Before we go to YES, do you know what is art rock or progressive rock?
Progressive rock emerged as a musical trend and evolved in the late 1960s and early 1970s, falling under the umbrella of the so called “art rock”. Art rock can be quite difficult to explain due to its complexity and numerous forms it can take, however simply put, it’s rock music that goes above and beyond. What I mean by that is that the style itself surpasses the norms of the ordinary hard rock as we all know it, by experimenting with instruments and various other elements, taken from other genres and forms of art, such as literature and theater. When we think of “art rock”, the first name that should come to our minds is definitely David Bowie – he revolutionized and popularized the concept of “art rock” with its music, looks and stage performances.
Now, let me get back to progressive rock. I couldn’t just jump in without saying a few words about art rock because progressive rock is often thought to be a subcategory of art rock. Briefly put, progressive rock is a sophisticated mixture of classical music elements; complex instrumentation; supreme musical technicality; conceptualism; abstract and imaginative lyrics; heavy experimentation with sound and new technologies, such as keyboards and synthesizers; lengthy songs; visually stunning stage theatrics; and all that wrapped under beautifully drawn fancy cover album artworks that can make your imagination go wild. The roots of progressive rock are questionable but many people say that it all begun in the States with psychedelic bands, such as The Doors, before it moved to the UK, where it was mastered and transformed into a fully developed style and genre. Yes, it was once again the British who formulated and perfected it. It was only natural, giving in mind their rich traditions, refined literature and classical European music influence. One of the very first British bands to fully adopt the qualities of progressive rock were King Crimson in the late 1960s.
Progressive rock, however, fully developed and reached its commercial peaks in the 1970s. When we talk about progressive rock and the 70s, there are a few bands that should immediately appear in front of your eyes. Those bands are also often referred to as “The Big Four in Progressive Rock in the 1970s”. I’m talking about YES, Genesis, Pink Floyd and Emerson Lake & Palmer, of course!
Today I will specifically draw your attention to YES, because I think there are a few things that should be said and reminded about this outstanding band of classically trained musicians, creating structured rock music that simply sends us to another realm. Just like many other progressive rock bands, they moved on to more commercial, radio-friendly sound in the 80s which divides their career into two distinguishable periods. Maybe some of you know more about YES than me and it won’t be interesting to read those facts I’ve gathered for you but for those of you who want to know more about YES, here we go!
- YES is a British progressive rock band, founded in 1968 in London by singer Jon Anderson who previously played with other bands such as The Warriors and Gun. He briefly went solo before the fateful meeting with bassist/vocalist Chris Squire from the band the Syn. Both of them quickly bonded over similar interests and pursues in music and assembled a line-up, featuring Tony Kaye on keyboards, Peter Banks on guitar and Bill Bruford on drums.
- The name of the band “YES” came from their guitarist Peter Banks and was chosen due to being short, striking, straightforward and even a little sweet.
- YES’ debut, self-titled album was released in July 1969. The record included cover versions of rock, folk and jazz acts, including The Byrds and The Beatles. The majority of original compositions on the record were written by Jon Anderson. “YES” received positive reviews and signaled the arrival of a strong progressive force, despite both released singles failing on the charts. The album displayed brilliant harmonies and a classical approach to music, all wrapped up in a rather futuristic, even space aura; it clearly established the grounds of the band which would later on develop into the YES as we know them.
- YES had numerous line-up changes throughout the years, mainly due to disagreements in the musical directions of the band. For instance, Tony Kaye (keyboards) was fired because he refused to play on newly emerged and electronically-heavy keyboards. Founder Jon Anderson left the band in 1980, only to join a couple of years later for their highly successful album “90125”. Co-founder Chris Squire also left the band in the early 80s but came back for “90125” as well. Frequent line-up changes and ups and downs within the band members often affected their consistency and focus of production.
- “Fragile” is often considered to be YES’ finest record. Released in 1971, the album became synonymous with YES and quickly turned into a commercial and critical success. “Fragile” was popularized by its album cover, crafted by Roger Dean and the single “Roundabout”, which became their most famous and well-known songs.
- Artist Roger Dean is the man behind the infamous album artworks of YES. Their long collaboration started with “Fragile” and is still going on. His futuristic and highly imaginative, colorful pieces of art became a trademark for the band and an inseparable part of their progressive style. His mesmerizing landscapes, environments and creatures perfectly fit the band’s concept and contribute to the overall experience and even visualization of their music.
- YES’ “90125” is their best-selling album up to date. Often referred to as one of the most successful comebacks in history, “90125” presented a new, more contemporary and radio-friendly YES sound that appealed to the majority of audiences. Many fans criticize them for shifting from the complex, classical music-inspired rock to simpler, rather mainstream pop/rock music. However, many others were celebrating the new YES, rising from the ashes of Cinema – a band formed after the disbandment of YES in 1981 and consisting of bassist Chris Squire, drummer Alan White, singer Trevor Rabin and former YES keyboardist Tony Kaye. On top of that Jon Anderson was also on board, resuming his duties as a vocalist. The album showcased a fresh, innovative mash-up of progressive, electronic and typical ‘80s hard rock sounds.
- “Owner of a Lonely Heart” from “90125” is YES’ one and only song to ever top the charts. In addition to being their most instantly recognizable tune, the track turned into the ultimate cross-over hit and a staple of ‘80s AOR. The opening killer riffs of Trevor Rabin made the intro of “Owner of a Lonely Heart” one of the most memorable song intros of all time.
- Keyboardist Geoff Downes, who previously formed The Buggles (“Video Killed The Radio Star”) joined YES for the “Drama” (1980) album. After that, along with Carl Palmer from ELP, John Wetton from King Crimson and fellow YES guitarist Steve Howe, he became a member of the supergroup ASIA. The band’s debut self-titled album turned into one of the best-selling and most popular records of the ‘80s. Geoff Downes would later on return to YES once again in their Fly from Here (2011) and Heaven & Earth (2014) albums.
- YES is one of the longest running progressive rock bands in the history of music. The band released 21 studio albums and 32 compilation albums during their career that begun in 1969 and is still continuing. YES’s latest record, titled “Heaven & Earth” was released in 2014 and is the final album to feature original member and co-founder of the band Chris Squire before he died in 2015.