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How Yes’ Hot Streak Ended With ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’

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Coming off 1972’s classic Close to the Edge, it seemed as if Yes could do no wrong. Tales From Topographic Oceans, a bloated concept album which created so much tension that is forced keyboardist Rick Wakeman out of the band, proved otherwise.

Singer 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.” But critics joined Wakeman – who was said to have spent most of these sessions unhappily playing darts and/or drinking – in questioning the wisdom of releasing this four-song double album.

Gordon Fletcher, writing for Rolling Stone, derided Tales 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.”

For his part, Wakeman’s issue wasn’t that Tales was devoted to frontman Jon 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.”

The album, buoyed by a lead-in like Close to the Edge, shipped gold while topping the U.K. charts. Released on Dec. 14, 1973, it reached No. 6 in the U.S. too, but sales — likely damaged by word of mouth — quickly leveled off. Tales From Topographic Oceans would become Yes’ first project not to go platinum since 1971’s The Yes Album, three releases back.

Something good ultimately came from this time, though. Tales marked the debut of new drummer Alan White, who took over during the preceding tour when Bill Bruford left for King Crimson. White remains in the drum chair to this day. Meanwhile, Wakeman and Anderson continue to record and tour, though both have long since left Yes.

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