Saturday, November 18, 2017

Yes - Tales From Topographic Oceans (1973)

(U.K 1968 –2004, 2008–present)
As Yes were always looking over the horizon (as Alan is fond of saying), vocalist Anderson and guitarist Steve Howe, feeling their oats over previous successes, decided pursue a large-scale project. Jon had taken of a footnote in Paramahansa Yogananda's Autobiography Of A Yogi that described Schastic scriptures covering various aspects of religion and life. These would form the basis for Yes' next grand work, the ambitious four-song "Tales From Topographic Oceans" with each track consuming an individual vinyl side.

While on tour, Jon and Steve conducted candlelight sessions, working out the basic structure for of the four compositions inspired by this concept. As excited as the two were about the project, their (as well as co-producer Eddie Offord) were initially apprehensive. Yes had taken big steps before, but this was a major undertaking, especially given the proposed music's scale and complexity. But eventually everyone agreed to explore the concept and commenced recording at Morgan Studio. Situated in what members felt was a colorless English town, Morgan was chosen for its 24-track recording capabilities, one of the first studios in the U.K. to offer that option. Members had been divided between recording in the city or the country, and a humorous compromise of sorts was reached with wooden farmyard animal decorations and scenery.

Though there was a basic agenda for the work in progress, not everything was set in stone, Jon and Steve would often convene in a nearby room to plot direction. Steve Howe: "There were bits of one tune on another side—not so much that we were short of ideas but more that we wanted to reinterpret them, incorporate them, bring them into play as if the whole thing was a thematic playoff as well as a conceptualisation."

Album opener "The Revealing Science Of God" is basically trademark Yes, with rock sections alternating with quieter passages. Here the band demonstrates its knack for repeating themes that fluctuate in weight and significance: "Revealing" generally rocks and propels its listener through the various that will contribute to the ensuing tracks. (A bit of Yes folk lore; Eddie Offord, wrongly assuming the tape was blank, ended up slicing through an entire reel of a "Revealing" mix to retrieve the empty reel. Though Eddie did piece the tape back together, another mix was ultimately used.) 
After the thrust of "Revealing," "The Remembering" starts almost as if to let the listener—and Yes—-catch their breath. A light and airy introduction belies what's to come: waves of sound, followed by what Jon in his album notes describes as the "Topographic Ocean", a recurring section that evokes the water's mystery. Rick contributes some of his most moving playing here, combining Moog and Mellotron, and the section is effectively restated at various points. Chris adds some fretless bass, and Steve plays a lute on some of the folkier sections. The song unfolds slowly yet very deliberately, and though challenging, the result is one of Yes" more affecting pieces.

"The Ancient" is both primal and spacey, its percussiveness setting the stage for the first part. Tribal rhythms evoke the ancient peoples alluded to in Jon's notes. In retrospect. Steve says, "[ was surprised at the strange diversity of Side 3, but in the context I suppose we did want to go that far away, and 1 think it was beautiful to come back." The "coming back" is the second part, with Steve leading the way, executing a classically tinged intro on Spanish guitar. The song that follows is tentative and inspirational, Jon's pensive vocals giving way to a chorus that evokes hopefulness.

In its style, "Ritual" harkens back to Side . After the unusual color of the previous pieces, this final track is the full force return of the rock 'n' rollier Yes, pulling themes together and presenting them with an emotional wallop. The rhythm section dominates the side: Chris extrapolates on an earlier jaunty section with a tour de force solo, followed by a primeval drum section led by Alan White and featuring the others on tymnani. The torrent subsides, and Steve's evocative guitar gives way to Nous Sommess Du Soleil, a final, calming statement before the storm that drives Topographic to its dramatic conclusion.

