Originally starting in London, England in 1969 with John Roy Anderson (vocals; later dropping the h from his name), Chris Squire (Real Name: Christopher Russell Edward Squire (bass/vocals; and only member of the group to appear on every album), Tony Kaye (ex-Danny Rogers Orchestra before leaving classical music; keyboards), Peter Banks (Real Name: Peter Brochbanks; guitar (also can play banjo)) and Bill Bruford (drums), Hard Rock and Prog. Rock band Yes was formed when Brochbanks shortened his name to simply Peter Banks and met Chris Squire to form a rock group named Syn with friends Clive Bailey (rhythm guitar), who would later be the co-composer of Yes' first single, and Andrew Jackman (keyboards), who in later years became an orchestral arranger for some Yes and Squire records. The Syn only lasted until 1967, but managed to release two singles.
Yes' early sound was based strongly on Squire's unique sound that was achieved by a technique known as 'bi-amping', a process of splitting the stereo signal from his bass (which divided the signal from the pickups into dual high and low frequency outputs), and then sending the low frequency signal to a conventional bass amplifier and the high-frequency signal to a separate lead guitar amplifier resulting in a tonal 'sandwich' that added a growling, overdriven edge to the sound while retaining the bass response. Squire (who was self-taught) was also one of the first Rock bass players to successfully adapt electronic guitar effects such as tremolo, phasing and the wah-wah pedal to the instrument. The rhythm section of Squire and Bruford was widely considered one of the best in Rock music at this time.
The first two Yes LPs Yes (1969) and Time And A Word (1970) (recorded with the lineup of Anderson, Banks, Bruford, Kaye and Squire) mixed original material with covers of songs by their major influences, including the Beatles, The Byrds and Simon & Garfunkel. The departure of Peter Banks in 1970 and his replacement guitarist Steve Howe (ex-Tomorrow; who had received praise from the Gibson Guitar Corporation, the maker of Howe's first electric guitar (which he was still playing forty years later), who said that Howe "elevated rock guitar into an art form" and "helped define a new style of music known as art rock." In a tribute to Howe and his personal favorite ES-175 guitar, Gibson produced a Steve Howe signature model in 2002) gave the band a new edge. The group's emerging style coalesced on their next LP, the critically acclaimed The Yes Album (1971), consisting entirely of original compositions by the band; it was also the record that united them with long-serving producer and engineer Eddie Offord. Soon after, original keyboard player Tony Kaye left to form his own group, Badger and was replaced by classically trained Rick Wakeman, who had just left The Strawbs and was already a noted studio musician with credits including David Bowie and Lou Reed.
As a soloist, Wakeman proved to be perfect to accompany Steve Howe. He also brought two new instruments to the band's fold the Mellotron and the Minimoog synthesizer. Besides his musical ability, his stage presence was just as dynamic by being surrounded by banks of keyboards, his flowing blonde hair and sequined cape providing a strong visual focus on stage, despite later becoming the object of ridicule in some quarters.
The first recording by the now classic lineup of Anderson, Bruford, Howe, Squire and Wakeman was a ten-minute opus of an interpretation of Paul Simon's America. It was both the end of one era by being their last non-original tracks, and the beginning of another, showcasing all the elements of the new Yes sound in place.
Yes now entered their most successful period, cutting two highly acclaimed LPs. Fragile (1971) went top ten in America, while Close To The Edge (1972) was also a huge seller. Yes enjoyed enormous commercial and critical success around the world, also benefiting from the tremendous advances in live music technology that were taking place at that time. Fragile also marked the beginning of a long collaboration with artist Roger Dean, who designed the group's logo and their album covers, as well as their light shows, while some consider the album Close to the Edge to be the high point of the whole progressive Rock genre. Fans of this era commonly describe themselves as "Troopers", after the 3-part track Starship Trooper from the aforementioned The Yes Album.
Shortly after the release of Close To The Edge, Bruford quit to join King Crimson; he was replaced by former Plastic Ono Band drummer Alan White who debuted on their next release, the three-record live collection Yessongs, recorded on their world tour in late 1972 and early 1973.
Yessongs raised the benchmark for Rock album packaging to a new level by being an ambitious project and most likely a gamble for their label, Atlantic Records'. It was one of the first Rock triple-album sets, featuring live versions of all-original material from the previous three studio albums. Roger Dean's artwork spread across a triple gatefold cover, and continued the cosmic-organic design concepts of the two previous albums. Fortunately, Yessongs was a best seller.
Their next studio album, Tales From Topographic Oceans (1973) marked a change in the band's fortunes, causing a stir with fans and critics alike. Although extended compositions were by now a Yes hallmark, most notably the record's title track of Close To The Edge taking up the entire second side, the album was an obscure concept piece sprawling across four sides of a double album. Although it proved to be a commercial success, it earned mixed reviews. Frustrations over the album's drawn-out recording and increasing inter-personal problems led Wakeman to quit at the end of the supporting tour in late 1973. For some time after the group would have difficulty hanging on to members while they came and went while lawsuits flew about in all directions.
Wakeman was replaced by Swiss musician Patrick Moraz for their successful return to form with Relayer in 1974. The group toured through 1975-76 and each member recorded their own solo album after they completed their 1975 compilation of the first two albums plus Paul Simon's America titled Yesterdays. Those 1976 solo albums Ramshackled (Alan White/Anderson guests on one track), Olias of Sunhillow (Jon Anderson plays all parts), Beginnings(Steve Howe), Fish out of Water (Chris Squire) and Story of I (Patrick Moraz), however, showed that Yes was better as a whole as few of the efforts made any serious dent in the charts. Moraz left in 1976 when Wakeman was persuaded to rejoin the band, and he performed on their next two albums. Going For The One (1977) specifically was surprisingly successful in spite of being released at the height of the Punk Rock era, a time when Yes and their like were being held up as epitomizing the bloated excesses which the Punk movement rebelled against. Ironically, it would be Yes who would survive the era while the Punk movement slipped out of fashion.
