Yes – Part One of Two: Beginnings [Part Two immediately follows.]
Last year Yes released The Ladder, their latest album. It also marked the band’s 30th anniversary. [This was written in January, 2000.]
In June, 1968, Jon Anderson met Chris Squire in a Soho London club. A vocalist, Anderson had been in The Warriors, and had made the now-rare “You Came Along” b/w “Don’t Make Me Blue” for British Decca (F 11926) in 1964. In 1968 he’d made two solo singles as “Hans Christian” (or “Hans Anderson” – reports vary) for Parlophone, “All of the Time” b/w “Never My Love” (R 5676) and “(The Autobiography of) Mississippi Hobo” b/w “Sonata of Love” (R 5698) – also highly collectible.
Bassist Squire had previously been in The Syn with guitarist Peter Banks. That group had recorded two singles for Deram, “Created by Clive” b/w “Grounded” (DM 130) and “14-Hour Technicolour Dream” b/w “Flowerman” (DM 145), both released in 1967. When The Syn folded, Banks and Squire invited Anderson to join them in a new group, Mabel Greer’s Toyshop. This group (a quintet which included another guitarist and a drummer) was never signed to a record label, but did record for John Peel’s Night Ride radio show broadcast on April 3, 1968. They sounded like a rawer and less ambitious version of the early Yes, playing a combination of soul covers and acid-rock, with Anderson’s vocals standing out.
During the summer of 1968 the other guitarist and the drummer “drifted away,” and the remaining trio reformed themselves as Yes, with Anderson loosely in control. Tony Kaye was recruited to play organ (he’d been in a never-recorded band called Bittersweet) and drummer Bill Bruford was found through an ad in Melody Maker. The new band played its first gig at East Mersey Youth Camp in Essex on August 4, 1968, and the second at The Marquee Club the next night.
The original Yes was a “covers band,” playing others’ songs – but always with fresh interpretations which transformed the material into their own. The best document of the earliest era of Yes’ music is Something’s Coming – The BBC Recordings 1969-1970, a two-CD set on the British Pilot label (Pilot 25) from New Millennium Communications Ltd, which was released in 1997 and is annotated by Banks. (The album is available only as an import.)
The band settled into a residency at The Marquee Club (prefiguring King Crimson a year later) and a recording contract with Atlantic Records, which was now a presence as a label in both Britain and the U.S. Their first single (in Britain) was “Sweetness” b/w “Something’s Coming” (584 280). The A-side was on their first album, but the B-side, taken from West Side Story, never appeared on any album. Sources state that this single sold only 500 copies, making it both very rare and very collectible.
Even rarer is Yes’s second British single, “Looking Around” b/w “Everydays” (584 298). “Looking Around” was on the first album, and Stephen Stills’ “Everydays” was on the second, but the single itself was supposedly never actually issued except as a promo/demo, and is in consequence the band’s rarest 45 and the most sought-after by collectors. Their first album, the eponymous Yes (U.S.: Atlantic SD 8243; U.K.: Atlantic 588 190), was released in November, 1969.
The next year Atlantic released Time and a Word (U.S.: SD 8273; U.K.: 2400 006), which made a respectable showing in the British album charts, climbing to No. 45. This album spawned two singles. “Sweet Dreams” b/w “Dear Father” (2091 004) used a non-album track on its B-side (which would not appear on an album until 1975’s Yesterdays), while “Time and a Word” b/w “The Prophet” (584 323) coupled two album tracks. Neither single charted, and this apparently prompted the decision not to bother further with the singles market for this album-oriented band.
Shortly before the album’s release (and after a promotional film had been shot for it in Switzerland) Anderson asked Banks to leave the band. Banks briefly joined Bloodwyn Pig and then formed Flash, which released three albums which had a Yes-ish sound. He was replaced by Steve Howe, who had previously been in Tomorrow and Bodast. Now Yes was poised for success.
Part Two of Two: Success!
Earlier we looked as Yes’s origins as a band and its first two albums, Yes and Time and a Word, released in 1969 and 1970. Both albums revealed a band still searching for its identity and direction, initially using others’ songs as jumping off points for fresh interpretations. It was apparent from the lackluster sales of the band’s four singles that a hit single was unlikely – their strength was in their albums. Time and a Word made it to No. 45 in the British album charts. It was one of only two Yes albums made in the 1970s which used additional outside musicians, with “orchestral arrangements” by Tony Cox.
Yes was fortunate in its timing, because album-oriented-rock was becoming a force on the American airwaves by the end of the 1960s. Coupled with the rise of rock on FM, this created an ideal venue for Yes’s music. And although Yes would later be identified as a standard-bearer for “Progressive Rock,” this category did not yet exist.
