The only piece of Apple electronics I own is an 8GB 4th generation refurbished iPod Touch. I know, I’m a Luddite, right? However, this one device has precisely 1,019 songs that define my 46-year love of music. Within that 1,019 songs, you’ll find a wide and varied appreciation for all types of music from rock to rap, country to classical, and heavy metal to easy listening. For this list, I chose to focus on rock. Our friends at Oxford Dictionary define rock and roll as follows:
a type of popular dance music originating in the 1950s, characterized by a heavy beat and simple melodies. Rock and roll was an amalgam of black rhythm and blues and white country music, usually based on a twelve-bar structure and an instrumentation of guitar, bass, and drums.
While doing my Sunday morning workout and listening to my rock playlist (which consists of 316 songs), It occurred to me there are really only about ten of those tracks that really get me moving and keep me motivated. Of course I like all 316 of them, but I never touch the next button when any of these ten songs come on. There are many lists out there, but this one is mine. Get ready to rock!
Honorable Mention 1: Start Me Up by The Rolling Stones
For the record, I am not a Rolling Stones fan. However, credit where it is due. Mick Jagger and company never fail to keep me moving with this iconic track. I’ll admit, there are other really good Stones songs, but if I could only choose one from their discography, this is it. Plus, I had to throw a bone to my friend John, who might be the biggest Stones nerd I’ve ever met!
I really chose them for honorable mention for three reasons. One, the opening chords might be the most recognizable in all of rock and roll. Even with only one note, any rock and roller would probably get this one on Name That Tune. Two, no rock and roll top ten list would be complete without mentioning the 13th best-selling band of all time, and the holder of the most expensive concert ticket face value ($624). The only age these guys show is on their faces because the music is still kicking all these years later. Finally, number three, this video. Mick Jagger looks like a holdover from a heavily edited Richard Simmons workout video and does not care one bit. With their charisma, The Stones and their music will outlive us all.
Honorable Mention 2: Welcome to the Jungle by Guns and Roses
Some rock and roll songs are subtle in their structure. This one is not. Welcome to the Jungle is one that jumps up and smacks you in the face and leaves subtlety lying bloody on the floor. While Guns N’ Roses had several really good rock tracks, I feel like this is the one that put them on the map and separated them from the other 80’s hair band chaff. Many of those bands were and still are amazing, but none of them really had the brazen rock audacity of G-N’-R. They have several tunes that rank high for me, but this one stands out.
The only other one that came close was Motley Crue, and they have a different moxie all their own, but Axl laying down that opening scream cements this one as an honorable mention in my Top-Ten. Click the link and see if they still got your disease!
Honorable Mention 3: Baba O’Riley by The Who
So what happens when you mix a trashed Isle of Wight music festival, an organ with a marimba repeat, the musically sequenced vital signs of an Indian spiritual leader, and the influence of a minimalist composer on Pete Townsend? The obvious result is this track, Baba O’Riley. Townsend wrote this as part of a rock opera follow-up to Tommy, but it never materialized. However, the track was salvaged, shortened and became the lead off single from 1971’s Who’s Next? by The Who.
Townsend subscribed to a concept that music could connect with an audience at the level of their DNA, and tried to put that data into a musical sequence. Another song he wrote, Join Together, was based on the same concept. I know, it hurts my head to think about too, but there may be something to it. There are some songs that when you hear it, the melody just speaks to your soul. It’s hard to explain, but you always feel it when your jam comes on. For me, its just about anything rock-and-roll. Baba O’Riley is one of those songs for me and lingers just outside my Top-Ten All-Time Greatest.
Alright, so enough with the honorable mentions. Let’s get to the meat on this Top-Ten bone. Are you ready? Head to the next page to start my official Favorite Top-Ten Rock and Roll Songs of All-Time list. Buckle in, cupcakes, because here we go.
#10: Roundabout by Yes
There are musicians, there is musicianship, and sometimes you find a group that embodies the very definition of both. Roundabout by Yes is unlike any song I have ever heard. It fits no mold or predefined composition. It is a mashup of instruments going a hundred crazy directions but still makes a melody that cannot be duplicated. Plus, if you see a band with a keyboardist rocking a glitter cape, well, that’s a wizard, Harry. Don’t mess with him.
Seeing Yes inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 2017 and play this song with Geddy Lee standing in on bass was the highlight of my musical observing life. One of my co-workers told me how she went to see Yes in the 70’s and said she didn’t need to smoke anything at the show because the music was so insane she got high off the melody. I don’t believe her about not smoking anything, (if you knew her, you wouldn’t believe her either) but I do believe her about the melody. There’s not a band out there that can put together so much complicated noise and notes and pull out a mega-hit like this, but they did it and I am here for it.
#9: The Trooper by Iron Maiden
A rock and roll song that’s about a historical event is a song right down my alley. The Trooper by Iron Maiden tells the musical story of the famous Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War in 1854. What’s interesting is that today’s listeners try compare the song to today’s military actions going on in the Middle East, but that couldn’t be further than the truth because it was written well before the current hostilities going on there even started. Bruce Dickinson wearing a red coat and waving a Union Jack is all just part of the show.
All that aside, this song rocks. It’s proof that metal can have melody, and that rock can have musical depth. It debuted in 1983 and still stands as a solid metal classic all the way into 2021. Some fans even joke that this should be the new National Anthem of England. I’m not from England, but part of me agrees. That riff mimicking a horse gallop and the scene in the video with the flag being passed just makes this song so awesome that it will always have a home on my top ten playlist.
#8: Sweet Emotion by Aerosmith
Sweet Emotion by Aerosmith is a sentimental favorite on my list. I had the interesting pleasure back in the late 90’s of meeting Steven Tyler at a gas station in Sarasota, Florida, and I met Joe Perry at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida. Both guys were stellar to talk to, but I was an Aerosmith fan even before those chance meetings. As a teenager, I was on an awkward date in a pool hall the first time I heard this song and I never forgot that moment. She selected it on the jukebox, and with a single wrinkled dollar bill, introduced me to one of my favorite rock bands of my formative years.
Out of all their tracks, I like this one because riffs are tight, the cadence is smooth, and the off-speed beat changes blend metal with melody. And that opening bass riff—just drills into your soul. Aerosmith has more rocking songs for sure, but this cut IS rock and roll and I am all about it.
#7: Wherever I May Roam by Metallica
I’ve never seen Metallica live, but I’ve been told from more than one person that their stage show is something to behold, and with their armory of head-banging chugging tracks, it was hard to choose one. King Nothing, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Master of Puppets, Whiskey in the Jar, and the list goes on. But if I had to choose one song from them that I like the most, Wherever I May Roam gets the nod. Plus, how could such a proper and divine demonstration of the whammy bar NOT be on my top ten list?
I’m a lyrics nerd and I love alliteration and unexpected twists in the song. At the end, “My body lies, but still I roam, yeah, yeah.” So this whole time, a ghost has been singing us this song? That’s fricken’ awesome just by itself. Plus, I’m just a fan of James Hetfield’s tireless gravel. That guy can grind out a song from the depths of somewhere that doesn’t exist in most of us mortals.
#6: Barracuda by Heart
Though Heart was not the first female-led band in rock and roll, Barracuda leads my list of the best female vocal track in rock and roll. This is no slight to other girl rocker pioneers like Joan Jett, Lita Ford, Patti Smith and the many others in that hallowed pantheon, but Ann Wilson’s voice is so pure rock and roll in this song, it almost makes me cry. And for the record, Heart’s rendition of Stairway to Heaven with Jason Bonham on drums in 2012 at the Kennedy Center was the best thing since the original. Disagree? I’ll fight over that one!
I wish Heart had kept this edgy nature to their music in later albums. but it felt like they caved to the mainstream with their music soon after this gem debuted on their second album. It’s full of metaphorical anger and obscene gestures over a rude comment made to the sisters by some sleazy music executive. Part of me is glad he was a sleaze because without him, we wouldn’t have this track. In one interview, Heart guitarist Nancy Wilson was asked what she liked about playing this song:
“I love playing (Barracuda) every time. It feels really big and muscular and larger than life and, you know, it gets me off to play “Barracuda” because it’s so loud and so big and it’s fun and fast, you know? The cool little parts where it skips a beat here and skips a beat there. There are a couple of odd time signature things in there that bring it into a more sophisticated song. A sophisticated song of rage!”
