Yes: Close to the Edge

I’m told by Jeff that if I try to argue that the contempt with which the band Yes is treated is nothing more than some sort of reverse snobbery that I will be piled on by virtually every person who has anything to do with this site.

Given that the Comments section is open to the entire Internet world, this could be a big pile.

While I don’t want to completely deflect attention away from the Red Cross that is below, I do want to bring back some attention to normalcy: Although, as Jeff argues below, it is important that we maintain some sense of vigilance, it is also essential that we don’t allow ourselves to ignore many of our usual concerns and interests because to the extent that we do, the Bad Guys win. And that is unacceptable.

One more disclaimer. I am making an argument for Yes, not for any of the other bands with which they are normally associated; I am making an argument for their recorded music, not for the live performances (which I have never seen—hell, Phil, 30 years per Crenshaw show, and none for this band: What kind of fan is that?), which I suspect must be fairly disturbing nowadays (which may explain why they are rolling out with an orchestra).


Seems to me that people are dismissive of Yes because the music is highly produced/engineered. It is labeled “Art Rock.” On the one hand, one could say that if rock is worth its, well, rocks, then it is Art. Consequently, to be called “Art Rock” is a compliment, one unappreciated by those who are using the term as an epithet. On the other hand, there is the idea that “rock” is fundamentally, well, fundamental, and to the extent that music is heavily artistic (in the sense of being something that is consciously thought out and executed in a manner that is calculated), it is bad. Perhaps this is a particularly American notion, one that can be best summed up in a Walt Whitman term: “Bardic yap.” Pure rock is argued to be “yap.” And Yes ain’t Yap.

There are few guitar players who have a signature sound, guitar players who can play on the recordings of bands with whom they are not associated and who could be identified from their pure sound. The Edge. Pete. Van Halen. And a few others. One of those that I’d put on the list is Steve Howe. Through the years, he has been able to pull sounds out of his guitar that overcome the excessive flourishes of Rick Wakeman’s Grand Central Station-sized keyboard array. He has been able to play notes that distract us from the Hobbit-like lyrics and sounds of Jon Anderson. (BTW: Howe, on his solo albums, has a voice with an inverse relation to his guitar playing: Just Say No.) But Howe’s distinctive sound, supported by the remarkable drumming of, especially, Bill Bruford and Chris Squire’s bass, create remarkable music.

Perhaps the music that is produced by Yes simply isn’t rock. It is in a category onto itself (and, yes, I can imagine some of the categories that it can be put in by many of you, most of which are noxious). But let’s put that notion aside. Let’s assume that it is rock based on nothing more than the characteristics of the (1) time it was created; (2) the instruments with which it was created; (3) the nature of the people who create(d) it, it is rock.

So what’s the problem?

Let the games begin.

19 thoughts on “Yes: Close to the Edge”

  1. Well, my introduction to Yes came with the release of that album with “Owner of a Lnely Heart” and “Leave It” on it. Only later, when I started listening to stoner music, did I hear that song about the chess players (or whatever). That song is just awful. I can’t remember the guitar tone in it, but I think the Dead Milkmen summed it up best when they said, “Anderson, Walkman, Buttholes And How!”

  2. Yes is great, by far the best band the world has ever known, and the best musicians also. But most of the modern music public is to stupid and to lazy to take the time necessary to appreciate and to hear the beauty in their music. But maybe their new GREAT record Magnification will sell decently, while this record will be one of the first records to appear on the new DVD-audio format that appears later this year.

  3. I’ll tell you why some people don’t like Yes. Rock, for a lot of folks, is best when it is stripped to its emotional core. Yes, and others who fall into the “art rock” genre, instead seem to be devoid of emotion. When the music is polished to the point of “perfection” it comes off as robotic. Of course, there’s also the pretension in the lyrics and arrangements. I can’t get into that right now…

  4. Comment number two already sums it up…. If you are prepared to put the time into listening, really listening, to Yes music then you will be rewarded with textures and colours that you will not get from any other band; period. Comment number three sums up the inverse. If you have no time to think and just want to use your reptilian reflex to rape and/or pillage your way around a mosh pit then Yes is not for you.

  5. Um, it’s not really about raping and pillaging for me. Like everything else, it’s about taste. Just as I am not a fan of Broadway musicals, I am not a fan of Yes. That’s not a comment on the talent of the group’s members.Some would see the raunchy ramblings of Hazil Adkins as a whole lot of noise, but I see it as a deconstructed tapping of hillbilly soul. It speaks to me more than the music of Yes.

