By Martin Popoff
Personally, we at Goldmine love Rock Hall debates, but so often they devolve into generalities, non-arguments and the logic-bending pitting of one’s top missed pick against one specific example of a non-deserving inductee.
As counter then, I’m not going to waste a lot of words on such puff but get right to the point. So here goes — in rapid fire and roughly career chronology order — my reasons Yes are my second -ranked pick (first is Purple) for bands not in the Hall that should be. And it must be noted, this treatise is particularly poignant given that Chris Squire, the only member of the band on every album, had just lost his mercifully short battle with leukemia.
So, with heavy hearts at Goldmine, it nonetheless must be argued that Yes co-invented progressive rock, along with Pink Floyd, Genesis, ELP and King Crimson, but were at the forefront, becoming the best example of it by “The Yes Album” and very successful at it by “Fragile,” scoring Gold, Platinum or Multi-Platinum from ’71 clear through ’91.
Drummer Alan White, in the band for more than 40 years, speaking for himself, speaks also for the band’s creative fecundity. “One attitude I have toward playing, is that when I was young, I liked lots of different kinds of music, from classical to jazz, big band, fusion, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll, and I try to incorporate that all into one style. But I want to always play with a lot of feel, as well as just play what is necessary for the songs. But wherever there is a possibility to try and do something different — we play things in fives and sevens, and it’s pretty complex — that makes for some interesting drum playing beneath the melodies.”
In terms of achievement through that philosophy, the band’s 1972 album, “Close to the Edge,” in polls myself and others have taken, ranks as the greatest progressive rock album of all time, with its titular track regularly winning greatest prog rock song of all time.
Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman, Bill Bruford and Squire were consistently rated highly as favorite instrumentalists through the ‘70s and early ‘80s. This makes them important and inspiring to other players — not to mention ambassadors for gear companies, catalysts for a thriving industry, instructors of teens who form the next generation.
In 1980, even without leader and lead vocalist Jon Anderson, Yes produced “Drama,” which is a fan favorite. This proves skill and determination through adversity, and Yes has faced plenty of adversity, not to mention ridicule. Speaking of ridicule, Yes invented punk rock! The band’s preposterous “Tales from Topographic Oceans” drove everyone bonkers, to the point of the Pistols. Usually mention of it is accompanied by a picture of Rick Wakeman in flowing robe, surrounded by banks of keyboards.
But before we leave the ‘70s, despite essentially topping out at consistent Golds and Platinums, Yes were nonetheless one of the biggest touring draws through the decade, offering elaborate stage shows and pioneering the use of lasers. In other words, their impact was bigger than their impressive record sales.
Into the ‘80s, Yes were an example of a band demonstrating that life has second acts, reinventing itself, updating and freshening their sound for “90125,” which might even be a third act, given the immense creative triumph of 1977’s “Going for the One.” On the strength of singles like “Leave It” and “Owner of a Lonely Heart,” the record went triple-Platinum, with its follow-up, “Big Generator,” scoring Platinum. Yes, along with Genesis and Rush, succeeded in reinstating the reputation of art rock by enthusiastically embracing technology, conciseness and strength of song. They were examples of old dogs learning new tricks.
One could further build the case through piling on smaller points, ones that perhaps require aggregation, but here goes. Yes elevated the discipline of album cover art, making Roger Dean a household name in the process. Dean created whole landscapes, planets and universes for the band through his ground-breaking illustration work. Back to the music, Yes dared to give the world some of the longest rock songs ever, and repeatedly, keeping it interesting inside them, sometimes with experimental uses of classical orchestration. Arguably, “Relayer” just might be the most opaque, inscrutable and complicated album ever to go Gold. Down a different road, the guys have always been open, willing, talkative interviewees; an example of a band willing to share with its fans through examination of their music, unflinchingly honest in the process.
Individually speaking, Steve Howe is one of a subset of guitarists with his own sound (wiry), and yet he is inspiringly versatile, giving us slide, power chords, jazz and loads of memorable acoustic passages. Rick Wakeman pioneered and/or championed the use of Moog, crafting a particularly fantastical and escapist sound, while Squire made signature his use of the Rickenbacker bass (instrument and sound; Squire starting using the instrument the year it was introduced, 1965), the baton then passed to Geddy Lee. Collectively, as well, they’ve given us dozens of solo albums, with Wakeman clocking in at about a hundred! Which proves they care about their music, and therefore, maybe we should care more about it, too, if only for the yearning, productive place it comes from.
Finally, Jon Anderson’s lyrics are highly distinctive, an often derided wash of the mystical, an entire worldview created, which nonetheless were about love and generosity. It’s a philosophy not lost on the fan base, who have been made, in the main, kinder people than the average rock gaggle because of Jon — essentially Deadheads but with greater peace-spreading purpose and less drugs.
Finally, Yes are shining examples of old men continuing to tour hard (at least on the upcoming tour, band alum Billy Sherwood is stepping in for Squire), and presenting music with way above average difficulty and requirement of concentration and dexterity while doing so. These men are not slackers, and even though he is not in the band anymore, Anderson continues to tour in a beautifully modest acoustic format. Plus, despite recent respiratory problems, Anderson is still enthusiastic about new music at 70 years old, currently crafting an album with violin virtuoso Jean-Luc Ponty.
We leave you with a quote from another Yes drummer, Bill Bruford (yet another member of this band that was known to suggest a signature sound), who gets across the point that it takes hard work to be as interesting as Yes.
“You say healthy and creative as if the two were kind of related,” answers Bill when asked if Yes were part of a creatively healthy environment. “There’s no necessary relationship between those two things. Sometimes things are intensely unhealthy but extremely creative, and very bad for your health. I found on the whole that Crimson and Yes were quite difficult and we didn’t achieve anything without some blood on the floor from somebody or another. Yes was (an) added difficulty because we were four or five people from all over the country with very different backgrounds and very different musical abilities. And sometimes there was the linguistic problem where we couldn’t understand each other verbally, because of the different accents and so forth. So it’s a bit like a guy from New Orleans and a guy from Alaska and a guy from Hollywood and a guy from Kansas City forming a group. It was a little like that. And it caused a lot of mayhem and also a lot of interest. You get those abrasive moments which give you creative flight.”
In there is further rationale and reason why Yes deserve to be in the Rock Hall, namely that for reasons of blood, sweat and tears, this was a band that fought through the force of its collective personalities to craft art that they agreed they could show to the world; art considered the best and boldest example of a whole genre – progressive rock.
The end result was a body of work that was substantive in quality as well as quantity, which I believe are both factors that should tilt the hand to bands with big catalogs that also stand the test of time, of which Yes are emphatically a shining example.