Their third release elevated Yes into supergroup status
(No. 37 in a continuing series on artists who should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but are not)
By Phill Marder
Many observers believe the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame has an extreme bias against bands that fall into the Progressive Rock category. Especially Progressive Rock fans.
Truth or illusion?
Well, there are approximately 260 inductees currently listed in the Rock Hall. Three are considered Progressive Rock bands…Pink Floyd, Genesis and Traffic. That’s about one percent.
Genesis was a Progressive Rock band under the wing of Peter Gabriel, then became a hit making machine when Gabriel left and Phil Collins took over lead vocals. I never thought of Traffic as a Progressive Rock band, but they are listed on several Progressive Rock websites, so what do I know? Pink Floyd certainly makes the grade.
But several Progressive Rock mammoths – the already profiled Moody Blues, Rush and Jethro Tull, for instance – have received the coldest of shoulders from the Rock Hall’s nominating committee, thus far. As has the band atop many Progressive Rock band lists…Yes.
To make the prejudice against this genre even more obvious, Yes was on Atlantic Records most of its heyday. And almost everyone on the Atlantic Records’ roster has been inducted, deserved or not.
Ernesto Lechner, writing in “The New Rolling Stone Album Guide,” points out, “You can say a lot of nasty things about progressive rock, and many people have – most frequently, that the genre emphasizes musical chops over soulful expression.”
To Lechner’s credit, he doesn’t seem to agree with that viewpoint, adding, “…in the case of Yes, the British band’s often overbearing pretentiousness resulted in moments of rare grace and beauty…“
But even the compliments are tinged with disparagement. Anything progressive seems to carry the same label from most critics…pretentious, bombastic etc. If Lou Reed had been around in the 1700s or 1800s, today’s critics probably would have favored him over Beethoven and Bach.
But that we’ll save for a future discussion. For now, let’s get back to Yes – and why this super group belongs in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
First off, Progressive bands don’t usually have hit singles. After all, 10- to 20-minute pieces don’t lend themselves to top 40 radio. Still, Yes has managed several, including the startling “Owner Of A Lonely Heart,” startling because it climbed all the way to No. 1 in 1983, and 1972’s “Roundabout,” which peaked at No. 13. 1971’s “Your Move,” 1984’s “Leave It” and 1987’s “Love Will Find A Way” and “Rhythm Of Love” all also hit the top 40. Only “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” reached the top 40 in their homeland, but that stopped at No. 28 there. However, “Wonderous Stories” climbed to No. 7 in 1977 and “Going For the One” made it to No. 24 later the same year. The next year, “Don’t Kill The Whale” made it No. 36.
On the album charts, where progressive bands shine best, Yes placed 24 entries in the United States, 12 reaching the top 20 with seven entering the top 10, making Yes one of the highest charting album bands in Billboard history. In the U.K., Yes was even bigger, reaching the top 20 with 14 long-players, 11 climbing into the top 10. In addition, 1973‘s “Tales From Topographic Oceans,” probably the band’s most controversial release, topped the UK charts as did “Going For The One” four years later.
“Topographic Oceans” is a two-record set, each of the four sides consisting of one long piece. I bought it when it came out, but didn’t play it much. A few years back, I tried it again on CD, figuring I now had more time and patience to enjoy it. But, the years didn’t make much difference. It has its moments, but often I find myself anxiously waiting for Elvis or Bo Diddley to interrupt.
Lechner noted, “depending on your point of view, ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’ is either prog rock’s absolute nadir or its dreamy masterpiece” and Bruce Eder, writing in allmusicguide.com, agrees, saying, “No album has more divided both fans and critics of Yes alike. At the time of its release, critics called ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’ excessive, representing the height of progressive rock’s self-indulgent nature. Originally inspired by Jon Anderson’s reaction to a set of Shastric scriptures, the album displayed a sublime beauty in many parts, and immense, mesmerizing stretches of high-energy virtuosity for most of its length.”
Anderson, of course, served as the group’s distinctive lead vocalist from its formation until just recently when ill health forced him to step down. He was replaced by Canadian Benoit David, who sings lead on the group’s upcoming release “Fly From Here.” Though Yes has survived a ton of personnel changes over the years, replacing its figurehead may prove the group’s final gasp, no matter how good David is.
The classic lineup remains the group that gave us “The Yes Album,” “Fragile” and “Close To The Edge” classics in 1971 and 1972. The key was the addition of guitarist Steve Howe, who can play rings around almost any other rock guitarist. Howe joined Anderson, keyboardist Tony Kaye, bassist Chris Squire and drummer Bill Bruford for “The Yes Album,” which helped the band turn the corner after two so-so LPs.
The next change came for “Fragile,” when keyboard whiz and showman extraordinaire Rick Wakeman took over for Kaye and that five also gave us “Close To The Edge.” Alan White replaced Bruford for “Tales From Topographic Oceans” with only Anderson and Squire remaining constants over the years. But even Anderson stepped aside for “Drama,” on which Trevor Horn served as vocalist.
Basically, the inductees should include Anderson, Squire, Howe, Wakeman, Bruford, White, Kaye and Trevor Rabin, who contributed guitar and keyboards on various albums.
One thing I find with Progressive Rock recordings – and particularly those of Yes – is that no matter how many times I’ve listened previously, each hearing brings something new thanks to the virtuosity of the players.
The players in Yes are great musicians and this should not be held against them. Great musicians often put their heart and, yes, their soul into their playing. I won’t be around to have the last laugh, but I would almost guarantee that 50 years from now, the music of Yes will have endured while the recordings of several of the artists already inducted into the Hall of Fame will have been long forgotten.