My Grading System:
S-tier (100): Mind Blowing. Phenomenal.
A+ (97-99): Awesome song. Brilliant.
A (93-96): Great song.
A- (90-92): It’s just good enough to sneak into the great category.
There are grades for B’s, C’s and D’s, but there won’t be any of that here.
‘YES’ just finished their most prolific album, ‘Close to the Edge’ which is considered by many to be the greatest Prog Rock album of all time. Rolling Stone Magazine ranked it #445 of the top 500 greatest albums of all time, saying “‘Close to the Edge’ is the best of Yes’ many lineups at an absolute peak, with Jon Anderson’s sun-king vocals pouring out over new member Rick Wakeman’s dazzling keyboards. The title track, an 18-minute epic in four distinct parts, remains the most majestic moment in the prog-rock history.”
After ‘Close to the Edge’, Bill Bruford, my favorite drummer, left ‘YES’ and joined ‘King Crimson‘. He left for several reasons. He said he was tired of all the fighting and bickering about every little musical detail that went on within the group. He saw ‘King Crimson‘ play and was blown away by them and greatly desired to play with them. He wanted to branch out and explore new and different styles of music. He said he was burned out, having pulled several all-nighters, because the music was so difficult, but my favorite reason is he said he felt that ‘Close to the Edge’ was the perfect album and he doubted they’d ever top it, so he quit and joined ‘King Crimson‘. A very gutsy move on his part, but it all worked out, for Bruford would go on to create some of the most interesting and phenomenal music, both jazz fusion and progressive rock, that’s ever been performed and Alan White got his dream job and would go on to perform some incredible and mind-blowing drumming on their next 3 albums, along with their many more albums that would come afterwards, starting with the most unique album ‘YES’ ever made; an album that received both high praise from fans and critics, along with criticism from fans and critics and even from their own members.
Tales from Topographic Oceans
Tales from Topographic Oceans (TfTO) is their 6th album and their 1st album with new drummer, Alan White. It features one of the most beautiful album covers I’ve ever seen, along with their next album ‘Relayer‘. ‘TfTO’ is a double album and the album cover opens up and forms 1 picture with the art on the back showing fish swimming in what seems like an ocean on land. Do a google image of the album cover to see how beautiful it is.
During the band’s 1973 Japanese tour Jon Anderson found himself “caught up in a lengthy footnote” in ‘Autobiography of a Yogi‘ (1946) by Indian yogi and guru Paramahansa Yogananda which described four bodies of Hindu texts, named ‘shastras‘: the ‘sruti’, ‘smriti’, ‘puranas’ and ‘tantras‘, that Yogananda described as “comprehensive treatises that cover every aspect of religious and social life, and the fields of law, medicine, architecture and art, that convey profound truths under a veil of detailed symbolism”. It absolutely fascinated Jon and after pitching the idea to guitarist Steve Howe, they started to develop the album’s themes and lyrics. Keyboard player Rick Wakeman disagreed with its structure and elaborate concept and felt unable to contribute much to the music that had been written. He was displeased with the “padding” that was added, as they wrote each piece to fit an entire album side. Bass player Chris Squire recognized “a lot of substance” to the four tracks, but thought they lacked at times which resulted in an album that is “too varied and too scattered”. Despite the mixed opinions, Anderson wrote in the album’s liner notes that Squire, Wakeman, and White made “important contributions of their own” to the music.
‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’ is a concept album, featuring 4 EPICS, 1 Epic/album side, and each Epic “somewhat” centers around 1 of the musicians, but all 5 musicians are very much involved in all 4 pieces.
Following is my review and grade of each of these 4 pieces of music, followed by my overall grade of the album and my overall opinion of this music in general. I will also include a link to each piece with an amazing video by the YouTube channel called ‘vzqk50HD’, that fits the music beautifully.
Also, Ryan Reed wrote an article ranking all YES songs from his least favorite to favorite. I’ll post his rankings of these 4 pieces and what he said about them as well, just for comparison and contrast.