  6. When I was in high school, the snotty, ski-bum rich kids were all into Yes, ELP, Supertramp, Fleetwood Mac and the like. I (and a small handful of others) was into The Ramones, Sex Pistols, Devo, etc. We usaully got made fun of, but we didn’t care. My hatred of bands like Yes and their ilk comes from that whole era. And it’s not likely I’ll change my opinion of them any time soon. To me, Yes will always be synonomous with EST, leisure suits, and 8-tracks.If I had sided with the ‘alpha’ kids and listened to their music, I never would have gone on to discover Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, Husker Du, The Cramps, NIN, Camper Van Beethoven, etc., probably never would have developed a love of jazz (Coltrane is God), never would have eventually discovered more recent bands like Travis, Stereolab, Super Furry Animals, Cornelius, etc. I’d still be trapped in a loop that so many people my age seem to be in-listening to nothing but the artists they listened to in high school. It’s as if music ended for them around 1980. So maybe Yes isn’t so bad. I’m sure they can’t be as bad as I thought they were in 1980, but since they are in no danger of falling off the face of the earth, I’ll let others worry about ’em.

  7. [Damn! How did you know about that leisure suit!?!]Phil: Your original comment about “rock being stripped to its emotional core” brings to mind the scene in “The Ruttles,” when the documentary crew goes down to the bayou to discover the source of the Ruttle’s sound. Methinks that too much is made of the bare authenticity of rock–almost as if some bands have a calculated determination to be something that is the opposite of something else. And speaking of calculated approaches, let’s not lose sight of Malcolm McLaren’s total orchestration of the Sex Pistols. (Yes, I know that someone could buy into the notion that they were being ironic or postmodern or whatever by being aware of what they were doing, but I’m not forking out the dough for that one.). . .And speaking of Broadway: Didn’t Pete have a little something to do with bringing “Tommy” to the Great White Way a few years ago?Mixmaster: I don’t understand why listening to one type of music keeps you from listening to another. Seems to me that if you don’t listen to “other things” you’d have never gotten to those you list. And as I am–and have been for more years than I want to acknowledge (as he’s my age, and I’m sure Declan has the same notion of time that I do)–a fan of Costello’s, what do you think of his recordings post-Brodsky Quartet?

  8. Just say No to Yes! Why? A host of reasons, but most of all, the same reason we hated Sting before FoMoCo gave us another: Pretention. Yes took themselves, and rock, WAY too seriously.

  9. GSV,I don’t think you CAN make too much of authenticity in rock. The Sex Pistols were pre-fab, that’s true, but there was a sense of urgency and raw emotion in their music. But I wouldn’t hold them up as the poster boys for good rock. No, that goes to my favorite band of all time: The Sinatras.The Sinatras are a Kalamazoo-based three-piece who are the best/worst band I’ve ever seen. When they’re good they storm through a set with intenisty and tenderness that sends grown men to tears. They really are that good. And I’m not sure they know it. In the early 90s there was a bit of a buzz around Kalamazoo with bands like Rollinghead, the awful Verve Pipe and the boring Thought Industry getting considerable attention from labels. The Sinatras had more commercial appeal than any of them and a frantic live show that any promoter would drool over. But the band didn’t care. They didn’t seem to be interested in getting exposure out side of our beloved Club Soda. This is a bit rambling as I am high out of my mind on allergy nedication, but the Sinatras would kick the crap out of Yes…and that’s my point.Now, don’t get my started on the Sinatras side project, Goldstar. That too is art rock (or prog rock if you prefer) and completely dismantles my argument…

  10. Yes sucks today for the same reasons they sucked in the 80s. As far as I’m concerned, you can’t change history, and you shouldn’t try to by forcing the issue. Yes, Asia, Toto, Journey, etc. all fall into an awful period where Stadium Rock and Music Industry hype met the mullet ‘head-on’. Guess who won? The Music industry! I would argue that reminising about the good old days of the band Yes is just old-fartism in disguise. Our youth was not that good, man! It’s one thing to dig-up Nick Drake as an overlooked artist, or to give credit to James Brown for all those samples, but leave Yes out of it! Leave the worst of the 80s back in the first Reagan administration where it belongs.PeaceScotty

  11. Here’s something that strikes me as odd: there seems to be a sense of the band as being of the ’80s: Yet the album that I reference in the title of my piece came out in 1972–and it was the band’s fifth album.And as a disclaimer has it: I’m not defending all of those other bands: Too easy targets, some of them (although don’t get me started on John Wetton, who was with Asia for a while: I recommend listening to his collaborations with Phil Manzanera; and he also did a stint with King Crimson {though I’ll take the version of the band with Fripp, Belew, Levin, and Bruford})Jeff: Isn’t much of the stuff that appears on these orange pages, well, *serious*?Phil: Hmm. . .Goldstar. . .

