90125 – Yes (1983)

90125 album cover
90125 album cover

Turbulence makes for rough flying, but can sometimes make great rock. In the case of Yes, the high flying kings of prog rock, the bands long career suddenly came to a halt after long term issues played out. As key members quit and ran off to start new bands like Asia, the old Yes was in limbo. In all of the confusion a new band called Cinema was about to pick up from the old Yes had left off.

Cinema was not supposed to be Yes at all. In fact it was likely to be an updated approach to the old big progressive rock sound. Many songs had already been written by Trevor Rabin, one of the new members by the time Jon Anderson, one of the original members of Yes came back. At the record company’s urging and to the dismay of one of Rabin, Cinema would become Yes. And just like that a new Yes for the ’80s was formed. Even the cover art boldly announced the band’s divorce from its past as new fangled computer generated art replaced the usual Roger Dean sci-fi fantasy.

However, Jon Anderson’s return was a key link to the past and it insured that the new Cinema Yes might get noticed. Anderson, the voice of so many Yes classics from the 1970s was already something of a rock legend. The band’s line up was not the only thing to change as it had moved its home base from London to Los Angles, prompting fans to call this stage of the band Yes-West.

The change in weather alone must have influenced a fresh new outlook, but it would be Trevor Horn, one of the most sought after producers of the time, who figured most prominently in the new Yes  sound. 90125, the band’s 11th album would derive its name from a simple record company catalog number, however that would be the only random element about it.

Horn’s production would tame the sprawling experimental impulses Yes had been known for into conscise street smart pop rock. One needed only to look no further than the catchy hit ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’, the band’s first #1 to see how successful the formula was. Yes was no longer a bunch of old creepies whose music recalled UFO conventions, the Yes of the ’80s was a  hard charging and dance-able pop machine.

As a hit machine,  90125 was well oiled as a string of  popular singles like ‘Hold On’, ‘It Can Happen’ and ‘Leave It’ got high rotation on rock radio stations from. ‘Leave It’ and Owner of a Lonely Heart’ had interesting videos that captured the new spirit of the band while providing MTV with rock that had mainstream pop appeal.

The span of time in which the first single released (‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’ ’83) to the last  (‘Hold On’ ’85) would be almost two years 1985. Part of the prolonged exposure was due to a successful tour and mini album, the EP 90125Live extending the original album’s material.

90125 was by far the most successful Yes album ever, topping the sales of all their previous ’70s era albums. In further vindication of the re-vamped band, Yes would get its first Grammy Award and be nominated for another on the strength of ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’ (winner) and the 90215Live EP (nominated).

A common narrative would follow afterward, as all hit machines slow down at some point. Sales would take a gradual spike down after the follow-up Big Generator in 1987. By the ’90s replicating the critical and commercial acclaim of 90125 proved elusive (although they went back to using cool Roger Dean cover art).


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