Here’s the link to his list: https://ultimateclassicrock.com/yes-songs-ranked/
The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn):
Length: 20:27 (extended version: 22:23) featuring the vocals of Jon Anderson
For reasons I don’t understand the original intro was cut from the album, which is really sad because that intro perfectly sets the scene for Jon’s vocals to come in. On the album it just starts with Jon’s vocals. The yt video link above includes the original intro.
Here I envision God surveying His creation, as he hovers over the waters, as is described in the book of Genesis. The sounds are perfect, as though a storm is brewing, or possibly ending. Soft long notes are played, creating more atmosphere, as the scene is set. Near the 2 minute mark Jon’s voice comes in, in a style somewhat similar to a Gregorian-like chant that’s just beautiful and magical. There’s a great slow build, as the long soft tones continue underneath Jon’s beautiful angelic voice. His voice then takes on a slightly more powerful tone. You can just feel it all building to something and at 2:35 Jon speaks the words that would define the music of YES for me forever “Disjointed, but with Purpose”. What? Wait, what? Disjointed but with purpose? What are you saying Jon? Are you saying that life may ‘seem’ at times to be ‘disjointed’, but there’s a purpose to it, regardless of how it seems? Is that the message of YES? Is that the message of life? Is there a purpose, or are we just a grand cosmic accident?
I was going to go off on a tangent here, but I stopped myself. Phew 🙂
Near the 3 minute mark Rick’s synthesizer penetrates the atmosphere, while Chris’s bass and Alan’s drums dance quietly in the background. I assume Steve’s guitar is involved too (it’s hard for me to tell for sure). Everything slowly builds, slightly louder, slightly more penetrating. Chris and Steve’s backing vocals just fill the music beautifully. Then Alan comes in with a driving rhythm and the music plays and you’re just flooded with emotions, as the music feels like it’s all around you. Steve’s unique guitar playing is amazing and Rick blends his synths in perfectly with it. Near the 5 minute mark the music changes and goes into the next section with Steve’s beautiful guitar work. Jon begins the next melody. It sounds like a song I’ve heard before, but I’ve no clue what that song is. I just know it’s beautiful and I love it.
Then the chorus begins. “What happened to this song we once knew so well… I must have waited all my life for this (pause) moment”. The first time I heard this I was like “I was just thinking that. I said I’ve heard this song before. What is it?” but I couldn’t tell, yet I knew it. How did YES do that to me? How did Jon lure me in like that, but he did. The music felt like it was a part of me. I can’t explain it. He was talking about my life, my imagination, my joy of going to magical worlds in my mind. The adventure and magic of life was in this song and I was completely taken into Jon’s magical world and I didn’t want to leave.
Near the 9 minute mark, the music picks up the pace, like you just jumped onto a ride at an amusement park and now you’re flying, driving, and just flowing. Alan’s drums are just perfect here. You can “feel” the pounding yet still soft and beautiful energy. Then it all slows down again. Beautiful music sways and flows and eventually Jon comes back in, telling you there’s more here than we realize, than we see. “Getting over wars we do not mean, or so it seems so clearly”. Yes. I thought he said need, not mean, but both words work, don’t they. Who really desires war other than those who profit from it?
Around the 13 minute mark, the music kicks into a new gear. Rick’s piano, blended with Alan’s drums and Chris’s bass just drives and flows. This music is just magical. I’m back in a fantasy world and joy and magic are all around me. Then it kicks up more now, but now it’s chaotic ‘disjointed’ and the energy pounds, yet there’s still this beautiful serene quality about it. It’s pounding, yet soft and flowing and then it changes yet again. Now it’s softer, slower, quieter. Alan beautifully creates the atmosphere with his cymbals. Rick’s keyboards and Chris’s bass here are just beautiful. Near the 16 minute mark it changes again. How many times will this song change? Now Jon’s magical voice comes in and you know you’ve heard this melody before, but where? “The rhythm of moving slowly. Sent through the rhythm, work out the story”. His voice soars high, yet soft. The music flows softly, beautifully. I’m lost now. I’m lost in a magical world and I don’t want this to end. Can this music just keep going forever?
