You never forget your first love.
Particularly if the note you passed her asking if she felt the same way made her laugh at you and she showed the note to everyone in fifth grade and you were humilia–
-- wait, where was I? Oh, are we talking about music? For Rock Band? Let me start over.
When I applied for a design position at Harmonix, I had to fill out a design test, and one of the questions on it asked who my favorite musical artist or band was. Mine was Yes. They were the first band that I fell in love with, and that affection continues to this day (including their well-received recent release, Fly From Here).
I discovered the band during a unique time in their career. Yes had been massively popular for years – they had already sold out more consecutive shows at Madison Square Garden than Led Zeppelin – but they’d never been considered “pop.” So while it was unexpected to find Yes with a single at the top of the charts, it was the #1 hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart” (one of five songs coming next week) that introduced me to the band and their music.
That song, along with other singles from the band’s comeback album 90125, put this progressive band into heavy rotation on MTV… including a collaboration with video directors Godley and Creme that featured over a dozen video variants of just one song (“Leave It”). The videos caught my interest, but it was the music – slick, powerful but complex, lyrically unique, and rhythmically challenging – that left me wanting to hear more from the band.
There was little on 90125 that prepared me for the next CD I heard. Classic Yes is true to its name, and as a compilation of the band’s best, most refined work, it’s unsurprising that it features nearly every other song from next week’s DLC. “Heart of the Sunrise,” “Starship Trooper,” and “I’ve Seen All Good People” are sweeping epics that mix deft performance, ambitious songcraft and heartfelt emotion in ways I’d never heard before, and have seldom been emulated. After Classic Yes I devoured the rest of the band’s albums, and deeper cuts like “South Side of the Sky” demonstrate how the band’s musical approach – blending the structures of classical music, the exploratory freedom of jazz, and the raw power of rock – have propelled the band towards frontiers entirely their own.
There’s one other aspect of the band’s music that, for me personally, ties them uniquely to the Rock Band experience. As a fan and amateur musician, I would listen to Yes albums over and over again, immersing myself in the richness of their compositions. Through sheer repetition, I found myself able to trace the path of individual instruments within each song. The lockstep interplay of keyboards, bass, guitars eventually separated in my mind’s eye into the contributions of each performer. An unrecognized 5/4 drum beat over a 4/4 song became an epiphany on the power of polyrhythms. The three-part harmonies of song after song unraveled into disparate vocal threads. It was a threshold moment in my education of how music was made… and I get an eerily similar feeling each time I hear and perform “my” instrument while playing of a Rock Band song.
This is your chance to experience Yes in the same way – to understand their songs from the inside out. Also, I think it’s just really great music.
If you feel the same way, just check “Yes.”
Chris Foster (HMXSlappy) is design director at Harmonix. When not honing his skills in applied fungineering, he is also the main guitarist, vocalist and sometimes drummer for Speck. His kids are cute.