Top '80s Songs from the Revamped Lineup of Classic Rock Band Yes

Though known best for its string of '70s progressive rock album statements built around impeccable musicianship, British rock band Yes also enjoyed an active and fruitful '80s period that focused on shorter, more accessible mainstream rock impulses. Some purist fans probably scoffed at this more conventional direction, but the fresh input provided by new band members created an interesting balance between melodic arena rock and esoteric musical exploration. The results often work quite well, and here's a chronological look at the very best songs from the more pop-oriented but still engaging '80s albums from legendary classic rock band Yes.

1980's Drama is the least-known Yes recording of the '80s and also the first not to feature Jon Anderson on lead vocals. Instead, remaining core members of the lineup serendipitously stumbled into a collaboration with Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes of The Buggles, with the former musician admirably filling in as frontman for that single album. This track is appropriately epic, benefiting not only from the precise musicianship of guitarist Steve Howe and bassist Chris Squire but also the quirky gifts of Horn. "I am a camera," Horn repeatedly sings, and partly because he tones down the stylized new wave he put forth in The Buggles, the song registers as an underrated, appealing triumph from this short-lived version of Yes.

Though Anderson famously returned for the smash 1983 LP, 90125, arguably the most important contributor to that album's biggest hit was South African guitarist and singer-songwriter Trevor Rabin, who originated many of the record's song ideas. This number one U.S. pop hit from late 1983 contains many memorable elements, not the least of which is its nifty power chord opening. Ultimately, Anderson took over lead vocals and helped tweak the song's composition, but Rabin's keen sense for AOR melodicism clearly helped raise the potential for massive pop success. The combination of Rabin's big arena rock hooks with Horn's keyboard-focused production also contributed to a perfect-storm moment of musical alchemy.

Eastern-sounding guitar effects quickly lead into some fantastic verse vocals from Anderson to begin this highly atmospheric, fourth charting single from 90125. The song later became a staple on classic rock radio, and its versatility in terms of both sonic experimentation and mainstream rock appeal earned a spot there. Specifically, the freshness of the Rabin-Anderson shared vocals here works far better than it probably should, mainly because the song quality remains so consistently high. Few bands either veteran or new were able to make anthemic rock this solidly enjoyable during the mid '80s, and that distinction helps recommend this choice album track nearly three decades later.

This one easily gets my vote for the absolute finest '80s Yes track of all, mainly because the marriage of progressive rock and melodic arena rock qualities is so skillfully accomplished. After all, this track's intro stands up well to memorable instances of '70s Yes instrumental bombast. However, then Rabin manages a seamless, exhilarating shift into an absolutely brilliant, muscular guitar riff that in turn leads wonderfully into arpeggiated acoustic guitar magic. Rabin deserves the chance he maximizes here to be full-on frontman, and his vocals during the verses prove that he remains a highly underrated rock singer of the period. Of course, having Anderson to come in at selected moments doesn't hurt either, and all of these components help make "Changes" one of the greatest commercial rock songs of the '80s.

Overall, 1987's long-awaited and long-toiled-over Big Generator turned out to be a bit of a dud compared to other Yes offerings. Sadly, the album's hit songs, the tepidly titled "Rhythm of Love" and "Love Will Find a Way," simply don't measure up even to the best of 90125, much less classic '70s Yes. Nevertheless, this album track manages to capture some of the ethereal strengths that have always lent the music of Yes a certain dignity and shimmering appeal. Anderson's vocal performance feels meaningful on the strength of its delicate melodic beauty if not through the lyrics themselves. 90125 is clearly the one '80s Yes album to own, but this tune deserves repeat listens as well.