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Tales from Topographic Oceans

Front cover of the Roger Dean designed album sleeve
Studio album by Yes
Released December 14, 1973 (UK)
January 9, 1974 (U.S.)
Recorded August–October 1973 at Morgan Studios, London, England
Genre Progressive rock
Length 81:15 on original release, 83:42 on 2003 re-release (without bonus tracks), 124:34 (with bonus tracks' length included)
Label Atlantic
Producer Yes and Eddie Offord
Professional reviews
Yes chronology
Tales from Topographic Oceans
Back cover

Tales from Topographic Oceans is the sixth studio album by British progressive rock band Yes. It is a double album, released on Atlantic Records in December 1973 in most of the world and in January 1974 in North America. Keyboardist Rick Wakeman is known to immensely dislike the album.


Concept and history

Tales from Topographic Oceans was recorded in studio 3 of Morgan Studios at the same time heavy metal band Black Sabbath was recording their fifth album, Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, in studio 4. According to Sabbath lead singer Ozzy Osbournes 2010 autobiography I Am Ozzy the band decorated their recording studio with model cows–complete with electronic udders–bales of hay, and a small barn, to give the room an "earthy" feel.[1]

The album's concept, a two-disc, four-piece work of symphonic length and scope (based on the Shastric scriptures, as found in a footnote within Paramahansa Yogananda's book Autobiography of a Yogi), was their most ambitious to date. The four songs of the album symbolise (in track order) the concepts of Truth, Knowledge, Culture, and Freedom, the subjects of that section of text. According to drummer Bill Bruford in his autobiography (p. 72), former King Crimson percussionist Jamie Muir introduced vocalist Jon Anderson to Paramahansa Yogananda's work during Bruford's wedding in March 1973, and therefore had an indirect impact on the album's concept.

On release it received notably hostile reviews. Gordon Fletcher in his review in Rolling Stone described it as "psychedelic doodling".

Many Yes fans and casual listeners remain divided over whether or not this is one of the group's stronger works. Some Yes fans claim that it is far too excessive and unfocused, while others maintain that repeated listening reveals it as one of Yes' finest albums and a masterpiece of the progressive rock genre. Oddly enough, despite all the album's perceived excesses, it also arguably includes Anderson's first non-cryptic, topical lyrics since the anti-war lines in "Yours Is No Disgrace" from The Yes Album during the acoustic section of "Ancient." He sings about human being's capacity to commit murder and that leading to the killing of a lamb. Anderson, a vegetarian, revisits this topic in the song "Don't Kill the Whale" on Tormato.

Despite acquiring a reputation as an example of the worst excesses of "prog rock", Topographic Oceans became the band's fourth consecutive gold album. The album reached #1 in the UK as well as reaching #6 in the U.S. during a chart stay of 27 weeks; the album even went gold in both countries from advance orders, before any fans had ever heard the content.

A special promotional only, white label, "banded for airplay" version of the 2 LP set was sent to US radio stations by Atlantic Records in 1974 (the date is 1973 on the record labels.) This was done to try to increase radio exposure as most radio stations did not want to air such long songs. This promo release divided the long tracks into 4 or 5 segments per side. Most of the segments were in the range of 3 to 5 minutes and all were clearly marked on the record to assist disc jockeys. This promo version is now a rare collectible.


Artwork for the album (design and illustration) was done by Roger Dean. Dean designed many of the group's album covers, forming a continuing story in pictures. Dean had also created the Yes logo.[2] The cover of Tales from Topographic Oceans has often been included in lists of the best album covers of all time.


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.

–Steve Howe[3]

Part of Wakeman's unfavourable attitude towards the album stems from the fact that vocalist Jon Anderson and guitarist Steve Howe constructed the bulk of the album entirely on their own (as the liner notes suggest), leaving the remaining three members with relatively little to contribute (which the liner notes dispute). The complaints about Anderson and Howe's studio behaviour were not unprecedented: drummer Bill Bruford had left the band for King Crimson a year earlier for similar reasons, and stories abound of Anderson and Howe putting tiles in the studio to simulate the acoustics of a bathroom, while Wakeman, in frustration, spent much of the time playing darts with Black Sabbath members once they were in the studio at the same time as Yes.[4]

Despite Wakeman's reservations about the album, other members disagreed: Howe in particular stated that some of his best guitar work was to be found on Tales from Topographic Oceans. Chris Squire mentions listening to tapes of a live performance some years later and thinking "it does go on a bit", but then adding that he "really enjoyed it". Even Wakeman, in interviews, mentioned that he enjoyed some of the musical content of "The Ancient", and Wakeman has performed "The Revealing Science of God" and "Ritual" with the band often in the years since.


