The Tuk Ten, Day 6: YES – 90215 (1983)
When a band or ensemble endures and stays commercially viable for 50 years, that demands attention. Yes is one of those bands. Of course, since their formation in 1968, many musicians have passed through their ranks. Detractors point to that as a satirical characteristic of the band.
While the band’s discography is as lengthy as one would expect, there was one recording in particular that rejuvenated the band in the early 1980s and created a new generation of fans that would propel the band forward into the present day.
There are so many Yes alumni that there are actually TWO bands touring simultaneously right now under the Yes banner: “Yes”, which is comprised of Steve Howe (guitar), Alan White (drums), Geoff Downes (keyboards), Billy Sherwood (bass) and Jon Davison (vocals). Of that group of performers, not one was an original member. Howe and White each have decades of time in however, and provide a strong, authentic link to the original material.
The second version of the band is being billed as “Yes featuring ARW”. The A, R and W in this case being Yes co-founder Jon Anderson (vocals), Trevor Rabin (guitars), and Rick Wakeman (keyboards). Rounding out this lineup are bassist Lee Pomeroy and drummer Lou Molino, who form an absolutely monster rhythm section to anchor what is arguably the heavier sound that Trevor Rabin’s guitar heroics bring.
No discussion of the band should be had without an acknowledgement of the genius of late bassist and band co-founder Chris Squire, who passed away in the summer of 2015. Until his death, Squire was the only band member that appeared on every one of the band’s recordings.
In the preceding four paragraphs, one quickly sees the difficulty in talking or writing about Yes, as each written piece or conversation demands that the participants first set the table on what personnel exactly are being discussed. This is a marketer’s and storyteller’s nightmare.
While there are many historical versions of the band, there are three lineups that were the most artistically valid. First, the founding lineup: Anderson, Squire, guitarist Peter Banks, keyboardist Tony Kaye and drummer Bill Buford. (Yes, the same Bill Buford from King Crimson profiled earlier in this series). This version of the band produced some enduring albums in rapid succession: Yes (1969), Time and a Word (1970), The Yes Album (1971), Fragile (1971), and Close to the Edge (1972).
The “Classic” lineup: Anderson, Squire, White, Wakeman and Howe, which brought the band’s true artistic high water mark: Going for the One (1977), which contains the band’s masterpiece, a 15 minute magnum opus entitled Awaken, which the band plays to this day.
However, none of those albums are in The Tuk Ten — although, Going for The One and Close to the Edge certainly gets an honorable mention as one of their absolute best. The album from the Yes canon that was the most pivotal was the one record that revived the band from a hiatus, contained a Billboard Number One hit, and propelled the band forward for the next thirty five years. This one album breathed life into a band that was arguably dead in the water. In fact, the band had broken up in 1981. The record was mysteriously titled: 90125.
90125 to this day is an album that sounds fresh, relevant, and vital thirty five years later. The engineering on this record is absolutely startling, courtesy of British hit maker Trevor Horn, who produced this record. Horn’s credits as a producer are formidable: Paul McCartney, Tom Jones, Cher, Grace Jones, Seal, Tina Turner, Pet Shop Boys, Simple Minds, Charlotte Church, t.A.T.u., LeAnn Rimes and Genesis.
This record started as a project of Chris Squire and Alan White, who were teamed up with a pop star from South Africa named Trevor Rabin. Rabin had already experienced real commercial success in his prior projects and was being heavily recruited in the UK by bands like Foreigner and Asia. It was with Squire and White that the real connection happened. They recruited original band member Tony Kaye to play keyboards, and the band was to forge ahead as a quartet with Rabin on guitar and lead vocals.
When Jon Anderson was invited to come in to hear some of the 90125 tracks and sang a few takes, the group realized that Anderson was the missing piece and the band adopted the name Yes and carried on.
This album endures for several reasons.
90125 was an absolutely stunning departure from the band’s prior work from an arranging standpoint. Prior Yes albums included long form pieces, some that ran in excess of 15 minutes, consuming the entire side of an LP. Songs like Gates of Delirium, Close to the Edge, The Revealing Science of God, Ritual, Awaken, and a few others come to mind. This was a band steeped in western classical musical sensibilities, and their song composition and arranging reflected that.
Despite such a grandiose heritage, 90125 is study in concision. There are no wasted verses, bridges, or choruses. There are no excessive solos. There are no meandering fade outs. There is not one wasted note on this record. Every note and transition has a purpose. The material throughout is uniformly strong, and this is a record that one listens to front to back in one pass and there are simply no weak moments whatsoever.
The record also had a strong focus on vocal harmonies. Anderson and Squire idolized the Everly Brothers and the combination of their voices was an distinctive as Simon and Garfunkel, or any other vocal duo in rock history. When Rabin’s voice was added to the mix, the band essentially had two lead singers. They worked in tandem and gave one another room to shine. The resulting variety in vocal shapes on this record — in the relatively short time constraints of the LP format — is one of the aspects of this record that is so appealing.
The record’s opening track, Owner of a Lonely Heart, is still crisply performed and arranged even by today’s standards. Trevor Rabin’s guitar solo is absolutely razor sharp. The CMI Fairlight-sampled horn stabs that occur in the end of the intro in Owner were trend setting enough to be emulated by Duran Duran on their 1985 hit A View to A Kill, which was composed for the James Bond film of the same title.
From a commerial standpoint, 90125 was the most successful album Yes ever released. Owner was Yes’s first Billboard Number One hit. It Can Happen, Changes, and Leave It all reached the Billboard top ten. It’s pretty hard to imagine that happening now.
Owner is followed by a guitar-driven Hold On, which has a heavy half time shuffle feel. Rabin’s guitar playing is the star here, although this song features a non-sequitur acapella section, which is a feature of Yes arranging for which they are famous.
Changes, the fourth track on the album was also a hit, although less successful on the charts than Owner was. Changes starts in an odd, compound time signature (5/4 plus 7/4 for those of you scoring at home), and then releases itself into a wide open, 4/4 feel with Alan White laying a backbeat down that is every bit the equal of any of his peers then or now. This track is punctuated by Trevor Rabin guitar breaks that showcase his technical excellence and Horn’s ear for production.
Side two of the album opens with an instrumental entitled Cinema, which garnered the band a Grammy award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
As a collection of songs, side two of this record surveys a diverse array of feels and arrangements. Leave It was a vocal harmony tour de force — back in the pre-AutoTune days, when bands actually had to be able to hit and hold pitches and harmonize. The penultimate track on the album is an idiosyncratic rock track called City of Love, which features a heavy rhythm section and guitar but that seamlessly switches back between a heavy rock feel and a swing feel on the choruses.
The final piece on 90125 is a beautifully wandering piece called Hearts. No exposition necessary here, the piece speaks for itself. Hearts is the place where the band stretches out from an arranging standpoint, to hearken back to the prior records and give something for the original fans to hold onto.
90125 is as fresh and relevant now as it was when it was released. This is one of those essential records that belongs in your collection. As fans of this band are quick to quote, YES stands for You Experience Salvation.
Owner of a Lonely Heart
It Can Happen
City of Love
Bryan Tuk is a author, attorney and musician. His recent book: risk, create, change: a survival guide for startups and creators, is available on Amazon. You can find out more about Bryan’s writings and music at http://riskcreatechange.com
His law practice represents clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey and focuses on arts & entertainment law matters, copyrights, trademarks, nonprofit organizations, startups and entrepreneurs. You can learn about Bryan’s law practice at http://tuklaw.com.