Yes Album Listening Guides – Tales From Topographic Oceans Part 1 – 591

Produced by Joseph Cottrell, Ken Fuller, Wayne Hall and Jeffrey Crecelius

This week we are starting a new project – The Yes Album Listening Guides. Eventually this will be a series of books and I explain more with Mark in this episode.

  • What is this new book series going to be about?
  • What is the first album?
  • How can I be involved?

Let us know if you agree with us!

Some of Kevin’s copies of Tales

Available now!

YMP Patrons:


  • Joseph Cottrell
  • Ken Fuller
  • Jeffrey Crecelius and
  • Wayne Hall


Aaron Steelman

Dave Owen

Mark James LangPaul Tomei
Joost Maglev

David Heyden

Paul WilsonMartin Kjellberg
Bob MartilottaLindMichael O’ConnorWilliam Hayes
Brian Sullivan

David Pannell

Lobate ScarpMiguel Falcão
Chris Bandini

David Watkinson

Neal KaforeyRachel Hadaway
Craig EstenesDemMark ‘Zarkol’ BaggsPaul Hailes
Doug Curran

Robert Nasir

Fergus CubbageScott Colombo
Fred BarringerDavidGeoff BailieSimon Barrow
Geoffrey Mason

Stephen LambeGuy R DeRomeSteve Dill
Henrik AntonssonSteve Perry

Hogne Bø PettersenSteve Rode
Declan LogueSteve ScottTodd DudleyJim
Jamie McQuinn

Steven Roehr

John ParryKeith Hoisington
Alan BeggTerence SadlerJohn HoldenBarry Gorsky
Michael HanderhanTim Stannard

Jon PicklesJohn Thomson
John CowanTony HandleyRobertGary Betts
Jim Morrison

Our (not really) new Facebook YMP Discussion Group is open to anyone to join but I’ll be adding rules and joining requirements when I have time (one day…). One of the advantages of the new format is that all members of the group have the same ability to post content, so it’s a bit more egalitarian, or somesuch. Please do search for the group and join in.

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Theme music

The music I use is the last movement of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. This has been used as introduction music at many Yes concerts. My theme music is not take from a live concert – I put it together from:

23 replies on “Yes Album Listening Guides – Tales From Topographic Oceans Part 1 – 591”

Correction to Mark’s comment about lyrics. Jon did not write all the lyrics. Steve contributed more lyrics to this album than any other Yes album, and he’s proud of them, he’s told me. He appreciated it when I complimented him on his lyrical input on ‘Tales’ as he said he hardly ever has that mentioned.

Jeff, Steve contributed lyrics to all 4 parts of Tales. Sometimes sentences, sometimes phrases & sometimes verses. Steve & Jon worked together on the lyrics for each song. I know he wrote the “Life is like a fight” section in “Ritual.” Also, “where does reason stop and killing just take over, does a lamb cry out before we shoot it dead.”

OK, Mark, I think we all know what your homework assignment for this project is – “The Remembering” and “The Ancient,” repeatedly, until you “get it.”

The thing about Tales is that one shouldn’t think of it as four separate songs (The Good One, The Boring One, The Weird One, The Loud Bassy One), but four movements of one continuous whole piece, with recurring themes established, developed and evolved into the final, monumental entirety of the album.

Tales was my Yes gateway drug: the very first Yes music I ever heard was ‘The Ancient,’ and everything else they’ve done, before and beyond, has had to compare to and compete with that. And I put this proposition out there: ‘The Ancient’ is the proggiest piece of prog ever progged. Steve’s “curiously out of tune” steel guitar is designed to immediately unsettle you, and the LOOOONG guitar solo – sometimes double-tracked, with two separate solos intertwining with each other, Chris doing weird things on bass, and strange percussion and other unidentifiable things going on in the background – is like one of those waking nightmares you can’t seem to escape from, until you do, and the sun comes up and everything is beautiful and harmonious again.