The tour supporting the album began in November 1, 1973 at BBC Studios, London and ended in April 23, 1974 at Palazzo dello Sport, Rome. The concerts featured a elaborate stage also designed by Roger Dean, who created figures made of fiberglass. These props were, namely, a tunnel which allowed the band to enter the stage (this was eventually destroyed by the roadies mid-tour)."The Whale Skull", a set of curved organ pipes; a giant bug over Alan White's drum set; and several mushrooms at the front of the stage. Apart form these stage objects, Rick Wakeman had, mounted to his organ, two busts, one from Bach and one from Beethoven.

In a similar way to the album, the tour received several negative critics, specially from Chris Welch of the Melody Maker, who described it as "brilliant in patches, but often taking far too long to make its various points, and curiously lacking in warmth or personal expression".[5]

Track listing

All music composed by Anderson/Howe/Squire/Wakeman/White.

Disc 1
# Title Lyrics Length
1. "The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)"   Anderson/Howe 20:25
2. "The Remembering (High the Memory)"   Yes[citation needed] 20:38
Disc 2
# Title Lyrics Length
3. "The Ancient (Giants under the Sun)"   Anderson/Howe/Squire[citation needed] 18:35
4. "Ritual (Nous sommes du soleil)"   Anderson/Howe 21:37

2003 CD re-issue

A remastered edition was released in 2003, which restored a two-minute ambient section that precedes the album's opening proper; this section was deleted at the last minute before the album was originally pressed. Two studio run-throughs were included as bonus tracks.

Disc 1
# Title Lyrics Length
1. "The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn)" (original intro restored) Anderson/Howe 22:22
2. "The Remembering (High the Memory)"   Yes[citation needed] 20:38
3. "The Ancient (Giants under the Sun)"   Anderson/Howe/Squire[citation needed] 18:35
Disc 2
# Title Lyrics Length
4. "Ritual (Nous sommes du soleil)"   Anderson/Howe 21:37
5. "Dance of the Dawn" (studio run-through) Anderson/Howe 23:35
6. "Giants under the Sun" (studio run-through) Anderson/Howe/Squire[citation needed] 17:17



Year Chart Position
1973 UK Albums Chart 1
1974 Billboard Pop Albums 6


Organization Level Date
RIAA – U.S. Gold February 8, 1974
BPI – UK Gold March 1, 1974


  • 1988 – Atlantic – CD
  • 1994 – Atlantic – CD (Remastered)
  • 2003 – Rhino – CD (Remastered with Bonus Tracks)


  • In 2004, hip hop group De La Soul sampled "Ritual (Nous Sommes Du Soleil)" for the title track of their album The Grind Date.
  • The album is mentioned in the 1999 film Free Enterprise, by Eric (played by Phil LaMarr), who becomes angry at Dan (played by Jonathan Slavin) who admits that he had never listened to it after borrowing it. Dan also mistakes it for an album by the band Rush, saying sarcastically "What is that? That Rush album?", which causes Eric to become very angry and yell out "How Dare You! It's Yes!".



  1. ^ Osbourne, Ozzy; Chris Ayres (2010). I Am Ozzy. Grand Central Publishing. p. 160. ISBN 9780446569897. 
  2. ^ Thorgerson, Storm; Powell,Aubrey (1999). 100 Best Album Covers: The Stories Behind the Sleeves. Dorling Kindersley. pp. 142–143. ISBN 0751307068. 
  3. ^ Stuart Chambers, Yes: an endless dream of '70s, '80s and '90s rock music, pg. 31, 2002, ISBN 1894263472
  4. ^ Chris Welch, Close to the Edge: The Story of Yes, pg. 141, Omnibus Press (2003), ISBN 0711995095
  5. ^ Chris Welch, Yes - Adrift on the Oceans, Melody Maker, December 1st, 1973

External links and sources

Preceded by
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John
UK number-one album
5–12 January 1974
Succeeded by
Sladest by Slade

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