Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Tales From Topographic Oceans (AM7) or 3am AM10

Tales was the Yes LP I'd chuck on at 3am when my thoughts and sensibilities left the beaten track looking for goblins in the thickets. The Lord Of The Rings were my favorite books in the 70s for no other reason than that they transported me to alternate landscapes; the same applied to Tales From Topographic Oceans. Tales was the proggiest, most ethereal thing that didn't contain the words King or Crimson.

The idea for the album's concept came about in March 1973 in Anderson's hotel room in Tokyo during the Yessongs tour. He was pondering a theme for a "large-scale composition" and found himself "caught up in a lengthy footnote on page 83" of the Autobiography of a Yogiby Paramahansa Yogananda that described four classes of Hindu scripture known as the Shastras. Anderson was introduced to Yogananda's work at Bill Bruford's wedding by Jamie Muir, the percussionist for King Crimson, on March 2, 1973. When the tour hit America in April, Anderson described the concept to Howe who liked the idea of four interlocking pieces based around these scriptures. Anderson and Howe held candlelight writing vigils in their rooms, completing the lyrics and instrumentation after a single six-hour writing session in Savannah, Georgia. Anderson described the experience as a "magical" one, "which left both of us exhilarated for days." Notice, by the way, that Anderson's recollections fail to mention either Squire or Wakeman (with White a fledgling member joining the Yessongs troupe just three days prior to the tour due to Bruford's defection to King Crimson).

Wakeman took a dislike to the album's concept and structure from the beginning, making only minimal musical contributions, and often spending his time drinking at a local pub and playing darts. Black Sabbath was recording Sabbath Bloody Sabbath down the hall, and Wakeman took time off to play synth on "Sabbra Cadabra." According to Sabbath guitarist, Tony Iommi, Wakeman refused payment from the band and was compensated with beer. 

For me, the sessions for Tales were the ultimate surreal indulgence for a rock band - at least Brian Wilson had crazy on his side. From Anderson's decorating the studio like a barnyard, replete with life-sized plastic cow, to the image of Howe and Anderson weaving a tale of Indian spiritualism in an airport Holiday Inn, Tales From Topographic Oceans may indeed deserve all its negative press. And though I too can see the possibilities for an AM10 were the tales edited to one LP, my 3ams were all the more spiritual because of it (maybe I was high, or drowning in topographic oceans).