The Diversifyin’ Late 60s/Early 70s, Part I: The Name of The Band Is Yes
Most people (rightfully) believe rock music came from the hybridization of country and blues music. After all, the early rock and rollers like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis played nothing more than twelve-bar blues with a country backbeat. But toward the end of the sixties, rock music had a sub-genre explosion, with rock and roll giving way to [blank]-rock (the blank filled with some adjective, e.g. “hard,” “country,” “blues,” and cetera.) Progressive rock, though, while still in the blanket term of “rock,” has little to no blues background. Yes, especially by the time they hit their stride with The Yes Album and Fragile, were little more than a classical music ensemble playing rock instruments.
Their harmonies came straight from The Rutles and Simon and Garfunkel, but their music had serious classical influences. Guitarist Steve Howe was classically trained, on Fragile, keyboardist Rick Wakeman played Brahms, and rather than the three minute pop song, Yes compositions ended up as ten minute suites, seldom in the usual verse chorus bridge from. Progressive rock was the antithesis of garage bands. The musicians in Yes and other bands like King Crimson, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, and Genesis studied for most of their lives on their instruments and knew music theory. When they finally interrupted the six minutes of instrumental noodling for singing, the lyrics would usually be nonsense strung together with Lewis Carroll imagery. Garage bands tend to practice for all of ten minutes before writing some three-chord verse-chorus songs with angst-ridden lyrics.
To be sure, the same noodling that made the progressive rockers famous also ended them when they got too much ego. When it came time for Yes to release a follow-up to the wildly successful Fragile, they released Close To The Edge, a three-song LP full of self-importance, which no one wanted to hear and certainly now sounds dated. But Yes left their legacy throughout the bands in the seventies. Gone were the days of wunderkinder in bands that taught themselves guitar by listening to beat-up blues forty-fives. Too many kids grew up listening to virtuosi like Clapton or Howe, and by the time the middle of the seventies came, every band seemed to have a well-educated, studied, crackerjack guitarist that could play anything, leading to bands like Foreigner or Styx or Van Halen Musical Group (not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that.)
What impact did this have on popular music? Well, that’ll be in Part II...