After Tormato (1978), the band split, with Anderson and Wakeman leaving. In a bold attempt to reinvent themselves, and to the great surprise of most fans, Squire recruited studio Pop duo Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn, best known by their pseudonym The Buggles, who would later have an early Eighties hit with Video Killed The Radio Star, the very song that received the very first play of the 1981 start-up network MTV. The Drama (1980) album that resulted from this line-up managed to gain some fans (named "Panthers" after a feature of the album's artwork), but most Yes followers missed Anderson's unique lyrics and vocal style. Another split left the band effectively dead for some time. Horn, for his part, went on to become a successful producer with such acts as Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Grace Jones, Tom Jones and The Art Of Noise.
After the release of the Drama album, Squire and White teamed up with former Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page to form a power trio dubbed XYZ (Ex-Yes-Zeppelin). Though producing some inspiring music, the super group fell apart due to the age-old problem of 'creative differences'. But in 1981 salvation came when a talented young Jazz-Rock guitarist from South Africa named Trevor Rabin (ex-Rabbitt) shopped his solo material to an A&R executive at Atlantic Records', who suggested that he meet Squire and White.
Initially dubbed Cinema, the resulting quartet comprised Squire, White and Rabin, with long-departed Tony Kaye returning on keyboards. They played Anderson some of their new music, resulting in Anderson joining the band, at which point the Yes name was resurrected. After the release of a best of compilation in the form of 1981'a Classic Yes, the resulting album, 90125 (produced by Horn), was simpler and harder than the previous work sold by Yes, even featuring the latest electronic effects offered at the time. The song Owner of a Lonely Heart taken from this album proved to be a massive hit, even in discos, resulting in the band's only number one single. Fans of this line-up were called "Generators", from this line-up's second album, Big Generator (1987), an album that followed the live compilation 9012Live: The Solos (1985) featuring the current line-up in action.
Even though Yes was recording under this new line-up, the old members hadn't properly received their walking papers effectively making two versions of the band existing at the same time; naturally legal battles ensued. The Yes name was now owned by Chris Squire in the current line-up (known colloquially as YesWest and based in the USA), but without Anderson, who had again defected and formed Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (known as YesEast and based in Britain) to release their self-named album in 1989. There were the inevitable lawsuits again, but this was followed by a remarkable rapprochement that resulted in the aptly titled album Union (1991) and a world tour which united all eight members in a short-lived mega-Yes so-to-speak leading to several compilation albums in the form of the 4CD compilation Yesyears (1991), the 2CD abridgement of Yesyears titled Yesstory (1992), best of compilation Highlights - The Very Best Of Yes (1993) and An Evening of Yes Music Plus (1993; live featuring Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe). After the seemingly inevitable split the so-called YesWest line-up released its final album, Talk in 1994.
It wouldn't be long, however, before the band was re-started yet again with the classic '73-'74 line-up of Anderson, Squire, White, Howe and Wakeman for a live performance in the Californian town of San Luis Obispo. The resultant live recordings were released, together with new music, on the Keys To Ascension album in 1996, considered by many to be their finest music since their 1970s zenith. The sessions proved so productive that the group eventually released them on a CD of outtakes called Keysstudio years later, most of which on a par with the 'official' original works.
Wakeman left the group again before the release of the Keys To Ascension 2, Keys to Ascension Volume 1 & 2 box set and Something's Coming / Beyond And Before (old live material) follow-ups in 1997, while Chris Squire collaborated with multi-instrumentalist Billy Sherwood, who had various relations with Yes since the late 1980s (once considered as a lead vocalist for YesWest, later becoming a touring second guitarist, and then later producer of the Keys To Ascension albums). Their efforts were presented and brushed up for the AOR oriented Open Your Eyes in 1997, one week after Keys To Ascension 2. Sherwood's influence seemed to be taking the band back in the direction of the 90125 line-up. The album and tour also featured keyboards from Russian keyboard player Igor Khoroshev, who was later made a full time member, but only for the following album The Ladder (1999). Y2K was filled simply with a set of compilations by the band in the form of The Masterworks Mix Your Own CD (remix compilation), followed by House Of Yes (live from the House of Blues), The Best Of (best of compilation) and the aformentioned 2001's Keystudio (compilation of studio material from both Keys To Ascension albums). Both Sherwood and Khoroshev left the band before the recording of the 2001 orchestral release Magnification, however, and in doing so spared the band potentially another spate of membership hassles.
Wakeman announced his return to the group in 2002 and a world tour for Yes followed, including their long-awaited return to Australia after more than 30 years absence. The classic line up is currently enjoying a somewhat revitalized presence in the public consciousness, especially after the celebration of their 35th anniversary and a set of compilations in the form of Yestoday (2002), the 5CD In a Word (2002), the remixes album Remixes (2003; assembled by Virgil Howe, son of Steve), Projected (2004; live retrospective CD box set) and the 3CD set The Ultimate Yes: 35th Anniversary Collection (2004).
Footnote: The Yes Atlantic Records' catalog has had at least two remasterings and re-releases on CD. The initial CD releases appeared in the late 1980s, and the first remasters were released in the mid 1990s, with improved sound and much of the original album art restored. In 2003 Rhino Records' began a further remastering effort, this time including more original art, extensive booklet liner notes, and rare bonus tracks.