Coleman had encountered third stream music in the 1950s, had played sessions for Gunther Schuller in 1960, and had composed two earlier orchestral works, Inventions of Symphonic Poems in 1967 and Sun Suite of San Francisco in 1968. Immediately prior to this album, he had done arranging work for Alice Coltrane on her album Universal Consciousness. He had initially envisioned Skies as a concerto grosso for jazz combo and orchestra, but owing to contractual disputes with the musician's union in England, his band would not be allowed to record at all, and Coleman limited his own contribution to solos over the orchestra for select segments of the music.
The album contains nearly all of the music that Coleman wrote for Skies of America, though several repeated motifs and two other segments were removed from the work in order to accommodate the limited album playing time. The 21 track titles were added by Coleman as an afterthought, Columbia executives hoping that the work might attract airplay via shorter lengths given promotion similar to that for singles.Recording sessions took place at Abbey Road Studios in London from April 17 to 20, 1972.
The Allmusic review by Thom Jurek stated that "this is still dangerous and rewarding music".The Penguin Guide to Jazz awards it three and a half stars, declaring the album "another grand mess, generously and boldly conceived but stifled by the grim playing of the LSO." On May 2, 2000, the album was remastered and reissued for compact disc. The piece appeared in full continuity without the break for the album sides.