In the 1970s, Yes was a gateway band, along with Pink Floyd, King Crimson and, regrettably, Emerson, Lake and Palmer. They were the progressive rock bands that most dominated the mainstream, and thus introduced a different kind of rock ’n’ roll to a bunch of impressionable kids glued to FM radio.
Maybe from there you went on to Captain Beefheart, the 13th Floor Elevators, Can or even Thelonious Monk. Point being: The sprawling, druggy, ambitious, pretentious, challenging and often magical music produced by bands such as Yes frequently led to even more magic.
Yes and Pink Floyd owned the prog-rock scene throughout the ’70s, with Yes making its move with 1971’s “The Yes Album,” an album that included “Starship Trooper,” “I’ve Seen All Good People” and “Yours Is No Disgrace” — a stoner’s triple-play.
That album is one of three being featured on Yes’ new tour, which comes to the Louisville Palace Sunday. Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Alan White, Geoff Downes and Jon Davison will perform it, “Close to the Edge” and “Going for the One” in their entirety.
Squire, who co-founded the band with original singer Jon Anderson in 1968, said in an interview that choosing the three albums wasn’t difficult.
“The Yes Album” was the band’s 1971 breakthrough, he said, and a crucial bit of history. “Close to the Edge,” released in 1972, marked the first time they experimented with long-form songs arranged as a suite, which would become a trademark. “Going for the One” was the first album not recorded in England, representing the end of an era when released in 1977.
On the tour, “Close to the Edge” begins the show, followed by “Going for the One.” Squire said that they had tried different orders, but that closing the show with the album that launched their career felt right.
“I remember when we were making ‘The Yes Album,’ generally working the graveyard shift and going into the studio at 10 or 11 at night so we’d get the cheaper rates,” Squire, 65, recalled. “It was our third album, and if it didn’t do well there was the possibility that we might not be able to make a fourth album.”
But it did do well, reaching No. 4 in the United Kingdom and producing a minor hit single in the United States with “Your Move,” a section from the longer “I’ve Seen All Good People.” The album became a mainstay of commercial freeform FM radio in the U.S. In many ways, it’s a quintessential prog-rock album. The songs are notable for long instrumental stretches that showed off the band’s collective instrumental prowess, enigmatic lyrics with a mystical science-fantasy bent, and Anderson’s faerie-king voice.
It was also the first album to feature guitarist Howe, who brought a unique blend of rock, country and jazz that invigorated the close-harmony sound favored by Squire and Anderson, both fans of Simon & Garfunkel.
“Yes is a bit of a mixture of styles, and always has been,” Squire said. “In joining, Steve brought a myriad of sounds with him, which included some jazz influences and, in an odd way, country influences, as well. Steve, when he was young, was a big Chet Atkins fans. The whole musical landscape that Yes was achieving was broadened at that point.”
One thing didn’t change: Squire’s exquisitely melodic bass playing. Unlike in the vast majority of bands, then and now, Squire’s bass was used almost as a lead instrument and has been responsible for some of Yes’ most indelible moments, such as the nimble-yet-thunderous line that drives “Roundabout.” At all times, Squire’s bass was mixed as loudly as guitars, drums and keyboards.
“That was sort of a happy accident, for me, anyway,” Squire said, laughing.
Squire said that the producer of Yes’ second album, “Time and a Word,” decided to mix the record on headphones in order to create a more psychedelic sonic experience. But the signal he was being fed was very bass-shy, so he kept cranking the bass thinking it too low.
“There’s a funny twist to that story, too, because Steve Howe was actually in the control room with me while that was being mixed,” Squire said. “He had just joined the band even though he hadn’t played on that album, and he kept saying to me, ‘Wow, the bass is really loud,’ because we were listening on a pair of speakers.
“I said, ‘I don’t know, it sounds OK to me. That guy’s the producer, he must know what he’s doing!’ ”
Yes has been through a number of personnel changes over its 45 years together, most involving the comings and goings of Anderson and a rotating cast of keyboard players. But Squire, Howe and drummer White have been together for more than 40 years, and keyboardist Geoff Downes joined in 1980. Singer Davison, an American, joined last year.
Over the course of 20 studio albums and 10 live collections, Yes has had 14 other members not currently with the band, including five keyboard players and three singers. The changes have been bittersweet, Squire said.
“I always assumed that whenever we made a change, that it was going to be the final lineup,” he said. “Of course, things change and people leave, and that’s always a sad thing, but then somebody else comes in and brings fresh idea. That’s allowed us to change throughout the decades.”