Author’s note: This article originally ppeared on another website I write for, That Hashtag Show, on January 24th, 2020
A Farewell to Kings – released in 1977
Riding the wave of commercial success from 2112, Rush released their fifth LP, A Farewell to Kings, in 1977. Only a year after releasing their first multi-platinum album, Rush traveled to the UK and recorded this gem in Wales, marking the first time the band recorded outside of Toronto. They completed the album in record time; three weeks to record at Rockfield Studios in Wales and two weeks to mix and finish at Advision Studios in London. It was Rush’s first U.S. Gold-seller and only took 60 days to get there. Platinum status would come in 1993, and Kings would climb all the way to #33 on the Billboard 200. It would also peak on the U.K. Charts at #22. Rush had found their groove yet again.
The band was thrilled with the musical results, too. Peart would later say that the mellow atmosphere and the seclusion of this studio was exactly the productive environment the band needed to work in. Looking back on it, Geddy Lee had this to say about the album:
“[A Farewell to Kings] is the only one of our albums apart from ‘2112‘ that I can really live with. I’ve yet to look at it and start finding fault with it, pick it apart, you know…it still sounds so positive.”Geddy Lee
Let’s pick it apart for him, shall we?
A Farewell to Kings: Track 1 – A Farewell to Kings
A Farewell to Kings opening track shares its name with the album and starts out with a bard’s tale-type medieval acoustic guitar intro that would make Jaskier from The Witcher green with envy. Then it drops into classic complex guitar and bass riffs we know Rush for, backed by Peart’s entangled drums he knocks around so well. It’s six minutes of progressive-rock bliss. Bonus points for tossing in the Closer to the Heart reference that we’ll get to in a later track.
A Farewell to Kings: Track 2 – Xanadu
A song so complex, it requires three guys to play multiple instruments and double-neck guitars just to get it out. This is one of those deep-lyric songs inspired by prose that showcases just how talented the members of Rush really are. For fun, check out what it says for album credits on the instruments:
Neil Peart – Drums, orchestra bells, tubular bells, temple blocks, cowbells, wind chimes, bell tree, triangle, vibra-slap
Geddy Lee – Bass guitar, twelve string guitar, Mini Moog, bass pedal synthesizer, vocals
Alex Lifeson – Six and twelve string electric guitar, six and twelve string acoustic guitar, classical guitar, bass pedal synthesizer
This song is a Rush open-house event. Christopher Walken would be happy to see the cowbell in there, too. Oh, and there were real-live chirping birds at the studio where they recorded this song. Speaking of the real birds at the studio:
“We were very happy with the sound we got there for ‘Kings’, also it’s got so much to offer… Rockfield [Studios] is so good if you want to experiment–you know, you can go outside to record, use their weird echo room…that’s the kind of environment we like.”Geddy Lee
The live recording of this on 1981’s Exit Stage Left might be one of the coolest performances you’ll ever see Rush do. It is pure musical genius on full display. YouTube is always good for comments, and this one actually made me laugh out loud. However, it is the best way to describe this song:
“An 11-minute prog-rock song including xylophones, gongs, chimes, double-necked guitars, and synthesizers; based on an 18th century poem; played by three grown Canadian men in silk kimonos who have more excessive hair than a 70’s porno… What more could you ask for??”YouTube commenter Fuzzy Gaming
A Farewell to Kings: Track 3 – Closer to the Heart
There’s about ten songs Rush has in their arsenal that even non-Rush fans know and can appreciate. Closer to the Heart is in the top-3 on that list. It’s one of the few arrangements with outside influence (Peter Talbot wrote the lyrics) and still captures all that is Rush. It’s rockin’ enough for the heavier fans, yet light enough for the part-timers that only listen to Rush on Sundays. The drum work is flawless, as usual, and Lifeson delivers the love in on his guitar solo. Sadly, this song is too short, especially by Rush standards. I guarantee people who bought this album on cassette wore out the tape at this 3-minute section.
This track would appear on every live album released from 1977 onward. Even though the band dropped it off their Vapor Trails tour for most of their shows, the song made it back on the list for Rush in Rio and kept the streak intact. Alex Lifeson says Closer to the Heart is the ultimate Rush song, and The Trailer Park Boys would agree.
Hard to argue with that, but I, for one, still disagree. One song is the ultimate Rush song and we’ll talk about it in a later article.
A Farewell to Kings: Track 4 – Cinderella Man
Cinderella Man is one of the few tracks since Fly by Night that Peart didn’t write. Geddy Lee is responsible for this one and the rocking back beat is awesome. Slick guitar work overlaid with the synthesizer plays behind lyrics based on a film called Mr. Deeds Goes To Town by Frank Capra. The guitar solo and bass work at 2:25 are standout licks that won’t melt your face, but will definitely make you tap your feet.
A Farewell to Kings: Track 5 – Madrigal
A good tune, but not my favorite. The fantasy lyrics here are plain gorgeous. Overall though, the song just doesn’t sound like Rush and I had a hard time getting into it. I’ll be honest, I’m glad it’s one of Rush’s shortest songs ever.
A Farewell to Kings: Track 6 – Cygnus X-1 (Book One: The Voyage)
Here’s where Rush and spaceships go together! Cygnus X-1 is the first part of two epic songs based on the real discovery of a black hole in the constellation of Cygnus by Canadian astronomer Tom Bolton. The story behind this song is why I love Rush so much. Here’s an established super-group taking the time out of their busy touring schedule to keep up with nerdy news and then write a song about it! Of all their tunes thus far, this one, in my feeble mind, cements the band forever into geek rock-and-roll.
Fans of the science-fiction show, The Expanse, will recognize the name of Rush’s ship, the Rocinante, and the rest of the lyrics take us on the voyage into a black hole. Descending scales and scary beats takes into the abyss of the band’s musical triumph on this track. It’s a little hard to understand, but one part of this song too often overlooked is the spoken intro. Feast on this beautiful lyric layout:
“Six Stars of the Northern Cross / In mourning for their sister’s loss / In a final flash of glory / Nevermore to grace the night…”
If there is a better way of putting the death of a star into words, I have never heard it.
On a Scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best)…
I give A Farewell to Kings an 8 out of 10. If not for Madrigal, I would’ve ranked it higher. As I’ve said before, not every song can be a hit. Even from Rush. Truthfully, I would rather have had an extra three minutes of funk bass riffs on Cygnus X-1 and left the album at five gorgeous tracks. But that’s just me. A Farewell to Kings is a great album deserving of the praise it received at the time of release, and definitely of its Platinum status.
Now, on to the final album of Rush in the 70’s: Hemispheres!