Synchronicity? Yes vs. Kansas
Many things seem to happen by chance. Sometimes, different things seem to happen around the same time. Sometimes there seems to be a meaningful relation. That's called synchronicity. Often that relation is purely coincidental, but it's still fun to dive in and take a closer look.
A few weeks ago, in the opening of David Taylor's article, Synchronicity? Prog Rock Woo-Woo! Tomatoes!, we told you this happened at a meta level here at DPRP.net headquarters, where in one month, we received two articles by two different authors about this very subject! We're not going to analyse that level of coincidence now, but will just continue with the second article, written by Connor Shelton (who also wrote Prog Rock From Different Angels and Prog Songs To Add To Your Christmas Playlist), about the similarities between Yes and Kansas.
A Career Trajectory Comparison
On July 7, 2021, the band Yes announced the completion of their 22nd studio album, The Quest. Their first record without longtime bassist Chris Squire who passed away in 2015, The Quest raises the question whether this is really Yes anymore. Half the band is made up of people who have been members for less than fifteen years, and the other half aren't even original members. Drummer Alan White and guitarist Steve Howe are the only reason the band can lay claim to the name Yes.
These details are eerily similar to the situation the band Kansas were in when they announced the release of The Prelude Implicit back in 2016. When that album came out, Kansas only had two of its original members in the band: drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Rich Williams. With that album, Kansas showed that despite a lack of classic members, they were still capable to create captivating music.
And while there is some debate as to the overall quality of the recently released, The Quest, Yes were able to conjure up memorable material for their album. Considering the commonalities between the perception and release of these albums, one must ask: do these two bands share any similarities besides the ones already mentioned? The answer is a resounding yes. If you'll allow me to indulge myself, I will share these curious similarities.
Formed in 1968.
Formed in 1973.
It is important to note when each band was formed to understand why, despite a similar career trajectory, the events are usually offset by a few years due to Kansas being a younger band.
Their classic run of albums is generally said to have lasted from 1971 to 1977, encompassing 6 studio albums plus a live record.
Their classic run of albums is generally said to have lasted from 1974 to 1978, encompassing 5 studio albums plus a live record.
Some people will argue that the Yes's golden period extends as far as 1979, despite how mixed the reception is to Tormato.
Some people will argue that Kansas's golden period extends as far as 1980, even though Audio Visions is sometimes seen as a step down from the band's earlier records.
Yessongs, the band's first live release, came out after their two most critically lauded and (then) commercially successful studio records, Fragile and Close To The Edge. Yessongs is often considered the band's best live album and one of the finest live albums in classic prog.
Two For The Show, the band's first live release, came out after their two most critically lauded and commercially successful studio albums, Leftoverture and Point Of Know Return. Two For The Show is often considered the band's best live album and is generally highlighted as one of the better live albums from a classic prog band (especially the remastered and expanded version that was released in 2008).
Jon Anderson has garnered a reputation as the band's driving force and de facto leader of Yes. Though he has more songwriting credits than any other member of the band, the assertion that Anderson was the driving force behind the band is questionable. Chris Squire was the band's sole constant member prior to his passing in 2015 and was largely responsible for putting the band together. Additionally, he was one of Anderson's two main songwriting partners along with guitarist Steve Howe.
Kerry Livgren has garnered a reputation as the creative genius behind Kansas and the de facto leader of the band during the 1970s. This is a gross over-exaggeration given that drummer Phil Ehart was largely responsible for putting the band together and lead vocalist Steve Walsh wrote just as many songs for the band as Kerry Livgren.
Towards the end of the band's classic lineup, tensions rose among band members which resulted in the recording and release of a sub-par album. For Yes, that album was 1978's Tormato.
Towards the end of the band's classic lineup, tensions rose among band members which resulted in the recording and release of a sub-par album. For Kansas, the sub-par (though still widely enjoyed) album was 1980's Audio Visions.
Following the release of 1978's Tormato and the subsequent tour, keyboardist Rick Wakeman and vocalist Jon Anderson left Yes during the demo sessions for the next album.
Following the release of 1980's Audio Visions and the subsequent tour, lead vocalist and keyboardist Steve Walsh left Kansas during the demo sessions for the next album and formed his own band.
Yes brought in Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn of the Buggles to replace Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson. The two musicians had little experience with traditional prog rock prior to joining the band.
Kansas brought in John Elefante to replace Steve Walsh. He had never been in any big, professional bands prior to joining Kansas.
In 1980, Yes released Drama. It marked a stylistic divergence for the band, incorporating elements of New Wave music into their sound.
In 1982, Kansas released Vinyl Confessions. It marked a progression towards simpler arena rock sounds for the band while also doubling down on the Christian lyrics that had been present in some of the band's previous songs.
Both albums were seen as a big change by fans, though in retrospect, said change is nowhere near as drastic as once was thought. Regardless, both bands split up after this new, short-lived lineup only for most of the members to regroup around the original lead singer a couple of years after the breakup.
Following the release of Drama, Yes toured the album, which received mixed reviews, and subsequently disbanded in 1981. Guitarist Steve Howe and Keyboardist Geoff Downes put together Asia shortly afterwards. Vocalist Trevor Horn went on to pursue a career in music production.
Following the release of Vinyl Confessions, Kansas went on tour and recorded another album. The album got a mixed response, and the band disbanded in 1984, following the release of their first compilation album, The Best Of Kansas. Guitarist Kerry Livgren and Bassist Dave Hope formed the band AD at the time of Kansas's dissolution. Vocalist John Elefante then went on to pursue a career as a producer in the Christian music industry.
