Yes Album Listening Guides – Tales From Topographic Oceans Part 4 – Sid Smith talks about the context – 597

Produced by Joseph Cottrell, Jeffrey Crecelius and Ken Fuller

The hugely knowledgeable Sid Smith joined us again this week to chat about the context of Tales from Topographic Oceans. Sid wrote the sleeve notes for the Steven Wilson remix of Tales which was released by Panegyric in 2016.

He also wrote the remarkable book, ‘In the Court of King Crimson – An Observation over Fifty Years’, so we were delighted to be able to ask him about the relationship between Crimson main man, Robert Fripp, and Bill Bruford.

  • Why did Fripp want Bruford?
  • Why did Yes decide to push the boundaries even further with Tales?
  • How influential was the album?

Let us know if you agree with us!

Sid in his happy place
Buy Sid’s brilliant book – you really should

Yes – The Tormato Story

Available now!

YMP Patrons:


  • Joseph Cottrell
  • Ken Fuller
  • Jeffrey Crecelius


Jim Morrison Jon Pickles Declan Logue
Gary Betts Alan Begg Michael Handerhan
Barry Gorsky Steve Perry Doug Curran
Martin Kjellberg Todd Dudley Rachel Hadaway
Lind  Paul Hailes Craig Estenes
Mark James Lang Steve Rode David
Bob Martilotta John Holden Stephen Lambe
Dem Fred Barringer Scott Colombo
Chris Bandini David Heyden John Thomson
Mark Baggs John Cowan John Parry
Dave Owen Simon Barrow Steve Scott
Terence Sadler Steve Dill Robert Nasir 
Fergus Cubbage William Hayes Geoff Bailie
Steven Roehr Lobate Scarp Geoffrey Mason
David Watkinson Tim Stannard Robert Vandiver
Brian Sullivan David Pannell Jamie McQuinn
Miguel Falcão Paul Tomei Michael O’Connor
Brian HarrisHogne Bø Pettersen
Become a Patron!

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.

Please follow/subscribe!

If you are still listening to the podcast on the website, please consider subscribing so you don’t risk missing anything:

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts
Subscribe on Google Podcasts

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:

7 replies on “Yes Album Listening Guides – Tales From Topographic Oceans Part 4 – Sid Smith talks about the context – 597”

After the amazing brilliance of “The YES Album”, “Fragile”, and “Close to the Edge”, I must say I was expecting another big masterpiece, when I first heard this album in 1979. No one I knew, at that time liked TFTO, even after listening to it for several months. The radio stations played almost nothing from it, and the general consensus was that it was a complete dud. I’ve tried getting into it several times over the years, with no success. The problem ? There is almost a complete lack of memorable melodicism; only a couple of good songs, mixed in with a whole bunch of noodling. Jon Anderson’s lyrics are hook-less here; whereas previously his word stew was evocative and inventive, here we have nothing better than “What happened to the song we once knew so well?”. Bottom line, this album represents everything that many people hate about Prog; a pretentious, over-ambitious concept with far too much complication and no soul (Even the title is pretentious – what the heck is a “topographic ocean” ?). Overall, little more than an extended technical exercise in flashiness and self-indulgence. Wakeman was wise to get out at this time in their career. Greatest album ever ? Hardly !

Great interview with Sid Smith! I was at the same concert in Newcastle and it really was a “what was that moment” when they played Tales for the first time
I had the album for all of one day before the concert, but could not listen as my grandmothers “phonograph” was not working.
Tales helped Yes evolve – the excitement around a new yes album in the 70s was unbelievable…..we cannot compare to today – keep up the good work

(Corrected version)

So Mark hates half of Topographic Oceans? Everyone has their favorites from Topographic, but my favorites are “The Ancient” (as soon as I heard it) and “The Remembering” (after I got into meditation). But I like the entire album just as it is.

When I first heard TALES in June 1975 I didn’t think it was that strange at all. I had spent the previous two years listening to Todd Rundgren’s Utopia’s “The Ikon” (a 30 minute track) and Todd’s 36 minute solo instrumental electronic composition “A Treatise on Cosmic Fire,” as well as Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, the entirety of Genesis’ catalogue, and even stranger music like Urszula Dudziak and Adam Makowicz’s free jazz duet between a scat singer and electronic pianist. After all that, Tales’ first two sides seemed like easy listening to me. But it was “The Ancient” that made me sit up straight and think the band were spilling brilliance, probably before the ears of swine who would never understand it.
The reaction to it was like what happened to Stravinsky and Nijinsky when they debuted “The Rite of Spring,” or when Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey hit the movie theaters: utter astonishment that artists could be so pretentious to think such topics are appropriate for mainstream listeners.

