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.

Peter Banks Original Yes Guitarist (Remembered)

Word has just come in that founding Yes guitarist Peter Banks died on March 7. He was 65. sns-rt-us-banksbre92c002-20130312-001 Peter Banks was an eclectic and acrobatic guitarist who holds the distinction of being a founding member of the Progressive Rock band Yes.  Banks appeared on the first two albums before he was replaced by virtuoso Rock guitarist Steve Howe. The band achieved world renown while Banks continued to work in various bands and as a solo artist until his death.  Peter Banks was haunted by the success of Yes after his departure. He was proud of his legacy, but at the same time harbored feelings of being cheated from the rewards of the band’s success. A success that was built largely on the template he helped design. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has been tardy and negligent in failing to induct Yes into The Hall. A timely induction would have given Peter Banks the recognition and closure he deserved as a founding member of (arguably) the greatest Progressive Rock band in history. In addition to the two albums he recorded with Yes, he also appeared on several Yes compilations and anthologies after his departure. His post-Yes band, Flash recorded three albums  during the early 70’s. He also recorded several fine solo albums that showcased his evolution and invention as a guitar player. He also authored a fascinating auto-biography titled “Beyond And Before”. I reviewed the book several years ago for the international Yes fanzine, “Notes From The Edge”. I am republishing this review as a tribute to a musician who greatly influenced my approach to guitar early on in my musical career. Reviewed by:   Dale Nickey lbanks 5 A long search for this book guaranteed this review would be Yesterday’s (sic) news. Peter Banks was a founding member of Yes. He was a hell of a guitar player. He certainly influenced Steve Howe’s approach as a guitar stylist. Banks didn’t miss the boat of rock super-stardom so much as he was pushed overboard from the vessel of his own construct. He was then handed an anchor on the way down. His “Bestian” misfortune insures this book’s edge and gives a unique angle that other Yestomes sorely lack. The first two chapters of his auto-bio “tell most” are standard rock auto-bio fare. Banks describes the youthful blush of radio magic; the cheap, difficult first guitar and the long march from undistinguished cover bands to psychedelic tomfoolery. Then, on to the fool’s gold of Yes’ first recording contract. Mr. Banks’ role as Greek chorus in the Yes saga ultimately gives the group’s mythology much needed ballast and counterpoint. As much as we love Jon Anderson and his Hippy, New Age philosophies, the palate craves the acidic PH balance of Banks’ memoirs. banks300 The early years of YES are described in vivid and grimy detail. The book reveals Yes (Mark I) to be a fairly typical concern of hard-drinking, loud, untidy, entry-level rock stars looking for that first break. However, their work ethic, ambition (and talent) was any thing but typical of the times and reveals the beating heart of a group that would not fold its cards. We are privy to Chris Squire’s plainly obnoxious penchant for tardiness, Jon Anderson’s dictatorial tendencies and the general messiness in the communal squalor of the first Yes crash pad.   Mr. Banks obvious love and devotion to Yes and its music beyond and before thankfully tempers his grievances. This reviewer is old enough to remember the rancor evident in early interviews with Banks regarding the break up. Now, with the passage of time, Mr. Banks observations ring of hard won credibility. Indeed, much of the dramatic arc of this book comes from Peter Banks covert obsession with the brilliance of his replacement Steve Howe and his performance on the “The Yes Album” (strongly argued to be the group’s best album). This part of the book has Banks playing Salieri to Howe’s Mozart and is, by far, the most engrossing part of the book. The evidence of record strongly suggests that Bank’s was a chief architect of the Yes template and moreover, did quite a bit of writing that should have been credited. Banks claims credit for coming up with the name of the group “Yes“. Banks was a Who fan and lobbied for a name with the same simplicity and impact.  He also claims credit for writing the signature riff for “Roundabout”. Clearly the first two Yes albums bare his stamp. Similar accusations of riff pilfering were lodged by Patric Moraz some years later and lend credibility to Mr. Banks claims. tumblr_lzwwffstdU1r68xguo1_500 The tragedy and conflict of the story stems from Banks unwillingness to bend with the winds of change and ride out the “artistic differences” gracefully. He candidly portrays himself as an obstinate handful who over-estimated his value to the group.  His behavior during the “Time and A Word” sessions insured his dismissal. Hindsight tells us he should have made his contributions to “Time and A Word” and kept his yap shut. Later he grudgingly agreed with the mix of the record anyway. However, life “Post Yes” started promisingly for Banks. An enjoyable lost weekend with Bloodwin Pig and the initial success and professionalism of Flash must have given Peter Banks a feeling of place in the rock firmament. After all, Pete Townsend was a fan of his playing. Robert Fripp was a flat mate and he got a thumbs up from guitar’s chairman of the board Jimi Hendrix. For a fleeting time in the summer of his life, he was one of “the cats”. banksflash The chapters devoted to Flash are a fascinating peek into the margins of the progressive rock world shortly before the nuclear winter of punk. A group just this side of great doomed to repeat history rather than create it. The later chapters are gloomy and essential to the tale though difficult to read. There is no happy ending and closure is still pending. “Beyond and Before” is a single evening of ravenous reading for the YESophile and a necessary hole plugger for the slightly less committed. The sad irony is that this book has already fallen off the radar screen and will ultimately be as undervalued as Banks’ contributions to Yes music in particular and Progressive rock in general. He deserved better. peter-banks

Hall Of Shame (Spotlight) – YES

Author: Dale Nickey

The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame carries a stink. Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner is also co-founder of the R&R Hall. And it is common knowledge that his personal musical taste dictates the nomination list. The list fails to include some of the more accomplished British Bands or any artist he ‘don’t cotton to’.  He seems to have a particular distaste for British artists in the progressive wing of rock music.

So here then are just a few of the artists who are inexplicably excluded from the Hall of Fame, but occupy our record collections, and rule our airwaves none the less.

YES:  

50 million albums sold

I guess it’s not enough that they are the preeminent and most popular progressive rock band in the history of …well….progressive rock. Not to mention the 50 million albums they have sold worldwide. Their back story is compelling. They reigned supreme in the early to mid seventies. “Roundabout” and “Your Move/Seen All Good People” are classic rock staples right along with “Stairway To Heaven” and “Pinball Wizard”. They perfected the bloated, self-indulgent concept album with “Tales From Topographic Oceans”. An Album cited by many journalists as their greatest folly (despite the fact it shot to #1 on both sides of the Atlantic upon release). They fell on hard times during the punk revolution only to re-invent themselves and conquer the world yet again in 1982 with a # 1 album “90125” and # 1 single “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”.  However, Genesis gets the Hall instead because Phil Collins is cuddlier.