Also, I think it’s important to note that not only was this Alan’s initial foray into the studio with Yes (three days to learn the entire set list? No problem… NOW we throw him into the deep end of the pool!), but this album is the foundation of Chris and Alan’s Excellent 45 Year Adventure as the preeminent prog rhythm section of all time (apologies to Neil and Geddy). And they nailed it right out of the starting gate. Listen to the riffs they came up with during the mad rush towards the finale of “The Remembering,” not to mention the insanity of the latter half of “Ritual.”

Regarding the album as a whole, can you think of another band with big enough musical balls to release a DOUBLE album with FOUR songs on it? I like to imagine the creative thought process…

1972 – “Hey, check this out – one album, THREE songs!”
1973 – “Oh, you guys really liked our three song album? Well, then, how about THIS?”
1974 – “Hmmm… you didn’t really like that one so much? OK, then, here’s “Close To The Edge” on acid!

I think maybe there might have to be a Listening Guide for each piece of this – still my favorite of all of them – Yes album.

I did like Mark’s observation that without this album, we might never have had SO many epic prog adventures. The ones that immediately came to my mind were Dream Theater’s “Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence,” clocking in at forty-two minutes and two seconds, and “The Whirlwind” by Transatlantic, which, while it is indexed into twelve tracks, is essentially one long piece of 77 minutes 46 seconds.
So, thank you, Tales From Topographic Oceans, prog is indebted to for eternity.

Nice perspective. Obviously you’re younger than me. I’m of the lucky cohort that started with CTTE and was still young enough for the amazing run to Awaken.

Hey, Jeff, it’s been a while… when I first discovered Yes, Relayer was their newest album and I got to see them on the “Solos” part of that incredibly long tour. GFTO came out not long after, so, having begun listening in the middle I was able to experience where they were headed currently and exploring the past simultaneously. It really expanded my music appreciation, as prior to discovering Tales I was the biggest KISS nerd on Earth!
My mom was a big classical music fan, so I think Tales was able to stimulate my subconscious familiarity with longer-form musical styles. It was quite a transformation for 15 year old me.

couldn’t agree more! Fantastic album, I wouldn’t cut a minute out… but it does require more attention than some of the more immediate works. And it’s indeed a single piece in four movements rather than an album with four songs on it… Like a classical symphony, I think

Ritual is the best of Tales to many fans including Mark because IMO it’s got the right dose of Chris magic. He was just such a unique force. I know Billy would feel no disrespect from this observation.

In other news, going to LA 10/30. 24 years of seeing Yes live with my son. First was 1999 TheLadderTour @ Toledo USA. Billy Sherwood was the youngster on the stage then. Onward.

Hi Dr. I was at the Toledo show also, with 3 other big Yes fans, including the late Char-El, professional keyboardist & recording artist in his own right.

Thanks as always for an interesting and engaging episode, Kevin and Mark. I’ve been listening for years, but am not a frequent commenter.

I do have to take respectful exception with the suggestion that The Remembering lacks hooks.

Now, of course, what is so magical about music is that we all interpret songs in different ways – that’s awesome. But I agree with Jeffrey that repeated listens for a listener might bear more fruit. Tales is my favorite Yes album, but it took some time for me to really appreciate sides two and three. Now, 20+ years later, I absolutely love them. (In fact, it is only in the last ten years that I really *get* The Ancient [I thank Hawkwind for that 😉 ]). As for hooks, just off the top of my head, here are three brilliant ones: “Out in the city…,” “Don the cap…,” and of course, “Staaaandd on hills of long forgotten yesterdays.” It’s breathtaking stuff that paints gorgeous sonic landscapes.

I love that you guys are picking these albums apart and providing listening guides, it’s going to be fun to listen. As a thought though, it might be cool to have other voices on these episodes. Maybe you could call in turbo-fans/experts on particular albums to add even more excitement and content l to the already awesome contributions you bring. Thanks for what you guys do!

