Classic Rock Review

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Yes Tales From Topographic Oceans (1973)


How do you, as an artist, follow up a classic album, or just your best work up to that point?

It is an issue that has plagued many musical performers, and when Yes released the progressive milestone Close to the Edge in 1972, they faced this very problem. Being ambitious, and familiar with writing large-scale epics, the band took the common decision: to make that next album bigger than anything before it. A 81-minute concept based on Shastric scriptures (Jon Anderson’s fancy), Tales From Topographic Oceans is, for the lack of a better word, huge.

Albums like these are prone to implode because of their own length, and Topographic Oceans is certainly getting in the danger zone. It’s a large pill to swallow, and it won’t be the first Yes album you’ll pick up for a listen. Describing all its intricacies would be a long-winded affair, so to keep it short: while this double album contains some of Yes’ most gorgeously-composed passages, it does (surprise surprise) seem a little too stretched out.

The band, ambitious composers as they are, would not likely resort to meaningless noodling, so as a whole, the album actually still pretty great. Its lengthiness however doesn’t put it anywhere on the same level as the group’s three greatest achievements, being Fragile, Close to the Edge, and Relayer.

What made Close to the Edge a classic was perhaps that it was a band effort in the end, giving everyone a chance to show their abilities, both alone and in interplay. This is where Topographic Oceans strays off the right path again. The majority of this double concept was composed by Anderson and Howe, and these two are almost constantly in the musical spotlight. On the bright side, Howe’s guitar playing here is among his brightest performances.

He was, after all, often enough overshadowed by Squire and Wakeman, and this might have been payback. Wakeman however didn’t take the clear division so well, and left the band to pursue his solo career. Another classic Yes member took his leave, although he was to return later.

Even the biggest Yes followers will have to conclude that the band blew up Tales From Topographic Oceans a bit, but at the end of the day, we still have an essential Yes record with constantly great musicianship here. Being stretched out over 80 minutes, this also is a lot more relaxed to listen to than their classics, so if you’re in the right mood and take your time, it really does pay off. Not the best to start with, but most definitely an important piece in Yes’ career.


As I have been an avid fan of Yes since the 1970’s, and seen them in concert at least 20 times I’m now reviewing the Yes double album Tales From Topographic Oceans. This was recorded during August to October 1973 and released in the U.S on January 9th 1974. The band members appearing on this album are the classic line up of; Jon Anderson, Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman and Alan White.

This concept album consists of 4 songs; The Revealing Science Of God, The Remembering, The Ancient and Ritual. All songs are approx 20 minutes long and deep in texture and sound that make YES.

The Revealing Science Of God; Starting with a chant that swirls in a rich mix of Steve’s guitar and Rick’s keyboards The Revealing brings you to that mellow spot in Yes music that doesn’t bring you to your feet but allows you to ponder. The next day after you’ve heard this song you’ll think about the lyric “I must have waited all my life for this moment !” The song itself moves about very leisurely but delivers with Steve’s guitar riffs and brief moments of Wakeman’s superbly textured keyboards.

The Remembering; With the sounds that made early progressive rock great, this song’s starting place leads you on a musical journey into a common YES hook. The song ends back where it started. As Jon Anderson sings; “And I do feel very well…” the entire band can be heard, Steve’s subtle guitar, Chris’s thundering base as quiet as can be and Alan’s drums helping to texture and move the song forward, while Rick’s keyboards add the finishing touches. “The strength of the moment lies with you !”, and the song is back where it started.

The Ancient; Starting off with such a mystical sound and venturing into a keyboard / guitar mix that stays with you, The Ancient shows true depth within its segments. With its starting and stopping technique and a well timed use of silence, and then increasing tempo the song is leading into some true YES greatness. The Leaves Of Green segment of the song is reason enough to have this song in your collection. Steve’s acoustic guitar playing and Jon’s singing “And I heard a million voices singing” show true musical greatness and this segment of music will endure. The last few moments of this song are taken to musical heights rarely seen, touching the outskirts.

Ritual; Of the 4 songs on this album, Ritual has the most commercial sound. Its starting hook is easy to find and listen to. Somewhat of a tour-de-force sound, Yes has unleashed itself in this song. As Steve’s guitar weaves thru the opening minutes, what impress the most is the depth of Chris’s bass, less of the typical thundering sound and more of almost a bit of a violent sound played with gusto. What Ritual does is tell a story of hope as Jon sings “open doors we find our way.” However not returning to from where it started, Ritual rolls on with almost African or Caribbean drum beat leading and building into the spot a YES fan wants to hear. With the songs journey nearly over, Jon’s sings “and course our way back home, flying home, going home !” If you want to listen to Tales, I’d recommend listening to Ritual first, it will leaving you wanting more.

Yes had “progressed” since Close To The Edge and Rick Wakeman wouldn’t return again until Going For The One. Any Yes fan or music fan should own Tales in their collection. It will go down in history as an album of original progressive rock recordings that will sound great for years to come.Tales From Topographic Oceans was certified as a Gold record in the USA and England in 1974.

December 28, 2013 Posted by | Yes Tales From Topographic Oceans | | Leave a comment