  12. gsv:”Mixmaster: I don’t understand why listening to one type of music keeps you from listening to another. “Err…I didn’t say that. Did I? To quote me: ‘I’d still be trapped in a loop that so many people my age seem to be in-listening to nothing but the artists they listened to in high school. It’s as if music ended for them around 1980. ‘Well, I did listen to Yes back in my mis-spent youth-just not by choice. At parties, dances, etc. Also on the radio. I was so anti-mainstream/AOL rock back then, it was like nails on a blackboard to listen to ’em. Still is.Simple Pavlovian conditioning renders me unable to even listen to them now. My convoluted point was that I can’t evaluate them. Maybe they’re great-I’ll never know. But I don’t care, because there’s a lot of great music I did discover by not staying within the confines of my peer’s music ranges. P.S. I think every single release by Elvis Costello has been pure musical gold-except ‘Spike’. ;)

  13. “Simple Pavlovian conditioning . . .”Brings to mind what has to be among the most abominable “prog rock” of all time: “Tubular Bells.” Yeowwwwwwwww!!! Listening to that doesn’t cause salivation. Nausea is more like it.

  14. i will preface my remarks by saying that Yes is by far my favorite band, and that i dislike everything they’ve done since 1978 (AFTER ‘going for the one’)…now, when i was a Yes fan in high school(76-80 i am an old fart), I was the weirdo. my peers liked the kinks and zepplin(the former i dont care for and the latter being f***ing great)so i don’t understand the mixmasters dilema. and i certainly agree that Coltrane is God, so it’s not like loving Yes has closeted me from the rest of music. if social considerations are how you choose your music… whatever. for me listening to music (or making love for that matter)is like prayer or meditation, not exercise. and any one who will take the time and open their mind up enough to listen to (preferably the live version on ‘YesSongs’) ‘Close to the Edge’ is in for a great treat. this song is genius trancendent. but i like (or un-like) art is very personal, and no wonder there are so many different kinds. and how terrible boring if Costello’s were the only kind of music there is (i love him too). there is a place for every style of music, and where you are when you ere exposed to a particular kind of music is going to have a huge bearing on how you feel about it. i never really gave the Kinks a chance because i was in a band with a guy who loved them and hated me! peace?

  15. Yes music is undefinable within the constraints of typical genre-monikers (i.e. Punk, Alternative, Techno, Rap). Over their 32-year history, they have introduced facets of practically all musical nuances into their albums, some more successfully than others.At least they’re trying. Granted, their music has some general commonality, including:A) Jon Anderson’s ethereal lyrics and angel-like voiceB) Complex chordal/melodic structures developed within longer pieces of musicC) A positive spin on tone and theme within lyrical/musical ideasD) Musicianship (vocal and instrumental) by all members eclipsing 99% of most pop/rock bandsThat being said, you can’t classify their music as Rock because it doesn’t fit the general scheme of that genre (rebellion, power, simplified musical structures)I’ve given up defending Yes as a Rock band because they aren’t, no more than “Revolution 9” by the Beatles is a rock track. You can either like them or not, much like brussel sprouts or New Coke, but I’ll take the worst Yes album and put it up against the best work from 95% of the bands who have recorded since 1965 and prove there’s no comparison musically or stucturally.

  16. Mixmaster Shecky wrote>>gsv: >>”Mixmaster: I don’t understand why listening to one type of music keeps you from listening to another. ” >Err…I didn’t say that. Did I? >To quote me: ‘I’d still be trapped in a loop that so many people my age seem to be in-listening to nothing >but the artists they listened to in high school. It’s as if music ended for them around 1980. ‘ Well, yes you pretty much did say that.To quote you: “If I had sided with the ‘alpha’ kids and listened to their music, I never would have gone on to discover Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, …etc., probably never would have developed a love of jazz…never would have eventually discovered more recent bands like Travis, Stereolab, Super Furry Animals, Cornelius, etc”Yes are my second favourite band (second to Led Zeppelin) and yes, I also like Pink Floyd and Genesis. On the other hand, you’ll also find The Talking Heads, Tori Amos, Blondie, Jellyfish, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, Prince, Jamiroquai and Limp Bizkit.Listening to Yes or other bands of that era does not preclude listening to more contemporary material…:-)

  17. Don’t be sad and let peer pressure limit your horizons, whether you’re 16 or 60.*Listen* to as much music as you can and judge on what you *hear* – not on the basis that you think all of the fans are wankers.And don’t forget good music was being made before you were born, never mind at high school.That way you might get some Yes, some Stones, some Stranglers, some Sibelius, some Copland, some ELP, some Pistols…

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