Before And After Vol. 4 (YES) – Music Makeovers That Made Sense AND Dollars

Authored by Dale Nickey

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YES

Before (1968-1981)

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Yes is one of the music industry’s longest running soap operas. Yes started out as a covers band with an edge, they offered the world their off-the-wall versions of songs by The Beatles, The Byrds, Richie Havens, and Paul Simon. These, along with their own musically athletic compositions helped design the template for what we now consider the Progressive Rock genre. Steve Howe replaced free-radical guitarist Peter Banks and Rick Wakeman also signed on in 1971. These upgrades resulted in world stardom and classic rock hits that will live on in perpetuity.

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Yes could have consolidated their gains and joined mega-bands (Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd) into the Hall of Fame. However, at their 70’s commercial peak they went experimental and released two of their most difficult and adventurous albums. “Tales Of Topographic Oceans” and “Relayer” (respectively). Marquee member Rick Wakeman left in disgust and the franchise started to lose momentum. They remained a reliable concert draw but record sales declined significantly. Though their core audience remained, Yes were now unfashionable underdogs slugging it out in a Punk/New Wave world. 1977 saw Wakeman’s return and the LP “Going For The One” revived the band’s fortunes temporarily; but the crucial follow-up “Tormato” was a stinker that found the band tired, the formula tired and their fans frustrated. Founder and visionary Jon Anderson bailed and took super-star keyboardist Wakeman with him. All that remained was the Yes rhythm section and a sold out tour with the money already spent. Remaining members Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White hastily assembled a line up by merging with the pop duo The Buggles and limped through one album and tour that met the band’s contractual obligations, but alienated half of their remaining fan base. Steve Howe and Geoff Downes left to form super-group ASIA and that, (apparently) was that.

AFTER (1982-20??)

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Chris Squire and Alan White crawled from the smoking wreckage of Yes and tried forming a  supergroup with Jimmy Page. That project (XYZ) never saw the light of day and things were looking bleak. Squire then stumbled upon some demos by South African rock star Trevor Rabin. Rabin was a young, guitar slinging hotshot with leading man looks and the ability to sing, write, play keyboards, produce and arrange. The band Cinema was born and when original Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye was drafted into the group, corporate wheels started turning. Soon Upon hearing the Cinema demos, Jon Anderson gave his seal of approval and signed on. With Anderson onboard, the band was now 80 percent Yes alumni and there was no turning back. Rabin’s protests be damned, there was now a New Yes for the 1980’s with corporate juice fueling the vehicle.

In brief, the remodeled Yes released the (1983) album “90125” and went stratospheric. A number one single, “Owner Of a Lonely Heart” ruled radio and the song’s video was ubiquitous on MTV for most of the year. Likewise the album “90125” went Top Five on Billboard charts and went triple platinum in the US.  The 80’s Yes had eclipsed the previous incarnation’s commercial achievements and caused a rift in the fan base that remains to this day.

What happened next?

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In 1987, the new Yes  followed up “90125” with “Big Generator”.  It spawned two Top 40 singles but the album was clearly a commercial step back after the break out success of “90125”. Jon Anderson saw the vessel taking on water and  began to split his time between the band and the newly formed Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe. Now we had another band of Yes alumni with a viable claim to the brand. Moreover, the new ensemble’s modest commercial success saw record company CEO’s and lawyers scrambling.  Chris Squire and record label ATCO now owned the Yes name, but without enough legit band members to field a team, the Yes name was a frozen asset. From this legal quagmire, the next Yes album was born, “UNION”. All eight yes alumni participated on the album and support tour. The album was a cut-and-paste mess that sold barely half a million copies. The tour was a commercial success but disillusioned band members left before the tour’s completion and the whole enterprise unraveled at the speed of light. Yes would reform in various configurations culminating in their reunion of the classic lineup in 2002. However, since that time, Yes has chosen to dilute its brand with a cavalcade of tribute-band singers; and in the process, soiled the band’s legacy for all except the most die-hard, Johnny-come-lately fans.

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YES – The Lost Years

Authored by: Dale Nickey
(originally published in “Notes From The Edge” 5/16/05)
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The ’90s found Yes slumped and bloodied against the ropes. Fashion had again rendered them surplus to cultural requirements. Their album “TALK” tanked. “Whisper” would have been a more appropriate title. Concerts, a dependable safety net in the leanest of times, were under attended. Trevor Rabin went from Messiah to Pariah in the span of 4 studio albums. The much-anticipated KEYS reunion with Rick Wakeman was derailed by illness. The brace of “KEYS TO ASCENSION” albums carried the faint echo of wagons being circled and barrels scraped. When Rick left due to illness, a rethink was obviously in order.

What’s a corporation to do when their ass is getting kicked in the market place of musical ideas and a senior partner is on extended leave of absence? Yes did what most corporations do, they streamlined and downsized scope of field operations (back to clubs and theaters, shorter tunes). They upgraded and diversified media presence (more and varied DVD releases, remasters, album remixes, less reliance on standard CD releases), and hire young sexy/hungry temp employees to fire the competitive juices of older, entrenched career employees, cut cost, and to broaden the demographic (enter Igor Khoroshev  and Billy Sherwood).

