A band’s name is important, and the legendary British group Yes may have one of the best of all time. It’s short, easy to spell, and undoubtedly positive.
And it also seems to perfectly fit the band’s adventurous, sometimes dreamy music. Maybe the simple name, in some way, has helped their music resonate with so many music fans for the last half-century.
We were curious about the inspiration behind such an affirmative moniker. So join us as we travel back to the late 1960s to discover the answer.
Let’s hit it!
The Story of Yes
Yes’s story begins in 1968 in London with five young musicians who created ambitiously artistic music almost from the start. Singer Jon Anderson was the powerful and captivating frontman for the group. The other members were bassist and harmony singer Chris Squire, guitarist Peter Banks, keyboardist Tony Kaye, and drummer Bill Bruford.
Steve Howe replaced Banks on guitar in 1970, and Rick Wakeman stepped in a year later on keyboards. These were the first of many different personnel changes over the years.
More than 20 different musicians have been a part of the band’s history at one time or another. Other key members have included Alan White (drums), Trevor Rabin (guitars), Geoff Downes (keyboards), and Jon Davison (vocals.)
The band has taken listeners on incredible sonic journeys throughout the different lineups, often with classical influences and mystical themes. They’re true pioneers of the prog-rock genre and are probably best known for their sprawling, long-form musical explorations. But they’ve also had intermittent success on the radio.
Yes entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017, with eight members officially recognized. They’re Anderson, Squire, Bruford, Kaye, Howe, White, and Rabin. At times during their long run, various ex-members splintered off into separate groups. They’ve certainly had no shortage of material or of fans wanting to experience their magic live.
Yes’s Best-Known Songs
While many people may associate Yes with their adventurous album tracks, they’ve had a few bonafide hits. Besides their vast catalog of deep cuts, a few great songs have become staples on classic rock radio.
Owner of a Lonely Heart
Strangely, the band’s biggest hit was a real departure from most of its recorded output. Guitarist Trevor Rabin already had a demo of this song when they began work on the 1983 album 90125.
This bold and funky single bounded up to Billboard’s top spot, making it the only Yes song to hit #1. To this day, people hear the infectious dance groove and ask, “That’s Yes?”
Generations of beginner guitarists have found it irresistible to try and recreate this song’s iconic intro. It would take a lot more practice to play the whole tune, though.
Lyrically, this great classic tune from the 1971 album YesSongs found inspiration in the traffic circles they encountered in Europe. Such intricate instrumentation remains a Yes hallmark, with various keyboards swirling amidst guitars, bass, and drums.
I’ve Seen All Good People
Go ahead, try not to sing along! You know the rest, “…turn their heads these days. So satisfied I’m on my way.” This stately, majestic classic from The Yes Album from 1970 has two parts. The first is titled “Your Move,” which uses the game of chess as an analogy for working out relationship issues. Listen closely for a couple of lyrical references to John Lennon.
How Did Yes Get Their Name?
Every band needs a name, and there’s no question that these London lads quickly settled on a good one. Exactly how they arrived at Yes isn’t clear-cut, however. Two versions of the story exist.
In one telling of the tale, Anderson suggested the name Life while Squire countered with the idea of calling it World. Banks, the early guitarist, replied simply with a “Yes.” He may have had to clarify that he wasn’t agreeing with Squire but preferred Yes as the band name. Banks said in a later interview that he’d already had Yes in mind for some time.
But Anderson has also gone on record saying he’s the one who came up with Yes. He explained that he led a simple lifestyle, so he wanted a band name that wasn’t complicated, either.
We may never know who should get the credit, but everyone can probably agree it’s a winner.
What Is Yes Doing Now?
It’s a simple question to ask what a band’s doing these days, but with Yes, the answer is a bit complicated. Let’s put it this way: you have two choices if you want to see them live.
Delving into Yes’s past lineups can get confusing and convoluted, but we’ll attempt to sort it out. Lead singer Anderson has been in and out of the band he helped to found over a half-century ago, and he’s currently heading up an alternate version.
For a while, he and fellow former members Rabin and Wakeman carried on under the label ARW. But a few years back, he decided to lay claim to the classic name by adding some fine print. So their configuration’s official name is Yes Featuring Jon Anderson, Rick Wakeman, and Trevor Rabin.
Meanwhile, other members, including Steve Howe, Geoff Downes, and Jon Davison, continue to tour and record as Yes. Their 2023 release, Mirror to the Sky, is the band’s 23rd album. Unfortunately, founding member Chris Squire and longtime drummer Alan White have both passed away.
An Inspirational Band
You have to wonder if Yes would’ve had the same level of success if they’d called themselves No. We think not.
They came along at a time when many young people were looking for something positive and hopeful. Their music was indeed inspiring, and it continues to be. And, even if it’s on a subliminal level, you could argue that their name is also. While we’re not sure whom to give credit to, naming the band Yes was positively a great idea.
What’s your favorite Yes song? Let us know in the comments!