Happy 45th: Yes, TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS
While in Tokyo in March 1973, Jon Anderson was reading Parmahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi when he was – to use his own choice of phrase – “caught up in a lengthy footnote,” one describing the four bodies of Hindu text. Anderson suddenly had the idea to do an album revolving around these bodies, dedicating a side to each one. In short order, Anderson entered into conversation with Steve Howe about the idea, and the next thing you know, Yes was in the process of writing TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS.
Anderson preferred the idea of recording the album in the countryside, and Rick Wakeman felt the same way. Howe and Chris Squire, however, wanted to record in London. Alan White, meanwhile, was Switzerland, not really caring about the location one way or the other. There’s a famous story about how Anderson had wanted to record the album in a forest at night under a tent with electric generators buried into the ground so they’d be inaudible, but as Anderson himself has confirmed, “When I suggested that, they all said, ‘Jon, get a life!’”
In the end, they recorded the album at Morgan Studios in Willesden, England, but a compromise of sorts was made to the décor of the studio. While this sounds so ridiculous that you’d be well within your rights to wonder, “Are you having a laugh? Is the band having a laugh? Surely this can’t be true!” there was a model cow with electronic udders and a small barn, among other items, including bales of hay on which Wakeman placed his amplifiers and keyboards.
Is TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS an epic affair? You bet. But it’s an epic affair that paid off handsomely: the album made it into US top 10 and climbed all the way to the top of the charts in the UK.
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