Tales from Topographic Oceans

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Tales from Topographic Oceans
Tales from Topographic Oceans (Yes album).jpg
Studio album by Yes
Released 14 December 1973
Recorded 1973 at Morgan Studios, Willesden, London
Length 81:15
Label Atlantic
Producer Yes, Eddy Offord
Yes chronology
Tales from Topographic Oceans

Tales from Topographic Oceans is the sixth studio album from the English progressive rock band Yes, released as a double album in December 1973 on Atlantic Records. It is a concept album based on singer Jon Anderson's interpretation of four classes of Hindu scripture, collectively named the shastras, based on a footnote he found in Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda during the Close to the Edge tour. Anderson and Steve Howe then developed the themes and instrumentation as the tour progressed. Keyboardist Rick Wakeman disagreed with the direction the band took and spent little time writing and recording with them.

Tales from Topographic Oceans was a commercial success upon its release; it is the first UK album to qualify for Gold certification based on pre-orders. The album reached No. 1 in the UK for two weeks and peaked at No. 6 in the US. The album is noted for the mostly negative critical reception it received and its symbol of progressive rock excess with its detailed concept and lengthy songs. Following the album's tour in 1974, Wakeman left the band to resume his solo career.


On 19 July 1972, when work on Yes's fifth studio album Close to the Edge was complete, drummer Bill Bruford left the band to join King Crimson.[1] His replacement was Alan White, who had three days to learn the band's repertoire prior to their Close to the Edge tour, which included a single group rehearsal. Close to the Edge was released in September 1972 to great commercial and critical success. The tour, which ran from July 1972 to April 1973, saw Yes perform across North America, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Australia. Besides White, the line-up during this time included singer Jon Anderson, bassist Chris Squire, guitarist Steve Howe, and keyboardist Rick Wakeman.

Pertaining to the shastras, literally "sacred books", comprising four classes of scripture: the shruti, smriti, purana and tantra. These comprehensive treatises cover every aspect of religious and social life, and the fields of law, medicine, architecture, art, etc. The shrutis are the "directly heard" or "revealed" scriptures, the Vedas. The smritis or "remembered" lore were finally written down in a remote past as the world's longest epic poems, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Puranas, eighteen in number, are literally "ancient" allegories; tantras literally means "rites" or "rituals": these treatises convey profound truths under a veil of detailed symbolism.

—The footnote Anderson found in Autobiography of a Yogi[2]

The idea for the album's concept came about in March 1973 in Anderson's hotel room in Tokyo during the Japanese leg of the YesSongs tour. He was looking for a theme for a "large-scale composition" for an album and found himself "caught up in a lengthy footnote on page 83" of Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda that described four classes of Hindu scripture, collectively named the shastras.[3] Anderson was introduced to Yogananda's work at Bruford's wedding reception by Jamie Muir, then the percussionist for King Crimson, on 2 March 1973.[4]

When the tour progressed to the United States in April, Anderson described the concept to Howe who took a liking to the idea of four "interlocking" pieces of music based around the concepts the scriptures spoke of. Anderson and Howe went on to hold "candlelight writing sessions" in their hotel rooms, completing the basics of the vocals, lyrics, and instrumentation after a single six-hour writing session that ended at 7:00 am in Savannah, Georgia.[5] Anderson described the experience as a "magical" one, "which left both of us exhilarated for days".[5]

According to Phil Carson, then the CEO of Atlantic Records, Anderson was originally going to name the album Tales From Tobographic Oceans. He claimed he invented the word "tobographic" that was based on one of Fred Hoyle's theories of space. He mentioned the title while having dinner with Carson, who noted that "tobographic" sounded like "topographic". Anderson liked the suggestion and changed the title accordingly.[6]



After rehearsals at Manticore Studios in Fulham,[7] Yes were split in deciding where the album was to be recorded. Anderson and Wakeman wished to record out in the countryside, while Squire and Howe preferred to record in London. With White having no preference,[8] the band proceeded to record at Morgan Studios in Willesden where the country's first 24-track tape machine, produced by Ampex, was installed.[9] According to Squire, Brian Lane, the band's manager, proceeded to decorate the studio like a farmyard to make Anderson "happy".[9] Wakeman described the studio, "There were white picket fences ... All the keyboards and amplifiers were placed on stacks of hay."[9] At the time of recording, heavy metal group Black Sabbath were producing Sabbath Bloody Sabbath in the studio next door. Singer Ozzy Osbourne recalled that placed in the Yes studio was a model cow with electronic udders and a small barn to give the room an "earthy" feel.[10] Anderson recalled that he expressed a wish to record the album in a forest at night, "When I suggested that, they all said, 'Jon, get a life!'"[3]

Eddy Offord assumed his role as the album's recording engineer who had worked with Yes since 1970. Production duties were shared by both parties.