Thank you for the comment- great to hear from you. Yes we will indeed be bringing other voices in. In fact, as many as we can!

Right on. Thanks, Kevin. One more quick thing. There were some comments about Chris’s bass playing, here’s a cool quote from Yesstories.

happy to see other fellow Tales fans – ones who ‘get’ Sides 2 and 3! The Remembering is filled with amazing hooks and melodies! The finale with ‘Alternate Tune’ represents to me something only Yes (of bands known to me, maybe along with Genesis on their good days) could do – build these amazing climaxes which just ‘take me there’- this one is up there with the finale of To Be Over, And You And I, Awaken, the climax to Gates and maybe In the Presence Of – a very special one to me (and my number 1 favorite song!)
And yeah, listening to Hawkwind helps ‘get’ The Ancient 😀 Although for me it was probably Faust and Velvet Underground.

I would fall into the “Perfect as is” camp. As noted by John M above there are lots of hooks in The Remembering (this was my favorite Tales side as a teenager) and it even rocks in bits (“Relayer”)…heck, even Rick’s ambient “ocean” segments have a lovely moog melody on top. The Ancient is a deeper listen, you can see the influences of 20th century classical and avante garde jazz (Jon may have been thinking of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring)…but it’s not any weirder than much of King Crimson. I find it very compelling.

Oddly enough but I think Mark & I have more common ground on Rush & Kiss than we do on Yes-LOL! Though I probably agree that Relayer is in the top 5 to 7 Yes albums for me (I know it’s his fav). But think about it, without The Remembering, I don’t think you have a Relayer album…that segment in Tales side 2 along with the challenging music in The Ancient is in many ways the gateway to the exploration of discord and dissonance in Relayer.

Relayer absolutely sounds like son of Tales (perhaps minus the jazz-fusion influences), just like Awaken is like a postscript, build on what they’d learned with The Remembering and maybe Ritual.

Two best albums for me (obviously, alongside CTTE, but that’s just something I ‘have to’ agree upon, an undisputable perfection, and a core identity statement – not that I need to hear it again anytime soon ;)) After Relayer, they ceased the experimental route, everything went downhill for me. (I do like later albums, but it’s just… not the same, there’s something extremely important they’d lost afterwards, in my opinion – and that thing came to a perfect expression with Tales as a whole).

BTW, re Rick’s ‘oceanic’ Moog motif – I’ve heard Jon saying in an interview that it’s probably his favorite of all RW parts in Yes (he mentioned it making an argument for The Remembering – as an underrated piece of music, and on unfair was Rick’s opinion on the album as a whole)

I think they had enough strong material for 3 sides of vinyl. If the CD format had existed in the 1970s, TALES might have been ideal with Sides 1 and 4 being the twenty-minute pieces as we know them, with Sides 2 and 3 fitting in the middle as 10-minute pieces.

If I could only have one Yes album it would be Tales. I believe it’s the classical music of the future. I bought the record on release when I was 15 and it’s still in reasonable condition. Although I would not change anything on the original it would be interesting to modify side 2 and 3. There are some repetitive parts that could be cut and this could help fans like Mark appreciate the musical ideas more.

Keep up the great work!

In short – I think Mark should give Tales more attention; it’s the kind of album that grows on you.
I’ve been a Yes fan since around 2001 (CTTE was my gateway drug) and at the time I certainly didn’t ‘get’ Tales. However, since about 4 years ago, I’ve started to realize that the infamous Sides 2 and 3 are fascinating pieces of music in their own right – and, together with Sides 1 and 4 form a terrific musical journey. Nowadays, it’s my absolute favourite Yes album – partly because I can still hear something new and exciting each time I play it, partly it’s because I admire the courage to explore new compositional and sonic possibilities. Finally – it’s something completely unique – no other band could possibly produce such weird and beautiful and baffling music (and I think Yes’ great tragedy – which started with Going For the One – was that they went the ‘safe’ route, never to reach such creative heights again… songs like ‘Mind Drive’ may have constituted attempts at rekindling the creative spirit, but I think that mostly failed; the damage was, at that stage, beyond repair, which really is incredibly sad – but that’s an entirely another subject).

