Monday, June 9, 2014

Yes - Owners Of A Lonely Heart - the Commercialisation of a Prog Rock Band - Pt.2

 Yes then released one of their most commercially successful albums in mid ‘77 with ‘Going For The One’.  The album lived up to its title on the British charts (US#8/OZ#16), and yielded the band’s first significant hit singles, ‘Wonderous Stories’ (UK#7), and ‘Going For The One’ (UK#24).  During this period, Yes was facing the same challenge as other prog-rock acts, staring down the torrent of new wave and post punk acts exploding onto the British music scene (with disco being the corresponding tidal wave in the U.S.).  1978’s album ‘Tormato’ (UK#8/ US#10/ OZ#22) produced the minor hit ‘Don’t Kill The Whale’ (UK#36 - nice to see the lads supporting animal liberation), and boasted a track listing of shorter, tighter songs, aimed at competing for support with more commercially lucrative genres.

Yes then experienced a major shake up in personnel, with the departures of both Wakeman (once again) and vocalist Jon Anderson. Both pursued solo careers, with Jon Anderson collaborating with keyboard maestro Vangelis as Jon and Vangelis on several albums.  They scored their biggest hit together with 1982’s ‘I’ll Find My Way Home’ (UK#6/ OZ#22).  Yes then recruited the duo of Trevor Horn (guitars), and Geoff Downes (keyboards) - both ex-Buggles (see separate posts) - for the 1980 album ‘Drama’ (UK#2/ US#18/ OZ#69).  At the conclusion of another world tour (captured on the album ‘Yes shows’ - UK#22/ US#43), Yes released a short press statement announcing the band had folded.  Steve Howe and Downes went on to play alongside Carl Palmer and John Wetton in the super-group Asia (see separate posts).

Chris Squire and Alan White headed off to record some material of their own but they needed a guitarist to round out the sound.  Enter classically trained ex-Rabbit player Trevor Rabin.  Rabin had declined an offer to join Asia, and also declined a solo contract with RCA to form the new band Cinema, alongside Squire and White.  The trio recruited original Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye, and undertook album sessions with Trevor Horn handling production duties.  Rabin was handling vocal duties at this stage, but the chemistry wasn’t quite right.  Post his Vangelis collaboration, Jon Anderson was approached by the band to step in and re-record some of the vocal tracks.  By this time, the penny had dropped that in essence the collection of five musicians was a re-formed Yes.  So the band dropped the Cinema moniker to revive the Yes brand.  To survive in an 80s world, the reborn Yes had also adopted a revamped sound, choosing to drop some of the ornate classical pomp and intricate thematic, in favour of a more approachable, streamlined pop-rock sound.

The ‘hip’ new Yes style was no better in evidence as with the single release, ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’, which hit charts in late ‘83.  With crunching guitars, pounding drums, overlaid by seering synthesiser hooks, and Jon Anderson’s falsetto vocals, ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ was penned by Rabin, Anderson, Squire and Horn.  It was backed by an impressive cinema scale promotional video, but even with so many things going for it, the question remained - could Yes have a major hit single in the U.S.  The answer came back in the affirmative in early ‘84.  ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ replaced ‘Say, Say, Say’ by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson at #1 (OZ#14/ UK#28), and following a two week reign was replaced in turn by Culture Club’s ‘Karma Chameleon’.

And the change in Yes from album based prog-rockers to pop-rock hit makers was indeed chameleonic (a theme reflected in the music video).  The follow up, ‘Leave It’ (UK#56), was a minor hit, but the source album ‘90125’ (named after its catalogue number), proved that Yes could still sell albums in big numbers (UK#16/ US#5/ OZ#27).  Like Genesis before them, Yes alienated a percentage of their long standing core fan base with their new ‘commercial’ edge, but ‘selling out’ had more advantages than not.

Yes then took another sabbatical (during which band members explored external creative avenues), but reconvened on 1987’s ‘Big Generator’ (UK#17/ US#15/ OZ#44), which generated the hit singles ‘Love Will Find A Way’ (US#30/ OZ#80 - which I purchased on vinyl 45), and ‘Rhythm Of Love’.  Anderson then left the fray once more and by 1989 had hooked up with old Yes cohorts Rick Wakeman, Bill Bruford and Steve Howe.  A court battle then ensued for control of the Yes brand.  In 1989, Anderson, Wakeman, Bruford, and Howe performed Yes songs live and released an album of new material but under the awkward banner of Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe.  By 1991, that quartet had resolved its dispute with the other ‘Yes’ camp of Rabin, Squire, White, and Kaye, and they recorded a new ‘official’ Yes album, the appropriately titled ‘Union’ (UK#7/US#15), with the seemingly unwieldy line-up of eight embarking on a hugely successful world tour.

Yet another combination of players (Anderson, Kaye, Rabin, Squire, White) assembled for the 1994 album ‘Talk’ (UK#20/ US#33), a combination which toured through 1996, resulting in the live set ‘Keys To Ascension’ (UK#48).  After a further hiatus, Yes returned in 1999 with the UK#36 set ‘The Ladder’.

Over the ensuing decade, Yes released the studio album ‘Magnification’, followed by two major tours (featuring the return of Wakeman), the 2004 tour marking the 35th anniversary of the band as a recording unit.  Various incarnations of the group worked as both studio and live collectives over the years, leading up to the Trevor Horn produced ‘Fly From Here’ in 2011.

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