Tales from Topographic Oceans
|Tales from Topographic Oceans|
|Studio album by|
|Released||7 December 1973|
|Recorded||Late summer and autumn, 1973|
|Studio||Morgan Studios, Willesden, London|
Tales from Topographic Oceans is the sixth studio album by English progressive rock band Yes, released on 7 December 1973 by Atlantic Records. Yes frontman Jon Anderson devised the concept album during the band's 1973 Japanese tour when he read a footnote in Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda that describes four bodies of Hindu texts about a specific field of knowledge, collectively named shastras: the śruti, smriti, puranas, and tantras.
After pitching the idea to guitarist Steve Howe, the two developed the album's themes and lyrics that took shape as a double album containing four side-long tracks based on each text. The album was negatively received by keyboardist Rick Wakeman, who disagreed with its structure and elaborate concept and felt unable to contribute to the music that had been written. It is the first Yes studio album to feature drummer Alan White, who replaced Bill Bruford in the previous year.
The album received a mixed critical reception and became a symbol of alleged progressive rock excess with its detailed concept and lengthy songs. However it was a commercial success, becoming the first UK album to reach gold certification solely based on pre-orders. It topped the UK Album Chart for two weeks and reached No. 6 in the US, where it went gold in 1974 for selling 500,000 copies. Yes supported the album with a five-month tour of Europe and North America, the largest in the band's history at the time, that featured the entire album performed live.
Tales from Topographic Oceans was reissued in 1994 and 2003; the latter included previously unreleased tracks. An edition with new stereo and 5.1 surround sound mixes by Steven Wilson arrived in 2016.
Background and writing
In March 1973, Yes were on the Japanese leg of the Close to the Edge Tour to in support of their previous album Close to the Edge (1972), which was a critical and commercial success and reached the top five in the UK and the US. While in his hotel room in Tokyo, Anderson explored ideas for the band's next album. One of which involved a "large-scale composition" as the group had success with longform pieces, including the 18-minute title track from Close to the Edge. With the idea in mind Anderson found himself "caught up in a lengthy footnote" in Autobiography of a Yogi (1946) by Paramahansa Yogananda which outlines four bodies of Hindu texts, named shastras, that Yogananda described as "comprehensive treatises [that cover] every aspect of religious and social life, and the fields of law, medicine, architecture, art..." that "convey profound truths under a veil of detailed symbolism". Anderson "became engrossed" with the idea of a "four-part epic" concept album based on the four texts, though he later admitted that he did not fully understand what the scriptures were about. He was introduced to Yogananda by King Crimson drummer and percussionist Jamie Muir at Bruford's wedding reception on 2 March 1973. Anderson said of Muir: "I felt I had to learn from him. We started talking about meditation in music—not the guru type but some really heavy stuff." Anderson gained further clarification of the texts from talking to Vera Stanley Alder, a mystic, painter, and author of spirituality books that had a profound influence on him.
After Japan, Yes toured Australia and the US in March and April 1973, during which Anderson pitched his idea to Howe, a prolific songwriter and arranger in the group who took an interest in the concept. During their spare time in between gigs, the pair held writing sessions in their hotel rooms lit by candlelight, sharing musical and lyrical ideas. Howe recalled: "Jon would say to me, 'What have you got that's a bit like that...?' so I'd play him something and he'd go: 'that's great. Have you got anything else?' and I'd play him another tune". A riff that Howe played was rejected at first, but it was later incorporated into "The Ancient (Giants Under the Sun)" as by then, the two sought for a different theme that would suit the track. A six-hour session in Savannah, Georgia that ended at 7 a.m. saw Anderson and Howe complete the outline of the album's vocals, lyrics, and instrumentation, which took the form of one track based on each of the four texts. Anderson described the night as "magical [that] left both of us exhilarated for days". When it came to pitching the album to the rest of the band Howe recalled some resistance, "but Jon and I did manage to sell the idea ... sometimes [we] really had to spur the guys on".
"I think there was a psychological effect of, "Oh, we're doing a double album. Now we can make things twice as long, twice as boring, and twice as drawn out!"
—Eddy Offord, producer
When touring finished, Yes regrouped at Manticore Studios in Fulham, London, then owned by fellow progressive rock band Emerson, Lake & Palmer, to rehearse and develop the Anderson and Howe's initial ideas. This resulted in four tracks, as Wakeman described: "One was about eight minutes. One was 15. One was 19 and one was 12", but the band had to decide whether to refine them to fit a single album or extend them to make a double. Howe recalled a mutual agreement to making a double album, which Wakeman supported providing that the group could come up with strong enough music. Anderson had gained confidence towards a double from the success of Yessongs, their first live album released as a triple album in May 1973 that contained almost 130 minutes of music. Wakeman revealed an early musical concept for Tales from Topographic Oceans when Yessongs was released. It was to be an album whose parts can be interchangeable at any time depending on the audience's reaction, thus allowing the band to perform upbeat portions back to back and skip the slower sections until a later time in the piece. However, the problem was how to record such a concept on an album.