Wakeman took a dislike to the album's concept and structure from the beginning. He made only minimal musical contributions to the recording, and often spent time drinking at the studio bar and playing darts. He played the piano and synthesiser on the Sabbath track "Sabbra Cadabra".[3] According to Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi, Wakeman refused payment from the band and was compensated with beer for his contribution.[11]


"Side one was the commercial or easy-listening side of Topographic Oceans, side two was a much lighter, folky side of Yes, side three was electronic mayhem turning into acoustic simplicity, and side four was us trying to drive the whole thing home on a biggie."[12]

Steve Howe

Yes began to produce longer pieces of music on Close to the Edge, featuring the 18-minute title track. Tales from Topographic Oceans is formed of four tracks, ranging between 18 and 22 minutes. The lyrics were written by Anderson and Howe; all band members made writing contributions to each track.

Anderson explains that "The Revealing Science of God" is based on the shruti. Speaking in 1994, he said "It's always delicate to start talking about religious things [...] 'The Revealing Science of God' should have just been 'The Revealing'. But I got sort of hip [...] A dangerous statement!"[13] According to Howe, the track was originally 28 minutes in length before six minutes were cut.[13]

"The Remembering" is based on the smriti, literally meaning "that which is remembered". Puranas, meaning "of ancient times", is attributed to "The Ancient" and tantras is for "Ritual".

Sleeve design[edit]

A Mayan temple at Chichen Itza that Anderson requested to have on the album's sleeve

The album's cover was designed and illustrated by artist Roger Dean, who had also created the artwork for the band's previous records Fragile, Close to the Edge, and Yessongs.[14] Each of those albums used a narrative thread which was not carried over for Tales from Topographic Oceans. Painted using watercolour and ink, the cover depicts fish circling a waterfall below constellations of stars. In his 1975 book Views, Dean explains the painting:

The final collection of landmarks was more complex than [...] intended because it seemed appropriate to the nature of the project that everyone who wanted to contribute should do so. The landscape comprised amongst other things, some famous English rocks taken from Dominy Hamilton's postcard collection. These are, specifically: Brimham Rocks, the last rocks at Land's End, the Logan Rock at Treen and single stones from Avebury and Stonehenge. Jon Anderson wanted the Mayan temple at Chichen Itza with the sun behind it, and Alan White suggested using markings from the plains of Nazca. The result is a somewhat incongruous mixture, but effective nonetheless.

In 2002, readers of Rolling Stone magazine voted the album's cover as the best cover art of all time.[15]


According to Anderson, the album was set to be played on Radio Luxembourg with David Jensen one week prior to its release, but the station somehow received blank tapes which resulted in dead air.[16]

Tales from Topographic Oceans was released in the UK on 14 December 1973 during the band's 1973–74 tour of Europe and North America to promote the record. Its US release followed on 9 January 1974. The album was a big commercial success for the band. Following a change in regulations from the British Phonographic Industry for albums to qualify for a Gold disc, it became the first record to reach the certification based on pre-orders orders alone after 75,000 orders were made.[17] It topped the UK album chart for two weeks and peaked at number 6 on the US Billboard Top LPs chart.[18]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 3.5/5 stars[19]
Pitchfork 2.2/10[20]
Robert Christgau C[21]
Rolling Stone (unfavorable)[22]

Upon its release, a number of reviews from daily newspapers gave praise to the album. The Times selected "The Ancient" as a piece of music that "will be studied twenty-five years hence as a turning point in modern music", while The Guardian thought Anderson's "high-pitched and carefully modulated voice [...] seemed at ease and control".[23]

The album continues to divide listeners and ha received several negative response. Sounds magazine reviewed the album and live performance using the headlines "Wishy washy tales from the deep" and "Close to boredom".[23] In his review for Rolling Stone magazine, Gordon Fletcher described the record as "psychedelic doodling". In its fortieth anniversary issue from 9 May 1992, trade publication NME selected Tales from Topographic Oceans for their "40 Records That Captured The Moment" for 1974.[24] Bruce Eder of AllMusic thought the album contains "some of the most sublimely beautiful musical passages ever to come from the group, and develops a major chunk of that music in depth and degrees in ways that one can only marvel at, though there's a big leap from marvel to enjoy. If one can grab onto it, Tales is a long, sometimes glorious musical ride across landscapes strange and wonderful, thick with enticing musical textures".[19] In a review for Melody Maker, music critic and journalist Chris Welch wrote:

It is a fragmented masterpiece, assembled with loving care and long hours in the studio. Brilliant in patches, but often taking far too long to make its various points, and curiously lacking in warmth or personal expression [...] "Ritual" is a dance of celebration and brings the first enjoyable moments, where Alan's driving drums have something to grip on to and the lyrics of la la la speak volumes. But even this cannot last long and cohesion is lost once more to the gods of drab self indulgence.