But let’s not be so ahistorical as to think that only progressive art received such accusations from the pop music press. Just look at the Wikipedia page for The Yardbirds single “Happenings Ten Years Time Ago” and you’ll see the same word, namely “pretentious,” employed in a review– and that was in 1966 for something that was just a psychedelic single!

Topographic Oceans was enjoyed and influential to people like Roine Stolt and Steve Hackett who truly embraced progressive music, while other highly musical people were simply in awe of it– in awe that a band could get away with releasing it AND see it near or at the top of the charts! Yes had the respect from other musicians like almost no other band at the time. But hardly no one could possibly aspire to make music as good because how many people could juggle that much complexity and have the pull within a band to inspire others to follow their lead? Zappa would be such an exception, but Steve Howe and Jon Anderson were following their spiritual muse and the album went Gold in the US as did Relayer, won acclaim in Melody Maker’s readers polls, and then the band spent three years playing to their biggest audiences from early 1974 until the end of 1976 based on those two albums.

Wakeman rejoins (after his No Earthly Connection flopped in the US) and the result was that Going for the One merely went gold like Tales and Relayer, despite having Wakeman back in the band, a record industry-approved album cover (Hipgnosis), and more commercial songs like “Wondrous Stories” and “Going for the One”. That more than anything should prove that neither TALES nor RELAYER were considered a drag on Yes’ popularity. And those albums have continued to enjoy acclaim from within the prog community.

To add insult to injury, Mark then declares The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway “another terrible album.” Yes, so terrible that a tribute band has spent two decades playing the entire album to fan acclaim all over the world. What next… attacks on Sgt Pepper and SMiLE?

And why hasn’t Topographic Oceans received the same honor as an artwork performed around the world for decades? It’s just too damn difficult, that’s why. You would need at least seven or eight people on stage to do it accurately, which is the approach of what the acclaimed Beatles tribute band The Analogues does to perform their later albums (see for yourself on youtube) along with orchestral accompaniment.

So here we sit with 1973 and 1974– being the 50th anniversary of Tales from Topographic Oceans album and tours– and all we get is insults and giggles all-around as if you assembled a gaggle of punk rockers to opine about it.

Many thanks, Nick, for the thoughtful comment. It’s the variety of opinion that makes these topics so fascinating.

Indeed, Mark doesn’t like sides 2 and 3 of Tales. Similarly, I don’t like some of Open Your Eyes and some of Heaven and Earth. All musical preferences are subjective.

Sid and I did find Mark’s comments amusing but both of us disagree with him. We are both fans of the album as it is. There is no intention to be insulting to anyone’s opinions about Tales or any other music. I’m sorry if that’s how it came across.

Please keep listening and sharing your thoughts.

Great interview with Sid! At risk of offending Nick (above) I am announcing that I finally agree with Mark on a long-form prog piece–LOL!! The Lamb is not a successful album. First the good: the album is filled with luscious music: great melodies and those gorgeous Banks/Rutherford chords. Phil is rocking some heavy drums & Steve is in fine form here. In the Cage (particularly the live versions with Phil on vox) is one of my top 5 Genesis song-favs. However, the “story” is indecipherable–and that’s AFTER reading Peter’s extensive liner notes. It’s like some pretentious adoloescent-boy-nightmare-fantasy with a culturally-appropriated protagonist(s)–shouldn’t the brother be named Juan? Ha ha…Even The Who’s Tommy makes more sense (though not MUCH more). And talk about “padding”–Supernatural anesthetist, Ravine–they define padding! So Mark, to quote a YES song title,
“We Agree!”

IMHO, Tales is hands-down the best long-form prog piece. It’s not weighted down by a narrative, and Jon’s spiritual musings follow a general design with a lyrically “impressionistic” approach…lotsa catchy melodies to my ear, plenty of good rocking, and (now in agreement with Nick above) The Ancient is an effective and moving avante-garde piece (Mark, you can sleep through it-LOL), different strokes for different folks & that’s ok.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 300 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video, document, spreadsheet, interactive, other. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop file here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.