The group had no material at hand, however, so ideas came about through improvisation which Wakeman disagreed with, calling it "almost busking, free-form thinking" and thought parts resembled "avant-garde jazz rock, and I had nothing to offer". Though he considered "Ritual (Nous sommes du soleil)" as a strong track and some good melodies and themes throughout the album, Wakeman remained displeased with the musical "padding" that was added. Squire recognised "a lot of substance" to the four tracks, but at times they lacked strength which resulted in an album that was "too varied and too scattered". The band took a break roughly one month into rehearsals, during which Anderson vacated to Marrakesh with his family and wrote lyrics. Despite the mixed opinions, Anderson wrote in the album's liner notes that Squire, Wakeman, and White made "important contributions of their own" to the music. He believed the group were "on the same page" and supported the album at the time, but later concluded that Wakeman's criticisms and subsequent departure marked the end of the "illusive harmony" that was in Yes since Fragile (1971).
Phil Carson, then the London Senior Vice President of Atlantic Records, remembered that, during a dinner with Anderson and Nesuhi Ertegun, Anderson was originally going to name the album Tales from Tobographic Oceans and claimed he invented the word "tobographic", a word that summarised one of Fred Hoyle's theories of space. Ertegun informed Anderson that "tobographic" sounded like "topographic", so Anderson changed the title accordingly. Wakeman jokingly nicknamed the album Tales from Toby's Graphic Go-Kart.
Yes spent five months arranging, rehearsing, and recording Tales from Topographic Oceans. The group were split in deciding where to record; Anderson and Wakeman wanted to retreat in the countryside while Squire and Howe preferred to stay in London, leaving White, who was indifferent, as the tie-breaking vote. Anderson had thought of recording under a tent in a forest at night with electrical generators buried into the ground so they would be inaudible, but "when I suggested that, they all said, 'Jon, get a life!'" Yes were joined by engineer and producer Eddy Offord, who had worked with the band since 1970 and mixed their sound on tour. He pushed their manager Brian Lane to record in the country, thinking "some flowers and trees" would lessen the tension that the album had created within the group, but Yes were swayed to remain in London and record at Morgan Studios as it housed Britain's first 24-track tape machine, produced by Ampex, which presented greater possibilities in the studio. Despite the advantage, Squire recalled that the machine malfunctioned often. Squire worked in the studio for as long as sixteen-hour days, seven days a week on the album. Yes's studio time amounted to £90,000 in costs.
When the band settled into Morgan Studios, Lane and Anderson decorated it to resemble a farmyard; Squire believed Lane did so as a joke on Anderson when his idea of recording in the country did not happen. Anderson brought in flowers, pots of greenery, and cut out cows and sheep, and Wakeman recalled white picket fences and his keyboards and amplifiers placed on stacks of hay. At the time of recording, heavy metal group Black Sabbath were recording Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973) in the adjacent studio. Singer Ozzy Osbourne recalled the Yes studio also had a model cow with electronic udders and a small barn to give the room an "earthy" feel. Offord said that roughly halfway through recording, "the cows were covered in graffiti and all the plants had died. That just kind of sums up that whole album". At one point during the recording, Anderson wished for a "bathroom sound" effect on his vocals and asked the band's lighting engineer, Michael Tait, to build him a plywood box with tiles stuck onto it. After Tait explained to Anderson that the idea would not work, Tait "built it anyway". Sound engineer Nigel Luby recalled tiles falling off the box during takes.
Wakeman felt increasingly disenchanted by the album during the recording stage, and spent much of his time drinking and playing darts in the studio bar. He also spent time with Black Sabbath, playing the Minimoog synthesiser on their track "Sabbra Cadabra". Wakeman would not accept money for his contribution, so the band paid him in beer.
In one incident during the last few days of mixing, Anderson left the studio one morning with Offord carrying the tapes. Offord placed them on-top of his car in order to find his car keys, and proceeded to drive away, forgetting about the tapes. They stopped the car to find the tapes had slid off and fallen on the road, causing Anderson to rush back and stop an oncoming bus to save them.
"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."
