35 Years Ago: Yes’ ‘Tormato’ Album Released
Yes returned from a lengthy hiatus in 1977 with their well-received ‘Going for the One’ LP, and when they reconvened in the studio for a follow-up album late in the year, they seemed poised to build on that renewed momentum.
Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go according to plan. The band’s ninth studio album, ‘Tormato,’ emerged from those sessions on Sept. 20, 1978, and represented not only a reversal in commercial fortunes for Yes, but the start of a particularly turbulent period that would eventually lead to some key departures from the lineup.
A relatively concise collection of songs, ‘Tormato’ found the band largely avoiding the extended instrumental workouts that filled out bestselling records like ‘Tales from Topographic Oceans’ in favor of shorter songs such as ‘Onward’ (which clocked in at 4:05) and the minor hit single ‘Don’t Kill the Whale’ (3:56). The closing track, ‘On the Wings of Freedom,’ was the record’s longest song at 7:47 — a relative blip in a catalog filled with lengthy compositions.
Unfortunately, those abbreviated running times may have had more to do with a general lack of focus than anything else. Quarrels between Yes members were nothing new, and members came and went on a regular basis, but things seemed particularly stormy during this period; in fact, singer Jon Anderson and keyboardist Rick Wakeman would both exit the lineup in the months following ‘Tormato.’ Wakeman’s displeasure became particularly evident during an infamous incident when he hurled a tomato at the artwork for the record, which was then titled ‘Yes Tor,’ after a geological formation in southern England; as he later put it, “We had paid a fortune for the artwork, which when we were shown it, we all agreed we had been ripped off. It was a pile of brown smelly stuff. I picked up a tomato and threw it at it…[The title] was hastily changed to ‘Tormato.’”
Looking back in an interview years later, bassist Chris Squire admitted that ‘Tormato’ “was a kind of a hodge-podge of different songs, so it was hard to figure out what was good on it and what wasn’t, maybe, I don’t know…I think it was hard for people to figure that album out. And there was lots of notes being played by Rick and Steve [Howe] on mostly every track on it.”
Howe echoed Squire’s sentiments in a separate interview, musing, “Rick and I had so many notes, and there’s not a lot of space in it…In the shortest sentence I can say, it was very overplayed and under-produced. Lots of notes! And some of it should have just cleared up, and I blame myself and everybody else in the band because everybody was guilty of that kind of thing.”
Admitting that some of the album was guilty of being “too intense” and “[trying] too hard,” Howe added, “It’s not that satisfying to listen to, at least for myself — I can’t talk for everyone else. But there are some nice moments in it, and I think there should have been someone else there helping us with that one a little bit. We’d always had a really good engineer, and we were a bit lost at sea with actually the tonal landscape and the space.”
As it turns out, Howe’s comments about the band needing some extra help may have been more accurate than he even realized: Producer and engineer Brian Kehew, who was involved in sorting through the tapes for the 2004 ‘Tormato’ reissue, discovered that the record’s infamously murky sound was really just the result of a simple oversight. Kehew told Tape Op that the problem started when the band parted ways mid-album with longtime producer Eddie Offord, leading to an unfortunate lack of communication.
“Offord had started the album — he had done most of the Yes records and I know from working on his tracks that he used Dolby A a lot,” Kehew recalled. “These tapes don’t say Dolby A, but ‘Tormato’ is a famously bad-sounding record. They parted ways with him mid-course and somebody else finished the record. So I’m looking at the tapes and it doesn’t say Dolby A anywhere on them — it’s typical that they note that when encoded — but I said, ‘Hold on a second, let me put Dolby on this.’ And everything — except for some of the later overdubs — sounded amazing. I went, ‘Aha!’ I think we realized what happened. They went to somebody else and the other person didn’t see Dolby on the tapes.”
While ‘Tormato’ was long regarded as one of the weaker records in the Yes catalog, it’s come under reappraisal in recent years, and when Squire spoke with UCR in February of 2013, he entertained the possibility of the band performing the album in its entirety on a future tour. Sadly, neither Anderson nor Wakeman are currently in the lineup, but with Yes, you never know who might be coming back at any given moment; at the very least, perhaps Wakeman can be persuaded to show up at a few gigs and hurl tomatoes at the stage.