Tag Archives: Yes

Yes, Journey, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Salon

A central casting too-cool-for-school hipster looks at this year’s nominations for the Rock and Roll hall of fame and asks “Why celebrate Journey and Yes? He concludes that the Hall of Fame has hit “a new low”.

Journey stands, alongside REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, Styx, and a handful of others as an exemplar of one of the worst, least inventive periods of rock history — the corporate rock movement that was marked by bland playing and generic songwriting. Of all of them, Journey may have had, with Steve Perry, the most annoying lead singer. “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” is lodged permanently on AOR radio, television shows like “Glee,” and in the karaoke and covers repertoire. Forget ear worms — it’s the musical cockroach we’ll never kill. But please, can’t we just agree that this band’s career was a big mistake, try to forget about them, and just leave it at that?

Yes, on the other hand, is a band that once had real musical ambition as leaders of the “art rock movement.” But their classical-rock fusions sound studied now; they never had the imagination or drive of, say, King Crimson. And they are, like Journey, led by an awful lead singer. Can we remove “Owner of a Lonely Heart” from radio forever and just pretend that ‘80s comeback never happened?

Because if you really think Yes are defined by “Owner of a Lonely Heart”, you should not be employed to write about them. But it’s Salon, which is really a leftist-hipster version of The Daily Express, a publication that exists to confirm and reinforce the prejudices of its narrow-minded readership.

There is a wider question, of course, of why exactly does anyone take the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame seriously in the first place.

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Those who moan that “There’s no good music any more” forget that in their “golden age” you wouldn’t hear a note of the good stuff on TV or daytime radio. When Yes and King Crimson were putting out “Relayer” and “Red”, Radio One was full of dreck like “Seasons in the Sun”. That was the Ed Sheeran of 1974.

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And Then There Was One

Today comes the news that Yes’ Alan White is being replaced for the next run of shows with a relative unknown, due to White needing urgent surgery to deal with a back injury. Though the plan is for White to return to the band once he’s fully fit, it does leave guitarist Steve Howe as the only remaining member of the classic 70s band.

I know the music is greater than the musicians, and they’re already without any remaining founder members since the tragic death of Chris Squire.  But isn’t it getting a little bit silly now?

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Why do Fandoms go Toxic?

The fandoms of the internet keep throwing its toys out of the pram. I have no idea if it’s getting worse, or whether it’s always been this bad but we just hadn’t noticed.

Maybe it’s the constant background noise of arch sneering between supporters of different eras of bands that have gone through many changes of lineup and musical direction; Facebook groups like “2/5ths of Yes is not Yes”, I’m looking at you. Or maybe it’s the ugly wars over the trailer for a much-hyped reboot of a thirty-two year old film; why on earth have so many of the worst culture warriors on both sides chosen that particular hill to die on? Or the ongoing Sad Puppies Hugo Awards mess, where I’m sure I’m not the only person who has lost all patience with both sides; the world of science fiction ought to be bigger than one clique of authors and fans who are still living in the 1950s fighting another clique of authors and fans who are still living in the 1970s.

A lot the appeal of being part of a fandom rather than merely enjoying the music, films or books is the feeling of belonging to a tribe. And some tribes love to define themselves by those who aren’t part of that tribe. Do fandoms become toxic when in-group signalling becomes more important than the actual art? And is this just an inevitable part of human nature, or are there practical things we can do to stop fandoms going bad?

It’s nonsense. Liking or not liking a piece of mass-market entertainment should not be a litmus test for whether or not you are a good person. And “Those people over there I don’t like will love or hate it” is the worst possible form of criticism.

So don’t do that. Better to celebrate the things you love.

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When does a band become a tribute act?

Quite a few veteran acts touring with just one or two original members get accused, rightly or wrongly, of being glorified tribute acts. Yes are a case in point; since the untimely death of Chris Squire the band have been touring without a single founder member, and just guitarist Steve Howe remaining from the early 70s band that made their reputation. There is a noisy faction of their ‘fans’ who refuse to accept the existence of the band without Jon Anderson, going to the extent of creating a Facebook group called “2/5ths of Yes is not Yes”. Given that Yes have gone though many personnel changes in their long history, that attitude is rather silly.

But what about AC/DC? With Phil Rudd in trouble with the law, and first Malcolm Young and then Brian Johnson forced to step down due to ill health they’re down to Angus Young and a bunch of hired hands. The Guardian’s Michael Hann has made a good argument for the band to call it a day after finishing their tour, and I find it hard to disagree with that.

There are plenty of bands on the nostalgia circuit for whom the label “glorified tribute band” is entirely appropriate. Bands who have been playing the same greatest hits sets for the past twenty years with diminishing levels of passion, and have either stopped recording new material altogether or release forgettable albums that add little to their legacy. But that has little to do with how many original members remain. One might even put The Rolling Stones in that category.