Tales from Topographic Oceans contains four tracks, or "movements" as described by Anderson, that range between 18 and 22 minutes. The lyrics were written by Anderson and Howe, and each band member is credited for composing the music. Its liner notes feature a short summary written by Anderson of how the album's concept is expressed in a musical sense.
"The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)" is based on the shruti class of Hindu scripture which Yogananda described as scriptures that are "directly heard" or "revealed", in particular the Vedas. Regarding its title, Anderson said: "It's always delicate to start talking about religious things ... [the track] should have just been 'The Revealing'. But I got sort of hip." The track was originally 28 minutes in length, but six minutes were cut due to the time constraints of a vinyl. His guitar solos on the track, performed on a Gibson ES-345, were influenced by his belief that Frank Zappa performed lengthy solos "because the audience wanted it. I was thinking at one stage, "I'll do that. They'll love it". Anderson was inspired to open the track with voices that gradually build from listening to Gregorian chants. The ongoing Vietnam War at the time provided a source for its lyrics. The "Young Christians see it..." section originated from an unused take from the Fragile recording sessions that was released on its 2015 reissue as "All Fighters Past".
"The Remembering (High the Memory)" relates to the smriti, literally meaning "that which is remembered". Yogananda wrote the smritis were "written down in a remote past as the world's longest epic poems", specifically the Mahabharata and Ramayana, two Indian epic poems. Anderson described it as "a calm sea of music" and aimed to get the band to play "like the sea" with "rhythms, eddies, swells, and undercurrents". The track includes a keyboard solo that Anderson wrote: "bring[s] alive the ebb and flow and depth of our mind's eye". Anderson ranked the solo as one of Wakeman's best works. Squire described his bass playing on the track, done on a fretless Guild bass, as "one of the nicest things" he has done, ranking it higher than his playing on some of the band's more popular tracks. He called it a very successful piece of musical arrangement. White came up with the chord basis of an entire section of the song on the guitar, which he does not play confidently, but Anderson told him to play the part repeatedly him until he could grasp it. Howe plays a Danelectro electric sitar, lute, and acoustic guitar on the track.
"The Ancient (Giants Under the Sun)" is attributed to the puranas, meaning "of ancient times", which contain eighteen "ancient" allegories. "Steve's guitar", wrote Anderson, "is pivotal in sharpening reflection on the beauties and treasures of lost civilisations." The lyrics contain several translations of the word "Sun" or an explanation of the Sun from various languages. Howe felt the opening section amazes him to this day, thinking how the band could "go so far out". He plays a steel guitar and a Spanish Ramirez acoustic guitar, and described it as "quite Stravinsky, quite folky". To help achieve the right sound he wanted out of his guitars, Howe played several recordings by classical guitarist Julian Bream to Offord as a guide.
"Ritual (Nous sommes du soleil)" relates to the tantras, literally meaning "rites" or "rituals". Anderson described its bass and drum solos as a presentation of the fight and struggle that life presents between "sources of evil and pure love". Howe is particularly fond of his guitar solo at the beginning, which to him was "spine-chilling ... it was heavenly to play", and uses a Gibson Les Paul Junior. Howe's outro guitar solo was more improvised and jazz-oriented at first, but the rest of the group felt dissatisfied with the arrangement. Anderson suggested that Howe pick several themes from the album and combine them, which Howe did with "a more concise, more thematic approach". During one of Wakeman's absences from the studio, White came up with the piano sequence for the closing "Nous sommes du soleil" section.
The album was packaged as a gatefold sleeve designed and illustrated by Roger Dean, who had also designed the art for Fragile, Close to the Edge, and Yessongs. Each of them carried a loose narrative thread that Dean did not continue for Tales from Topographic Oceans. The album's design was discussed during an in-depth conversation Dean and Anderson had in 1973 during a flight from London to Tokyo via Anchorage, Alaska, during the Close to the Edge tour. Prior to the flight, Dean had completed the front cover to The View over Atlantis (1969) by John Michell, and "the wives and girlfriends made a cake ... and we all had some. I have no idea what was in it but from London to Anchorage, I was stoned ... But from Anchorage to Tokyo, I couldn't stop talking. And I was telling Jon all about this book, about patterns in the landscape and dragon lines, and we were flying hour after hour after hour over the most amazing landscapes ... So the idea of ... a sort of magical landscape and an alternative landscape ... that informed everything: the album cover, the merchandising, the stage."