Nancy Wilson to American Songwriter
#5: All Along the Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix died before I was born, but I had the benefit of a rich musical upbringing that included all the gods of classic rock. As I said with Aerosmith above, Jimi Hendrix had a lot of songs that rocked, but none of them struck me as much as All Along the Watchtower. Maybe The Wind Cries Mary or Hey Joe comes close, but neither one jams like this one does.
There have been times I wondered if artists like Hendrix had not died so young, what other awesome songs were still in there waiting to be recorded? Had he and others like Jim Morrison lived to later years, there’s no telling what other songs we would have received. Sadly, we’ll never know, but I’m glad we got what we did before Jimi left the world. He made amazing music and I, for one, am grateful for it.
#4: Crazy Train by Ozzy Osborne
When Ozzy yells, “All Aboard!”, you know what comes next. Everyone gets out their tickets for Crazy Train. I’m not an Ozzy purist, so I don’t really differentiate his solo and Black Sabbath years, but Ozzy is a rock legend that is hard to ignore on any list. Honestly, this song could be interchanged with War Pigs or Iron Man and it would still be in my top ten favorites. In his early years, Ozzy was kinda taboo to be a fan of because of his extreme antics, but as he got older and became a little more commercialized, his career saw a resurgence and he pulled his whole family along for the ride.
If you listen to the lyrics here, they are somewhat hopeful with lines like, “Crazy, but that’s how it goes, Millions of people living as foes, Maybe it’s not too late, To learn how to love, And forget how to hate.” Not exactly the message some might expect from a hard rocker like this, but it just goes to show you that suppositions about Ozzy were not always accurate. Plus, Randy Rhoads’s guitar solo here is ranked 9th best of all time by Guitar World Magazine and VH1 named it 23rd all-time greatest rock song. I concur. It’s dang good.
#3: Far Cry by Rush
I would be a hypocrite to not include my favorite band in my Top Ten list. Rush has a ton of material I like and it was hard to pick just one song. For this list, I chose Far Cry to represent the trio from Toronto. I love all their music, but this song has a little something extra in it. It’s not their most popular, but I will argue that it’s one of their most rocking tracks they ever made. When this song rolls up on the playlist, if I’m driving, I have to be really careful because Neil Peart’s drums make my foot much heavier than it really is.
In all seriousness, Rush is a group like no other and I cannot even measure my level of reverence for their musical genius. It was so hard to pick just one of their songs, but this lead-footer is my choice. I haven’t had to use the excuse yet, but I wonder if an officer or a judge will accept my excuse for going 90 in a 45 because the music made me do it. If this was a list of top ten driving songs, this would be my number one every time. In fact, maybe I should do that list next…
#2: Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin
Does Led Zeppelin have more rocking songs than this? Of course they do. But none of them come close to marrying beautiful lyrics, melodic strumming, singing electric solos and legendary bass and drum lines like Stairway to Heaven. I struggled with settling on one song from them to make my list. Achilles Last Stand is a rock triumph. Immigrant Song will blow your speakers at any given moment. Rock and Roll and Black Dog stand the test of time and are great tunes. However, there is no song from the classic rock era more iconic than this one.
When I was a teenager in Tampa, Florida, I remember the 98 Rock radio station there played this song on repeat for 24 hours as a radio stunt. The rumor was the DJ locked himself in the studio and had a heart attack, forever leaving the song that was playing when he died on eternal repeat until the police broke in the door. Of course that was all false, but a glorious and full Gregorian calendar day was devoted to this rock classic and I listened to it all day long.
#1: Shoot to Thrill by AC/DC
Everything about this song is rock and roll. The lyrics, the music, the attitude… it’s all there. In addition, what other group of senior citizen rock legends can rock a stadium full of millennials like they do in this video? And for the record, Iron Man II did not make AC/DC famous. AC/DC wrote the soundtrack 30 years before that movie was made and caused Iron Man II to be the best movie in the Marvel pantheon (yes, it was better than Endgame). I never was lucky enough to meet Brian Johnson when I lived in Sarasota, Florida, but I saw him out driving his green Bentley Vanden Plas, nicknamed “Thunder Guts”, more than a few times. If you honked at him, you’d always get a wave or a fist pump in return.
I have zero doubt that some of you are scratching your head going, “AC/DC at #1? Really?” But not only is the song good, these guys command a stage with this larger-than-life song. I can’t imagine any tune better representing the fictional life of Tony Stark, and rock and roll as a whole. It talks about the excess of a rock star and their goal of thrilling the audience every time they step out on stage. I will always love this song and it is, without a doubt, my #1 favorite rock and roll song of all time.
Well, there you have it. The music world according to me. There are so many more artists I love and would love to list, but I had to narrow this down to my favorites. What did you think of the list? What does your Top-Ten look like? Write it up and let me hear it. Until then, rock on!
“It is today, Sahale, that we celebrate your passage into manhood,” the old man said standing over the three boys. Eddie sat cross-legged by the fire while his best friends Danny and Zeke—known formally as Keokuk and Kele—circled him with smoldering sage bundles. The savory scented smoke washed over him in fragrant waves. The old man stood quiet and still while Eddie’s friends completed their tasks in the ritual. His dark eyes behind the deep and wise lines of age were fixed on Eddie’s face, making him shift uncomfortably. “Today, the Great Spirit will decide your destiny.”
His father called him Eddie when he was a baby. He usually went by that, but he liked his tribal name, too. Sahale meant higher place in Apache, but he only ever heard it when one of two things happened: First was from his mother when he was in trouble, and Eddie had caused a lot of that in his fourteen years. The second is when he was a part of official tribal business during the investigation of his father’s death. Today was the third time he’d been addressed with his native name formally by a tribal elder, his grandfather, who sat across from him now. After his grandfather said the rites, he waved his hand dismissively at Eddie. It was time.
“Away with you, Sahale. San Jacinto awaits,” the old man said with a dismissive wave. “Kele, Keokuk, tell Hania to prepare the way.”
The two boys led Eddie out of the Wikiup, where Hania, their medicine man, awaited his arrival. He was a terrifying sight in his black and gray wolf’s head cloak and red-painted body. In his hand was a long spear and a small coil of rope. Danny was afraid of Hania anyway even without the formal dress, but he had to be brave for his younger friend. Today was the day Eddie would either join their ranks as a brave of the Apache, or join with the Great Spirit and watch over them from the pastures of the sky. He looked over to Zeke, who gave a reassuring nod. They both handed their sage bundles to Eddie and sank back into the crowd gathered to watch the spectacle.
“You are found worthy of trial. Come, Sahale,” was all Hania said, turning his back and walking toward the mountain trail. The others around them, adorned in tribal finery no outsider had ever seen, erupted in whoops of encouragement. With ceremonial spears and bows raised in triumph, they willed Eddie forward. Bile climbed high in his throat. He looked up at the path before him as far as he could see to the peak of the great mountain, San Jacinto. It disappeared into the cold mist swirling above. Hania handed Eddie the coil of rope, but held on to the spear. “Now, we go up.”
Eddie heard stories of the bravery ceremony from as far back as he could remember. His grandfather loved to tell of his own trial with the Great Yellow Eagle. He remembered the old man’s words. One day Sahale, you will meet the Great Yellow Eagle, too, he would say. Remember to hold the line. Never let go. Always hold the line. Now that he held the rope in his hand, he wondered if he was ready. It was just a rope after all, and nothing special. Hania turned, the black tail of his wolf cloak swaying, and started up the cliff trail. The old Apache medicine man and the young brave began their ascent. Eddie looked back to see Zeke and Danny hold their hands high for him. He would be so proud to return to them no longer as a boy, but their equal as a man.
The minutes became hours as the dusty, stone-covered trail continued upward. Eddie’s legs burned with the fire of inactivity. Grandfather warned him the trek would be difficult and that he should get out from the front of the white man’s electronic box. No good can come from white men preaching our destiny from miles away inside a box of wires, he would say. Only the Yellow Eagle knows what is best for we Apache, and a smarter coyote would have made many meals of roadrunner by this time. Eddie dismissed the old man’s warning with a scoff. He liked watching television, especially Saturday morning cartoons. Now the pain of understanding washed over him as they went higher and higher up the incline. Hania showed no fatigue at all. Eddie had to jog at times to keep up with the scary old medicine man.
Not a word was said between them until they reached what appeared to be the end of the trail into a sheer rock wall. “From here, you travel alone Sahale. I will greet you again where the Great Yellow Eagle perches on our world.” Hania gestured up where the rock face stopped, about a hundred feet above them. “Now climb.”