After a while, the energy changes. Back on that roller coaster, but this time the energy is high, but it quickly comes down fast and you’re just floating. Now Jon wants you to hear his message. “We’ve moved fast. We need love. A part we offer is our only freedom”. Rick Wakeman once said “Jon is the only person I know who’s trying to save this planet while living on another one”. God I love Rick.
And the music ends, similar to how it began, with Jon “chanting”, but also singing, kind of a blend of both now. “You seekers of the truth accepting that reasons will relive and breathe and hope and chase and love for you and you and you”.
My journey has come to an end. I didn’t want it to end, but apparently… all things come to an end. Why, I don’t know. Don’t you just wish that joy would continue… forever? I do.
Grade: This song is one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. I stand in awe of how people compose music like this. I’m trying to think of something to compare it to. I can’t. (100 – S-tier).
Ryan Reed’s ranking/comments: #35: Alan White was a pure rock drummer – much fonder of primal pound than the jazzy experimentation of Bill Bruford, whom he replaced for the band’s sixth LP. So, imagine being in his shoes, trying to sort out a role within the bizarre soundscapes of Tales From Topographic Oceans. But White found his niche immediately: His heavy tom fills and cymbal crashes highlight the album’s opening side, grounding the band’s spacey chants, synth spikes, and volume pedal swells. “What happened to this song we once knew so well?” Anderson sings. Many confused fans were probably asking themselves that same question. But, thanks in part to their new drummer, “The Revealing Science of God” is the record’s closest brush with classic Yes.
The Remembering (High the Memory):
Length: 20:38 featuring the keyboards of Rick Wakeman
It sounds like a small group of minstrels playing at the beginning. I must be at a Renaissance Faire, so I assume. A pause in the beautiful melody catches my attention. A beautiful pause and then the music continues. Jon comes in, similar to the first song, yet different. A mantric-like meter in his singing, as Rick plays his keyboards beautifully. Chris’s bass plays softly underneath it all, creating the perfect atmosphere. Here again, I am certain that I’ve heard this before and once again Jon tells me that I have “And I do think very well that the song might take you silently”. Jon “knows” you’ve heard this and yet that’s ‘why’ he’s singing it to you, cause he wants you to ‘hear it again’.
Several minutes in, the music moves into a new section, guided again by Rick’s beautiful keyboards and Chris’s beautiful bass sounds. Then Jon continues his mantric-like singing. There’s like a brokenness to this music and yet somehow it also flows. Oh yeah, ‘disjointed, but with purpose’. Of course. “The music sings of love you knew”. Jon is showing you all that’s going on. “We walk ‘around’ the story”. I feel like he’s telling me the story is going on, whether you see it or not, because you’re too busy walking around your own story, and you’re missing it even though it’s right in front of you and all around you.
Another wonderful change in the music near the 8 minute mark. It seems somewhat foreboding, and then Rick’s magical music fills the air lightly and sweetly and you’re dreaming again. Then, just like that, it gently kicks into a new gear and Steve’s acoustic guitar comes in and Jon sings a beautiful little tune. Now you can feel the singing and dancing all around you. The minstrels are having fun now. You think Alan’s drums are coming in with thunder, but it quiets right down, so you relax, but less than 10 seconds later and it kicks into gear and Steve’s guitar just drives the melody with his wonderful and beautiful disjointed guitar sounds that I can’t get enough of. It slows down again and feels like it’s building up to something… and then once again Steve’s acoustic guitar plays and Jon sings a lovely tune once more. The melody at around 12:30 just captivates me.
It kicks into gear again, but now it seems with a more driving disjointed and chaotic force with Steve’s guitar driving it. Rick’s keyboards come in and Chris’s bass just drives. All this energy, and yet the music still seems calm. Driving calm energy, if that makes sense. “Out in the city running free”. Around the 16 minute mark is my favorite part of this music. Rick’s beautiful sounds and Chris, once again playing his bass simply, yet so cool. This is the Rick Wakeman that I love. His music is so powerful, so enchanting. How could he take issue with this? This is glorious. “And I do think very well as the truth unfolds you silently”. Yes, the truth. It flows through you. You know it’s there. You can feel it. Everyone feels it, whether they’ll admit it or not. You know there’s a reason. How can there not be?