Dean, who primarily describes himself as a landscape painter, wished to convey his enthusiasm for landscapes within the album's artwork. He stressed that nothing depicted in the design is made up, and that everything in it exists for real. Painted using watercolour and ink, the front depicts fish circling a waterfall under several constellations of stars. In his 1975 book Views, Dean wrote: "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." The original pressing of the sleeve included a slipstream in the background by the fish that was removed from future reissues. Although it was not a part of the original design, Anderson persuaded Dean to incorporate it after it was painted, so Dean drew it on a clear cel and had it photographed with and without the slipstream. Dean thought the idea still did not work and used the original for the album's advertisements and posters.
The album was finished in the first week of November 1973, and aired on British radio several times before its release in stores. It was set for broadcast on David Jensen's show on Radio Luxembourg on 8 November, but according to Anderson, the radio station somehow received blank tapes, resulting in dead air after the album was introduced. Two more radio broadcasts followed, one on Your Mother Wouldn't Like It hosted by Nicky Horne on Capital Radio on 9 November, and on Rock on Radio One with Pete Drummond on BBC Radio 1 the following day.
The album was released in the UK on 7 December 1973, followed by its North American release on 9 January 1974. It was a commercial success for the group; following a change in industry regulations by the British Phonographic Industry for albums to qualify for a Gold disc in April 1973, the album became the first UK record reach Gold certification based on pre-orders alone after 75,000 orders were made. It was number 1 on the UK Album Chart for two consecutive weeks and peaked at number 6 on the US Billboard Top LPs chart. The album was certified Gold in the UK on 1 March 1974 and in the US on 8 February 1974, the latter for 500,000 copies sold.
|All About Jazz|||
|Christgau's Record Guide||C|
|The Rolling Stone Album Guide|||
The album received an initial divided reception from British critics. Robert Sheldon for The Times termed the music as "rockophonic", and selected "The Ancient" as a piece of music that "will be studied twenty-five years hence as a turning point in modern music". The Guardian newspaper thought Anderson's "high-pitched and carefully modulated voice ... seemed at ease and control". Steve Peacock reviewed the album and a live performance of it for Sounds magazine using the headlines "Wishy washy tales from the deep" and "Close to boredom". Critic and Yes biographer Chris Welch reviewed the album for Melody Maker and 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". He thought "Ritual" brought the "first enjoyable moments" of the entire album, "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." For New Musical Express, Steve Clarke, who had listened to the album for two months and saw the band perform the album live once, declared the album "a great disappointment", coming from the strength of Close to the Edge and notes the "colour and excitement" that the group usually puts on their albums was missing. He thought Wakeman's abilities were restricted, and a lack of "positive construction" in the music which too often loses itself to "a wash of synthetic sounds". Howe's guitar adopts the same tone as Wakeman's keyboards, which bored Clarke, but Anderson was praised in helping carry the music through with his "frail, pure and at times very beautiful" voice. Clarke concluded with a hope of Yes making a return to "real songs" which demonstrate their musicianship better.
The album also received mixed reviews in America. Record World magazine considered it "by far the most progressive album to date" and displays the talents of each band member well, particularly Wakeman's. A review in Billboard said the four sides produce mixed results, with Anderson's "weighty spiritual concept" having "indigestible lyrics that are fortunately outplayed by the band's rich, sweeping playing" and praised Wakeman's keyboards in particular. It concluded with "Ritual (Nous sommes du soleil)" as the most "complete" track. In his negative review for Rolling Stone, Gordon Fletcher described the record as "psychedelic doodles" and thought it suffers from "over-elaboration" compared to more successful songs on Fragile and Close to the Edge. He complained about the album's length, Howe's guitar solos on "The Ancient", and the percussion section on "Ritual", but praised Wakeman for his "stellar performance" throughout and believed the keyboardist was the "most human of the group". Fletcher singled out the acoustic guitar section from "The Ancient" as the album's high point. Cash Box magazine praised the album with its "spectacular cuts" making a "phenomenal" record, and noted the band "are as much in touch with the bright future of their art form as they are with its rich, traditional past". Wakeman's "inspirational" playing was also pointed out which "sparkles" throughout the album. It concluded with "one of this year's best without doubt."
Retrospectively, 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". In its fortieth anniversary issue from 1992, NME selected Tales from Topographic Oceans as their "40 Records That Captured The Moment" for 1974. In 1996, Progression magazine writer John Covach wrote that it is Tales from Topographic Oceans, not Close to the Edge (1972), that represents the band's true hallmark of the first half of their 1970s output and their "real point of arrival". He pointed out "the playing is virtuosic throughout, the singing innovative and often complex, and the lyrics mystical and poetic. All this having been asserted ... even the most devoted listener to Tales is also forced to admit that the album is in many ways flawed. Tracks tend to wander a bit ... and the music therefore is perhaps not as focussed as it might be." He notes that while Howe "set a new standard for rock guitar", he thought Wakeman's parts were not used properly and that the keyboardist was instead "relegated to the role of sideman". Author and critic Martin Popoff called the album the "black hole of Yes experiences, the band dissipating, expanding, exploding and imploding all at once", though he thought it contained "some fairly accessible music".
