What does the prog world really think of Yes' Tales From Topographic Oceans?

Steve Hackett posing against some cabinets
Steve Hackett (Image credit: Kevin Nixon)


“I know this was an album that divided opinion when it was first released, but I liked it at the time, and still do. I recall Chris Squire once telling me that when the band were working on this album they did no more than a few bars of music a day. This meant they could perfect what they had, and explains why Tales… sounds so highly detailed.

“I know it was Jon Anderson’s concept, but you can tell from the way everyone got involved instrumentally that all of Yes were at a peak. And here we are, 40 years later, still talking about it. That proves that whether you love or hate it, this album has made a lasting impact.”

(Image credit: Will Ireland)

JOHN MITCHELL (Lonely Robot/It Bites)

“Yes have been one of my enduring favourite bands since I accidentally bought an album aged 14 on the basis that I mistakenly took the guitarist to be shredder extreme Greg Howe (big fan as a kid) and not, in fact, Steve Howe. An odd way to get into a band you might think, but my love for the band hasn’t diminished since that first accidental encounter. That said, as with most bands they’ve made good albums and not so good albums.

Tales… was perhaps the moment that the cracks on the wall of Yes started to show, and the decline into the preposterousness of progressive rock began. A tenuous concept to begin with, based on a book of Hindu teachings, stretched into four songs over four sides of a double album does not make for particularly enjoyable listening experience.

“It’s not a bad album per se, but it very much sinks under the weight of its own bloated self-importance, and that’s coming from a Yes devotee! Apart from The Revealing Science Of God which has some moments of genuine beauty, the rest of the opus clatters on held together with more filler than a Triumph Spitfire. I suppose I should feel more affection for an album written on the year of my birth but I’m afraid I don’t. Stick with Close To The Edge!”

(Image credit: Hajo Mueller)

NICK BEGGS (Steven Wilson/The Mute Gods)

“This is my favourite Yes album. But over the years it’s come in for a massive amount of public vilification. And to all those naysayers I would just say this: Get your ears syringed! Tales From Topographic Oceans is an amazing musical journey with few rivals in the genre.”

(Image credit: Andrew Simpson)


Tales From Topographic Oceans was never my favourite Yes record. Steven Wilson has spun his usual magic on the new remix, but I still find the music a little overblown and ponderous. Lots of people are coming out of the closet saying, ‘Actually it was always my favourite Yes album’, but I am more excited at the prospect of a remix/reissue (and re-evaluation!) of Time And A Word – that’s a much crisper album buzzing with fire, edge, joy and great songs. But …Topographic Oceans? It’s not for me, I’m afraid.”

(Image credit: Robert Smith)


“When Transatlantic did a special set of Yes songs with Jon Anderson on my Progressive Nation At Sea 2014 Cruise, little did we realise what we were getting ourselves into! When Jon and I initially discussed the songs, he told me he wanted to ‘keep it simple’. Then a few days later he called me up to tell me he had an idea of doing all of side one of …Topographic Oceans! Talk about jumping off the deep end!

“Of course, we were thrilled at the idea and challenge. But once we began rehearsing the material at soundchecks each day, we realised how complex the music was. Not necessarily in terms of the playing itself – all of us were more than capable in playing the parts – but the composition was so unbelievably unorthodox and complex.

“I can honestly say that learning The Revealing Science Of God was the biggest challenge I’ve ever had! I cannot imagine how this music was composed. It’s almost like, ‘OK, do this 54 riff 11 times and then do this 98 jungle groove five times and then let’s do 13 vocal stabs into a keyboard solo and then drop into an acapella vocal part in free time, etc.’ There was no way to remember these twists and turns unless you had written it.

“But once we began rehearsing the piece with Jon, he was conducting the transitions and the tempo changes and then suddenly it all made sense. I always wondered how Jon’s musical contributions fit into the equation of such virtuoso musicianship in Yes, and from this I was able to see that he was the centre of it all. He was the glue that held these four incredible individual musicians together.”