Alan White, making his first appearance on a Yes studio album, unleashes his creative juices here. Me uses a hollowed out log on "The Ancient," contributes a last conga on "Ritual," and uses brushes on an aluminum sheet on both tracks, lie also arranges intricate backing rhythms in a time signature different from the others. 'Tin listening to Steve play while I'm playing something else," Alan explains, "You have to detach your mind and listen to what he's playing, but you have to keep on playing what you "re playing. A lot of that happens in a lot of the music: Chris and myself have to listen to him while we're playing, something different. There's no reason why the guitarist can't hold everything down and we go around him," Band members contributed to the cover developed by Roger Dean to evoke Topographic primordial concepts. Various cultural landmarks dot its landscape, and its gatefold sleeve includes Jon's liner notes, along with photographs of different textures and scenes. However, Roger's ideas were much more grand. The album cover would provide the visual design for the concert stage, with its translucent fiberglass scenery, which contributed to the music's mysterious atmosphere. The theatrical aspect was not lost on Yes, At the Rainbow in London, the band made it clear that no audience members would be seated after the start of the show, the same discipline enforced at orchestral conceits. The performance consisted of the Close To The Edge album, followed by the entire Tales, with an encore. The group would eventually drop the demanding "Remembering" late in the U.S. tour.

Yes - Live At The Rainbow, 1973 - Oceans Tour
When released, Topographic was the first Yes album to ship gold. But critics - and many fans - were perplexed when first confronted with its majestic scope. Some magazines embraced the LP: Time magazine ranked it among the year's best. But most of the major rock press was unmoved: what did four sprawling sides have to do with an art form based on rebellious three-minute anthems?
The too-easy joke was that this time Yes went "over the edge/ a sentiment echoed by Rick Wakeman. Although Rick made some essential contributions to the project, he later claimed that if the CD format had existed at the time, there wouldn't have been as much of what he viewed as padding. Steve, one of the Topographic prime architects, has a different view: "There's a reason why it was long, because we were exploratory. If Yes weren't exploratory we wouldn't have bothered to write so long, and we wouldn't have bothered to explore so many ways of doing our music."
In a sense, this was the album that separated the casual fan from the true believer. Those who felt rewarded by the journey were won over. Those who didn't abandoned Yes, temporarily or altogether- including Rick. His star as a solo performer was rising due to the popular The Six Wives Of Henry VIII and eventually his personal success, coupled with his lack of enthusiasm for Topographic would lead him to leave Yes after the album's tour.

Though "Ritual" would be retained for the next two Yes road trips, an entire side of Tales would not be heard again until the '90s, when fans new and old were as eager to hear these masterworks as the band was in performing them. Yes knew the album had merit and were delighted to rind it was still embraced by their audience. Even Rick was       happy to revisit it decades later. "It's never been a secret that Topographic Oceans was never my favorite Yes album." he said. "But I get a lot out of playing "Revealing" because I've found new ways of playing it — I've found ways of putting in new things and putting in other sounds in different things I didn't have before.
Ultimately, Tales From Topograhic Oceans is a very dense and stimulating experience. Yes had crafted compositions where the layers become apparent with each listening. Any attempt to describe the intricacies and interplay in words can do it no justice. Each piece reverberates within itself and resonates within the greater whole. Yes were fortunate to have had the creative freedom to produce this bold and innovative work — and we are fortunate that the  did.  [Mike Tiano]

The Parts
1st movement: Shrutis. The Revealing Science of God can be seen as an ever-opening flower in which simple truths emerge examining the complexities and magic of the past and how we should not forget the song that has been left to us to hear. The knowledge of God is a search, constant and clear.

2nd movement: Suritis. The Remembering. All our thoughts, impressions, knowledge, fears, have been developing for millions of years. What we can relate to is our own past, our own life, our own history. Here. It is especially Rick's keyboards which bring alive the ebb and flow and depth of our mind's eye: the topographic ocean. Hopefully we should appreciate that given points in time are not so significant as the nature of what is impressed on the mind, and how it is retained and used.

3rd movement: Puranas. The Ancient probes still further into the past hevond the point of remembering. Here Steve's guitar is pivotal in sharpening reflection on the beauties and treasures of lost civilisations, Indian, Chinese, Central American, Atlantean. These and other peoples left an immense treasure of knowledge.