But there are others for whom the opposite is true. Look at Hawkwind, for example. Dave Brock spends much of the set sitting down, plays a bit of rhythm guitar, and lets the guys who weren’t even born when he started the band do all the work. But it’s his presence on stage that makes it Hawkwind in a way the rival bands featuring assorted ex-members are not. And what about The Enid, set to continue without mainman Robert John Godfrey with Robert’s blessing?

And how do you classify Zappa Plays Zappa, led by Dweezil Zappa and playing the music of his late father? Early incarnations of the band included Zappa alumni Napoleon Murphy Brock and Stevie Vai, though more recent lineups are made up entirely of younger musicians who weren’t part of any of Frank Zappa’s bands. But the spiritual connection is obvious.

As death or ill-health claims more and more of the classic rock generation it would be sad if their music stopped being performed live. The dividing line between tribute acts and original bands with no original members is likely to become increasingly blurred; a lot of it depends on whether they revolved around larger-then-life personalities, or whether, as in the case of Yes, the music itself is bigger than the performers.

In the end does it really matter? Is “authenticity” more important than the quality of the actual performances?

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Batman vs. Superman is being panned by the critics, who make it sound like it’s the tipping point where big-budget superhero films fall out of critical and public favour. What’s its rock equivalent? Yes’ “Tales from Topographic Oceans” (Self-indulgent creative overreach), ELP’s “Love Beach” (Dying gasp of a spent creative force) or Metallica and Lou Reed’s “Lulu” (Ill-conceived collaboration done for largely cynical reasons)?  Over to you…

Posted on by Tim Hall | 4 Comments

RIP Chris Squire

The progressive rock genre is in shock with the news of the death of bassist Chris Squire, founder and only constant member of Yes. Tributes have been pouring in from across the progressive rock world and beyond. At The Robin 2 last night Magenta opened their set with a cover of “Cinema”, the instrumental from “90125″ as a tribute, which was a lovely touch.

Chris Squire was one of a handful of true giants in rock. The Rickenbacker that was his instrument of choice always has a distinctive and instantly recognisable sound, but Chris Squire’s playing was unique. He expanded the boundaries of what a rock bassist could be, making the bass guitar into a lead instrument while still driving the rhythm. Many of Yes’ best songs had his propulsive riffs at their heart. Listen to “Roundabout”, “Parallels” or that incredible opening of “Heart of the Sunrise”. He’s known as a virtuoso bassist, but he was also a good singer, evidenced by some of his harmonies with Jon Anderson.

My introduction to Yes was a secondhand copy of “Fragile” acquired during my first year as a student, probably discarded by someone who’d rejected progressive rock in favour of punk and new wave. It was their loss. For a while it took me a while to get my head round what they were doing; the complex music that was forever taking off in different directions was a world away from anything I’d heard before in the rock world. But I persevered and eventually it all made sense, and it still sounds vital 35 years later.

I only ever got to see them live the once, back in 2004 on what turned out to be the last tour of the classic Yes lineup with both Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman; even decades after their musical peak it was still an incredible and spectacular show. More recently, the music editor of The Guardian asked me to write a piece about Yes; my first ever paid piece of music writing.

Yes are still dismissed in some quarters as “that band who made Tales from Topographic Oceans, which was awful and punk had to come and save us”. Which is a shame. When a band like Muse are currently one of the biggest bands in Britain, anyone who loves Muse really ought to be able to find something to love about Yes. That Guardian article of mine highlighting ten of their best songs is a good place to start.

So farewell, Chris Squire, and thank you for all the life-changing music you made.

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So a bunch of gamers are celebrating the release of the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons by burning their 4th Edition books. It seems the D&D Edition Warriors now make Yes lineup purists look like rank amateurs. Accusing me of being the president of their record company for writing a three-star review of their new album just can’t compete.

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The prog nostalgia shows have been drawing sizable crowds. The likes of Rick Wakeman reviving Journey to the Centre of the Earth, Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited tour, and Yes playing three classic 70s albums in full can fill venues as large as The Royal Albert Hall. But just imagine if everyone who went to one of those gigs also bought a ticket for one of the current prog bands.

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10 of the best: Yes

I’ve often been critical in the past of The Guardian’s lack of coverage or rock and metal in their music section, especially when it comes to progressive rock. So after some conversations on Twitter I ended up writing something myself, which they published today. It’s part of their “10 of the best” series, about Yes.

There were something like 250 comments in the first few hours. Yes, there are one or two the yet again demonstrate that middle-aged former punks are not only the worst bores in music fandom, but the worst in any fandom. But the vast majority of comments are overwhelmingly positive, which seems to suggest there are a lot more prog fans reading The Guardian’s music coverage that previously thought.

A few words on the choices I made. For starters, it’s ten of the best, not the ten best. I could have picked an entire list taken from “The Yes Album“, “Close To The Edge” and “Going For The One“. But that would have been boring; instead I chose a cross-section from right across their career, going beyond the obvious standards to include less well-known and sometimes overlooked classics. I was aware that “Don’t Kill The Whale” in particular might raise a few eyebrows, but it’s a good example of their shorter, more commercial work.

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