Attila Domos: Posted on Wednesday, August 01, 2012 1:58 AM
Yes could very well be the greatest rock band the world has ever heard. “What?”... I know that’s what some of you are saying, but I found that when I break down their music and musicianship, it’s hard for any other band to match them.
“What about the Beatles?” I know that’s what many of you are thinking. After all… no band has been more influential in Rock ‘n Roll than them… well… that’s a yes and a no. The Beatles were great song writers and good performers, but I don’t know too many musicians who “wanted to play like the Beatles”. I mean… really… when I was a kid, Ringo was my favorite Beatle (because of how goofy he was), but there isn’t a beginner drummer in the world, who can’t play like Ringo, after only a few short months if not weeks.
While I think that we’ve seen many top quality bands in our life time, bans such as The Beatles, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Genesis, Van Halen, Rush, Nine Inch Nails, Def Leppard, Queen, Journey, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, The Police, etc… those band all have a weakness in one area or another. But, when it came to Yes, I couldn’t find a single weakness anywhere.
I cringe when I hear someone utter the moronic words “I know what I like”. No… no… you… don’t. Let me break this down so the laymen (non-musician) can understand. While art, much like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder… let’s face it… there are a whole lot of you out there with a butt-ugly spouse. Right now I’m speaking strictly about looks, not personality or the size of his/her bank account. To YOU he/she might be beautiful, perhaps even a 9 or a 10, but in reality… when judged next to super models, the love of your life is a 5, at best! Well, music… or for that matter, any form of art is only truly appreciated by those who have studied many types, and it really helps if they have “on the field experience” aka… do it for a living.
While not all artists may share the same taste when it comes to certain giants in their field, all artists whose talent is worth a damn will tip their cap in the presence of greatness. I guess what I’m getting at is that you’d be very hard pressed to find real musicians, from any genre, say anything negative about any of the members of Yes. These guys are REAL musicians, who would likely do well in any genre they decided to play. You can’t say the same about too many other bands.
One of the things I love about Yes is that musically speaking, they made a great transition from experimental rock into commercial rock and as far as I’m concerned, they reached their peak of perfection in the 1980’s, with albums such as “90125” and “Big Generator”. 90125 was especially popular and got a lot of play on Mtv and many commercial rock and pop radio stations. Songs like “Owner of a Lonely Heart” and “Leave It” constantly floated on top of the charts, seemingly forever. But what I really loved about 90125 was everything! Every song was very well written, arranged and sounded clean and crisp. From the drum tracks to the vocals… everything was clean and had a real beauty to it.
Yes could have taken the safe route and pumped out about four or five more 90125s, like many other bands, who… once they “find their sound”, seem to mail it in and put out a bunch of cookie-cutter impersonations of their first successful album, but not Yes. Oh no… “Big Generator” had a very different sound, an even richer one. As a musician, I very much respect any other musicians, who aren’t afraid to experiment with new sounds. It’s one reason why I love Nine Inch Nails and Van Halen. Both Trent Reznor and Eddie Van Halen are always trying something different. Sometimes it works, sometimes it is crap, but I have much respect for those artists who’re always finding new ways to invent their music. Madonna is also a great example of this.
I like to score bands 1 to 10 in different criteria. It’s the way my brain calculates the value of every band. The things I rate are:
1 - MUSICIANSHIP. (How well do the band’s members play their instrument?)
2 - GROWTH. (How much does a band’s music grow from album to album?)
3 – EXPERIMENTAL FACTOR. (How bold are they? Are they simply in it for the money, or are they putting out some real music, between the bubble-gum crap they HAVE to record, in order to sell albums.
4 – RANGE. (Do they have many gears or are they stuck in top gear only… kind of like AC/DC? Can they write beautiful ballads and rock the hell out of an arena?)
5 – WOW FACTOR. (What I mean by this is how big and rich of a sound to they have? This is not the most important criteria, it’s simply a preference of mine. I like a band to sound full… rich… big… what ever you want to call it. I’m not overly impressed by acoustic acts.)
When I put many bands under this type of microscope, only Yes got a perfect 50, (10 points for each criteria.) The Police came in at a close second. They might have climbed higher if they’d put out more albums. That’s not to say that other bands suck. Quite the contrary… all the ones I’ve mentioned are very good, and I didn’t even mention many others simply because these bands rolled off the top of my head and I didn’t want to fill entire paragraphs with nothing more than band names.
There are many bands who came along during rock ‘n roll’s experimental days. Bands like the Greatful Dead, Genesis, Rush, Led Zeppelin, even the Beatles got into the groove of things and got away from their original Rock-a-Billy sound, but none of those bands found the commercial success like Yes. Genesis did, but once they got their “pop” sound down, they didn’t deviate too far from it. Phil Collins and the gang were rolling in the money, and they must have liked it like that. Don’t get me wrong… I LOVE Genesis and even Phil Collins’ solo material, but it’s definitely more “poppy” than Yes. The thing I loved most about Yes’ new found 80’s pop success was that they never really stopped being Yes… or… experimenting. Even after having found commercial success, their music sounded completely unique, rich, and beautiful and probably the most true to what I’d call “experimental pop”.
There was only one weakness in Yes and that was in their fans. Yes’ ultimate downfall was that the original Yes fans, the ones who loved the earlier “hippie-ish” albums, like “Tomato” and “Yesterdays” hated the new Yes… the band that was getting rave revues… the band who’s songs were now at or under 5 minutes and getting pop-radio air time. I was fortunate enough to have seen Yes on their “Big Generator” tour, and I couldn’t believe my eyes, when I saw a half-empty Civic Arena. This band, who went through such a transition over the years, and kept pumping out high quality music, was now abandoned by their early pot smoking and peace loving hippie fan base.
They managed to play in sold out venues on their next tour for “Reunion”, which was a bit of a trick-pony, since the tour featured all of the members of Yes, former and current. This, of course… brought back the old Yes fans, along with the new ones. But…
I think the greatest Yes album of all time could be the one that wasn’t even released with the bands name, but rather the four members who played on it. The album was “Anderson, Breuford, Wakeman & Howe”. This gem of an album combined Yes’ 70’s experimental beginnings with the super high quality studio mixes and pop hooks of the 80’s. Songs like “Brother of Mine” and “Order of the Universe” had me singing out loud in my car, as I raced down the highway doing a comfortable 90 mph. I loved the album so much that I actually took the time to transcribe “Order of the Universe” to sheet music. I don’t know why I did it… it just needed to be done!
So… why isn’t Yes “more popular”? Well, one reason is that they’re musically too gifted, and they carried their talents right into their song writing. They aren’t an easy band to cover. It’s not to say that there are no Yes cover bands, I’m just saying that a person who’s only been playing a guitar for a few months can play songs like “Start Me Up” or “Hell’s Bells”… but to play most Yes songs, takes a bit of skill. Most poser musicians drop out way before they ever get to the level where they’re playing Yes’ tunes.
To sum it up… I’m not putting down YOUR favorite band, I’m just telling you to try and use my five criteria to judge any band, film, director, actor, work of art, etc… don’t just run along with what’s being pumped into your brain via TV or radio. After all… look at what happened with music? If you notice… how “pretty” or “sexy” an artist is, isn’t even part of my criteria. Unfortunately… it’s a top 3 in most of yours’ and as a result, real music is now on life support.
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Attila Domos is a musician/wheelchair athlete/author/digital artist/film maker/ entrepreneur and occasional blogger.