Eddie put the coiled rope over his shoulder, found a precarious hand and foot hold, and took his first step up. The wind at this height blew hard from his left. Small bursts of dust clouded off the tiny rock shelves, stinging his eyes. He glanced back and Hania was gone. Where did he go? Eddie thought. Was there another trail upward? Why couldn’t I just walk up that way? However, he knew if he was to pass the trial, he must do what Hania said and climb. Eddie closed his eyes. “Your name means higher place,” he said to himself. “Guess we’ll put that to the test.” Hand over hand, Eddie climbed skyward.
After the first few movements, his ascent became easier. The rock face had a gentle slope he couldn’t see looking up from the bottom. Another trial from the Yellow Eagle, he thought. This isn’t so bad. I’ll pass your test. I will be a brave today! More than once his handholds crumbled away, causing him to grasp onto whatever he could reach and rake his knuckles on the sharp rocks. Still, his grip held. Gusts of wind continued to sting his eyes and cheeks with sand as he went upward hand over hand. With grim determination, he finally crested the cliff.
The rock ledge he climbed to was about the size of his bedroom back home. Eddie sat down to rest from the arduous climb and looked around. It was cold up here. The brisk breeze bit into his skin with a sharp chill. Peering down into the canyon where his journey began, he could barely make out the shape of the Wikiup where his family and tribe gathered and awaited his triumphant return. Which ones are Zeke and Danny? he thought. Was Grandfather still waiting in the Wikiup? He wondered if they could see him from there. He looked out toward the horizon and saw in the distance a large city of the white man in the haze; a jagged scar piercing the skyline with its disdain for the natural shapes made by the Great Spirit. Above him, the white sun beat down from the clear blue ocean of the sky. He basked in what little warmth it offered for several minutes before getting to his feet, ready to take on the next part of his challenge.
Before him loomed a cave opening. Above the entrance, carved deep into the orange-tinted rock, was the unmistakable shape of the Great Yellow Eagle entangled with a serpent. Eddie did not know what it meant, but that was a sign that here is where his journey went next. His first darkened steps were met with the cool and moist air from inside the earth where his ancient ancestors would escape the heat of the day. In the dim light, he could see more carvings and pictograms on the walls. Depictions of warriors hunting great buffalo, of owls and eagles, of wolves and strange creatures of the night that adorned every surface. At the end of the shaft, just before all light diminished, was a large pictogram that gave him pause.
The unmistakable diamond-shaped head of a great serpent, a diamondback rattlesnake, gazed back at him through its narrow eye slits. He stepped closer to inspect the glyph. It was so life-like, Eddie felt like the eyes were watching him.
“Sahale!” came Hania’s voice from the dark. Eddie let out a shrill chirp in fright at hearing his voice. “Come. Your next trial awaits.” Where did he come from? Eddie thought. I knew there must be another way up! Hania sparked a flint onto a torch and the cavern glowed a dull orange. The acrid smoke of the old torch burned his nostrils. Hania turned to go deeper into the cave. Eddie followed with a cautious reluctance.
The cave became dark, even with the torch. It was so dark that Eddie had to place a hand on the wall as he walked the narrow path to keep from falling or running into the exposed rock. Before long, the cave ended into a room with a small crackling fire set in a ring of rocks. The damp stones hissed from the moisture drawn from them by the heat. Hania sat on the far side of the fire, then motioned for Eddie to sit opposite from him.
“Sahale, child of the Apache people and hopeful warrior,” Hania said in a deep tone that echoed through the room. “Does your spirit tire, or are you prepared for your trial?”
“I am prepared,” came the response his grandfather told him to say. “I am ready to face the trial of the Great Yellow Eagle. I will become a warrior among my people.”
“This is good, young brave,” Hania began. “Many moons have passed since the Great Spirit brought you to this world. Among his greatest creations is the Yellow Eagle, which our people revere.” The heat from the fire intensified. Eddie could feel the sweat forming on his brow, even though the temperature in the room was cool. Hania continued.
“Even Its’a, The Great Yellow Eagle was not without trials, and his greatest foe was T’iish, the serpent. Will you face T’iish as Yellow Eagle has, and become one with Yellow Eagle’s spirit?”
“I will,” again was the prompted response. “I will become one with Yellow Eagle and face my trial with his blessing.”
“This is good,” Hania said, and lowered his head down. He began a low mumbling chant as Eddie stared into the fire, watching each glowing ember shift and squirm from the heat. The coals shimmered from red to orange to white and back as the fire intensified with Hania’s words. The chanting went on for several minutes. Eddie was mesmerized by the stillness of the room, the tone of Hania’s chant, and the tiny flickers in the dancing flames.
Time slowed. His legs grew numb. He didn’t know how long they had sat there in the dark. As he awoke from the fire’s trance, Eddie noticed a swaying movement above Hania’s head. He strained to see into the shadows, trying to determine what it was. It was small. Barely noticeable at first among the thick wolf pelt draped over the medicine man. Then, it broke through the shadows, growing in size and made its way over Hania’s shoulder, down next to the fire. Eddie froze with fear, eyes widening as a monstrous Western Diamondback moved effortlessly across the space between them. Its eyes were fixed on Eddie, just as the eerie glyph outside on the wall was. It was the same eyes. T’iish, Yellow Eagle’s nemesis, had come for Eddie.
“Ssssahale,” it said as Hania continued his guttural chant in the background. “One named for the higher placessss. You come before me assss Yellow Eagle oncccce did. You think yoursssself brave assss he did?” Eddie was paralyzed as fear locked his muscles in place, rendering him stiff and still. “You wish to be known assss a brave among your peoplessss, the mighty Apache?” The snake continued his stealthy approach, now only inches from Eddie. It rose up it’s great body in front of his face, tongue flicking in search for prey. “I will decssside your worth, young warrior. Let ussss ssssee if you can withsssstand my bite.”
Eddie sat frozen and helpless as the giant rattler rose up into a coiled nightmare of fangs and scales. It lunged faster than eyes could see and buried its dripping fangs into his chest. The serpent’s venom poured into Eddie’s veins like lightning from an angry storm cloud. Every fiber in his body screamed in burning agony until the beast released its crushing bite. The serpent remained poised for another strike, weaving its head before Eddie’s face. Tears rolled down his swollen cheek while the venom’s liquid fire did its worst to his body, wracking him with pain.
“Now, young brave,” the snake hissed to him again. “We will ssssee what it issss that you fear. My venom sssspeakssss to your mind and revealssss your thoughtssss. Relive your nightmaressss and prove your worth to me.” Eddie still could not move. He strained to cry out and awaken Hania, but could not. His voice was drowned. The cry stayed locked in his burning chest. “You sssshall reccccieve the blessssing of the warrior if you can return to your peoplessss below. Yellow Eagle possessed great wingssss to return to the earth, yet you only carry a coil of rope, sssshaped much like me. Ironic, don’t you think? You musssst hold the line and prove your worth. If you cannot, you become one with the Great Sssspirit, and I sssshall be victorioussss yet again.”
Each scale began to glow with a white-hot fire all it’s own. All of the sudden, the snake burst into flame before Eddie’s eyes and Hania awoke with a start. Eddie fell onto his back in violent convulsions. The cave spun in wild circles as the venom took hold of his muscles and reflexes. Hania reached into his sack and pulled out a small buffalo hide, placing it over Eddie. The weight of the thick fur and dense skin was comforting to him, as if the pressure of the heavy hide would suppress his body’s revolt. His shaking mercifully stopped but he was no longer in control of his faculties. His head rolled to the side and spittle pooled below his mouth on the dusty floor.
Hania then took out a large ceremonial rattle, painted red and adorned with two eagle feathers and a bundle of sage. He passed the sage through the fire to catch the embers. Though he could not move, Eddie could discern the unmistakable scent of the burning herb just as it was in the wikiup with his grandfather. Hania waved the bundle and the totem over Eddie and shook it at different times in the highs and lows of an ancient chant only the medicine men would know. Ashes of the burnt sage nestled in the hide, also giving off a distinct scent of burning hair.
“Sahale,” Hania said after what felt like an eternity of this. “You have faced the first trial and now will continue on your own journey. I leave with you this eagle feather.” Hania held up the rattle and plucked a feather out of the adornment. He nestled it into Eddie’s constricted fist. “Never release this feather. It is your link to the world of the living; your life line. You will soon have a vision. The demons will come and they will torment you. Show no fear and return to us as a brave. Hold the line, Sahale. May the Great Spirit watch over you until we meet again. Hold the line.” With that, Hania took up his satchel and left the cave.
