I have always listened to certain music during certain times of the year. In the wet and dampness of fall, I like to listen to early U2.
In the spring, I gravitate towards more Rush, Pearl Jam, and Crowded House. In the summer, the anthems come out with the Beatles, Stones, Springsteen, and the Allman Brothers. But for the winter, I have to listen to Yes. It usually starts in December when the temperature first drops below 40° F and ends sometime in early March. For four months every year, like clockwork, I eat, drive, exercise, and listen to the band in the heart of winter.
The odd thing about my affinity for Yes is I cannot recall quite when I became a fan. It seems like I have always had “The Yes Album.” “Fragile” has never been far away either. Long before most of my generation became familiar with them because of “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” I was listening. I thought that maybe my older brother had listened to them, but I never remember seeing them in his collection of folk albums.
Yes, as a band, has had a tumultuous history. 16 members have come and gone in their 40+ year history. The only constant has been bassist Chris Squire. Along with drummer Alan White, the rhythm section has remained the same since 1972 and the 1973 album “Tales from Topographic Oceans.” There have been three main guitarists, Peter Banks, Steve Howe, and Trevor Rabin. Several Keyboardists have played in the band including Tony Kaye, Rick Wakeman, his son Oliver Wakeman, Patrick Moraz, and Geoff Downes to name a few. A part of the progressive rock scene in the early 70s, the band embodies the best and worst of the movement. For me, it would be hard to detail the entire history of dysfunction and virtuosity that is Yes. The band has had its hits and fair share of misses as a band. Their music is filled with compassion while at the same time an equal share of hubris. When it works, it is magical. When it doesn’t, it is unbearable. Sometimes, years later, I will give an album a second chance and it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Sometimes, it is hard to put into words why you like some albums more than others. For me, it is even harder when it comes to Yes. “The Yes Album” has a classic mixture of great songs, great musicianship. There is not one throwaway song on the record, they are all classic. From ‘Starship Trooper’ to ‘Yours is No Disgrace’ to ‘I’ve Seen All Good People’ and ‘Perpetual Change,’ every second of the record breathes, expands, and emanates great sounds. I feel the same about “Going for the One”. From the majesty of ‘Parallels’ to the quiet sounds of ‘Wonderous Stories’ and the majestic ‘Awaken’, every song to me is a classic.
The same can be said of “Fragile,” “90125,” “Magnification,” and “Drama.” “Drama,” for some Yes fans would not make the list because it did not have the vocals of Jon Anderson but instead had Trevor Horn and former Buggles and future Asia keyboardist Geoff Downes. However, those songs, for me, thunder out of the stereo and speakers still. There is not a bad song, in my opinion on that record. Squire, White, and Howe remained at the core of the band and their prowess was never more evident. However, that lineup only lasted one record in 1980. It appeared Yes was dead.
White and Squire tried to make a go of a band with Jimmy Page (XYZ – ex Yes and Zeppelin) and then Squire and White got in contact with original keyboardist Tony Kaye and a young South African guitarist, Trevor Rabin. The band took the moniker Cinema. When they played Jon Anderson some of the tracks, he was enthused and wound up singing on some and Yes was reborn in 1983. The resulting album, 90125 changed the fortunes of the band. The music sounded fresh, modern, but it still sounded like Yes. Even with Rabin’s guitar and the sleek production of Trevor Horn, the music and songs were great and I consider the album a classic.
By the mid 1980s, I was out of college and my interest in Yes waned a bit as I focused on other interests in my life. I would buy the albums and listen to some, not listen to others. The 80s saw the high gloss production make its way into Yes. I initially did not care for a Yes album for many years until the late 1990s. My re acquaintance to Yes happened coincidentally with Napster and other file sharing programs. And for the past 15 years, I have listened to Yes every winter. Along the way, I have found some cool stuff. Magnification to me is a classic Yes album. After reuniting and breaking up constantly in the 1990s, Anderson, Howe, Squire, and White recorded an album with an orchestra just like they did thirty years earlier for “Time and a Word.” The result to me was a classic mixture of the personalities of each band member being subservient to the music. And the orchestra doesn’t hurt either.
1. Tales from Topographic Oceans – I would have liked to been a fly on the wall for the discussion of the concept of this album. “OK. We are going to make an album of 4 songs. Each song will be 20 minutes. And our new drummer, the rock guy, will play drums.” No wonder Rick Wakeman left after this.
2. Tormato – I tried to listen to this over Christmas break. I got through 3 songs before I had to turn it off. However, my step-son downloaded some of the reissue. The tracks left off are far better than most of what was put on. Again, no wonder Wakeman left again and this time Anderson went with him.
3. Union – 8 members??? Really? What a cluster!
In the past few weeks, I have found myself listening to some of the baffling lineup albums from the 1990s – “Talk,” and “The Keys to Ascension 1 and 2.” And much to surprise, I found myself really enjoying the “Keys to Ascension 2” studio tracks. One particular track that has my attention the past few days is ‘Mind Drive.’
Recently, Yes released a new studio album, their first in ten years, called “Fly From Here.” Produced by Trevor Horn, Canadian singer Benoit David handles the vocals and Geoff Downes has returned to play the keyboards. I haven’t really made up my mind on the record yet. I downloaded it but I need to listen to it a few more times.
I really don’t know what it is about Yes that I have remained a fan for 35+ years. Maybe it was the artwork that grabbed me initially, maybe it was the songs. Maybe it was the virtuosity, the dynamics of sound, I do not know. I just know winter would not be the same without them.
A little documentary on the band – Part 1 has no sound, so on to Part 2