Yes was the model English art-rock band, with all the overload and splendor that demands. Loaded with too much virtuosity, too many ideas and too many personnel changes for one band to deal with, Yes has produced its share of blemished albums over the past 20 years. Yet during its classic period (lasting between 1970's The Yes Album and 1977's Going For The One) Yes was almost consistently inspired. Anyone needing to defend art-rock only has to pull out the title track of Close To The Edge (1972): It never got more intuitive or more melodically towering than that.
Initially, Yes was simply a pop group that got very ambitious. Their first two albums have some R&B traces, thanks to the more basic styles of guitarist Peter Banks and keyboardist Tony Kaye, who were both dropped from the band early. Besides that, the fragile, nearly feminine sound of singer Jon Anderson verified an early trademark, along with the jazz leanings of the rhythm section, bassist Chris Squire and drummer Bill Bruford (replaced in 1972 by the heavier-hitting Alan White).
With the appearance of guitarist Steve Howe and keyboardist Rick Wakeman, Yes was liberated to explore the rock-symphony advance they desired to. Their aspirations reached a climax on 1973's Tales From Topographic Oceans, a four-song, lyrically dense double album that even Wakeman found excessive, yet there were more than enough lovely and powerful moments to justify the stretch.
Reunited with Wakeman after a year making solo albums, Yes stripped down to and made its last great album with 1977's Going For The One. Anderson and Wakeman left in 1979, replaced by the two members of the Buggles. Yes was then laid to rest until 1983, when Anderson, Kaye, Squire and White formed a new arrangement with guitarist/singer Trevor Rabin.
Anderson rebelled and pulled in the other ex-members for a competing band, clumsily billed as Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford, Howe. Luckily for four of them, the name Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe was recognizable enough to reach the fans, which sent the resulting album into the U.S. Top 40 and the British Top 20, more or less handing them a victory by acclamation (later supported by the settlement) in their dispute over the name. By touring with An Evening of Yes Music, they presented their classic repertory to sell out houses all over the country, including a 1990 gig at Madison Square Garden.
The accompanying album, Union, which displayed a somewhat tougher sound than they'd been known for, debuted on the British charts at number seven and reached number 15 in America. This tour, which allowed the band to showcase music from all of its previous manifestations and, in the second half, featured each member who wished it in a solo spot, broke more records. These mammoth three-hour shows and the resulting publicity - even news organizations that normally didn't cover rock concerts did features on the reunion - only seemed to heighten interest in the four-CD boxed set Yes Years, which was released by Atlantic in 1991.
By the mid-'90s, even longtime disbelievers of progressive rock, who detested the band's early-'70s album-length musical excursions, conceded that Yes is the best of all the bands in their particular field of endeavor. The group continues to sell CDs in large quantity. In 1995, Atlantic Records issued upgraded, re-mastered versions of the group's classic 1960s and '70s albums, even as the work of many of their one-time rivals are consigned to the cut-out bins; and their periodic tours, as well as numerous solo albums are taken very seriously by fans and critics. Today, their music of almost every era is regarded by fans with undiminished enthusiasm, and by their critics as respectable attempts at doing something serious with rock music.