A Band I Understand, But Don’t Like


Let’s get a few things straight first: I’m not here to talk about bands that I consider overrated. That would imply that I don’t think their music is as good as its fans/critics make it out to be and that they’re somewhat wrong in their judgement. That’s not the case here – this is a band that I totally understand why fans would go all crazy over (and they certainly do), it’s just that I’m not one of them. Their name is Yes, and they’re usually regarded as the quintessential progressive rock band, for better or for worse. And they are good. Very good. If prog rock is all about experimenting with new forms and structures, instrumental virtuosity, captivating the listener’s attention and keeping him studying forever, then Yes have definitely earned their place among the genre’s most proud representatives.

I’m no stranger to prog rock and people who follow my blog are aware of my love for Pink Floyd, Genesis and some of King Crimson’s work. So this is a band I should at least like, if not love. So why don’t I? To put it shortly and concisely, Yes don’t connect with me at all. They seem so distant (at times even alien), so preoccupied with playing their instruments that they forget that we – the audience – are here too. I hear no emotion, no genuine passion, neither in Jon Anderson’s vocals, nor in the other members’ (often brilliant and inventive) playing.

But don’t get the impression that I only like to listen to Nick Drake ballads. Emotional resonance comes in many forms for me, from The Stooges to Amy Winehouse, from Aretha Franklin to Jimi Hendrix. It’s just that Yes are always somewhere in-between. I enjoy listening to their music and I appreciate what they’ve done for the genre, but I just don’t feel it enough to call myself a fan.

But maybe that’s just me. As I’ve said before, Yes have a dedicated, numerous group of followers who either experience their music differently than me, or just don’t care about connecting with it as long as it’s interesting musically. Either way, no put-down on them. Quite the contrary, I’d like to read some comments defending the band. And if not, I’d also like to ask if there is a group that you feel the same as I do about Yes.

What’s a band you understand, but don’t like?


Categories: Essays


18 replies

  1. I can’t defend them because I don’t say yes to Yes—I find them too full of themselves and their cosmic little journeys to even care if fans follow along or not—-and fans follow in droves.

    There are two bands that have gained my respect (and only after a couple years blogging around music).

    Rush—OK-they are a good band-maybe even better than that but I still don’t care for them but i get why many do.

    And…and—I know you love these guys—The Beach Boys-I now see them as a quality product of their time and place—I even will not turn off a couple songs if they accidentally find their way to my listening device. I like “Sloop John B”


  2. Your headline was a good tease and I was not disappointed at all that the band you understand but don’t like was Yes. They are always great debate fodder. In fact, Yes is one of my top five bands of all time, a little behind my top two of the Kinks and the Clash.

    Like you, I adhere to the Big House theory of rock music. In that house, groups like Yes occupy the drawing room while others like the Clash, Pistols and Stooges take over the garage–they all have their place in the grand scheme. Believe me, I understand the self-serious charge against Yes. The first time I saw them was in ’74 performing the entire “Topographic Oceans” LP in sequence. Imagine the stage patter, “We’d like to carry on with side 3”.

    But I think too that the pretentiousness label was overplayed by critics over the years. If you look at their ’73 concert film (like I just did researching my next book) you see a band in top form really enjoying themselves, connecting with their fans on a cerebral level but also by rocking out. Same goes for when I saw the latest version of Yes (Howe-Squire-White and a young singer) just last month. By the encores, there was a whole bevy of young women half my age or younger dancing in the aisles to “Starship Trooper.” Go figure.

    As for my own band in this category, I’ll second what Wayne said about Rush.


    • Rick, what’s your next book about? I will be checking out the ’73 concert film some time. Also interesting to see both The Clash and Yes in your top five, two seemingly opposite bands, yet sharing the same type of big ambitions that gave birth to both Topographic Oceans and Sandinista, I think.


      • It’s a viewer’s guide called “Rock Docs: A 50-Year Cinematic Journey” hopefully out the first half of next year. I know having both Yes and the Clash in my top 5 bands is a bit odd, but maybe not that unusual for a late baby-boomer like me (born in 1958). The big prog bands were all the rage in high school but by my early 20s, when I had moved to the city, punk was in full swing. Also, if Pete Townshend’s “creepiness” is what I think it is, I believe that episode was greatly misunderstood. I look forward to his explanation as Pete’s autobiography is next on my reading list.


  3. As a mega-Yes fan since I was a teenager I disagree with many of your statements about them, but I also understand why you & many others have never warmed up to them. There have definitely been times over the years when they’ve lost the plot a bit, and sometimes the musicianship has overshadowed the songwriting, but there are many albums that are stunning achievements (most notably “Close To The Edge,” which is my vote for the definitive prog-rock album, or at the very least the prog album I would recommend to someone who’s never listened to prog before). My guess for the reason why most Yes detractors can’t warm up to their music is the often indecipherable lyrics. Even I blank out on them occasionally, thinking of Jon Anderson’s voice as simply another instrument and not just a “lead vocal.”