Eddie’s mind screamed out to Hania not to leave, but his paralyzed body and mouth betrayed his thoughts. He was left alone to face whatever came next. And what did Hania say it would be? Demons? As if the serpent wasn’t bad enough, now something else was coming?
The tiny flame in the rock circle threw dancing shadows around the room. The reflection of the crackling fire danced in his eyes as the scorching venom ran its course. Every nerve shrieked in agony yet he could not move. Eddie could barely feel the coarseness of the feather shaft. One flicker of his finger was all he could muster to clutch it tighter.
Stay anchored to the feather, he thought. Hania said to never let it go. No matter what comes for me, hold tight. Hold the line!
Eddie lay prostrate beneath the buffalo hide staring into the fire for what seemed an eternity. He had no concept of time. All he felt was the rage of the snake’s toxin wreaking havoc on his senses. His ears rang. His pulse pounded as the venom raged through him. He could taste it in his mouth. He could feel it in his heart.
Am I dying?It feels like dying…
Slowly, letting go of life…
That’s when he heard faint footsteps in the gravel coming down the cavern.
Who’s there? Has someone come to save me?
Eddie was still unable to move, his spindly limbs locked in state by some unnatural bond he could only feel, not see. The sound of gravel crunching underfoot came closer. His eyes strained in the sockets to see who had come to save him but the range of his vision was limited and he could not see who it was. Was it his grandfather? Did Zeke or Danny follow them up here? Please, he thought. I’m here! Please let it be someone who has come to help.
“I cannot help you in that way, Sahale,” came a deep voice with a strong Apache accent. “I am no medicine man.” The footsteps came closer and suddenly a foot wrapped in an adorned leather moccasin stepped into view. The unknown man strode past the fire and sat cross-legged in the same place Hania was when the snake first appeared. “As much as I would like to help you, I am forbidden to interfere in that manner by the Great Spirit. However, I can guide you on your journey, Sahale. Your thoughts are open to me. I can share in your nightmares.”
Eddie stared at the man through the dancing flames. He was young, but carried the mantle of an elder. His face held the deep lines of age and wisdom, yet appeared youthful, like someone who has seen many seasons but still clung to their child-like appearance. His long raven-dark hair hung in two braids over either shoulder and was held back by a golden beaded band. Two eagle feathers hung with the braids. He wore a simple pair of leather leggings with a bright red breechcloth. Across his chest was a bead and bone breastplate encrusted with silver and turquoise finery. He stared at Eddie through the dark pools of his eyes for a long while before speaking again.
“Before long, young brave Sahale, the venom that paralyzes you will dissipate and you will rise again.” Not once did his piercing gaze waver. “When it does, you will be given a choice, much as I was when I faced the same trial.”
Who are you?
“Ah, there you have it.” The man smiled for the first time, revealing his brilliant white teeth. “As your mind makes questions, I will be able to answer them. Try again.”
I said, who are you?
“In time, brave Sahale, in time. But who either of us are is not important right now.” He continued to stare at Eddie, never so much as blinking. “Tell me, child of the Apache, why do you deserve to become a brave among your people?”
Because I am fourteen. It is my time to become a warrior.
The man chuckled. “You believe it is age that makes you worthy? That the number of seasons you have lived makes you a brave? Perhaps I should ask a different question, Sahale. What do you fear?”
That was a question Eddie hoped he would not have to answer. Images started flowing through Eddie’s mind; memories of his childhood. His thoughts finally settled on a particular cool desert night. He recognized the landscape instantly.
“No, please no. Not this night…”
When Eddie turned eight, his father gave him a rifle—a Winchester bolt-action .243—for his birthday. Mother was against it. She argued he was too young, but his father soothed her fears and assured her he would teach him how to use it safely. Every day, they would go to the field behind their house and shoot tin cans. He loved that time with his father more than anything. Later that summer, coyotes killed several goats at his grandfather’s house on the reservation and the men decided they must find the pack and drive them off. So, on a bright moonlit night, Eddie, his father, and his grandfather set out into the hills following the coyote tracks. They assured Eddie’s mother he would not have live ammunition. It’s just for show, his father said. The boy should come with the men and learn how to hunt.
Eddie never felt more alive than he did that night, walking the game trail through the brush and tracking those yipping bandits. As they walked quietly along, Eddie’s father held out his closed fist and dropped a single bullet into Eddie’s little hands.
“Coyotes in large numbers can be dangerous,” his father said as he dropped the shiny brass shell. “You must be able to protect yourself. Load up like I taught you, and if we see one, wait until I tell you to shoot.” Eddie slid back the bolt in eager agreement. The bullet slipped in with ease, and the smooth clicking sound of the oiled bolt locking it into place gave Eddie power. Confidence surged through him. Now, he was ready for anything.
This part of the reservation was isolated and dark. The moon was brilliant white, mostly eliminating the need for flashlights. The three of them hiked quietly in single file through the soft sand. His father in the front, him in the middle, and grandfather at the back. They walked for hours without finding a thing. It was just after midnight when his grandfather decided to call off the hunt for the night. Eddie yawned in agreement despite his earlier enthusiasm. His rifle became too heavy a hour ago so his dad shouldered it for him. He was past ready to go back to the truck.
Suddenly, howls and yips erupted off to their right. The coyote pack finally revealed themselves… and they were close! Eddie’s dad handed him back his rifle. The burst of adrenaline brought him back into the moment and the excitement from the earlier night came flooding back.
“Let’s circle around them,” his father whispered to his grandfather. “You and Eddie go below them. I will go above. Make noise when you’re close to scare them towards me. We’ll drive them to the far rocks and corner them there.”
His grandfather nodded in agreement. “Great Spirit watch over you.”
“Great Spirit watch over us all,” he said back. Eddie’s father stalked off through the brush. Then his grandfather knelt down to Eddie’s level. “You stay right behind me, Sahale,” he said. “Always right behind me.” He nodded in agreement and they walked slowly down the trail to flank the pack.
The eerie cries continued as the pack carried on their demonic racket. Eddie’s heart was pounding. His first hunt! Even though he only had one bullet, he was determined to make it count to keep his grandfather’s livestock safe from these canine fiends. The pack whooped and howled in a frenzy. “They must have cornered something,” grandfather said. “They only carry on like that when they have found prey. Let’s drive them away and save whatever they have caught. Make noise!”
Eddie’s grandfather started wailing like nothing Eddie had ever heard before. Eddie gleefully joined in and followed him deeper into the brush towards the pack. In the distance, Eddie could hear his father doing the same thing. The coyote cries went silent as the three of them raised all the hell they could muster. The yips came fewer and more distant. The pack was moving away from Eddie and his grandfather’s position and towards his father at the rocks, just like he said. It was working!
Suddenly, the night was split by the report of his father’s AR-15. Eddie and his grandfather stopped running for a moment and listened. Chaos erupted from where Eddie’s father was. Cracks from the rifle mixed in with the yelps and cries of injured coyotes. Then they heard an unexpected sound. Eddie’s father was crying for help.
His grandfather took off in a sprint that did not seem possible for a man his age. Eddie moved as fast as he could to keep up but still fell behind. One misstep on a loose rock sent Eddie face first into a patch of chicory. His rifle and flashlight flew further into the brush and out of sight. He got up and checked for chollas, just in case there was a cactus in there. Fortunately for him there wasn’t so he started feeling the ground for his gun. Abruptly, everything went silent. The shooting stopped and the coyotes quit sounding their cry. He strained to listen for his father and grandfather but couldn’t hear either of them. The night became quiet as a tomb. He scurried around more and found his flashlight at the base of a bush, but where was his rifle? Eddie dropped to his knees and crawled around frantically, to find it. With heart pounding, he crawled about in a panic until his hand finally touched the cold steel barrel of his Winchester. That’s when he heard the first growl.
Eddie froze. A second growl came from behind him. Then a third. With wide-eyed fear, he clicked on his light. Dotting the landscape in the beam before him were what seemed to be a thousand dark orange eyes reflecting back.
…Coyotes in large numbers can be dangerous…
“Eddie!?” his father called out in the distance. “Eddie, where are you?” but he sounded too far away to help.
…You must be able to protect yourself…
The closest set of orange eyes gave a piercing howl and snarled. With teeth bared, it took a quick step toward him. Eddie scurried to his feet and dropped the light but raised the rifle. The light landed badly and broke, shrouding him in darkness. His eyes strained to adjust.
