Primitive Weapons Guitarist Artie Shepherd’s Playlist of the Ultimate YES Jams
New York post-hardcore/metallers Primitive Weapons released their new album Surrender Yourself (order here) in September via Party Smasher Inc. The album is an evolution for the group, who push into doom and post-rock territories for the first time and do so with aplomb, deftly melding their trademark sound with something more sinister, dark and pensive.
One certainly wouldn’t pick up on many ’70s prog vibes from Primitive Weapons’ aggressive blend, but lurking in the shadows of guitarist Artie Shepherd’s brain is a deep, long-held affinity for the genre that shaped his musical tastes and guitar technique. Chief amongst the bands from that scene are Yes, whose catalog and songs go unmatched.
Below, Artie takes us on a magical, mystical journey through Yes’s storied catalog. You can follow along with the embeds below or listen to this playlist on Spotify. Listen to the Primitive Weapons song “Keep the Lights On” below, and catch Primitive Weapons on tour with Cult Leader later this fall. Dates at the bottom of the post.
This playlist started as my favorite ’70s prog tunes but as I started to make it I realized that I would have to put at least ten Yes songs on it, so I decided to just do all Yes tunes!
Being a Yes fan is not the easiest of tasks. They have had many, many members as well as lawsuits, multiple versions at once (currently) and some really awful modern age records. The classic line-up of Jon Anderson, Chris Squire (the only member to play on every record), Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman and Bill Bruford/Alan White came to be in 1972 with the release of Fragile. Although they did have some classic songs on the previous three records, this one broke the band and started a string of albums and tours, culminating with 1978’s Going for the One, that placed them at the top of the prog rock heap.
I was introduced to Yes at the ripe age of 12. Oddly, Steve Howe’s first solo record Beginnings was my intro and I wanted more, so my sister’s boyfriend gave me Yessongs, the live album from the “Close to the Edge” tour in ’72. My world completely changed upon hearing what was essentially a “Best of” to that point, but live and heavy and incredibly executed. While also absorbing Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Mercyful Fate etc. during that period, Yes were always at the forefront. It felt like going to church. They made a rock band sound like a fucking symphony. It was like a modern classical music experiment (Genesis and Emerson, Lake & Palmer were masters of this as well; King Crimson went more jazz) and started my lifelong obsession with ’70s prog.
I find that era to be one of the finest in the history of rock. The early ’70s saw highly trained and ambitious musicians colliding with ever advancing studio technology in a post-Beatles world of endless possibilities. The record companies tended to leave these bands to their own devices and budding FM radio was willing to play entire album sides that were needed for many of the long form songs that were coming out of these incredible players. I know, punk was a reaction to all this posh kid flare, but by the time I got into prog, and later punk, those cultural reactions were long gone. It was just music and it was all good.
Over the years, my favorite songs have morphed. When 90215 came out in the ’80s, I hated it. I now love it. It is an insanely complex record for a collection of pop hits. Try to ignore all the ’80s cheeseball production tricks and really listen to it. Also, I haven’t willingly listened to “Roundabout” in years. My taste got more and more obscure over the years. Ever listened to Drama, the album they released in 1980 with Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes of the Buggles? It’s amazing. Going for the One is not really considered one of their classics, but it is their best record and includes the first song on this playlist, “Awaken”. Let’s start there…..
1. “Awaken” (Going for the One)
This is a progressive long-form song (the last one they would do until later, not-so-good records) that has a little of everything Yes do. It’s complex, it shreds, it’s got all sorts of new age spiritual feelsyes clo and lyrics. It is the best one they had done since Close to the Edge and for my money might be better especially in the album context. Here it is: strap in for 16 minutes of “High Vibrations.”
2. “South Side of the Sky” (Fragile)
This is the fourth song (last one on side A) off their most well known ’70s album Fragile. This is another song that really captures everything Yes do but this time in only eight minutes. The Piano break at 2:30 starts an incredible instrumental and vocal arrangement that really can’t be beat in my opinion. When it kicks back in the dynamic makes it feel really heavy for a not-so-heavy band.