The following describes activities during this crucial period:

“OPEN YOUR EYES” released in 1997 started life as a Squire/Sherwood side project. Yes factory accessories, (ie…Steve Howe’s guitar and Jon Anderson’s voice…) were bolted on in an apparent attempt to make commercial amends for the under-cooked KEYS volumes. All this taken into account, it is an attractive set of prog-pop quickies with two viable single candidates, “No Way We Can Lose” and “Man In The Moon”. “No Way We Can Lose” was a standout track with real soul courtesy of Chris Squire’s surprising harp playing. This is the record UNION could have been. Had it been released subsequent to “CLOSE TO THE EDGE”….(OK, I’ll spare you). The only hard knock on the album was the artwork which was striking only in its mediocrity. Collective writing credits served to blur who was driving the machine at this point. However, the album credits show American Billy Sherwood was not only a fully anointed member but engineer as well. DNA testing would likely reveal EYES to be Billy Sherwood’s baby. Keyboardist Igor Khoroshev was the hired gun who out-tinkled Billy  Sherwood and Steve Porcaro and subsequently joined the band for the EYES tour.

“THE LADDER” was released in 1999. It stands as Yes’ finest album since “GOING FOR THE ONE” or “90125” (depending on your political affiliation). Igor’s mystical ability to nail the styles of Kaye, Wakeman, Moraz into a seamless whole earned him a placing as marquee band member and writing partner on “THE LADDER” . The album is loaded with bright energetic moments and sport two extended set pieces that sit well in the Yes canon.

“Homeworld” is a blinder that soars in a manner as only the best Yes music can. It simply must be added to future tours. The DVD “Yes At The House Of Blues” consolidated gains made by “THE LADDER”. The HOB tour was a rousing success; however, the up close and personal nature of these gigs revealed Steve Howe’s Zen working overtime to observe the protocols required by a “two-guitar” line-up. Indeed, Billy Sherwood was gone after the tour as the band returned to tried and true masterworks on their next tour. Howe was visibly re-energized and all keyboards parts regardless of authorship were pulled off to spooky perfection by Igor.

As the turn of the century dawned, exit Igor amid cloudy circumstance. Yes required a hired gun and an orchestra to replace him for the “MAGNIFICATION” album and tour. Ironically, magnification was required to track the album’s sales figures although it spawned material good enough to survive into the Classic Reunion Tour . The set piece,”In The Presence Of” showed Yes was still adept at long form composition. “MAGNIFICATION” and the companion DVD “Symphonic Yes” was enough of a departure from the previous releases to keep the faithful happy, spending, and wondering what Yes would pull out of their hat next. The orchestrations on “Symphonic…” also gave an extreme makeover to the sometimes exhausting “Gates Of Delirium”. These releases and the tour helped to slake Anderson’s “TIME AND A WORD”  Jones once and for all and marked time until Rick’s return. Era closed.

So Yes survived a prog-hostile time in world history. Good on them. Let this era be memorialized by the contributions of Igor Khoroshev and Billy Sherwood in a time of need. Billy was Trevor enough for the ’80s fan base and Igor sparkled. If the bleak world economy precludes you from buying the entire catalog from this period, view the DVD’s “Yes At The House of Blues” and/or “Symphonic Yes”. It’s the next best thing to being there. The void in ‘The Hall’ remains.

Top 10 Countdown “The Singing Bassist” – # 3 (Geddy Lee)

Geddy Lee (Rush)

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Sometimes talent needs a little time in the bottle.  Exhibit A is Geddy Lee. Early in his career,  Geddy Lee troubled the world with his shrieking, ‘trannie witch of the north’ shtick.  However as time wore on, his voice calmed down and his bass playing developed by leaps and bounds. Lee added keyboards to his studio and onstage to-do list as well. A typical Rush concert will find Lee playing ridiculously complicated bass parts against Neal Peart’s ridiculously complicated drum parts while playing keyboards and bass pedals against his own lead vocal.  Lee carries the workload of three musicians and has led Rush to become one of the elite Progressive Rock units in history. They will be inducted into the R&R Hall of fame this year. An honor long overdue…

For some musicians, Rush falls into the category of guilty pleasure. I routinely find myself on the defensive in my circle of musician friends who still remember the band’s  more excessive and prosaic moments early in their career. However, Rush has compiled a body of quality work that is truly impressive and self evident. For that reason, I have chosen one of their more restrained and nuanced pieces, “Dreamline”. It’s a deep cut from their fine album “Roll The Bones”.  Bass purists will be happy to see that Lee is a “finger” player.  Lee also uses harmonizers to add an orchestral aspect to the Rush ‘power trio’ format.  If  your  wondering what the washing machines are all about, it’s interesting to note that Lee eschews onstage amplification in favor of direct input into the house P.A. The washing machines are just props to add some humor to Rush’s stage presentation.