Yes is a little different from the first three bands I've written about on this list, in that they're as much of a musical collective as they are a band. What I mean by this is that over the years, there have been several core members of this band, and a host of secondary members as well, any combination of which can legitimately be described as Yes. When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally inducted them (thanks for nothing!), they had to induct eight of them: Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Steve Howe, Tony Kaye, Trevor Rabin, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman and Alan White. Over the years, there have been two time periods where two competing versions of the band existed at the same time: The early 1980s, when the Squire/Rabin/White version of the band co-existed with Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe; and the present, where the Steve Howe/Alan White rendition of the band competes with Yes, featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman. Compare this to Pink Floyd and The Who, both of which have only ever had five official band members since the beginning of their recording careers, or Jethro Tull, who essentially consists of whoever Ian Anderson says it does (which has, until recent years, usually included Martin Barre and a host of others).
More than probably any other band I'll talk about in these posts (with the possible exceptions of The Who and maybe Rush), Yes has received more acclaim for their musical virtuosity than any of my other favorite bands.
Also, because the group of musicians at the core of Yes has been so extensive, there are more Yes splinter groups than there have been for any other band. There was Flash (originally featuring Tony Kaye and Yes's first guitarist Peter Banks, although Kaye left after their first album); The Buggles, who basically merged with Yes to create the Drama album, then took another shot at it thirty years later when they rejoined Squire and some of the others for the Fly From Here LP (which was later remixed with Trevor Horn on lead vocal duties as Fly From Here - Return Trip); Asia, which started its career with Steve Howe and Geoff Downes joining together with John Wetton of King Crimson and Carl Palmer (of ELP); and Circa, which began with Tony Kaye, Alan White and Billy Sherwood, among others.
And all of this doesn't even discuss the many excellent solo albums created by various members of the band (especially Rick Wakeman).
So yeah, these guys have bona fides up the wazoo.
I first became aware of Yes in the early 1970s, through The Yes Album. It could have been a gift from my uncle -- I don't remember anymore -- but if it was, it was already an album I'd had my eyes on. Those were heady days for young music lovers like myself, and I can remember spending hours just browsing through record stores, looking at all of the interesting album covers, and imagining what each might sound like. Right about this time, Yes started getting a lot of airplay on my favorite radio station, WNEW-FM. I remember hearing a lot of Fragile on the radio, although it was my younger brother who owned that album and not me, and Close to the Edge, which I bought soon after it came out.
Of course, at that time, there was no internet. So if you really wanted to follow a band fanatically, you pretty much had to buy a bunch of magazines with articles about them, and that was more than I was willing to do. I liked Yes, but there was so much good music out there that they were just one of a number of groups that I followed fairly casually. (I also liked to sing along with my music, and this kind of worked against Yes -- I could sing with Roger Daltrey or Ian Anderson pretty well, but Jon Anderson's voice was just too damned high for me.)
The first time I saw Yes live, it was sort of by accident. A Jack-in-the-Box co-worker who I wasn't even especially friendly with had an extra ticket and asked me if I wanted to come along, and I said, "Why not?" It was a great show. However, I'm embarrassed to admit looking back, I'm pretty sure this was the Drama tour (I seem to remember them playing "Into the Lens"), and my knowledge of the band was so fuzzy that I didn't even realize until years later that it must have been Trevor Horn I saw singing lead that night, and not Jon Anderson.
I think that the point my appreciation of Yes really skyrocketed was a few years after that when Yes split off from Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman Howe (or vice versa). I saw ABWH at the Nassau Coliseum, and it was an amazing show, one of my top shows ever. (I remember being blown away by Bruford's space-age drum kit). I think I also saw the Trevor Rabin of the band at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium around the same time, although I have to admit that I'm no longer sure whether this is a false memory. I know for sure that they played there that year, and I definitely considered getting a ticket. But I can no longer tell if the memories I have of being at being at the Tennis Stadium and watching the band perform their hits from 90125 are real, or constructed after the fact. I do know for sure that I saw the Union tour at Madison Square Garden with the eight-man lineup that was eventually inducted into the Rock HoF.
I lost track of them for awhile after that. I only purchased their albums from Talk through Magnification years after their releases. (And to be honest, I didn't miss all that much). I did buy both Fly From Here and Heaven & Earth when they first came out. And while neither of those projects matches up against the band's best work from their heyday, I enjoyed each of them.
I saw the Steve Howe version of Yes at the Westbury Music Fair last year, and somewhere on this blog is my post about it. They've lost a step over the years, but I still had had a good time. And if the ARW version comes back around on tour, I'll probably see them as well. I skipped them last time around because I'm not a huge fan of Trevor Rabin, but in retrospect, that was a mistake. I have both the CD and the DVD of the Live at the Apollo album, and both are excellent.
So what do I like about Yes? There's a lot. Really, I've always enjoyed how their particular brand of progressive rock blended rock music with various elements of classical. This is especially so thanks to the influence of Wakeman. Their music has always been bright -- the Yin to Pink Floyd's dark Yang. And there's something fantastical about them -- I've always thought that Jon Anderson sounded sort of like an elf or a hobbit. I think that there have been times when they've over-indulged, and maybe gone up their own butts a little -- or maybe I'm just too ADD to appreciate albums like Tales of Topographic Oceans. But when I start to add up all of the hours of musical pleasure that Yes and its various solo-artist projects and splinter bands have given me over the years, I can't even compute them.
I've seen a few of the cranky old codgers on the internet suggest that Yes should just hang it up. But this cranky old codger hopes that they don't. As long as they, in all of their various manifestations keep making music, I'll keep giving them a listen.