50 Years Ago: Yes’ Hot Streak Ends With ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’
Yes seemed as if they could do no wrong after 1972's classic Close to the Edge. Tales From Topographic Oceans, a bloated concept-driven follow up which created so much tension that it forced out keyboardist Rick Wakeman, would ultimately prove otherwise.
Frontman Jon Anderson, for his part, has said that the only freedom worth having after so much success is the freedom to do whatever you want: "Close to the Edge, Topographic Oceans, nobody else did that," Anderson told BAM. "I'm very proud of it."
Wakeman, on the other hand, was said to have spent most of these sessions unhappily playing darts and/or drinking. Critics joined him in questioning the wisdom of releasing this four-song double album.
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Rolling Stone derided Tales From Topographic Oceans as a form of "psychedelic doodling." Melody Maker's Chris Welch called it "brilliant in patches, but often taking far too long to make its various points, and curiously lacking in warmth or personal expression."
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Why Rick Wakeman Questioned 'Topographic Oceans'
Wakeman's issue wasn't that Tales From Topographic Oceans was devoted to Anderson's interpretations of the Hindu shastras – or sacred books – but rather the way the material was shaped to fit the old vinyl format.
"I didn't understand where we were going as a band," Wakeman said years later. "We adapted the music to fit four sides of an album. It didn't naturally evolve. There are some great things, but an awful lot of padding. If the CD format was around then, it would have been a different album."
Buoyed by a lead-in like Close to the Edge, the album nevertheless shipped gold for its Dec. 14, 1973, release, while topping the U.K. charts. Tales From Topographic Oceans reached No. 6 in the U.S. too, but sales – likely damaged by word of mouth – quickly leveled off. This ultimately became the first Yes project not to go platinum since 1971's The Yes Album, three releases back.
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Gallery Credit: Nick DeRiso
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