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Who Are Yes? An Introduction To The Pioneers Of Prog-Rock
Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
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Who Are Yes? An Introduction To The Pioneers Of Prog-Rock

Ever wondered who Yes are? This introduction to the prog pioneers will reveal why they remain one of the most influential bands of all time.

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Throughout their long and illustrious career, the legendary classic-rock band Yes have achieved a level of artistic and commercial success matched by few of their contemporaries. Equipped with virtuosic skills and an uncompromising creative vision, not only did Yes influence countless musicians by defining the sound of progressive rock as we know it, but their music continues to captivate generations of listeners. But who are they, and where did they come from? Our introduction to Yes will help you find out more about one of the most influential bands of all time.

Listen to the best of Yes here.

Where are Yes from?

Yes formed in London, England, and their origins can be traced back to April 1968, when singer Jon Anderson first met bassist Chris Squire at La Chasse Club on Wardour Street, in Soho. As they began writing such early Yes songs as Sweetness together, Anderson joined Squire’s psych-rock group, Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, and together they gigged around London, playing in venues such as The Marquee and The UFO Club with the band’s founder, guitarist and singer Clive Bayley.

While bandmates Peter Banks and Robert Hagger splintered off to embark on new ventures, drummer Bill Bruford responded to a Melody Maker advert and met with Anderson, Squire and Bayley to rehearse in the Lucky Horseshoe Café on Shaftesbury Avenue. It was only after Tony Kaye’s arrival and Clive Bayley’s departure that they decided to change the band’s name and call themselves Yes.

Who was in Yes?

Yes have had many line-ups over the years. Originally the band was comprised of Jon Anderson (vocals), Chris Squire (bass), Tony Kaye (keyboards) and Bill Bruford (drums), along with ex-Mabel Greer’s Toyshop member Peter Banks (guitar). This line-up recorded the band’s first two albums, Yes (1969) and Time And A Word (1970).

In 1970, Steve Howe replaced Peter Banks on guitar, and the new line-up of Anderson, Squire, Howe, Kaye and Bruford recorded The Yes Album (1971), which saw the band move further towards honing their pioneering style of progressive rock. That same year, keyboardist Rick Wakeman joined Yes following the departure of Tony Kaye.

The line-up of Anderson, Squire, Howe, Wakeman and Bruford is widely considered to be the “classic” Yes line-up. This is the group that recorded best-selling albums such as Fragile (1971) and Close To The Edge (1972), establishing the band at the peak of their creative powers. However, in 1972, Bill Bruford left Yes to join King Crimson, resulting in drummer Alan White being drafted in as his replacement.

Since then, the band has undergone many personnel changes. Key members have periodically come and gone – most notably Steve Howe, who took a leave of absence during the commercial-sounding 90125 era, when Trevor Rabin took over guitar duties in the 80s. Throughout it all, however, the involvement of Anderson, Howe, Squire and White has helped to anchor various incarnations of Yes across the decades.

Is Yes a psychedelic band?

Partly. Yes emerged in the late 60s at a time when London’s psychedelic-rock scene was at its peak, so it’s no surprise that their debut album, Yes, was a hallucinogenic product of its era, full of trippy soundscapes and trance-inducing guitar solos beloved by hippies. Chris Squire has even admitted that a bad LSD trip contributed to his bass-playing style after he locked himself away practising for a year. “In a way it’s weird, how a bad trip turned out to be a good thing for me in the long run,” he told AL.com.

However, Yes also drew inspiration from the improvisatory feel of classical music and even jazz, so psychedelia was only one of many musical influences the band explored to craft a unique sound for themselves. By venturing into more ambitious territory with expansive arrangements and odd time signatures on the albums Fragile and Close To The Edge, Yes are best seen as pioneers of what would come to be known as progressive rock, as opposed to being a purely psychedelic band, but it was certainly one of the many strings to their bow.

How many albums did Yes record?

Yes have recorded 23 studio albums, with notable highlights being The Yes Album, Fragile and Close To The Edge, the latter of which is often considered to be their masterpiece. Throughout much of the 70s, Yes produced a hugely influential run of best-selling albums that established them as one of the best prog-rock bands of their generation, enthralling listeners with Steve Howe’s lengthy and virtuosic guitar solos and Jon Anderson’s abstract yet philosophical lyricism.

As seasoned performers who have embarked on numerous world tours, Yes have also released over a dozen live albums across their storied career, most notably the groundbreaking triple-album Yessongs, from 1973, and the gargantuan 21LP box set, Progeny: Seven Shows From Seventy-Two.

What are some famous Yes songs?