BUT, I have to say – I don’t think this (Tales) is the type of music you can appreciate with only superficial engagement. In my case, it helped to get really bored with other Yes albums (which at some point I practically knew note by note) to have my curiosity for Tales reignited. I’m certainly glad it was. After repeated listens, I rediscovered the album as mighty, beautiful, stunning, adventurous… At this moment The Remembering is my favourite Yes song, along with another absolutely underrated beautiful journey of a song – To Be Over. And I could sing both of them to you, beginning to end, from memory! (By the way, if there’s one song on Tales which anticipates Awaken in a big way, it’s the climax of The Remembering). Oh, and a bit of trivia: apparently Chris Squire’s favourite Yes bassline is in Remembering (I’m not sure about the precise moment, but I’m guessing it must be the incredibly clever ‘inverted’ part in the first section).

And The Ancient? it’s Yes reinventing themselves by stretching out, embarking on a journey to the unknown and taking you along. Yeah, I used to hate it too! But… again – this is a demanding type of music, you could play it next to Soft Machine III or some of the krautrock bands of the period, Faust’s debut album, Tangerine Dream’s Zeit, stuff like that – or maybe Bitches Brew, or Peter Hammill’s Silent Corner and Empty Stage, maybe some Henry Cow… Funny thing, the keyboard ‘padding’ on the album (mostly the mellotron padding on The Ancient) belongs, to me, to some of the best work Rick’s ever produced (it’s beautifully abstract, emotive, very King Crimson and harmonically imaginative)- but at the same time, I don’t think he ‘gets’ it either – judging by what he preferred to put on his (mostly unlistenable – just my opinion) solo records. Oh – Leaves of Green is pretty, but doesn’t ‘do’ it for me in the same way as the rest of the track (too sacharine, perhaps).

Last thing – many avid Tales apologists underline that the album should be treated as a single entity, rather than four ‘CTTEs’, and as such it takes you to extreme places (of great calm – like Side 2 – or great turmoil – like Side 3). That approach might just make you appreciate it in a different way.

In sum… Too long? In my (die-hard fan speaking here) humble opinion the 1970s Yes is the greatest rock band that ever existed (to my knowledge), and I celebrate every precious minute they had produced. Like Sid Smith said in part 4 of the Tales podcast, it’s about trusting the band and letting them take you where they aim to.

As to modern prog bands being influenced by Tales… I’ve yet to hear anything in modern ‘prog’ which has a tenth of creative freedom, beauty, quirkiness – in short: imagination – as ‘The Yes album’, let alone Tales… 🙂 But maybe I wasn’t looking quite as hard as I should (I like the Swedish prog/psych/indie rock band Dungen, but that’s just about it).

oof – I had to write it… ! Sorry for such a long comment.. BTW, great podcast, I’m looking forward to listening to other episodes (after I’m done with all the Tales-related ones ;))

I tire of hearing twaddle like “no one would have done a double album with four tracks” before Yes.

Soft Machine did it
Tangerine Dream did it
Wendy Carlos did it.

And how many who can’t bear the idea of an album of four ~19 minute movements, listen to symphonic music on any regular basis? Are those works “too long”or “unnecessary” too? Maybe the lack is in the listener, not the music?

Not sure why Ritual gets a pass while sides 2 and 3 are called bloated. Ritual’s got a long and kinda messy bass ‘solo'(even longer in Wilson’s mix and in performance) followed by a *drum solo*. Both the sorts of things that exemplify rock “excess” , no?

(I love it all, of course , but I’m asking for some consistency in argument, instead of lazy adulation or dismissal)

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