… if we see one, wait until I tell you to shoot…
“Eddie? Answer me, son! I’m coming!”
More yips and snarls erupted from the dark around him. Sounds of movement came from all directions. They were circling. The pack was closing in on him! A loud crashing suddenly came through the brush in front of him.
…You must be able to protect yourself…
“Eddie? Where are you!?”
The big coyote had sprung toward Eddie in the dark! It was now or never.
Eddie squeezed the trigger and his rifle split the night, silencing everything around him. Echoes of the report bounced from boulder to boulder. He fell back from the kick of the round, knocking him on his backside. The barks and howling wailed as the pack bolted into the night from the loud rifle shot. Eddie lay in a daze, panting in heavy breaths and ears ringing from the sound, hoping his aim was true. Otherwise the next thing he would feel was teeth pulling his throat out, but the bite never came. Out of the darkness, rough hands grabbed him up by his collar, pulling him up into a forced embrace. It was his grandfather. Eddie burst into sobbing tears.
“My boy. You’re safe now,” his grandfather said soothingly. “Don’t look, it’s okay. It was an accident. You’re safe now.”
“I’m sorry, grandpa,” Eddie blubbered out. “You said right behind you, but I fell. I’m sorry. I’m sorry!”
“It’s okay, boy. You’re safe now. It was just an accident.”
“No,” Eddie cried. “No, it wasn’t an accident, grandpa! I meant to shoot that coyote.”
“I know you did, Sahale, I know you did, but it was an accident. You couldn’t see him.”
“What?” he asked and tried to look, but his grandfather held him tighter.
“No, boy. Don’t look. It was an accident.”
Eddie forced himself away and looked back to see his father sprawled out on the desert floor. Across the chest of his light grey sweatshirt was a slick, dark pool that was flowing down onto the ground beneath him. The last thing Eddie remembered was his own high-pitched scream as his grandfather squeezed him closer. That was the last memory Eddie had of his father, and it was a nightmare.
The dancing rock fire cast a large shadow behind the man as he stood up and put another oak log on it. “The venom of the serpent shows us a great many things,” the man said. “Your medicine man, Hania, told you demons would visit you and not to fear. What many do not recognize is that the only demons and fear they meet are the ones they bring up the mountain with them. They are already inside. Here,” the man pointed to his forehead, “and here.” His fingers rested over his heart. Reaching up into his golden headband, he pulled out one of his eagle feathers and twirled it in his fingers. He moved over and knelt down at Eddie’s side.
“You have faced your demon with bravery. You are worthy, and now you must decide.”
He rolled Eddie’s head upright and placed the feather across his forehead. “You must decide if you can exist with your demon, or if you cannot. Your demon will always be with you on the earth. If you decide, you may stay here with it and become a brave of the Apache.” The man clapped his hands hard and rubbed them together. He placed one hand over the feather on Eddie’s forehead and one hand over the serpent bite. “If you decide that the burden of this demon is too much to bear, you may leave this earth and the Great Spirit will embrace you above.” His touch was hot, burning like a glowing iron over the bite, but the hand on his forehead over the feather was cool and calming. Eddie, still immobile, inhaled a sharp breath and screamed out.
“I met your father here many seasons ago,” the man said, “He carried great fear within him. In his vision, he foresaw his own death, but that his sacrifice would save a life. That sacrifice would come out of great fear. Not your fear, but his. I shared in his vision just as I have shared in yours. Even then, the coyote terrified your father. That was his demon. When the time came for him to choose, he stayed to live with his demon, comforted that he would face his fear to save a life—your life—even though he was destined lose his own. He resides with the Great Spirit now, and has great pride in you, young Sahale. Now rise.”
The man removed his hands from the bite and Eddie’s forehead. All of the emotion and pain from reliving his nightmare came rushing through Eddie’s body like a raging river. Though groggy and painfully difficult, he could move again, but only just. The man helped Eddie to his feet and steadied him. The room was still spinning faster than his head could keep up with.
“I have slowed the venom enough for you to decide. Should you choose to stay, take your rope and begin your descent. If you choose to leave, I will carry you to meet the Great Spirit. I await you outside, Sahale of the Apache peoples. Think on this and make your choice.”
The man leaned Eddie against the wall and walked out, leaving him to think about his decision. This was nothing like he thought it would be. Neither his grandfather nor Hania prepared him for anything that he just experienced. The weight of emotion at remembering the death of his father crushed him like an avalanche. Eddie fell to his knees and sobbed. He tried to bury his feelings of guilt and remorse over his father’s death. Grandfather told everyone it was an accident, but that wasn’t true at all. It wasn’t an accident that killed his father. Eddie never believed it, and he didn’t think anyone else did either. But was it? Was it truly an accident?
It was Eddie’s cowardice.
His own fear killed his father.
The realization of this truth hit him hard. All this time, Eddie carried the guilt in his heart. It weighed him down like a stone tethered to his soul. He ached every time he saw his mother cry over the only photo they had of him. Grandfather would say his time with the Great Spirit was needed, and that is why he was gone. They both told Eddie it wasn’t his fault. He never believed them. But in facing his guilt, there was doubt. He accepted that maybe it was all an accident. Some terrible, awful accident. Now he must decide is he can live with his fear and guilt, or succumb to it.
Eddie couldn’t remember how long he sat there before finally gathering the strength to get up again. The venom, though diminished, continued coursing through him. It slowed his movements and clouded his vision. He wondered how long he would feel this way. When he emerged from the cave, the man with the golden head band stood at the edge of the overhang waiting for him. A cold white wind dusted up a light snow around them. The biting icy air made Eddie pull the buffalo hide tighter to his shoulders, but the shirtless man seemed unaffected by it. He staggered up face to face with the man. They stood there for several minutes before he spoke.
“Have you made your decision, Sahale?”
“I… I have.”
“And what have you chosen?”
Eddie held open the buffalo hide and extended out his arms. In one hand, he held the coil of rope, and clutched tightly in the other was the eagle feather. The man looked down at his hands and spoke again. “You cannot hold both. Whichever you release decides your fate. Choose.”
Eddie looked down at his hands, first at the feather. “I hold the line; the line of strength that pulls me through the fear. My fear is that I am the reason for my father’s death.” He then looked at the rope. “I hold the line; the line of life that anchors me to the world I know and the people I love. Tell me, Yellow Eagle, if you were me, what would you choose?”
“I, like you, faced the same trials. My demons were many. I, like you, also came before the Great Spirit with a rope and feather in hand, asking the same question.” The wind and snow flurries danced around them. Flecks of white clung to Yellow Eagle’s dark hair. He reached up and placed his hand on Eddie’s shoulder. “I could not live with my demons and chose to go with the Great Spirit. Unlike you, I was not brave enough to make peace with them.”
Eddie smiled. “You speak as if you know already know what I have decided.”
Yellow Eagle smiled back. “I have always known what you would decide.” He extended his hand out. Eddie looked down at it and handed him back his feather. Yellow Eagle smiled wide. “Live well, Sahale, of the higher places, brave warrior of the Apache. May the Great Spirit watch over you until we meet again.” He affixed the feather back in his headband and walked to the cliff’s edge, extending his hand in a farewell wave. Then, he turned and gracefully dove off the edge into the flurry of white. Eddie ran to the edge when suddenly a great Golden Eagle soared up past him, crying out to the wind and declaring that Sahale, brave of the Apache, was soon returning home.
While driving home from a baseball game a few nights ago, I had my iPod (yes, I still use an iPod) in my car set to play Rush. I wasn’t even out of the parking lot before Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres cranked up. I love that song and I know the lyrics well. However, for some reason, this time they painted a picture I had not considered much before. But before we get into that, let me bring any unfamiliar readers up to speed.
What is Cygnus X-1?
The real Cygnus X-1 is a black hole in the constellation of Cygnus, The Swan. The constellation is also called the Northern Cross and is visible all across the northern hemisphere. In 1971, the black hole was discovered as the first source of X-rays within Cygnus (hence the name X-1). Neil Peart read a newspaper article about it and, using his brilliant imagination, penned a nearly 29-minute progressive rock epic about it.
Cygnus X-1, Book 1: The Voyage is from the 1977 Rush album A Farewell to Kings. It’s about an explorer that sets his space ship, The Rocinante, for the heart of a newly discovered black hole. Our hero knows this is probably a one way trip, but undaunted, plunges on. Book 1 of this prog-rock epic goes on for about 10-minutes, and ends with The Rocinante spiraling into oblivion. Our hero expects his demise and the song ends. It’s in Book 2 from 1979’s Hemispheres that got me thinking about the parallels between the song and politics.
