The Buggles could have gone in a lot of different directions once their debut single “Video Killed the Radio Star” became a huge hit all over the world in late 1979. The synth duo (featuring Trevor Horn on lead vocals and Geoff Downes on keyboards) could have spent the next couple of years touring the world to to capitalize on their new fame. They could have headed right back into the studio and tried to craft an even poppier song. They could have even gone their separate ways under the assumption that they’d never catch lightning in a bottle like that again and there was no point in trying.
Instead, they went in a very different and extremely unexpected direction by joining the progressive rock group Yes. The bizarre turn of events came about after Yes lead singer Jon Anderson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman quit the group in 1979, leaving bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe and drummer Alan White down two key group members. They happened to share a manager with the Buggles, who decided the best course of events was to simply merge his two acts into one. After all, Trevor Horn had a voice not wildly dissimilar from Jon Anderson’s, and his songwriting and producing chops would be a big asset to Yes. Geoff Downes was also a very talented keyboardist who could easily handle the elaborate parts of his predecessors.
The new lineup of Yes clicked pretty much instantly and crafted their new LP Drama over just a couple of months. Check out their video for album track “Tempus Fugit” right here. They supported it with a tour, but many Yes fans were very unhappy about Anderson’s departure and ticket sales were soft in several markets. When we spoke to Anderson in 2016, he was still kvetching about the situation. “In the old days they put the Buggles in the band, and didn’t tell anybody,” he said. “I said, ‘They’ll put Mickey Mouse up there as long as they’re making money.’”
Once the Drama tour ended, however, Yes decided to fold up shop and the Buggles carried on with their second record as though that whole Yes thing had never happened. Months before it came out, a new cable network called MTV kicked off their inaugural evening of programming with the Buggles’ 1979 video for “Video Killed the Radio Star” in the hopes that it would prove to be prophetic. It launched a whole new era of pop music in which seemingly any fringe U.K. pop act could become overnight superstars as long as they made a goofy video and MTV, desperate for content of any kind, put it into heavy rotation. This made Trevor Horn a very rich man since he became a producer after the second Buggles album tanked in 1981, working behind-the-scenes to craft hits for the likes of ABC and Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
He even went on to produce Yes’ big comeback hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart” in 1983 right after Jon Anderson rejoined the band along with new guitarist Trevor Rabin. Since then, the group has gone through an insane number of permutations, leading up to the current madness where two competing versions of the group are on the road at the exact same time. The group that bills itself simply as Yes (rather than Yes Featuring Anderson Rabin Wakeman) has had Geoff Downes on keyboards since 2011, the same year that Trevor Horn returned to the mix to produce their album Fly From Here. Horn guested with them in Philadelphia last month for a special 50th-anniversary show, meaning every surviving member of the Drama lineup was onstage together. It was a great moment for hardcore Yes fans, even if back in 1980 the Buggles almost killed the radio stars.