Jon Anderson: vocals
Tony Kaye: keyboards
Trevor Rabin: guitars, keyboards, vocals
Chris Squire: bass guitars, vocals
Alan White: drums, percussion, vocals
Keyboards programmed by Jonathan Jeczalik and Dave Lawson
Trevor Horn: additional vocals (1, ?) [uncredited]
Produced by Trevor Horn except "Hold On"
produced by Trevor Horn and Yes
Engineered by Gary Langan
Additional engineering by Julian Mendelson and Stuart Bruce
Assistant engineer: Keith Finney
1. Owner of a Lonely Heart [Rabin/Anderson/Squire/Horn] (4:27)
2. Hold On [Rabin/Anderson/Squire] (5:15)
3. It Can Happen [Squire/Anderson/Rabin] (5:39)
4. Changes [Rabin/Anderson/White] (6:16)
5. Cinema [Squire/Rabin/White/Kaye] (2:09)
6. Leave It [Squire/Rabin/Horn] (4:22)
7. Our Song [Anderson/Squire/Rabin/White] (4:16)
8. City of Love [Rabin/Anderson] (4:48)
9. Hearts [Anderson/Squire/Rabin/White/Kaye] (7:34)
Notes: (*****) Yes' redefined sound for this album was a major commercial success, spawning the group's first ever US #1 single ("Owner of a Lonely Heart").
The album has a complex history. The previous Yes line-up—Squire, White, Horn, Steve Howe and Geoff Downes—had broken up at the beginning of 1981. Squire and White continued to work together, including in an abortive band called XYZ with Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page. Horn had completed a second Buggles album, but was concentrating more on producing than performing. Howe and Downes had ended up back together in Asia, a progressive rock supergroup, who surprised everyone by playing in a more mainstream, AOR style.
Some years before, a young South African guitarist, Trevor Rabin, had come to the UK to escape the apartheid regime. He had led Rabbitt, South Africa's biggest ever band, whose first single had been a cover of Jethro Tull's "Locomotive Breath". A series of solo albums had not been commercial successes and Rabin's name had been connected with various band plans. Circa 1980, Geffen had tried to put together a band with Rick Wakeman, John Wetton, Carl Palmer and Trevor Rabin, but Wakeman had pulled out, scuppering the plan. Another plan was to join Rabin, Keith Emerson and bassist Jack Bruce (who played on Rabin's Wolf). Rabin was being considered as a fifth man in the new Asia (with Wetton, Palmer, Howe and Downes) when he instead accepted an invitation to work with Squire and White.
The trio began working on the XYZ material largely written by Squire, although none of that ever made it to 90125. Instead, 90125 comes more than anything from a set of demos Rabin had been hawking around. Several songs on the album can be traced back to those demos, although there were many changes along the way. Squire, White and Rabin (on guitars and lead vocals) decided they needed a keyboard player and reportedly Eddie Jobson (who had worked with Wetton and Bill Bruford in UK) was approached. Jobson was busy with his solo album, The Green Album (which has a quite similar sound to 90125 as it happens), and said no. Next, Squire suggested former Yes keyboardist, Tony Kaye.
Another ex-Yes member was the next to join the new band. Trevor Horn was drafted in as the band's lead singer, an idea that was soon abandoned, but Horn remained as producer. The band, by now known as Cinema, worked on several songs, many of which did not make it to the final album. With three quarters of the performers and the producer ex-members of Yes, that history was present and it is reported that the band were planning to play some Yes songs live when they toured. The band was announced to the press and an album took shape. However, there was some pressure for the band to have a different lead vocalist and Squire played Jon Anderson some of Cinema's material. Anderson was enthused and joined the band: the return of the Yes name was inevitable.
The story of quite how Anderson came to join—or re-join?—the band seems too simple to me. Squire and Anderson had been estranged since arguments over band finances and musical direction that saw Anderson leave Yes in 1980. Their wives were reportedly even more at odds. It seems not unlikely that Squire very deliberately courted Anderson to bring him back, perhaps recognising that a reformed Yes would have an easier time than an entirely new band. Whichever, Rabin was resistant to adopting the Yes name, fearing the weight of the band name's history—quite rightly given how many Yes fans responded to him!
The new Yes finished recording the album. Anderson was too late to have much impact on the music: his co-writing credits seem largely to have been in the lyrics.