Political commentary is a dangerous minefield these days, but art does imitate life. This song is no different and was a prophecy before its time. I’m going to make some broad-brush generalizations in here about followers of the political left and right, so before you send me responses like I am a so-and-so and that’s not what I believe or My party believes in this platform, not that, just calm down and digest the core basics of what I’ve interpreted here. I’m going to ask you in advance for grace, and ask that you consider what I say with introspect. However, I always invite thoughtful discourse if you want to voice your opinion on it.
Disclaimers in place? Check. Now, let’s launch into it.
So what does a song about Cygnus X-1 have to do with American Politics?
Let’s examine the lyrics of Book 2:
“When our weary world was young, the struggle of the ancients first began. The gods of Love and Reason, sought alone to rule the fate of Man. They battled through the ages, but still neither force would yield. The people were divided, every soul a battlefield…”
This first part just sets the stage, reminding the listener that since the beginning of time, humankind has struggled with how best to govern their affairs between the boundaries of love and reason. The Rocinante emerges through the black hole to find it was a gateway to Mount Olympus, where Apollo and Dionysus are engaged in epic battle over the fate of mankind. Will they be ruled by Apollo’s wisdom and reason, or Dionysus’s love and emotion? Each god makes a plea for their case while our hero observes.
Apollo’s Plea for Reason
Apollo gets to go first:
I bring truth and understanding, I bring wit and wisdom fair, precious gifts beyond compare. We can build a world of wonder, I can make you all aware. I will find you food and shelter, show you fire to keep you warm through the endless winter storm. You can live in grace and comfort in the world that you transform.
I would contend Apollo’s vision falls more to the right side of political ideology. Typically, Republicans see through the lens of numbers and logic, placing a lower value on feelings and emotion. Apollo offers to share knowledge, the basics of food and shelter, and to show you how to make fire, but it is up the individual to take those tools transform their world for their own grace and comfort. Again, it’s a broad brush approach, but one of the party platforms of the right is deeply rooted in the idea of each person being the captain of their own destiny. Apollo’s offer was accepted, and here’s what happened:
The people were delighted, coming forth to claim their prize. They ran to build their cities and converse among the wise. But one day the streets fell silent, yet they knew not what was wrong. The urge to build these fine things seemed not to be so strong. The wise men were consulted and the Bridge of Death was crossed, in quest of Dionysus to find out what they had lost…
My interpretation of this is knowledge, numbers, and logic is only going to get you so far before you run out of creativity. In a simpler term, this world feels like a minimalist black and white painting; probably beautiful in it simplicity, but devoid of color and personality. It’s cold and hard there. In my observations, Republicans can get caught within their own versions of reason and take a narrow-minded world view; very much like a horse with blinders. The mind needs expansion or it will die.
I think the key statement in here is crossing the Bridge of Death. Curious wording, don’t you think? I would liken this to the idea that you sometimes hear out of right-wingers warning you don’t go over there by those lefties… it’s dangerous! You’ll be in peril unless you walk this fine line! Don’t cross that bridge of death! It’s a group-think idea that once you try a forbidden fruit, you are a lost cause.
Dionysus’s Plea for Love
When humankind crossed their Bridge of Death seeking out Dionysus to see what he could offer, here’s what he said:
I bring love to give you solace, in the darkness of the night; in the heart’s eternal light. You need only trust your feelings, only Love can steer you right. I bring laughter, I bring music, I bring joy and I bring tears, I will soothe your primal fears. Throw off those chains of reason and your prison disappears
It’s not a stretch to see Dionysus is taking the political left approach. He’s playing on your heart strings and telling you that only love can make things right with the world. He’s ready to give humankind everything they need to fuel a creative fire – joy, laughter, music, solace. He promises a spiritual freedom of they will abandon reason and pursue their heart’s desire. Where the kicker comes is the line that he will soothe their primal fears. That line begs a question: What are your primal fears?
The answer will be different for everyone. For some, it’s eliminating loneliness and finding their soul mate. For others, it’s financial stability. Others might argue for spiritual or physical well-being. The bounds are endless on what people fear. Dionysus is telling them he’ll take all that away for them. The Democratic platform sometimes claims to have government provide everything people would fear to lose. I contend, however, that no god or government can possibly provide for everything a person needs. No one. The people, in this song’s case, decide to take him up on the offer. Here’s how it went:
The cities were abandoned and the forests echoed song. They danced and lived as brothers. They knew love could not be wrong. Food and wine they had aplenty and they slept beneath the stars. The people were contented and the Gods watched from afar. But the winter fell upon them and it caught them unprepared, bringing wolves and cold starvation, and the hearts of men despaired…
The romantic notion of throwing all logical caution to the wind and living your best Bohemian life—Y.O.L.O., if you will—is popular among younger generations today. But there are consequences to an ideology that only lives and loves in the moment without logical planning for the future. There’s even greater consequence for depending on someone else to provide everything for you. A day will come where the well dries up. In our song, the winter falls upon the people who lived only for the summery moment with Dionysus, thinking all they needed was love to sustain them. The wolves and weather had a different idea.
The Great Battle for the Heart and Mind of Humankind
In modern politics, this same metaphoric battle rages today as I type this and as you read it. There is a deadly competition for your vote without your voice, and each side knows exactly what string to pluck to get it. One side preys on fear of losing all reason, while the other preys on your fear of losing all hope. Many good people are entrenched in one side or the other and will not accept any olive branches offered by the opposition. In the song, their battle goes like this:
The universe divided as the heart and mind collided, with the people left unguided for so many troubled years; in a cloud of doubts and fears. Their world was torn asunder into hollow hemispheres. Some fought themselves, some fought each other. Most just followed one another, lost and aimless like their brothers. For their hearts were so unclear and the truth could not appear. Their spirits were divided into blinded hemispheres.
There has never been a more poignant description of today’s Left vs. Right political ideology than that stanza right there. The whole of the United States lives in a cloud of doubt and fear because many have buried themselves so far into their beliefs that no one will budge. People fear each other. They don’t trust each other. They prey on each other. And many who are not clear on their own thoughts blindly follow others to fit in to one of these camps just for the sense of belonging. More importantly, no one wants to admit their side is wrong. Not on one single thing. The faithful are so blinded without sound judgement that they can’t see a bitter truth in front of their face: That the opposition is truly not their enemy. In the song, a select few were blessed with discernment:
Some who did not fight brought tales of old to light. My Rocinante sailed by night on her final flight. To the heart of Cygnus’ fearsome force, we set our course. Spiraled through that timeless space to this immortal place.
Our hero is not yet sullied with the ideological dilemmas of Apollo and Dionysus, and encounters people I would call the Neutrals. These are people who haven’t fully decided their fate yet and observe the battle before them between the heart and mind. They tell the sordid tales from both sides, taking on traits of each. Some may call that not choosing a side. Sometimes it’s necessary to choose, but in this case, I think the Neutrals have created a third option to consider.
Cygnus, the Bringer of Balance
Enter the hero of our story, which in my mind is you. Yes, you, who sit here and have read to this point. Here’s your grand entrance:
I have memory and awareness, but I have no shape or form. As a disembodied spirit, I am dead and yet unborn. I have passed into Olympus, as was told in tales of old, to the City of Immortals; marble white and purest gold. I see the gods in battle rage on high, thunderbolts across the sky. I cannot move, I cannot hide, I feel a silent scream begin inside.
This stanza is chock full of metaphor. The U.S. Capitol is loaded to the gills with white marble buildings and monuments gilded in gold leaf. For an every-day citizen or political outsider, the halls of government might feel like an Olympus. A place where the gods of elected government rule from on high. You could even stretch to think of it as a City of Immortals.
You enter the halls of Congress to see and hear the “thunderbolts” being hurled from the right and left sides of the aisle; the nonstop bickering over how you will live your life. It’s messy, complicated, drowned in a legalese few laymen can understand. Who would enter that fray, and upon seeing the ridiculousness of it, would not want to scream? What if you actually did it? Here’s what the song says happened:
Then all at once the chaos ceased. A stillness fell, a sudden peace. The warriors felt my silent cry and stayed their struggle, mystified. Apollo was astonished. Dionysus thought me mad. But they heard my story further and they wondered, and were sad. Looking down from Olympus on a world of doubt and fear; its surface splintered into sorry hemispheres.