4th movement: Tantras. The Ritual. Seven notes of freedom to learn and to know the ritual of life, Life is a fight between sources of evil and pure live. Alan and Chris present and relay the struggle out of which comes a positive source. Nous sommes du soldi. We are of the sun. We can see.

The Album Cover
Roger Dean recalls the inspiration behind the cover art for Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans

Although Roger Dean had created sleeves for a number of other bands during the late sixties, it was his collaborations with Yes which brought his other-worldly designs to the fore and became a crucial element in the packaging of that band’s early seventies releases. Having already designed the covers that adorned Fragile and Close To The Edge, as well as creating their iconic “bubble” logo, in 1973 he was approached to craft the sleeve for their double album Tales From Topographic Oceans. The album’s reception was mixed due to the complexity of the tracks, but the sleeve still remains one of the band’s more recognisable.

How did you meet the band?

“Well I remember meeting Phil Carson, who was running Atlantic records in Europe at the time, and showing him some of my work. Phil told me that he’d love me to do a cover for them but he only had two bands on the roster, which were Yes and Led Zeppelin. As soon as one of them needed a new cover he said he’d give me a call, and the Yes sleeve came up first. So that was how I was initially introduced to the band. It was all fairly prosaic really, so there weren’t any mystical meetings on a mountain.”  

What about the design brief?

“It was different with regard to any other Yes album cover I’ve done as it involved a long and detailed conversation with Jon Anderson. On other occasions the expectation was that it was my job to come up with the idea, develop it, present it and package it. So for Fragile for example, around that time I was concerned with the problems of pollution, plus I wanted to create something to match the title. So the idea was to have a small, fragile world as a centrepiece and the spaceship was an ark taking the inhabitants and whatever creatures there were on this planet to a new home. The planet then begins to disintegrate in view of the craft and this is shown on the back cover. But for Tales From Topographic Oceans I remember Jon and I spent a long time talking about ideas for the sleeve when we were flying from London to Tokyo via Alaska, and we were just inspired when looking at the patterns in the landscapes below.”

The cover was more landscape oriented compared to previous works. What was the reason behind that?

“Well, landscapes have always been my inspiration and I still primarily think of myself as a landscape painter. Tales... was really me trying to convey my enthusiasm for landscapes and Jon seemed to have a matching interest.”

What were the inspirations behind each of the stones or monuments?

“Well, nothing in that sleeve is actually made up or imagined, so everything that’s in there is a portrait of something. The Mayan Temple is the most obvious one but all the other rocks exist. The rock on the left hand side is at Avebury and continually pops up in magazines. The fascinating thing about it is that every photo that I’ve seen of it has been taken from exactly the same view that I drew it. The waterfall and pile of rocks are at Brimham Rocks in Yorkshire, and there are others rocks that are at Stonehenge and Land’s End. So every stone in that picture I could take you to.” [This article originally appeared in Prog issue 27]

This post consists of FLACs and MP3's (320kps) ripped from my treasured vinyl, purchased back in 1974 for the pricely sum of $9.95 (this was the standard price for a double album at the time). In pristine condition, you won't find a better vinyl rip of this masterpiece anywhere else. Of course full album artwork is included for both CD and Vinyl plus label scans. The was the first album set I'd purchased where the record company had the album cover design printed on the record labels as well (see below) - a bold move by their record company Atlantic and one that other record companies would do in the future.  This post compliments my earlier post for Yesshows (both doubles) and is not to be missed.  The opening track "The Revealing Science Of God" is my favourite track and features some of Rick Wakeman's best keyboard work on the set.

Track Listing
01 - The Revealing Science Of God
02 - The Remembering
03 - The Ancient
04 - Ritual

Yes were:
Jon Anderson - Vocals
Steve Howe - Guitars, Vocals
Chris Squire - Bass Guitars, Vocals
Rick Wakeman - Keyboards
Alan White - Drums 


  1. Great music, thanks for posting.

    Kind regards,


  2. Thanks as always for an incredible and informative post.
    Love the high quality vinyl rips. Much appreciated. Keep up the hard work!