At the time of the album's release, Wakeman expressed a dislike for the record. He criticised Anderson's understanding of the Shastric scriptures after reading a single footnote. Speaking in 2006, he clarified that his total dislike of the album is "not entirely true", thinking that there are some "very nice musical moments in Topographic Oceans, but because of the [...] format of how records used to be we had too much for a single album but not enough for a double [...] so we padded it out and the padding is awful [...] but there are some beautiful solos like "Nous sommes du soleil" [...] one of the most beautiful melodies [...] and deserved to be developed even more perhaps."[25]


The album was remastered for CD by Joe Gastwirt in 1994. It was remastered again by Bill Inglot in 2003 for an expanded version on Rhino Records, which features a two-minute restored introduction to "The Revealing Science of God" and studio run-throughs of this track and "The Ancient". It was released again 10 years later (on 2 December internationally and 24 December in the US) as part of the box set The Studio Albums 1969-1987.

Track listing[edit]

All lyrics by Jon Anderson and Steve Howe, all music composed by Anderson, Howe, Chris Squire, Rick Wakeman and Alan White.

Side one
No. Title Length
1. "The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)"   20:25
Side two
No. Title Length
1. "The Remembering (High the Memory)"   20:38
Side three
No. Title Length
1. "The Ancient (Giants Under the Sun)"   18:35
Side four
No. Title Length
1. "Ritual (Nous Sommes du Soleil)"   21:37

1994 Joe Gastwirt CD remaster

2003 CD reissue

Charts and certifications[edit]



Yes – production
Additional personnel
  • Eddy Offord – engineering and production
  • Bill Inglot – sound production
  • Guy Bidmead – tapes
  • Mansell Litho – plates
  • Roger Dean – cover design and illustrations


  1. ^ Watkinson, p. 107
  2. ^ The relevant footnote appears on page 104 of the 1998 paperback edition of Autobiography of a Yogi.
  3. ^ a b c Welch, p. 141
  4. ^ Bruford, p. 72
  5. ^ a b Welch, p. 142
  6. ^ Carson, Phil (2007). Classic Artists: Yes. Disc One. (DVD). Image Entertainment. 1:18:14–1:19:13 minutes in. 
  7. ^ Morse, p. 44
  8. ^ Wakeman, Rick (2007). Classic Artists: Yes. Disc One. (DVD). Image Entertainment. 1:20:04–1:20:45 minutes in. 
  9. ^ a b c Welch, p. 140
  10. ^ Osbourne, p. 160
  11. ^ Iommi, p.
  12. ^ Chambers, p. 31
  13. ^ a b Morse, p. 47
  14. ^ Powell and Thorgerson, pp. 142–143
  15. ^ Lyall, Sarah (24 July 2003). "Dreaming Between The Grooves". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 January 2014. 
  16. ^ Jon Anderson on Classic Artists: Yes DVD. Bonus Interviews.
  17. ^ Wooding, p. 114
  18. ^ a b "Tales from Topographic Oceans – Charts & Awards". Allmusic. Retrieved 14 April 2012. 
  19. ^ a b Tales from Topographic Oceans at AllMusic
  20. ^ Dahlen, Chris; Leone, Dominique; Tangari, Joe (8 February 2004). "Pitchfork: Album Reviews: Yes: The Yes Album / Fragile / Close to the Edge / Tales from Topographic Oceans / Relayer / Going for the One / Tormato / Drama / 90125". pitchfork.com. Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 19 January 2008. 
  21. ^ Christgau, Robert. "Yes > Consumer Guide Reviews". Robert Christgau. Retrieved 3 December 2011. 
  22. ^ http://www.rollingstone.com/reviews/album/285284/review/6068009[dead link]
  23. ^ a b Hedges, pp. 91–92
  24. ^ "NME List: 40 Records That Captured The Moment". www.rocklistmusic.co.uk. Retrieved 17 August 2011. 
  25. ^ Wakeman, Rick (2007). Classic Artists: Yes. Disc One. (DVD). Image Entertainment. 1:23:48–1:24:49 minutes in. 
  26. ^ "Number 1 Albums – 1970s". The Official Charts Company. Archived from the original on 9 February 2008. Retrieved 14 June 2011. 
  27. ^ "Yes – Tales From Topographic Oceans". CollectionsCanada.gc.ca. Retrieved 28 June 2015. 
  28. ^ "Yes – Tales From Topographic Oceans". Dutchcahrts.nl. Retrieved 20 February 2012. 
  29. ^ "Yes – Tales From Topographic Oceans". Swedishcahrts.nl. Retrieved 12 August 2013. 
  30. ^ "Yes – Tales From Topographic Oceans". Norwegiancahrts.nl. Retrieved 12 August 2013. 
  31. ^ 『オリコンチャート・ブックLP編(昭和45年‐平成1年)』(オリジナルコンフィデンス/1990年/ISBN 4-87131-025-6)p.73
  32. ^ http://alanwhite.net/biography/


External links[edit]

Preceded by
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John
UK number-one album
30 December 1973 – 12 January 1974
Succeeded by
Sladest by Slade