3. “Yours is No Disgrace” (live) (Yessongs)
The studio version of this song basically sounds like the theme song from the TV show Bonanza, odd for a bunch of English dudes, but this version is the culmination of a whole lot of jamming that they did on that particular tour (which was only evident after the release of the 14 shows they had recorded to make the album). Steve Howe plays my favorite guitar solo of all time here, switching styles effortlessly. It is really a tour de force. I’m not sure any guitar player has ever managed to blend so much with such virtuosity and still make it catchy as hell.
4. “Ritual (Nous Sommes Du Soleol)” (live) (Yesshows)
Tales from Topographic Oceans is four songs, all album sides, that are based on “Jon Anderson’s interpretation of a footnote in Autobiography of a Yogi (1946) by Paramahansa Yogananda that describes four bodies of Hindu texts, collectively named the shastras.” -Wikipedia. With that pretentiousness out of the way, this album was always my favorite to go to sleep to. Over the years, I have grown to love it. Even bands members themselves weren’t happy with it, though. Wakeman left after this record. The final side features this song and it’s fucking insane. I chose the live version because it’s only the first half of the song, which are all the good parts. I really don’t have anything else to say other than listen and get a little lost in it all….
5. “Everydays” (Time and a Word)
I wanted to include one cover here as it’s only right to show the roots of the band. They basically started out doing Vanilla Fudge-stylized covers of Beatles songs. This one is a Steven Stills cover that was done with a string section in tow. Typically they would cover a song and then go into a full-blown progtastic jam a la the aforementioned Vanilla Fudge.
6. “Machine Messiah” (Drama)
After the much maligned and difficult Tormato album, Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman left the band, leaving the remaining three members in a studio jamming out many of the tunes that would become the Drama album. Their management suggested they play with the guys from the Buggles and it all clicked. This is the opening track that starts with a heavy as fuck riff, which is why I included it here.
7. “Changes” (90215)
I don’t have to say too much about any song off this record as it’s very well known. This tune reached #6 on the U.S. rock charts and was one of many hit singles off the album. The opening segment was written by drummer Alan White and is pretty sick, so of anything off this record, I chose this song.
8. “Siberian Khatru” (live) (Yessongs)
The arrangement of this song is insane. The live version is a bit faster and heavier.
9. “Turn of the Century” (Going for the One)
This is obviously a Steve Howe piece that Jon decided to sing over and it’s absolutely stunning in every way. These days when I want to listen to Yes, this is the song I put on.
10. “To Be Over” (Relayer)
This is a bit of a sappy number for the band but the last half of the song is why it’s on this playlist. The solo, the vocal arrangement… it gets me every time.
11. “Close to the Edge” (live) (Yessongs)
This song is too obvious but I had to include it as it really is the blueprint for ’70s prog. The thing about Yes that separated them from the rest of the prog pack was how catchy the songs were (only Genesis came close). This song was written in pieces and put together by producer Eddy Offord and the band by taping together the different bits of the 2” reel. Each piece of tape had a name written on it and it was arranged as such. The idea of something this amazing being constructed like that is mind boggling. With today’s technology it would be far easier but it wouldn’t sound half as good. I believe Alan White plays on this version which is more rock and less jazz than Bruford’s playing. I would like to keep in mind that the studio version of this song was done without a click track, as none of their songs were. Wrap your head around that. I still can’t.
Cult Leader and Primitive Weapons on tour:
11/30 Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle
12/01 Detroit, MI – Sanctuary
12/02 Toronto, ON – Hard Luck
12/04 Montreal, QC – Turbo Haus
12/05 Hartford, CT – The Webster
12/05 Philadelphia, PA – Ortlieb’s
12/07 Boston, MA – Great Scott
12/08 Brooklyn, NY – Saint Vitus
12/09 Baltimore, MD – Ottobar
12/11 Lexington, KY – Cosmic Charlie’s
12/12 Asheville, NC – Mothlight
12/13 Atlanta, GA – Drunken Unicorn