As the lead single from Fragile, Roundabout became the band’s most-successful US hit up to that point, peaking at No.13 on the Billboard Hot 100. With over 127.7 million Spotify streams to date, the song remains hugely popular on classic-rock radio stations and is widely considered to be one of the best Yes songs and a definitive example of the band’s pioneering progressive-rock sound.

That said, Yes’ most commercially successful song is Owner Of A Lonely Heart, which peaked at No.1 in the US in November 1983. With their 11th studio album, 90125, the band enjoyed a commercial resurgence as they adapted their prog-rock style to the new wave era, and with over 240 million Spotify streams, Owner Of A Lonely Heart remains one of the most recognisable songs in Yes’ discography.

How popular was Yes?

As if selling over 30 million albums worldwide across their career wasn’t enough of an indication, Yes’ popularity went well beyond record sales. One of prog-rock’s leading pioneers, their use of cutting-edge light effects and theatrical stage displays on their 1972-1973 US tour was a revelation, firmly cementing the group’ reputation as a formidable touring act.

In fact, by 1974, Yes were able to sell out New York City’s Madison Square Garden with zero advertising, an achievement that most bands could only look upon with envy. After playing to an audience of over 100,000 people at Philadelphia’s John F Kennedy Stadium in 1976, there was little doubt that Yes were one of the decade’s biggest rock bands.

Thanks to enjoying a second wave of commercial success in the early 80s, Yes maintained their popularity on the 9012Live World Tour, performing a global run of shows that grossed over $8.7 million. With over 13.5 million RIAA-certified albums sold in North America alone, few bands have been able to sustain their ongoing popularity more than Yes.

Why are Yes so important?

Quite simply, Yes are the one of the most progressive and forward-thinking rock bands of their generation. Not only did their experimental and idiosyncratic mélange of rock, jazz, folk and classical music establish them as prog-rock pioneers, but their fearless commitment to musical virtuosity put them leagues ahead of their peers.

The “classic” Yes line-up, featuring Jon Anderson on vocals, Steve Howe on guitar, Chris Squire on bass, Rick Wakeman on keyboards and Bill Bruford on drums, undoubtedly helped take rock music to new levels of sophistication in the 70s. Whether tackling long and complex arrangements or weaving in and out of unpredictable time signatures, Yes helped bring progressive rock to a mainstream audience like no one before them.

Additionally, their groundbreaking arena performances throughout the decade – full of dazzling light shows and daring improvisations – set the blueprint for what audiences would come to expect from live musical spectacles for generations to come. Without Yes, the dynamism and theatricality of 80s stadium-rock attractions may never have come to pass.

Which members of yes have passed away?

Tragically, Yes’ long-time bassist Chris Squire died of acute erythroid leukaemia at age 67 in 2015. “Chris was a truly unique bass player,” Queen guitarist Brian May wrote in a tribute following Squire’s death. “The word ‘unique’ is used a lot, these days, of course, but in Chris’s case, it’s undisputable.” A permanent fixture on lists of the best bass players of all time, Squire was hailed by Rolling Stone magazine for being “the bedrock” of Yes’ sound.

Yes’ longest-serving drummer, Alan White, died in 2022 at age 72, following a brief illness. Having been in Yes for almost 50 years, White’s death marked the end of an era for the band, with many tributes pouring in to pay their respects to his unique contributions. “It’s been an honour to have worked with Alan,” former Yes member Rick Wakeman said. “What a wonderful character, and what an amazing drummer. Not only was he technically brilliant, but he could rock as well.”

Are Yes still together?

Yes, Yes are still together. Now led by guitarist Steve Howe, the group remain active and released their latest album, Mirror To The Sky, in 2022. Former Glass Hammer frontman Jon Davison is the band’s current lead singer, while former member Geoff Downes is back once again on keyboards. Following the death of Chris Squire, Billy Sherwood rejoined the group, taking on the unenviable task of filling Suire’s shoes on bass, while Alan White’s passing led to the full-time appointment of new drummer Jay Schellen.

Yes also continue to perform live around the world, and regularly offer fans VIP tour packages.

What was Yes’ TikTok moment?

After regularly being used as the closing sting for the Japanese anime cartoon series Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure in the early 2010s, the song Roundabout introduced Yes to a whole new generation of fans. With social-media-savvy kids growing attached to the band’s 1972 single thanks to its inclusion in the TV show, many began to use Roundabout in “To Be Continued” memes on video-sharing sites such as Vine and, later, TikTok.

Often finding humorous and witty ways to express the cliffhanger-style events in their own lives, many Gen Z internet users have made Yes’ song a go-to soundbite. Regularly going viral, Roundabout has racked up more than 220 million TikTok views to date, exposing the song to a younger audience and proving the timeless appeal of Yes’ music.

Buy Yes vinyl and signed prints at the Dig! store.

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