In reality, if you walked into a Senate or House session, or the Oval Office, or the Supreme Court chambers and screamed in bloody frustration at them, they are going to have you escorted out. Probably with prejudice. But imagine what would happen if you did and they actually stopped and listened to you? I know what you’re thinking: Lyle, seriously, government stopped listening to the people a long time ago. You’re right. But that’s not my point in all this. Now this next part, this is the true science fiction of the tale:
They sat a while in silence, then they turned at last to me. ‘We will call you Cygnus, the God of Balance you shall be.’
Just think, for one moment, if you had the chance to be the arbiter between the left and right ideology, and they had to abide by your final judgement on their argument. Who would you side with? Always the Left? Always the Right? Some might, but the majority of us would not. We would invoke the third option of the Neutrals, and that brings me to the conclusion of this extremely long political rant.
The Hemispheres United
If you’ve stuck with me this long, I have to think you’ve got at least a foot in the camp of the Neutrals. In my mind, we the Neutrals are the centrists. I would argue the centrists live with the mantra that if you can’t do what is right, then you do what is fair. We are the ones in the middle that see merit and fault on both political fronts… the ones who political parties have abandoned for the warm and fuzzy fringes of their followers. We in the middle are left in the political cold and both sides are making a fire to warm us. We are the ones those governing gods fight over. We are the ones they hope are afraid of being alone so we can get pulled in to their fold.
It is us who pilot the Rocinante into the black hole of politics and scream in frustration at Apollo and Dionysus for their limited vision and schoolyard pettiness. It is us who seek the peace in an arena that only knows war. But not war in the traditional sense. Oh no. They don’t want to kill you. It’s the war for your heart and mind. They are the most precious bastions you can ever protect. The day we once again realize we are not enemies is the first day of our freedom. There is a way to reconcile our trespasses against each other, and Rush sums it up nicely in the final stanza:
We can walk our road together, if our goals are all the same. We can run alone and free, if we pursue a different aim. Let the truth of love be lighted. Let the love of truth shine clear. Sensibility, armed with sense and liberty, with the heart and mind united in a single, perfect sphere.
While I am not naive enough to think those who govern will stop and hear us when we scream, I am hopeful that, outside of their influence, we will hear each other when we scream. Maybe then we can once again come together—those with love and those with logic—and make our country a better example for the world.
The round spectacles at the end of his nose fogged from the hot tea the Right Reverend Wrinkle sipped, annoying Marie past her short level of tolerance. He’s not even listening to me, she thought. He must be deaf or stupid, haven’t figured out which. The wiry reverend set the delicate cup back down in the saucer at his side table. He stared off out the window watching the dark clouds roll in.
“Storms a’comin,” he said. The old bloodhound lying by the front door perked her ears at the word storm. Marie lost her patience with the man. Her limit was reached
“Have you even heard a word I’ve said?” She got up from her chair in frustration. “They say you’re the only one around here who knows how I can get back home, but if you ask me, you don’t know a damn thing!”
The Right Reverend Wrinkle sat calm as could be and continued to glide gently in his rocker. At last, he spoke again. “I know many things, but you never can tell with a storm. They kinda’ just do what they want. It’s as if God let’s a little chaos roam free once in a while. Hard to find your way home in a storm, they say.” He reached down with a lazy hand and brushed off some of the bone dust from his sleeve. Then he put his index finger behind the tight white clergy collar and loosened it. The low rumble of distant thunder rolled across the churchyard outside.
“Yep, this storm’s gonna be a good’n. Best to keep inside, I think, eh Sticks?” The dog got up and moved to the reverend’s feet, careful not to get her tail under the curved runner of the chair.
Marie sat back down in a heap, burying her face in her frustrated hands. “Alright, let’s try this again, shall we?” She sat directly across from him, looking down at the dog. Sticks looked back up at her through tired and droopy eyes, groaning as she rolled to her side to sleep. The reverend peered down over his glasses and took another sip of his tea.
“Look, I’m sorry about running over your mailbox and smashing the headstones. Can I just use your phone? I’ll call my dad to pick me up and send a tow truck for my car. My cell phone is in my purse but I don’t remember where I left it. I promise, he’ll write you a check for the damages.” A strong gust came up as the first drops of rain streaked down the window. Another roll of thunder boomed, giving the windows a rattle. Marie sighed. “Oh great… now it’s raining. I’m gonna be stuck here forever!”
She stomped her foot and looked out the window. The accident scene looked worse from here than she remembered it. The side of the first mausoleum lay in rubble under the front of her red two-seater convertible. It was her 18th birthday present. She loved that car, but now it was junk. Rutted tire tracks smashed through the front fence, the mailbox, several headstones, and coming to an end where she crashed into the side of the one crypt in the cemetery. Marie noted that had she been going a little faster, she probably would have hit the church building, too.
“Next time, I won’t swerve to miss a cat. That’s what I get for being nice, I guess.” He got up and stood beside her, also surveying the damage and shook his head.
“You know, it’s not really about the money, is it? Oh, I can just hear it now… Them Rigbys are gonna be hoppin’ mad that old lady Eleanor’s tomb was disturbed. They said she was mean in life, but Ellie would be a sight meaner in death!” He chuckled and took back the rest of the warm tea in one swift gulp. “Well they were right about that one. I remember ol’ Ellie Rigby back when I first got to this parish. She wanted nothing to do with a shiny new deacon-in-training. Almighty, that was a wicked woman. Only one who ever took a shinin’ to her was that ol’ Father Mackenzie, but he liked everybody anyhow. Ah well, couldn’ta happened to a nicer lady!” He looked down again at the old hound, and she looked back up at her master waiting for his instruction. “Well, whaddya say, Sticks? Should we go find the phone and get somebody out here? We’ve got work to do.” Sticks woofed in approval.
“Ugh. Yes. Finally!” Marie said, and then felt bad for it. This lonely old parish priest probably never got visitors this far out in the country. He’d been kind and just made idle chat once he tended to her wounds. Even though she’d just wrecked her car and smashed his crypt, the guilt of her rudeness took control. The reverend reached down and rubbed to old dog’s head. The dog looked at Marie and gave a tired woof in admonishment for her poor manners. He rubbed her head again between the ears.
“That’s right Sticks, you go on an’ tell us all about it now.” Reverend Wrinkle opened the church office door and they cut across the empty and silent pews to the vestibule at the front door. The old dog wandered between them. Not overly excited about anything except just because the reverend was going somewhere, his faithful companion followed without hesitation. On a side table by the vestibule door sat Marie’s purse. She couldn’t remember bringing it inside. The purse had a large blood smear on the side right across the gold Coach emblem. She must have hit her head harder than she first thought.
“Oh no, my purse is ruined! Ah well. My phone is probab—”
Reverend Wrinkle picked it up and started rifling through it.
“Hey wait just a minute! What are yo—”
“A-ha! Here it is!” He held up her wallet. “Now let’s see who you are, lil’ missy.” He opened it up to her license. “Andromeda Marie Olson. Andromeda? Who names a poor kid something like that?”
“Well, excuse me for having parents who like science fiction. My dad was an actor,” she said as she swiped at her wallet. The reverend held it just out of reach and she missed. “Hey, give me that!”
He ignored her and opened the vestibule door. Marie gasped. On the table at the center of the room lie a young woman in her early 20s. Her head wrapped in a bandage, soaked through in red. Her eyes were open wide and dilated. Sprawled out on the table before her was Andromeda Marie Olson, and she was dead. Reverend Wrinkle looked down at the old brown Bloodhound, who quietly woofed back at him.
“I know it, girl. Poor little Andromeda. I guess there’s worse places to die than a cemetery in a churchyard, eh Sticks? Well don’t just sit there, ol’ girl. We’ve got rites to administer.”
“OhmyGodohmyGodohmyGod…” Marie repeated frantically. “This isn’t happening. This can’t be happening!” She wrapped her arms around herself and started to cry. “That’s why you can’t hear me… Oh my God, I’m dead!”
“Now there’s where you’re wrong, Andromeda Marie,” Reverend Wrinkle said. “Well, right and wrong, I suppose. Yes, you are dead, but I can hear you just fine, and so can Sticks.” He went to the cabinet and pulled out a plastic tablecloth from some long-ago church picnic and covered her body. “It’s hard on everybody when they first see their own mortal vessel layin’ there all cold and stiff, but it does get a little easier with time.”
“This isn’t happening…”
“It is happening,” he interrupted. “It is, and it happens around here more than you might think. I got more spirits haunting this place than ol’ Sticks has fleas.” As if on cue, Sticks scratched her ear with a hind leg. “Only question we have to answer now is why are you still here?”
