Yes was in complete shambles by the time what was left of the band headed into making what would become the 90125 album. The group had broken up after 1980's Drama, with members Chris Squire and Alan White starting a new outfit, Cinema. Featuring former Yes member Tony Kaye and longtime band associate Trevor Rabin, the new unit's studio activities grabbed the interest of former Yes singer Jon Anderson, who would join his old makes while recording. Suddenly, Yes was back together.
This, however, was not the same yes that prog-rock fans revered for such classics as Tales from Topographic Oceans. With Trevor Horn (Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Pet Shop Boys, Grace Jones) on production, the new songs were wildly modern and far more commercially viable than anything Yes had ever done.
This change in direction was most evident on the album's lead single, "Owner of a Lonely Heart." Released a few weeks ahead of the album on October 8, 1983, the song was a breakout smash at radio and record stores, flying straight to #1 on the Hot 100 for the week of January 21, 1984. It held the top spot for two weeks before being replaced by Culture Club's "Karma Chameleon."
"Well, the song was already finished, but there were no verses," singer Jon Anderson told Songfacts in back in 2013. "They had tried some verses and it really wasn't working. They had the chorus, they had the arrangement. I came in and all the songs were virtually put together, but there was a lack of choruses here, verses there. I went in for three weeks with Trevor and sort of filled everything in. I remember sitting with Trevor Rabin and we started off, 'Move yourself, you always live your life never thinking of the future.' That was the line I wrote. And then he'd say, 'Prove yourself, win or loser. And then he said, 'Jon, I've got to go. You carry on.' So I just carried on writing the lyrics to the verses. The chorus was already well organized by Trevor."
The way Anderson remembers it, the song was destined for the top the of charts. His presence, however, served a very specific purpose.
"It was already deemed to be a hit record. The record company had invested a lot of money in making a record. They brought me in to make it Yes." he recalled. "They said, 'This is going to be a hit, and we're going to make sure.' They promoted it like crazy and did a good video - MTV had just started up. So everything just sort of happened at the same time.
That music video was a cinematic and conceptual clip directed by the graphic design legend Storm Thorgerson, renowned for his work with the Hipgnosis design team. They're responsible for some of the most memorable album covers in the history of rock, including Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and Led Zeppelin's House of the Holy. Thrust into heavy rotation on MTV, the track introduced Yes to a whole new generation of music fans.
When asked if the conceptual clip was in any way representative of the song's lyrics, Anderson could only throw up his hands.
"I've got no idea. Probably because there's that guy walking along the bridge and he then turns around and walks the other way," the singer said. "He's lonely and he's lost and he's looking for himself. It's a great video. Sometimes it doesn't have to be explained."
"Owner of a Lonely Heart" still stands as the most successful single of the band's vast discography, the only of the group's songs to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album 90125 has a similar distinction as Yes' singular #1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart.