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Ponder what might have been: Yes Zeppelin?

One of the interesting wrinkles in the circuitous history of Yes concerns the XYZ project from early 1981, which found Alan White and Chris Squire surreptitiously converting guitarist Jimmy Page into a prog-rock monster.

“Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after John Bonham had passed away,” recalls Squire. “Jimmy wanted to get back into playing, but he wanted to sort of ease into that. And because we lived relatively close to each other, in the Windsor area of England, we just ended up getting together and jamming. Alan came in, and we just played together, and we were really just giving Jimmy some time to come back into enjoying playing again. And Robert Plant was supposed to come and join us, but I think it was all a little bit too early for him, after John Bonham had passed away. So he never actually made it to the studio. And so we just ended up doing four demos, really, which are all available on YouTube.”

“Actually, parts of it have been used,” continues Squire. “In fact, actually, we recorded the song ‘Can You Imagine’ on the ‘Magnification’ album, so that was one of the songs we had done with Jimmy. And there was another song that we did with him, ‘Fortune Hunter,’ that went on a Firm album. Also, I’m not quite sure what album it was on — I’m going to say ‘The Ladder’ — but there was a drum riff that Alan came up with. So bits of ideas from those sessions did end up getting recorded, in various ways.”

Yes Magnification album

“It was just a weird time when Chris and myself were floating free around London, and Steve was with Asia,” muses White. “We were released, and people were doing different things. So Chris knew Jimmy Page pretty well, and he had a house on the river, and actually, a lot of the stuff that we did was written by Chris and myself. We’d go down there and start work late in the afternoon and work into the early hours of the morning. It was quite an experimental kind of period, and it started to sound really good. Jimmy added the element of Zeppelin to it, so it was kind of like a progressive-rock band meets Led Zeppelin. And then management got involved, and they had all these ideas, and then of course that got in the way of the music, and that’s kind of why it all fell apart. Yes’ manager wanted to be involved, and then also Peter Grant wanted to be involved, and they were at loggerheads on how to do this, and they started to have a one-upmanship kind of thing — that’s what basically got in the way.”

“But yes, actually, at one time, Robert Plant came down and listened to the music with a view to kind of try to sing on some of it and see how he felt about it. But it never panned out; he just thought the music was too complicated.”