(Image credit: Kevin Nixon)


“If push comes to shove, I’ll always choose Close To The Edge and Going For The One as my idea of the creative pinnacles of Yes’ music. They’re both extraordinary albums that manage the difficult task of being as accessible as they are experimental. That said, I’ve always had a soft spot for Tales From Topographic Oceans, and it’s probably been more influential to me in its own barmy way than anything else the band have done.

“It was an amazingly brave and bloody-minded release that has to be one of the strangest number one albums in history. The Revealing Science Of God is a brilliant and logical follow-on from Close To The Edge, while the future-primitive tribal assault of the first half of The Ancient and the timeless beauty of the Nous Sommes Du Soleil section of Ritual rank with the band’s best work for me.

“I’ve always been drawn to the stories surrounding the album’s making, from the plastic cows and straw in the studio to Wakeman downing pints and playing darts with Black Sabbath as Anderson and Howe sought enlightenment via their spiritual compositions. …Topographic Oceans is indulgent, overlong and the sound of a band overreaching its (considerable) abilities, but music would be poorer without it. A tighter three track album – featuring an edited Revealing Science Of God, part one of The Ancient and a more fleshed out Nous Sommes Du Soleil – may well have been artistically and commercially preferable, but I love the fact that Yes got carried away by a big idea and ended up in a place wholly unrecognisable from where the band had started in the late 1960s. On one level pure excess, on another a triumph of unfettered imagination.”


“To me, Tales From Topographic Oceans was a very free spirited album. In the grand old days of prog, especially with Yes, there was a wisdom and comfort in everything they brought to us. Even within its wandering nature, this album is a beautiful release, and if one has the patience, there are so many memorable catchy melodies and melodic sections. The sounds themselves, like the classic Mini Moog synthesiser from Wakeman, Anderson’s golden voice and Howe’s signature guitar, all shine through. This is an album that could only have existed in 1973, when the world was a much different place!”

(Image credit: Wendy Vissers Hagenbeek)


“The technical prowess is never in question with a Yes album. The musicianship is incredible. This album with its experimental roots makes this one of the most interesting Yes albums.”

(Image credit: Kevin Nixon)


“It’s one of those albums that shouldn’t have been a double. Side One was really good. Side Two was good. Side Three was terrible. Side Four was a bit better. I still play the first two sides when I go out running.”

(Image credit: Will Ireland)


“Besides having one of the most iconic album covers, this album has some of the more daring prog rock ever recorded, and one of the coolest album titles.

“The blend of simple folky songs, symphonic bliss, improvised electronica and odd time signatures, plus fabulous lyrics all make this album stand out. The year is 1973 and I bought it, convinced that Yes were the thing after Close To The Edge. I played it to pieces, sometimes twice a day. The sheer inventiveness from masters Anderson and Howe here is nothing less than a grand landmark in Yes history and in prog generally. All the members shine, even if sometimes in a more silent way.

“For me, to get to play Side One of this album live onstage with Jon a couple of years back was surreal. I still have my vinyl copy and a handful of remasters and Japanese pressings.

…Topographic Oceans is the spiritual axis where I wanna take every music project.”

(Image credit: Howy White)


“The first two sides are OK. The rest, though… it’s just crazy.”

Yes: The Real Story Behind Tales From Topographic Oceans

Yes - Tales From Topographic Oceans Expanded Edition album review

Sid Smith

Sid's feature articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including Prog, Classic Rock, Record Collector, Q, Mojo and Uncut. A full-time freelance writer with hundreds of sleevenotes and essays for both indie and major record labels to his credit, his book, In The Court Of King Crimson, an acclaimed biography of King Crimson, was substantially revised and expanded in 2019 to coincide with the band’s 50th Anniversary. Alongside appearances on radio and TV, he has lectured on jazz and progressive music in the UK and Europe.  

A resident of Whitley Bay in north-east England, he spends far too much time posting photographs of LPs he's listening to on Twitter and Facebook.