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The Hall of Fame Says, Yes!

April 5, 2017

       The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame will hold its annual induction ceremony this week — and, for the most part, I could care less.

       I weighed in on the nominees in this space last fall, in most cases not favorably. But I didn’t vote, so I shouldn’t complain about who did get selected — but will anyway.

       The fans who did vote, and the experts whose opinions were solicited and considered, selected three of the eight individuals and groups that I thought were worthy of induction: Joan Baez, Electric Light Orchestra and Yes. But two of those came from the bottom half of my top eight.

       My other five favorites were the Cars, J. Geils Band, Steppenwolf, Joe Tex and the Zombies. Instead, who’s going into the Hall? Journey, Pearl Jam and Tupac Shakur.

       I still think Journey is too much FM Classic Rock boilerplate, don’t like Rap and Grunge Rock never did much for me. And did any of those three do anything that topped Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride”? The Zombies’ “Time of the Season”? For that matter, Tex’s “(Take that Woman) Skinny Legs and All”?

       I am happy that Yes got voted in, especially considering that the lineup that’s being inducted, although not the classic one, contains its essential parts. The inducted configuration, of Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford, Steve Howe, Tony Kaye, Trevor Rabin, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman and Alan White, dates from the 1991 “Union” album and tour.

       In turn, that lineup was the result of a merger of a new Yes configuration — the group that produced “90125,” the best-selling Yes album of all time — and four of the artists from the classic era. The current touring lineup includes most of those being inducted, and most of the classic-era configuration.

       One exception is Squire, whose thunderous bass was the foundation for the classic-era sound; he fell victim to leukemia two years ago. He apparently was the only band member who played with Yes throughout its 47-year (at that point) history.

       Anderson (whose ethereal voice was part of the band’s signature sound), Rabin (who had a big influence on “90125”) and Wakeman (the keyboard virtuoso of the mid-70s best-selling albums) are touring as ARW. And that reflects a band history of schisms and personnel changes that continue to this day.

       The band got its start in 1967, when Squire brought his bass guitar to a band called Mabel Greer’s Toyshop, led at the time by guitarist Peter Banks. The owner of a bar near London’s legendary Marquee Club, where the band played, introduced Squire to Anderson, one of his bartenders.

       Bruford and Kaye soon replaced the band’s drummer and keyboardist, and the group not long after renamed themselves Yes. (After considering Life and World as names, apparently one-word names being their thing.) One of the band’s first performances under the new moniker, in September 1968, was filling in for Sly and the Family Stone.

       Bruford left to go to college, but returned in time to play with the band when it opened for Cream at the supergroup’s farewell concert. The band’s musical direction early on was influenced by the progressive rock outfit King Crimson, and they switched from doing covers to mostly self-written songs for their self-titled debut album.

       In the early 1970s, the band toured with more-established acts, including Small Faces, Iron Butterfly (whose sound system they purchased) and Jethro Tull. They also added Howe, who would contribute heavily to the classic Yes sound, but lost Banks and Kaye, mostly over internal conflicts.

       Wakeman replaced Kaye, and performed on the three albums that made the group a platinum-selling, arena-headlining monster. The new keyboardist had played for the Strawbs, and also as a studio musician for acts like David Bowie, Elton John and Cat Stevens.

       Bruford bailed on Yes and went to King Crimson, replaced by White. Wakeman disliked the third of those albums, “Tales from Topographic Oceans,” and also left, embarking on a successful solo career, but returned to the band after it changed musical directions.

       In the late ’70s, Yes switched to a jazz-fusion sound and shorter songs, and concert tickets and albums continued to sell well. But creative differences led to the departure of Anderson and Wakeman, and an alliance with the pop duo the Buggles (“Video Killed the Radio Star”), which produced a heavier rock sound and one album and one tour.

       The band then broke up in 1980, with some members forming Asia, and Squire and White working with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant on a Yes-Led Zeppelin hybrid that never got off the ground (but might have been interesting if it had). Squire and White then hooked up with Rabin in a band called Cinema, which morphed into a Yes reunion with the inclusion of Anderson.

       The result was “90125,” which produced three charting singles (including the No. 1 “Owner of a Lonely Heart”) and the followup LP “Big Generator.” But Anderson left again because of creative differences, and ended up grouping with Bruford, Howe and Wakeman in a band that couldn’t be called Yes for contractural reasons

       Anderson Buford Wakeman Howe produced one gold record, but ended up merging with the remainder of the official Yes three years later. The result was the lineup that is being inducted, and the album “Union” — which was a success, but disliked by just about everyone in the band.

       Since then, in various combinations of personnel, the band has produced eight more albums. Anderson had to leave for health reasons, and wasn’t welcomed back after he recovered.

       The group has sold more than 13 million albums in the U.S., not counting the efforts of the spinoff acts and solo projects. More importantly, they have created some wonderful music.

       I liked Yes for many of the same reasons I generally like “progressive rock,” among them the willingness to tackle deeper, more meaningful topics. A couple examples being Siddhartha Buddha (the opus “Close to the Edge”) and mountain climbers freezing to death dying on their way to the summit (“South Side of the Sky”).

       The band performed the loudest concert (and one of the best) I ever attended, in Madison in November 1974, as part of the “Relayer” tour. I own three of their albums, all from that classic early ’70s period: “The Yes Album,” “Fragile” and “Close to the Edge.” The wonderfully cosmic album art by Roger Dean is a bonus.

       But I have a feeling I’ll be Filling in the Corners with the works of the worthiest band that will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this week.

 

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