In 1982, Chris Squire and Alan White put together a new band, Cinema, with guitarist Trevor Rabin and former Yes keyboardist Tony Kaye. During recording sessions, Jon Anderson was brought in to sing lead vocals, and Yes were officially reunited in 1983.
In 1985, Phil Ehart and Rich Williams reformed Kansas with original lead singer Steve Walsh, who brought in bassist Billy Greer from his band, Streets. Topping off the lineup was virtuoso guitarist Steve Morse who had played on Walsh's debut solo album.
To put things simply, each band regrouped around their original lead singer and replaced their classic guitarist with someone younger who helped reshape the band's sound.
In 1983, Yes released their 11th studio album, 90125. It dialed back the prog styling that had been a central part of Yes's DNA and moved the band toward a more mainstream pop/rock sound. The album also featured several hit singles, most notably, Owner Of A Lonely Heart.
In 1986, Kansas released their 10th studio album, Power. It moved the band towards a more mainstream rock sound and featured the hit single, All I Wanted.
Following the commercial success of 90125, Yes experienced difficulties recording the followup album due to producer Trevor Horn clashing with keyboardist Tony Kaye, eventually dropping out 2/3 of the way through the recording process.
Following the relative success of Power, Kansas experienced difficulties recording the followup album due to pressure from the label to put out a hit single. This resulted in producer Bob Ezrin (who had already been hard on Steve Walsh's lyrics) to leave the project 3/4 of the way through the project.
In 1987, Yes released their 12th studio album, Big Generator. Commercially, it didn't perform as well as its predecessor and Jon Anderson left the band shortly afterwards to pursue other musical ventures. The band went on a temporary hiatus as a result.
In 1988, Kansas released their 11th studio album, In The Spirit Of Things. Commercially, it did next to nothing due a lack of promotion from the label and the band went on a temporary hiatus as a result with Steve Walsh recording demos with Vince Dicola (and briefly auditioned for a position in Yes).
In 1989, Jon Anderson brought together all the members of classic Yes, save for bassist Christ Squire, to record an album and go on tour. A year later, Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe merged with Yes-West (Christ Squire, Alan White, Tony Kaye, Trevor Rabin) to “record” Union and to tour behind the album.
In 1990, the classic Kansas lineup (save for Robby Steinhardt) reunited to tour Europe, and in the next year, North America.
Each reunion was short lived, and soon afterward, each band reverted back to the then modern lineup.
Going back to 1991's Union, that album is considered by many of the band members as the low point of their career.
In 1992, Kansas released Live At The Whiskey, which some band members (Steve Walsh specifically) consider to be the most embarrassing moment in their career.
In 1994, Yes released Talk. Commercially, the album underperformed and was quickly forgotten about. In subsequent years, it has been described as an underappreciated record containing several latter-day classics (The Calling and Endless Dream).
In 1995, Kansas released Freaks Of Nature. Commercially, the album did nothing and it was largely forgotten after the supporting tour. In recent years, it has been described as a hidden gem and the band has gone on to play several songs from the record on recent tours (Hope Once Again and Cold Gray Morning).
From 1995 to 2000, Billy Sherwood was keyboardist, guitarist, and backing vocalist for Yes. He would later return in 2015 to replace outgoing (and soon to be deceased) bassist Chris Squire, a founding member of Yes.
From 1991 to 1997, David Ragsdale was violinist, guitarist, and backing vocalist for Kansas. He would later return in 2006 to replace outgoing violinist Robby Steinhardt, who was a founding member of the band.
A note from the writer: I wasn't quite sure where the best spot would be for the tidbit of information regarding the nature of Billy Sherwood and David Ragsdale's tenures in their respective bands. Given what comes next for Kansas, I figured I should place this no later than here.
In 1995, classic guitarist Steve Howe rejoined Yes. His first full length studio album upon rejoining was 1997's Open Your Eyes.
In 1997, founding member and violinist/vocalist Robby Steinhardt rejoined Kansas. His first full length studio album upon rejoining was 1998's Always Never The Same.
In 2001, Yes released Magnification. Though it did next to nothing commercially, it was generally seen as the band's best album in years. It would end being the last studio album the band recorded with lead singer and founding member Jon Anderson.
In 2000, Kansas released Somewhere To Elsewhere. Though it did not chart at all, it was generally seen by fans as the band's best album since the 1970s. It was also the last studio album the band recorded with lead singer and founding member Steve Walsh.
The focus of each band for much of the 2000s was touring, recording live albums, putting out compilations, and capitalizing on re-releases of previous studio albums (specifically those from the 1970s).
During the early/mid 2000s, The Syn - a precursor to Yes - reunited to record new music and tour, following the release of their original material in 2004 (which had never before been released).
During the early/mid 2000s, Proto-Kaw - a precursor to Kansas - reunited to record new music and tour, following the release of their original material in 2002 (which had never before been released).
In 2015, bassist Christ Squire took a break from Yes to focus on cancer treatment. His subsequent passing would result in the band being composed of only 2 "classic" members.
In 2014, lead vocalist Steve Walsh retired from Kansas due to vocal issues. His departure meant that the band would continue with only 2 original members.
And that brings us up to the present. Some fans believe that these bands should bring back their original lead singers while others have embraced the current vocalists. Some believe the act of recording new material is blasphemous and not “canon” while others have enjoyed the material. Regardless of the divide in opinion, these bands – which have been active for around 50 years – continue to tour and record. I say we should appreciate it while it lasts.
PS. Don't think I forgot about Tom Brislin. I'm well aware that he played with Yes back in 2001 and has been a member of Kansas since 2018. I just was not sure where to fit him in.