It appears to be around this point that an important legal agreement was drawn up between the members of the new Yes, Steve Howe and Rick Wakeman. This laid out terms for the use of the Yes name: for example, only current members of the band were allowed to use the Yes name prominently in their promotion. The new line-up got the name and Howe and Wakeman were paid off.
Band membership wasn't quite settled however. Tony Kaye was to leave the band towards the end of sessions for the album. Most of the latter stages of putting the album together were done by Rabin and Horn, with Rabin playing most of the keyboard parts. The band again approached Jobson, who this time accepted. He never recorded any music with the band, but Jobson was in the band for the filming of the video for "Owner of a Lonely Heart". (The final video has been poorly re-cut to exclude Jobson, rather damaging the flow of the story parts, but he can be seen in a few scenes.)
However, Kaye soon returned, some rumours suggest he used the prior legal agreements to lever his way back into the band. As Jobson tells it, the band suggested having two keyboardists, but Jobson refused and walked. The band members suggest they wanted rid of Jobson anyway. Either way, Jobson was also paid off, making three people not on the album to profit from it!
The album's opener, "Owner of a Lonely Heart", is Yes's sole #1 single and probably their best known song worldwide (although it did less well in the UK). Rabin felt the song was unsuitable for Yes, too mainstream, but it was Horn who argued for it all the way along. Horn's knack of picking singles had led to similar stories since (e.g. Seal's "Kiss from a Rose" on the second Seal album). "Owner of a Lonely Heart" and the album as a whole made a huge impact. Yes were bigger than ever before in the US, a surprise commercial success, but many previous Yes fans were shocked at the new sound, more mainstream, more AOR. A huge tour followed—see 9012Live—before the more difficult creation of second album by the same line-up—see Big Generator.
Many songs from the 90125 sessions never made it to the finished album. Some were eventually released elsewhere—YesYears, the 2004 expanded and remastered edition of 90125—or have been bootlegged. Two mysterious pieces are only known by name. It has been reported that Art of Noise used a sample of Squire and White playing on a piece entitled "Red Light, Green Light", but nothing more is known about. Nor do I know which Art of Noise piece used the sample. The other mystery piece is "Time", except a bit of "Time" did make it to release. "Cinema", recorded by Squire/White/Rabin/Kaye before Anderson re-joined the band and named after the band's planned name, is actually the introduction to "Time". While "Cinema" is the shortest piece on 90125, "Time" would have been the longest. Planned to be perhaps 20-minutes long, it was not used.
There has been intense fan speculation about "Time". Some wonder if it was ever recorded. While work on it had not finished, Rabin in interviews has spoken of recordings of some sort of completed piece. In one interview, he said "Time" did not fit with the album's overall direction. In a late 2003 interview with Anil Prasad for Innerviews, Rabin said the piece was, at one point, planned to a (vinyl) side long, suggesting that had the band kept working on it, it would have been longer than 20 minutes. Rabin goes on:
“Time” was really something that just happened. It was four guys rehearsing every day and it was sounding really good. We were real happy with where it was going and it just kept building and building. There wasn’t a specific attempt to write something that was very long.The album's name comes from its catalogue number. The album was originally going to have a different catalogue number and a different five-figure name.
"Special thanks" are given in the liner notes to Dipak, Graham Preskett, Charlie Olins, Phil Carsons and Richard Steinberg. Preskett was a session violin player who had earlier worked for Steve Howe. He plays all the violin parts on 90125, not Jobson as some assume. Olins, later keyboardist in Nikki Squire's Esquire band, probably played some sessions for the album.
90125 was not just a starting point for a new line-up of Yes. The Art of Noise began as something of a side project for the production team while they were working on 90125. Three of its founders were involved here: Horn, Langan and "J.J." Jeczalik. Also, during the making of the album, Rabin videoed an episode of the late night TV music show The Tube and passed the video over to Horn the next day, recommending he see an impressive unsigned band called Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Horn watched the video and signed Frankie as soon as possible. (Rabin would eventually guest on both of Frankie's albums, Welcome to the Pleasuredome and Liverpool.)
Before joining Cinema, Rabin tried out to be the keyboard player in Foreigner and reportedly he wrote "City of Love" about trying to find rehearsal space for them in Harlem.
In 2004, Geoff Downes reportedly said 90125 was his favourite Yes album.
HP (2 May 04, from earlier notes by HP/MP; updated 23 Oct 04)