Yes membership was always fluid: nine guys had passed through over the years, and the band never recorded more than two studio albums in a row without some kind of roster disruption. To the remaining members this recent development with Anderson was just another change; they would soldier on. Still, his voice and lyrics were so integral that both fans and the still-standing Yesmen had to wonder if this would be one lineup change too many.
Enter The Buggles. The duo of singer-bassist Trevor Horn and keyboardist Geoff Downes had enjoyed a hit single with “Video Killed The Radio Star,” from their debut album, The Age Of Plastic (1979). Both men were very much in touch with the new wave sound then taking over the pop music landscape. (“Radio Star” showed just how in-touch they were: In 1981 a fledgling network called MTV would begin life with the song’s video, earning The Buggles their own place in pop culture history.)
It turned out that both Downes and Horn, who shared management with Yes,were fans. They wrote a song to present to Yes, and before they knew it, they were somehow in Yes. And these new members would inaugurate a band tradition that would continue into the new decade, with each lineup addition bringing a more contemporary edge to the sound.
Despite the latest twirl of Yes’ ever-revolving door, the band sought to recall certain elements from their past. Eddie Offord, whose name last appeared on Relayer, almost six years before, was called in to produce the new record, Drama, and Roger Dean designed the cover, his first for Yes since 1975’s Yesterdays compilation. And, possibly to assuage fans’ collective fears that The Buggles would steer Yes toward shorter songs (although a Buggles-free Yes would do just that a few years later), they led off Side One with “Machine Messiah,” which clocked in at 10 minutes, 27 seconds. Eddie Offord, Roger Dean, long songs—all that was well and good. But how did the album sound? For the first minute-and-a-half, it’s a slightly heavier Yes, as if they were taking the aggressive edge of Tormato’s “Don’t Kill The Whale” one step further. OK, so Geoff Downes’ keyboards fit in. Then, at 1 minute, 37 seconds, comes the most crucial moment: the entrance of new frontman Trevor Horn. Wow, you can imagine fans thinking on or around August 18,1980 (the album’s original release date), he does sound a bit like Jon. The vocals had a familiar ring, not only because of Horn’s similarity to Anderson but also because of Chris Squire and Steve Howe’s roles as backing singers, an infrequently cited component of “classic” Yes.
Still, despite familiarity, something wasn’t working. In the past when there was a major membership change (Howe replacing founding guitarist Peter Banks, Wakeman replacing original keyboardist Tony Kaye, White taking over for drummer Bill Bruford), the new blood always brought a fresh instrumental voice; no one had ever attempted to mimic a predecessor. Horn’s vocals did recall Anderson’s, but (especially live) he couldn’t hit Anderson’s trademark high notes. There was also the question of chemistry. Crucial Yes members have come and gone over the years (Howe, Wakeman, Bruford, etc.), and the band has survived, often meeting with greater commercial success.
But Yes history has proven that, lineup notwithstanding, Yes are Jon Anderson and Chris Squire.While that problem might not have been apparent in the studio—as Drama has many great moments—when the band hit the road, it was clear that although they were good, they just weren’t Yes. Not that the tour wasn’t successful: They sold out all of their U.S. dates, including a three-night stand at New York’s Madison Square Garden. But the homecoming shows didn’t go so well; the Brits weren’t as open-minded. After the tour Howe held a meeting at his house to determine the band’s future. By the end of the day Yes had called it quits. To this day, many fans consider Drama’s closing track, “Tempus Fugit,” to be one of the group’s best moments. Sadly, it (and the entire record) is -perhaps unfairly- ignored, largely due to Anderson’s reluctance to perform Drama songs live. Today White and Squire often throw in a bit of “Fugit” during their “Whitefish” dual solo performance,and the ecstatic crowd response is revealing.
After the drama of (them) Drama, Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes released one more Buggles LP, Adventures In Modern Recording, which featured “I Am A Camera,” a stripped-down version of “Into The Lens.” But by then the duo was drifting apart; Downes appears on only three Adventure tracks. The Buggles were history by 1982. Horn went on to launch ZTT Records, releasing albums by such new wave hitmakers as Frankie Goes To Hollywood and The Art Of Noise. As a producer he worked with a number of acts, including Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, ABC, Tina Turner- and even Yes (but that’s a story for another day).
Meanwhile, Downes and Howe left Yes for Asia, a prog-rock supergroup that also featured bassist-singer John Wetton (an alumnus of King Crimson, U.K., Family, Roxy Music, and Uriah Heep) and drummer Carl Palmer (formerly of Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Atomic Rooster). Howe split in 1983 to form GTR with ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett (their sole album, 1986’s GTR, was produced by Downes). In the ’90s Howe would rejoin Yes—twice—and release a veritable plethora of solo records. Oddly enough, Downes has assumed the “Squire” role in Asia, keeping that flame alight as members come and go.
Meanwhile, Squire and White stuck it out. Indeed, they’ve played together pretty consistently since White first joined Yes in 1972. After some aborted sessions with Led Zeppelin guitar god Jimmy Page, Chris and Alan recorded a single on their own, “Run With The Fox.” Eventually the duo would form the nucleus of what would be the Yes reunion. And in a few years the flame would reignite, with more ups and downs and a consistently fluctuating lineup. Drama would prove not to be the end of the road for Yes—just one of their temporary stops. —Brian Ives
1. Machine Messiah
2. White Car
3. Does It Really Happen?
4. Into The Lens
5. Run Through The Light
6. Tempus Fugit
7. Into The Lens (I Am A Camera)
Atlantic single #3676 (10/80)
8. Run Through The Light
Atlantic single #3801 (01/81)
9. Have We Really Got To Go Through This
10. Song No. 4 (Satellite)
(Howe/Chris Squire/Alan White)
Recorded at the Town House.
1 1 . T e m p u s Fugit (Tracking Session)
Recorded at the Town House,
12. White Car (Tracking Session)
Recorded at the Town House,
13. Dancing Through The Light
14. Golden Age
15. In The Tower
16. Friend Of A Friend
From the “Paris Sessions” (11/79)
Produced by Roy Thomas Baker
Performed by Jon, Steve, Chris, Rick & Alan
Audio mp3 320@kbps