    Off the top of my head, two bands I “understand” but don’t really like are The Smiths and Pearl Jam, and in both cases it’s because I’ve never enjoyed their lead singers. Musically they’re both excellent, and I’ve even come around to some Smiths albums because Johnny Marr is such a unique guitarist, but I don’t see either band becoming more than a musical footnote for me.


    • Yeah, the lyrics may have something to do with it. I’m not sure I would like the band more if they were different, but it would probably help. Thanks for stopping by Rich, it is always great to read what you have to say.


  4. I’m okay with Yes, mostly because I hear the music frequently when my husband goes on Yes jags. He’s a big prog rock fan. I saw them in concert once, and they were great live.

    For me, there are several bands I feel that way about. One is the Who. I just can’t get past Townsend’s creepiness, though I love specific songs. Black Sabbath is another.

    I think that certain combinations move you — band personality in addition to talent and musicianship. Then there’s the content of the lyrics, the point in life when you are introduced to their music and what other bands are competing for your ears at the same time.

    I’ve never been particularly moved by Springsteen, but then I saw him live a few years back, and it really opened my eyes. He’s not just a songwriter. There’s a whole package there, which is driven by a tremendous amount of passion. You can’t help but get caught up in it when you see him live. It’s amazing.


    • This is a great post, but please elaborate on the “Townshend’s creepiness” statement because I’m not sure what you mean by it and find it pretty offensive as it is (him being one of my musical heroes).

      Interesting Springsteen experience, though. I’ve just gotten into him after many failed attempts over the years. Something just clicked this time, maybe it’s the “point in life when you are introduced to their music” thing you speak of.


  5. Nice debate going on here, always appreciate a good one! The charms of YES escaped me until I decided to sit down and really give their first 3 albums a really good listen, on quality headphones. Rich is right, Close To The Edge is a fantastic album (although I’d rate Selling England By The Pound #1 official “Classic” prog album!). I find their music extremely warm, but agree that Anderson’s lyrics can be a little “alien”, as you say.


  6. I’m one of those GenXers who knows Yes more for their 1980s output than their more impressive stuff from the 1970s: “Leave It” occupies more brain space than “I See All Good People.” They don’t bother me; I don’t seek them out, either.

    I just can’t do Neil Young. His songwriting is deep; his guitar solos are classic. But then he opens his mouth, and the thready whine just defeats the purpose. (It’s not like everyone has to sing like a choirboy: I like Bob Dylan at all stages of his vocal decline.)

    For what it’s worth, I appreciate Springsteen without being all that much of a fan, maybe because right when I was at that “point in life” Tom Petty entered instead. Suddenly I went from avoiding watching the “Don’t Come Around Here No More” video to seeking out every song he’s ever done, every interview he’s given, and every scrap of film in which he appears. It’s amazing how songs that were in the background suddenly come to the fore.

    P.S. Why do you think prog rockers are all British? I can’t think of a single American band that would earn the label …


  7. My Bloody Valentine. Songs get by because they’re pretty, but I want actual discernible melodies and lyrics and good drumming and they don’t have those. (Well… a few melodies.)


  8. Interesting idea – I’m sure there’s several that fall into that category of “respect more than I like.”

    Pink Floyd may be mine. Totally see the appeal and wouldn’t take that away from anyone but for me (at least so far), food hasn’t tasted better after listening.


  9. Very accurate portrayal of the music, the fans and the rest of us about Yes.
    I am in full agreement. I saw them live in good seats on 3-18-1974 at the Great Western Forum, Inglewood and it was an excellent concert but like you I never connected with them the way I felt I should, It was like watching/listening to a band of relentless technicians (or an orchestra) and with no crowd interaction at all. Still one Hell of a classic concert and I’m thankful for the experience. http://00individual.wordpress.com/2012/06/03/top-ten-historic-classic-rock-concerts-1972-1975-6-and-5-rod-stewart-faces-yes/
    Scroll down past Rod and the Faces.
    There are many obscure barely-known bands that I adore that I connect with and that is far more pleasing in every aspect than I’ve ever got with Yes.
    One note; imagine seeing and hearing this music in ’73, it was incredible – light years from Chuck Berry, the Stones and the Beatles,
    Thanks for visiting my site – I’ll be back for more of yours!
    (As mentioned previously; great teaser title.)
    One last note: the true fans of Yes probably like/love them BECAUSE of their distance – there’s a lot to be said about just being entertained with no pressure to applaud every song, but with Yes that means you only have to applaud three or four times a show!


  10. Their incomprehensible lyrics do give them an esoteric quality, but I definitely connect with and feel their playing. However between their lyrics and the fact that their instrumentation always sounds rehearsed and mechanical rather than loose, I can understand why people don’t dig ’em. They’re one of my favorites tho


  11. My choice would be Queen. I love 70s fun pop music like ABBA and the Bee Gees, but I’ve just never clicked with Queen. They were extraordinarily talented but maybe hearing Bohemian Rhapsody one too many times in the 90s has hindered my appreciation. I also find Freddie’s voice almost too dramatic for me. Ugh sorry


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