By Tony Sokol
Progressive rock band Yes and the Electric Light Orchestra, the group that had the audacity to think strings meant they picked up where the Beatles left off, were inducted by a jukebox jury of their peers. Their peers? The musicians in Yes alone are peerless.
Bassist Chris Squire, who formed the band with singer Jon Anderson London in 1968, has some of the most prodigious fingers in the business. More than a match for Steve Howe, who could wail on the strings or caress them with solo acoustic brilliance, whether he’s in the mood that day or not. Classically trained pianist Rick Wakeman surrounded himself with walls of keyboards even as he journeyed to the center of the earth. Bill Bruford navigated complex time signatures. Esteemed beatkeeper Alan White is also the guy who put those signature drum fills in John Lennon’s single “Instant Karma.” Yes began as Mabel Greer’s Toyshop and also featured pianist and Hammond organ player Tony Kaye and the “architect of prog rock,” Peter Banks on guitar.
The Electric Light Orchestra reintroduced classic rock and roll to classical music when they rolled over Chuck Berry to dig Ludwig Von. Jeff Lynne, Roy Wood and Bev Bevan from the band The Move brought lush classical overtones to pop melodies in a rock ensemble in 1970. Their ambitious debut, “10538 Overture,” fused the history of music in a psychedelic pop single. I liked their first hit so much, to this day I can’t get it out of my head. Every song was filled with so much Strange Magic that the radio was saturated with ELO for decades.
ELO also made as much of a mark on film and TV and, in the case of the Xanadu, the Broadway stage. The band’s emotional versatility could fit any scene to suit any mood. Playfully suspenseful in Shaun of the Dead, it brought true suspense to Donnie Brasco. It was pure comedy in Billy Madison and Austin Powers, brought contrast to American Hustle and was downright heartbreaking in The Virgin Suicides.
Yes songs appeared on big and small screens from owning Freddy Krueger’s heart in his first TV special to all the good people who practice forensics on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Everybody Hates Chris but it is no disgrace to be loved by That 70s Show. Yes music brought suspense to Alphas and Fringe and kept the pace of the cars on Top Gear.
Yes’s biggest legacy is the consistent musicianship that keeps prog alive. ELO’s biggest legacy is that they kept on doing the Beatles work until Jeff Lynne basically became a de facto Beatle. He produced the band’s final singles, taking John Lennon’s rough demos and playing George Martin while George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney filled in the rests.