Yes are one of the flagship acts of progressive rock. They’re also one of rock’s weirdest bands. Their best music is intense and aggressive, incorporating influences from jazz, folk, and country, but blending them with wild synthesizer explorations, crazed art-boogie guitar shredding, bass louder than most metal bands’, crushingly complex drumming, and Jon Anderson’s unique, highly recognizable upper-register vocals. At their mid-’70s peak, they were imaginative and self-indulgent enough to release a double album with one song on each side; a decade later, they partnered with producer Trevor Horn (Art Of Noise, Frankie Goes To Hollywood) and created one of the biggest hit singles of the ’80s. But they’ve had a staggering number of lineup fluctuations — the only constant presence has been bassist Chris Squire — to the point that their last two singers have been recruited from Yes cover bands. They’re some of the most talented and technically skilled musicians in rock history, but it’s a safe bet that the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame will burn to the ground before they’ll be inducted.
Yes were formed in the summer of 1968 by Chris Squire and Jon Anderson, who recruited guitarist Peter Banks, keyboardist Tony Kaye, and drummer Bill Bruford. They quickly made a name for themselves on the London club scene, and got a prime gig opening Cream’s farewell concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Their first two albums were moderately successful, but they didn’t really develop their own sound until their third, simply titled The Yes Album. That disc was also Tony Kaye’s last work with the group; he was replaced by Rick Wakeman, and the band’s classic era commenced.
For the next few years, Yes moved from strength to strength. Each album — Fragile, Close To The Edge, Tales From Topographic Oceans, the live Yessongs — was rapturously received, and they began selling out larger and larger venues. But Tales proved to be a stumble; critics and some fans rebelled against the idea of a four-song double LP. Indeed, the band became poster children for bloated ’70s rock excess, with Wakeman a particular figure of fun for things like wearing a cape onstage and ordering takeout dinner delivered to his keyboard during other bandmembers’ extended solos. Ultimately, he left the band after the Tales tour, though he’d be back — and gone, and back again.
As the ’70s wore on, Yes began to be a band in turmoil. The records got worse (Tormato in particular), and Anderson and Wakeman both quit in 1980, causing the remaining members to absorb new-wave duo the Buggles (Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn) for the Drama album. Then the band flat-out broke up … until 1983, when they came back, with Anderson returned to the fold and Horn producing, and made 90125, their most commercially successful album to date. The first single, “Owner Of A Lonely Heart,” went to #1, and the album sold more than six million copies.
Of course, it couldn’t last. The ’80s and ’90s found the band shedding and regaining members, leaving their original label, Atlantic/Atco, for Arista, then a string of indies, and even seeing four of their key players forming the spinoff group Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe.
These days, Yes are a legacy act. They’ve released three albums of new material in the 2000s, only one of them with Jon Anderson singing; he left the group for good in 2008, after years of health issues. Their last two singers, Benoît David and Jon Davison, have been former members of Yes cover bands. And while they continue to write and record new material, their concerts are still dominated by 40-year-old songs; indeed, in 2014, they performed a “Three Albums Tour,” during which they played The Yes Album, Close To The Edge and Going For The One in their entirety, and followed that up with a tour showcasing Fragile and Close To The Edge, plus a “greatest hits”/new-material mini-set at the end. (Very sadly, just yesterday, Squire revealed that he has been diagnosed with Acute Erythroid Leukemia, and will be receiving treatment over the next few months. We wish him a speedy recovery.)
This roundup includes every Yes studio album, and the majority of their live releases, including the brand-new, mind-crushing box Progeny: Seven Shows From Seventy-Two, which (as its title implies) includes seven full concerts from the Close To The Edge tour on 14 CDs. I also included the debut by Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, because honestly it’s got more of a claim to being a Yes album than some Yes albums do. I skipped the members’ various solo releases, ’cause holy fuck, there are a lot of them, and there are already 33 titles in this roundup. So … enjoy!
Start the Countdown here.