the intent of releasing a new album, Fly from Here, in the summer of 2011. By March of that year, Geoff Downes was announced as returning to the band to replace Oliver Wakeman on keyboards, making for a near-return to the lineup from the 1980 Drama album.
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Last updated June 23, 2011.