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Jeff Moehlis

Jeff Moehlis: Just Say Yes — Prog Rock Band to Perform at The Arlington

The progressive rock band Yes has undergone many lineup changes over the years, and one of their most intriguing was the one for their 1980 album Drama, in which The Buggles came into the mix.

Yep, the duo — Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes — that brought us “Video Killed the Radio Star” joined Yes after classic Yes members Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman left the fold.

Although somewhat controversial amongst fans at the time, the resulting album holds up very well after all these years, a cool blend of prog rock and then-newer sensibilities.

Fastforwarding to the present, keyboard player Geoff Downes is back in the band, which also includes long-time guitarist Steve Howe, and they will be performing the Drama album in its entirety when they visit The Arlington Theatre Sunday, Aug. 28.

Also on the program is sides one and four of the epic Yes album Tales from Topographic Oceans. A few of their better-known songs will also come into play. Tickets are available here.

Downes talked to Noozhawk about the Drama album and two other bands he has played a key role in: The Buggles and Asia.

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Jeff Moehlis: It’s cool that you guys will be performing the Drama album. How did you come to join Yes for that album?

Geoff Downes: It goes back to right to the beginning of 1980. Myself and Trevor Horn had just had worldwide success with The Buggles record [The Age of Plastic].

We had the same management company that was managing Yes, and they kind of liked the album that we had done. We did sort of a technopop album, you know?

I think Yes were looking to move into a different direction at that point, and because Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman weren’t there, it was very much a case that we literally just morphed into the band. That’s how it happened.

We had some material that we provided for them, and they liked the direction we brought.

JM: Were you a fan of Yes already?

GD: Yeah. Certainly the earlier albums like Fragile, Close to the Edge and The Yes Album were very much part of my student days. Yes were huge with college students in the U.K. If you asked students, they were probably one of the most important musical groups of the time.

JM: What are some of your memories of your first tour with Yes?

GD: From my standpoint, it was almost like a dream come true. To join a band of that stature...Trevor and I used to do any kind of music sessions we could, playing disco music, playing big band music, playing anything to earn a living.

Because we were both from the North of England, we went down to London to seek our fortune, if you like. So for us to be in that situation was awe-inspiring.

I think it was tougher for Trevor than it was for me because Jon Anderson was the only vocalist prior to him joining, and he had this sort of spiritual image.

That [Trevor taking over on vocals] didn’t sit particularly well with a number of existing Yes fans, but I think when people heard the album they realized that the band was continuing.

JM: You mentioned The Buggles. You guys had the hit song [“Video Killed the Radio Star”], and the video became famous later on. How did that song come together?

GD: It was started by Trevor. Trevor had all of the lyrics — he’s very good at writing those kinds of lyrics.

He drew a lot on science fiction. I think the lyrical idea was loosely based on a short story by J.G. Ballard, called “The Sound-Sweep” about this kid that used to go around studios sweeping up sound from the walls, and things like that.

There was some element of that in there, but on the other side of it, it was more of a general take on how technology changes art.

That’s sort of one way of putting it. In the same way that when the talkies came in in the place of silent films, a lot of the actors from silent films learned their voices were not suitable for the talkies.

The technology changed the perspective of the people in that world. So “Video Killed the Radio Star” was more of a look at how video would change the way that people would perceive music.

I suppose in that respect it was very, very portentous. It did actually have some effect like that.

JM: That song’s video was the first one ever played on MTV. What were your impressions of the early days of MTV?

GD: Well, I think it was very exciting. From my standpoint...We were in the U.K. at the time. MTV was on in New York City, and I think it was only in a few other cities when it first kicked off.

It certainly wasn’t across the board. Someone called up and said, “They used one of your songs.” I said, “OK.” I didn’t really attach much significance to it.

Of course MTV bloomed in significance almost overnight, and it became a must-watch station. I think everybody was into it because it was so radical and new. You had the VJ’s, and that, so it blossomed very quickly. We were lucky, I think, to be a part of that.

With Asia, the following year, we were very much part of that whole early MTV generation. They were exciting times!

I wouldn’t say it’s exciting anymore, because it’s changed its profile so heavily over the years, they very rarely play music anymore. But, as I was saying earlier, technology changes the art.

The full interview with Geoff Downes is available here.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, The opinions expressed are his own.

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