The music builds, but it builds slowly, softly, calmly, yet it builds and then Steve’s guitar comes in in ways that are hard for me to describe. It’s just so darn cool. Calm, passionate energy. Those are the words that came into my mind as I try to describe it.
Then, just like that, it fades… and it’s over. There’s just silence… and you’re in it.
Grade: This is another beautiful piece of music. I agree with the title, for this music, for whatever reason, calls to mind our feelings about things, life, etc. Jon seems to be saying ‘remember when you felt like this?’ and you find yourself saying ‘yeah… I remember’. (96 – A/A+)
Ryan Reed’s ranking/comments: #45: Vocal chants, disorienting bass harmonies, folky guitars – Yes had the ingredients of a classic piece here, but they just overloaded the recipe. “I didn’t understand where we were going as a band,” Rick Wakeman later reflected, noting his departure from the line-up after the Tales tour. “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 Ancient (Giants Under the Sun):
Length: 18:34 featuring the guitar of Steve Howe
I know this might sound confusing, but these next 2 are my favorites, even though they don’t have the highest grade. The reason for that is my grade isn’t necessarily the same as how much I like it. My grade is more about how amazing I think the piece of music is, how well it’s written. My favorites have mostly to do with how much I love listening to it. It’s a subtle difference and my opinion of music changes naturally with time, but then again so does my grade, lol. Yeah, ok, nevermind, lol 😜
With the first sounds, this piece immediately was my favorite the first time I heard it. I saw the title and said I just know this is gonna be good and it didn’t disappoint me. I was immediately taken far back in time, to a primitive primordial world and I was sucked in, and I was hooked. What dangers were here, I knew not. Then the rhythm kicks and pounds into my brain. Steve’s guitar hauntingly cries and moans at me. This primal music totally has me. I’m fixated. I’m its prisoner now. There’s nothing I can do. The disjointed rhythms and softly moaning guitar possess me. That rhythm, my god, so primitive and pulsating. I feel like I’m with mystical creatures of far off distant lands of thousands of years ago and they’re performing some kind of ritual. I can only hope they’re trying to heal me and not harm. “As one with the knowledge and magic of the source”. The Warlock (Jon) begins his chant. The spell begins. The ritual begins. I’m starting to sweat.
“Sol, Dhoop Sun Ilios”. I feel dizzy. Then that bizarre disjointed pounding ancient music shoots through me. What is this? Who writes music like this? What rock group has ever played such? It’s like a trance. I’m sucked in and cannot escape. Now Steve’s guitar takes me over. His playing seduces me. Alan’s primitive drum beats blended with Steve’s moaning guitar are just too much for me to handle. I no longer know where I am, what I am… why, I am.
Around the 11 minute mark the music seems to be finishing its spell on me. Now what? Nope, still going. Now you’re just playing with me Steve. Cut it out. Look man, I got it. You’re a powerful magical ancient mystic and there’s nothing I can do. Fine Steve. Do what you will. I let go and accept whatever happens next. The music quiets. I feel calm.
Steve now comes before me with the most beautiful acoustic guitar I’ve ever seen, unlike any acoustic guitar I’ve ever seen. He sits on a strangely shaped rock that’s next to me and begins playing while the other Warlock Jon puts his hand on my face. I feel like they’re about to sacrifice me to some ancient god. Jon begins his chant: “So the flowering creativity of life wove its web face to face with the shallow”. All of a sudden, I’m completely captivated. I start to shake. Goosebumps cover my body. Music like I’ve never heard. Beautiful subtle dissonance like I’ve never heard. The sounds pulsate through my body and mind and all of a sudden I’m no longer in my body. I’m just in bliss. Now Jon sings one of the most beautiful melodies I’ve ever heard and Steve puts me into a trance with his magical guitar playing. I’ve never felt this way before. I was so scared. For all I knew I thought you 2 might just slit my throat, but instead you reached inside of my soul and healed me. I start weeping. I don’t know who you 2 are, but all I want to do now is sit and listen to you play and sing and let all the creatures in this primal land rise up and dance.