The group underwent several changes in personnel at this point. Guitarist Peter Banks was forced out, to be replaced by Steve Howe. This version of Yes made The Yes Album (U.S. Atlantic SD 8283; U.K. Atlantic 2400 101), released in 1971. A noticeably more ambitious album, it was the first to contribute “show-stopper” pieces to their repertoire like “Yours is No Disgrace,” “Starship Trooper” and “I’ve Seen All Good People.” It also used recorders on one track by Colin Goldring of Gnidrolog. There were no “covers” of material by others. Yes was hitting its compositional stride. The album climbed to No. 7 in the British album charts.
But keyboardist Tony Kaye no longer fit in musically. He played a Hammond organ, which was too limited to provide the sounds leader Jon Anderson was looking for, and his interest was not in extended musical suites. Kaye left in August, 1971, to form Badger, which had a more bar-band (or “pub-rock”) sound and played more ordinary rock and roll. He was replaced by Rick Wakeman, who played a wider range of keyboards (including both the Mellotron and the Moog synthesizer) and who wore a cape onstage. Wakeman had previously played (and recorded) with the Strawbs, a somewhat progressive folk-rock band.
On September 30th the band set out on its first major tour of 23 dates in Britain. And this marks the best place for Yes collectors to begin their pursuit of memorabilia, which include tour programs, posters, and backstage passes.
With 1972’s Fragile (U.S.: SD 7211; U.K.: 2400 019), Yes had hit its stride. Everything had fallen into place, with the added packaging touch of Roger Dean’s science-fictionally surreal artwork. Dean had been doing covers for the British Vertigo label and developing his own following and his association with Yes was provident for them both. Dean created the “Yes” logo and has remained associated with Yes’s albums right up to the 1999 The Ladder album. Fragile also reached No. 7 in the U.K. album charts, but it had a more impressive breakthrough in America, where it was the band’s first Top 10 album, peaking at No. 4.
This was reflected in concert attendance on American tours. The band began in theaters and ended the tour in larger venues, playing to packed audiences. Using a stage set also designed by Roger Dean, they put on an impressive show to support their now-realized music.
Many Yes fans regard Close to the Edge (U.S.: SD 7244; U.K.: K 50012), released later in 1972, as the band’s best album. The title track took up all of side one, with only two pieces on side two. Despite the length of each piece, the music was focussed and effective. The album climbed to No. 3 in the U.S., reflecting Yes’s enormous popularity at this point.
Shortly after the album, Yes recorded their last “cover,” Paul Simon’s “America,” which was released as a single in America (backed by “Total Mass Retain,” a segment from “Close to the Edge”) and appeared in Britain on The New Age of Atlantic, a budget sampler. It did not appear on a Yes album until 1974, when Atlantic released Yesterdays (U.S.: SD 18103; U.K.: K 50048 in 1975), a compilation album featuring only two tracks not taken from earlier Yes albums, “America” and “Dear Father.”
After recording “America,” Bill Bruford left Yes to join King Crimson. (When guitarist Peter Banks had left, Bruford wanted the band to hire King Crimson’s Robert Fripp as his replacement, but Fripp refused, claiming his presence would musically change Yes beyond recognizability.) Bruford has been with every incarnation of King Crimson since then, although he’s taken a leave of absence from the 2000 model. His replacement in Yes was Alan White, who had drummed with John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band.
In May, 1973, Atlantic released a triple-LP live album, Yessongs (U.S.: SD 3-100; U.K.: 60045), drawn from the band’s 1972 tour. Collectors note: It included a 12-page booklet of color photos. The album went to No. 7 in Britain, and No. 30 in America. Later a movie of the same name was released in November, 1974.
Yes’s career peaked with Tales from Topographic Oceans (U.S.: SD 2-908; U.K.: K 80001), a double-LP album released at the end of 1973. This time they’d gone perhaps too far: each side was a single track, and they added up to a four-side suite, making the album essentially one very long composition. Critics claimed the album was self-indulgent, lacked form and structure and was basically a meandering “directionless ramble.” The fans loved it, however, taking the album to No. 1 in the British album charts, where it stayed for two weeks. It also made it to No. 6 in America.
Wakeman left Yes after that album, embarking upon a fitful solo career sparked by the success of his first (and best) solo album, The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Swiss keyboardist Patrick Moraz, formerly in Refugee (an attempt to recreate The Nice with Moraz replacing Keith Emerson) joined the band after the Greek Vangelis was unable to. (In later years Jon Anderson would make several albums with Vangelis, who also enjoyed his own solo successes.) Moraz stayed only long enough to record Relayer (U.S.: SD 18122; U.K.: K 50096) and tour with it. A three-track album, it was the last of the Yes albums to follow in the footsteps of earlier albums.
Subsequently Yes would lose its way, flounder, add and subtract members (briefly encompassing the Buggles), see contractual fights erupt over its name, become an “oldies” band, and – in the 1990s – attempt to resurrect itself as a viable band with new material. Yes fans have stayed with the band throughout the years, but most will admit that the band never surpassed the peaks it achieved in the early 1970s.