In 1984, when Yes had released the commercially successful album 90125 (1983), Anderson looked back on Tales from Topographic Oceans as "difficult in some respects", but felt it was "stupid to even think about defending it." In 1990, he said that he was pleased with three quarters of the album, with the remaining quarter "not quite jelling", but the tight deadline to finish it meant there was little time to make the necessary changes. Squire recalled the album as an unhappy period in the band's history, and commented on Anderson's attitude then: "Jon had this visionary idea that you could just walk into a studio, and if the vibes were right ... the music would be great at the end of the day ... It isn't reality". Wakeman continues to hold a mostly critical view. In 2006, he clarified 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."
Anderson spoke about his wish to edit the album and reissue it as a condensed 60-minute version with remixes and overdubs, but the plan was affected by "personality problems". The album was first remastered for CD by Joe Gastwirt in 1994. It was remastered again by Bill Inglot in 2003 as an "expanded" version on Elektra/Rhino Records, which features a restored two-minute introduction to "The Revealing Science of God" not included on the original LP but previously released on the 2002 box set In a Word: Yes (1969–). The set includes studio run-throughs of the same track and "The Ancient". The 2003 edition was included in the band's 2013 studio album box set, The Studio Albums 1969–1987.
Tales from Topographic Oceans was reissued with new stereo and 5.1 surround sound mixes completed by Steven Wilson in October 2016 on the Panegyric label. The four-disc set was made available on CD and Blu-ray or DVD-Audio and includes the new mixes, bonus and previously unreleased mixes and tracks, and expanded and restored cover art.
Tour and Wakeman's departure
Yes had planned to start touring the album with an American leg from October 1973, but it was cancelled to allow more time for the band to complete it. The Tales from Topographic Oceans Tour visited Europe and North America between November 1973 and April 1974, with a two-hour set of Close to the Edge and Tales from Topographic Oceans performed in their entirety, plus encores. The set was altered as it progressed, with "The Revealing Science of God" dropped for some early shows in 1974, and "The Remembering" removed completely from March.
Yes brought four times as much stage equipment than their previous tours, which included an elaborate stage set designed by Roger Dean and his brother Martyn and consisted of fibreglass structures, dry ice effects, a rotating drum platform surrounding White, and a tunnel that the band emerged from. During one show, the structure around White that opened and closed failed to operate, leaving him trapped. White claimed the incident was the inspiration behind a scene depicted in the rock mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap (1984). The UK leg saw Yes sell out the Rainbow Theatre in London for five consecutive nights, marking the first time a rock band achieved the feat. The North American leg included two sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden in New York City that grossed over $200,000. The band spent £5,000 on a hot air balloon which was decorated with the album's artwork and tethered in each city they performed in the US.
During the opening UK leg, Wakeman announced his decision to leave the band at its conclusion. His boredom and frustration from playing the whole of Tales from Topographic Oceans culminated during a show in Manchester where his keyboard technician brought him a curry, which he proceeded to eat on stage. Anderson felt he had pushed Wakeman too far, as he was unsatisfied with one of his keyboard solos in the set and had constantly asked him to get it right. When the tour finished, Wakeman declined to attend rehearsals for their next album and confirmed his exit on 18 May 1974, his twenty-fifth birthday; later that day, he found out his solo album, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, had entered the UK chart at number one. Wakeman was replaced by Swiss keyboardist Patrick Moraz.
|1.||"The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)"||Anderson, Howe||20:27|
|1.||"The Remembering (High the Memory)"||Anderson, Howe, Squire, Wakeman, White||20:38|
|1.||"The Ancient (Giants Under the Sun)"||Anderson, Howe, Squire||18:34|
|1.||"Ritual (Nous Sommes du Soleil)"||Anderson, Howe||21:35|
- Jon Anderson – lead vocals, harp, percussion
- Steve Howe – guitars, electric sitar, backing vocals
- Chris Squire – bass guitar, backing vocals
- Rick Wakeman – keyboards
- Alan White – drums, percussion
- Yes – production
- Eddy Offord – engineering, production
- Bill Inglot – sound production
- Guy Bidmead – tapes
- Mansell Litho – plates
- Roger Dean – cover design and illustrations, band logo
- Brian Lane – co-ordination
- Steven Wilson – 2016 Definitive Edition mixes
Charts and certifications
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