Now you can call me a nut, a melodramatic loon, but that’s basically how I felt the first time I listened to ‘The Ancient (Giants Under the Sun)’ and listening to it now, as I type this while listening, was one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever felt, for when you type what the music makes you feel, while listening to it, you feel it even more deeply.
Grade: I was going to give this a 98 (A+), because I feel it’s an awesome, brilliant piece of music, but after what Steve and Jon just did to me, I have no choice. Blame them. (100 – S-tier)
Ryan Reed’s ranking/comments: #55: Do a quick Internet poll about Tales From Topographic Oceans and you’ll probably get two general responses: 1) It’s a bloated, misguided disaster that serves as a Spinal Tap-style parody of the entire prog movement, and 2) It’s one of the genre’s unsung masterpieces, with every passage of noodling and slow-motion ambience an essential part of the whole. As usual, both are wrong. “The Ancient (Giants Under the Sun),” which makes up the double-album’s third side, highlights both its strengths and weaknesses: All the individual elements are intriguing – White’s manic percussion approaching an electronic rumble, Howe’s dissonant pedal-steel lines, the closing classical guitar passages – but it’s probably eight minutes longer than necessary, and the seamless continuity of Close to the Edge has devolved into choppiness.
Ritual (Nous Sommes du Soleil):
Length: 21:35 featuring the drums of Alan White and the bass of Chris Squire
And so the ‘Ritual’ begins, but just like that my phone alarm went off and I would be gone for over an hour. I didn’t realize what time it was. It seems I wasn’t quite yet ready for ‘the Ritual’, so I had to wait, but now… hopefully… I’m ready, but after I thought Steve and Jon were going to sacrifice me to the Ancient gods, I’m a little concerned now. My favorite drummer is Bill Bruford. How will Alan feel about that, and Chris Squire died in 2015. Should that concern me? I don’t know if I should be excited or scared to death. Sure, I’ve listened to this piece probably 10-20 times, but for whatever reason I can never remember most of it, other than the 3 minute part where the Ritual clearly is taking place, but even that isn’t clear in my mind. All I know is it’s intense, so with great anticipation and concern, I click on the video…
Ah yes, I remember this opening part. Such a cool groove. The music is uplifting, powerful… even magical. Steve’s guitar just sings and Alan’s drumming is great. Then the Ritual starts, but not really. It’s just an initial part, and then Jon sings basically a la la chant, but a very melodic la la chant. Now the drums and bass are just pounding, while Jon continues his chant. It’s just powerful. Then the music mostly stops and Jon keeps singing and back and forth it goes. So cool to hear the drums and bass drive the rhythms, which are becoming somewhat hypnotic.
Then everything changes and Chris Squire goes nuts on his bass, with Jon still singing in the background. Then the music fades and it becomes tranquil, almost surreal, while Chris flutters away on his bass and Steve plays a lick from Close to the Edge, which I thought was so cool. Steve just seems to be wandering around on his guitar, as though he’s out in the woods just noodling. I feel like I’m there with him, watching him playing in the woods, near a lake. Then it changes again and Jon comes in and the music is just entrancing. More changes and Jon sings a beautiful melody and it sounds like everyone is playing outside, running around, having fun. Jon’s voice is so calming and beautiful. If this is a Ritual, it must be a Ritual of calming and relaxation, to just let go and enjoy. That’s how it feels to me. “We receive all we venture to give”, Jon sings. Everything feels great. “Change we must as surely time does. Changes call the course”.
The music starts to pick up steam and it feels like it’s building to something, but then it all comes down and it’s mostly Chris and Alan playing with Rick on keyboards in the background.
