In Not Fade Away, we take a look at the legacy of some of the greatest albums of the past few decades – some iconic, some lesser known – as they celebrate significant anniversaries. Here, we look at Yes‘s astonishing reunion/reinvention on their 1983 album ‘90125.’
The early ’80s presented a big challenge to rock’s “old guard.” Sounds and vision were changing; by and large, artists who didn’t change with the times would be left behind. Synths and samples were becoming more and more common, as were promotional videos where fans would actually get to see their favorite artists. This presented a challenge to many legendary artists, but a handful — ZZ Top, David Bowie and Bruce Springsteen among them — adapted, and didn’t just retain their fanbase, but watched it grow in the MTV era. The same could be said for Yes, when they re-introduced themselves with 1983’s 90125.
A little bit of history here: Yes had actually split up after their 1980 tour for Drama, an album that saw the band replacing original singer Jon Anderson with Trevor Horn of the Buggles (Geoff Downes, also from the Buggles, replaced Rick Wakeman as the band’s keyboardist at that time as well). After going their separate ways, guitarist Steve Howe and Downes formed Asia and Horn went on to be a producer. Founding bassist Chris Squire (known to fans as “the keeper of the flame,” as he’s the only member to play on every Yes album – and he’s also the guy who owns the rights to the name) and longtime drummer Alan White stuck together. First, they attempted to start a new band, XYZ, with Jimmy Page, whose group Led Zeppelin had recently split as well. That didn’t work out, so they tried to work as a duo (their single, “Run With The Fox,” featured Squire on vocals). It turned out that the pair were, and are still, a great rhythm section. But on their own, they weren’t a great band.
Enter guitarist/singer/songwriter/keyboardist Trevor Rabin. He was a certified rock star in his home of South Africa, where he’d fronted a stadium headlining band called Rabbit. In recent years, though, he started a solo career, and found less success. But Squire heard some of Rabin’s demos for his next solo album, and liked them. He reached out, and the trio called Cinema was soon born. But it wouldn’t have much longer of a life than XYZ, as it would turn out.
After meeting up with founding Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye at a social function, Squire invited him to join the band, so Rabin could concentrate on guitar and singing. Of course now Cinema was now made up of 75% ex-Yes members (although Kaye and White had never been in the band at the same time). Soon, former Yes singer Trevor Horn was invited to produce the record. During the sessions, the group realized that they wanted a frontman for the group. And yes, another Yes member was extended the invitation to join. But with Jon Anderson on vocals, it made more sense to call the band “Yes.” But was it still Yes? Well, other than Squire as a constant on bass, the band had cycled through two singers, two guitarists, two drummers and four keyboardists over the years. One of the songs on the new album was called “Changes,” and this was just the latest change for the group.
In a recent Radio.com interview with Chris Squire – who is currently preparing for a new Yes album with a lineup that includes White, Downes, Howe and brand new singer Jon Davison – the bassist discussed the band’s turnover rate. “It’s the turning of the cog. The interaction with a different musician causes a different effect and different music. Having Trevor Horn as the producer was good, he’d had a track record of success as a producer. But we had two Trevors, and we had to give them both nicknames! But that’s a prime example of Yes changing.”
Sonically, 90125 was a huge change from the earlier Yes. Gone were the sprawling Roger Dean illustrations on the album covers, replaced by computer generated angular images. Also gone: the multi-part epic compositions, replaced by tight, concise songs powered by Rabin’s hard rocking guitar. Squire says, “In fact, after the long pieces and clever musicality in a lot of our ’70s productions, it was refreshing to be more of a rock band on 90125. And who knew that ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ would be a #1 (hit)? It was an exciting time.”
“Owner” was the band’s first and only chart topping single, but the album was stocked with hits that kept them on pop radio, and recast them for a new decade. Now, instead of being classified with Emerson Lake & Palmer and King Crimson, they were being played in between the Police, Michael Jackson and Men At Work on MTV. As Squire remembers, “It was our biggest selling record, yeah. And what it did was, it brought in a whole bunch of new fans, a new wave of Yes fans.”
These days, if you see Yes in concert, you’ll probably only hear the band perform “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” from the 90125 era. As Squire says, it’s not because he doesn’t like the album: “It’s only because of the character of the music, and the character of the guitar player as well,” referring to current guitarist Steve Howe. “Trevor doeesn’t do a bad job of imitating Steve, but it doesn’t work as well the other way around. I wouldn’t really push the issue. Maybe at some point in the future we’ll try and do another expanded Yes as we did in 1991, and maybe that will give us some opportunity to do some more of that music. But right now we’re forging on with the new project.” Which has always been the Yes way.
‘90125’ is one of the albums included in the just-released box set ‘The Studio Albums 1969-1987.’
— Brian Ives, Radio.com