Far and away the longest lasting and the most successful of the '70s progressive rock groups, Yes proved to be one of the lingering success stories from that musical genre. The band, founded in 1968, overcame a generational shift in its audience and the departure of its most visible members at key points in its history to reach the end of the century as the definitive progressive rock band. Their audience remained huge because they had always attracted younger listeners drawn to their mix of daunting virtuosity, cosmic (often mystical) lyrics, complex musical textures, and powerful yet delicate lead vocals.
Lead singer Jon Anderson started out during the British beat boom as a m ember of the Warriors, who recorded a single for Decca in 1964; he was later in the band Gun before going solo in 1967 with two singles on the Parlophone label. He was making a meager living cleaning up at a London club called La Chasse during June of 1968, and was thinking of starting up a new band. One day at the bar, he chanced to meet bassist/vocalist Chris Squire, a former member of the band the Syn, who had recorded for Deram, the progressive division of Decca.
The two learned that they shared several musical interests, including an appreciation for the harmony singing of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, and within a matter of days were trying to write songs together. They began developing the beginnings of a sound that incorporated harmonies with a solid rock backing, rooted in Squire's very precise approach to the bass. Anderson and Squire saw the groups around them as having either strong vocals and weak instrumental backup, or powerful backup and weak lead vocals, and they sought to combine the best of both. Their initial inspiration, at least as far as the precision of their vocals, according to Squire, was the pop/soul act the Fifth Dimension. They recruited Tony Kaye, formerly of the Federals, on keyboards; Peter Banks, previously a member of the Syn, on guitar; and drummer Bill Bruford, who had only just joined the blues band Savoy Brown a few weeks earlier. The name Yes was chosen for the band as something short, direct, and memorable.
The group's break came in October of 1968 when the band, on the recommendation of the Nice's manager, Tony Stratton-Smith (later the founder of Charisma Records), played a gig at the Speakeasy Club in London, filling in for an absent Sly & the Family Stone. The group was later selected to open for Cream's November 26, 1968, farewell concert at Royal Albert Hall. This concert, in turn, led to a residency at London's Marquee Club and their first radio appearance, on John Peel's Top Gear radio show. They subsequently opened for Janis Joplin at her Royal Albert Hall concert in April 1969, and were signed to Atlantic Records soon after.
Their debut single, and Anderson and Squire's first song entitled "Sweetness," was released soon after. Their first album, Yes, was released in November of 1969. The record displayed the basic sound that would characterize the band's subsequent records, including impeccable high harmonies, clearly defined, emphatic playing, and an approach to music that derived from folk and classical far more than the R&B from which most rock music sprung -- but it was much more in a pop music context, featuring covers of Beatles and Byrds songs. Also present was a hint of the space rock sound (on "Beyond and Before") in which they would later come to specialize. Anderson's falsetto lead vocals gave the music an ethereal quality, while Banks' angular guitar, seemingly all picked and none strumme