Then it starts. Around the 12 minute mark the rhythm starts to pound. Chris is flying around his bass and Alan is drumming a pretty standard beat, but it sounds great. You know it’s building to something but you’re not sure what. Then Steve’s guitar comes in in that wonderful disjointed style of his and now the music starts to get crazy. Then it all just STOPS. 1 second later it starts right back up and then it happens. THE RITUAL BEGINS. Alan is now on fire. It sounds like someone is breathing heavily, as though they’re possessed and Alan is now pounding out a mantric rhythm. It’s powerful. It’s mysterious. You start to panic. It keeps building and building and then I hear the most incredible drum sounds I’ve ever heard. What in the world is Alan doing? How are they making these sounds? It’s like something is being summoned, but instead of a thunderous entrance, it all calms down with beautiful soothing sweet music and it drifts back to the beauty from before. Then Jon comes in with that voice of his and we’re back outside, playing, laughing, singing. Then it all slowly calms down and in the end, all goes quiet.
That percussion section was about 3 minutes of the most intense sounds I’ve ever heard and I loved it.
Grade: At first ‘The Ancient’ was my favorite piece. Then Ritual became my favorite, because of that incredible percussion section, but now I’m back to liking ‘The Ancient’ the best. Lets just say that of the 4 pieces, ‘The Ancient’ “affected” me the most. Of course, possessing me and making me think I’m about to be sacrificed to some ancient god might of had something to do with it too 😎 (98 – A+)
Ryan Reed’s ranking/comments: #36: “We love when we play,” Anderson sings. And do they ever play. Electric sitars, dancing hi-hat patterns, tumbling congas, wordless vocal chants: Yes summarize the full scope of their astral travels on Topographic Ocean’s fourth and final side, ending with a touch more zeal and poignancy than the album’s more rambling middle section.
Here’s my breakdown of each piece, from my favorite to least favorite:
The Ancient (Giants Under the Sun): 100 (S-tier)
The Revealing Science of God (Dance of the Dawn): 100 (S-tier)
Ritual (Nous Sommes du Soleil): 98 (A+)
The Remembering (High the Memory): 96 (A/A+)
Album Grade: 98.5 (A+)
I find Ryan Reed’s criticisms to be odd, but in another sense I kind of understand them, but then again not really. If YES were young and I was good friends with all of them, this is what I would tell them to do. Guys, this album is amazing, but since Rick didn’t like it and others criticized it for similar reasons, I think this is what you guys should do. Make a single album of these 4 songs. That should satisfy all of the critics, including Rick, but then… do this… Make a QUADRUPLE ALBUM. Hear me out. Remember what Jethro Tull did with Thick as a Brick? Well do that with all 4. 1 album per piece of music. Extend them just like Tull did. Make them glorious. That way you’ll satisfy everyone. Everyone will have their favorite; the shorter version, the middle version and the super long version. Has anyone ever made a quadruple album? I don’t know.
I’m totally serious. That’s what I’d tell them to do. I so want to hear 40 minute versions of these 4 pieces. YES!
Alan White definitely made his mark and boldly proclaimed that he is now the drummer for YES and I don’t see how anyone can argue after this incredible performance. I think all 4 pieces are brilliant and magical. Too long by purposefully making it to fit an album side? Ok, fair enough, but I still think it worked and I love that they made the music to fit an album side. As Keith Emerson once said “what you call pretentious, I call ambitious”. Tales from Topographic Oceans is one of the most iconic albums ever made. In fact, I think all the controversy with the album only adds to its greatness.
It’s as though this was all meant to be. Disjointed… but with purpose.
So that’s my review. What did you think of it? I welcome any and all comments. The more the merrier.
Regarding my opinion of this music vs your opinion:
It will not bother me in the slightest if you completely disagree with me and hate this music. All music is subjective. You are not wrong if you think this music is the worst music you’ve ever heard, the best music you’ve ever heard, or anywhere in-between those 2 extremes, so if you have an opinion please feel free to share. I enjoy hearing what others think of music, regardless of the music and regardless of your opinion.