“We?” Marie asked through the tears.
“Well in case you haven’t noticed, it’s just me and Sticks here, that’s who. This is what we do.” He sat in the wingback chair against the sidewall and crossed his legs while Sticks curled up by his foot. “You see, Andromeda—”
She held her hand up. “Please stop calling me that. I go by Marie.” She sat at the table next to her covered body, arms across herself, and unsure if her form would fall through the chair as she was now a ghost.
“Now don’t interrupt, Andromeda, or I won’t be able to help you. As I was about to say, you said a certain phrase back in the parlor that gave me all the inkling I need to know about your current predicament. It could be worse.”
Marie started feeling angry again at his choice of words. “Predicament? Predicament? In case you haven’t noticed, I’m dead, you moron! How much worse of a predicament could I be in?”
The reverend leaned forward with a squinted and piercing gaze. “Careful now, darlin’. There are worse things than being dead.” He said back with a grin. “Much worse.” With that, emotions resumed control and Marie broke down in sobs of anguish. Sticks sauntered over to her and rested her head on Marie’s leg to offer comfort. She looked down at the dog but saw something different this time. The warmth of the dog’s jowls on her leg was soothing; comforting in a way she couldn’t describe. All the sadness she felt over her own demise dissipated. The droopy eyes of the old hound sparkled like crystals. They offered a comfort unlike anything Marie had ever felt.
“You feel it, don’t cha? See, Sticks there, she has a gift. A gentle nudge from her and suddenly all seems right with the world. Ain’t it a grand thing?”
“It’s unreal,” Marie said and extended her hand to the dog’s head for a rub. “Can she feel me touch her?”
“Oh yes, she can feel it alright.” He scooted his chair a little closer to them and leaned in. “Just cause you’re dead doesn’t mean you can’t interact with the physical world. It takes some practice, but you’ll be poltergeistin’ in no time.”
“Her eyes…” Marie continued to stare into the deep, dark pools of the dog’s red-rimmed eyes. They looked as if the whole universe was just on the other side of them.
“With the slightest touch, Sticks takes the fight right out of someone right down to the point of docile so I can talk some sense into them. You ready to hear some sense now?”
“I don’t want to talk,” she said as if in a trance. “I’m ready to go… Just let me go…” The reverend snapped his fingers under her nose and broke the spell Marie was falling under.
“Hey, hey… Andromeda. Hey, don’t go there yet. You’ll get to travel down that river eventually, but first I have to do my part.” Marie looked up blinking. “Yeah, there you are. Okay now, stay with me on this. In all my years of actin’ the ferryman, I’ve found this the easiest way for the newly-deads to get a grip on their situation. You ready?”
Marie was trying to pay attention to the reverend but could not shake the feeling from Sticks’ touch. Her mind was foggy with the euphoria of the revelations laid before her. She was dead, yet here she sat in a church vestibule with a priest and his dog talking about why she was still here as a spirit. This was definitely not how she thought the day would go. Sticks laid down by the reverend’s chair, breaking their connection. The emotion of her realizing her death crashed back in like a wave on the sea.
“Okay Andromeda, try this on for size. You told me I was the only one who could get you home. That’s how I knew you were dead. It’s the same phrase everyone says when we first meet.”
“Yes, that’s right. You’re the only one who knows the way back home.” Marie couldn’t figure out how she knew that, but she just knew.
“That’s partially true. I’m not the only one, but I’m the only one around here. Sticks has her gifts, and so do I. You see, certain people attract spirits; spirits with unfinished business here in the mortal realm. What I’m gonna tell you here will be a bit of a shock, but it’s my job to be your guide.”
“Yep. Hear me out. Psalms chapter 23, verse 4, you know it? It’s a famous one. Even the most heathenistic amongst humanity has heard it at least once. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me. Sound familiar?” He leaned further forward, only inches from Marie’s face. “That valley is a real place and right now, you’re in it. But you can’t toil in there for long. Death only gives me so much time with you because it is his valley and he don’t suffer visitors much. I’m your guide out.” The storm outside increased to a fevered pitch. Marie could hear the rain pound on the tin roof above and the wind whistled through the trees outside. The reverend continued. “What we have to do is figure out which end of that valley you’re going out of.”
“This is crazy,” she said. “I have to be dreaming this. What in the hell is going on here?”
Sticks’ ears perked at the mention of hell. The reverend chuckled. “Funny choice of words there, darlin’, but you hit the nail pretty close to the head. That option is at one end of the valley.”
“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon Marie… wake up. Wake up!”
“Andromeda Marie Olson, you are not sleeping, you are dead! You sit here in this room before me as a spirit separated from the body. The Book of James, chapter 2 verse 26 starts For as the body apart from the spirit is dead and I’m tellin’ you sweetheart, you are indeed dead. Sooner you accept it, the sooner we can get you goin’ home. Now, you ready to hear me yet?” He sat back and folded his arms awaiting and answer. Marie slumped is resignation.
“I’m truly dead…”
“Yes, you’re truly dead and for that I am sorry, but we’ll have time to mourn later. Right now, I need to get you on a path so I’m gonna need both those radar dishes on the side of your ghostly head pointed in my holy direction. We’re going to figure out what’s keeping you in this valley, and we should be quick about it. Just ’cause your dead doesn’t mean Death is finished with you yet. The Moonlit Man is coming and we don’t have much time. So now, are you ready to tell me which direction you wanna go?”
to be continued…
More coming soon from Andromeda and Reverend Wrinkle. Stay tuned!
It’s hard to talk about great music and not include Pink Floyd. The British super-group still outsells most of today’s artists since they dropped their first album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, back in 1967. Their music, in all it’s crazy and glorious forms, still represents a major segment of progressive rock that can never be duplicated, and a musical sound still unmatched, though many have tried.
I got to see them live in 1994 at the old Tampa Stadium (The Big Sombrero to the locals!) in Florida during the Division Bell tour. I had a nosebleed view of my second favorite band of all time and it was glorious. Not being a smoker, my seats were great, because floor seats were covered by an odd fog over the crowd that would have made it difficult to see! Even from my seat in the clouds, it was an awesome show I will never forget. Little did I realize, that tour would end in October and be their last full-length concert ever (minus the 18-minute reunion show Live 8 show in 2005). That means I got to see one of their final set lists live. It was excellent, but I have some changes for it.
Pink Floyd: Loaded with Drama
If you keep up with the band today, you know there are some rifts that may never heal between Roger Waters and David Gilmour. When Waters broke away in the early 80’s to launch a solo career, he declared Pink Floyd to be over with. The other members disagreed and went on without him, opening a chasm that to this day remains deep and wide.
Going back further to the Sid Barrett/Bob Klose days, there was more of a divide when Barrett left and David Gilmour was permanently added to the roster. All five were together for a few months, but times were tense. Let’s be honest here. While Sid launched the band and made some great—albeit weird—music, Pink Floyd would have been a footnote in musical history without David Gilmour. Waters alone could have pulled them a little higher, but it was Gilmour’s musical vision that sent the band into the stratosphere after Barrett’s departure. Hardcore fans may disagree, but search your feelings. You know it to be true.
I talk about their drama because I think that final set list they chose is due to much of the music that featured Waters’ parts being omitted. Whether or not that was intentional, we’ll never know. With that in mind, my dream set list would be if all five members (Barrett, Waters, Mason, Wright, and Gilmour) were still happily singing as one. First, let’s see what the actual set list was.
Their Final Tour and the Tale of Two Set Lists
Some songs rotated throughout the tour, but a major change in songs happened around July prior to the European shows. The first set list is as follows:
Astronomy Domine, Learning to Fly, What Do You Want From Me, On The Turning Away, Take It Back, A Great Day For Freedom, Sorrow, Keep Talking, One of These Days,
Shine On You Crazy Diamond parts I thru V, Breathe, Time, Breathe (reprise), High Hopes, Great Gig in the Sky, Wish You Were Here, Us and Them, Money, Another Brick in the Wall, Comfortably Numb
…and the encore:
Hey You and Run Like Hell.
That was the set list I saw, and even though I was likely the only one in the stadium who wasn’t high, the crowd was berserk during the encore. Swaying and singing along to Hey You, and then almost moshing with pumping fists during Run Like Hell. And for the record, the greatest guitar solo ever in rock and roll is Gilmour’s outro of Comfortably Numb and I’ll fight those who disagree!
The second set list was similar for the most part, but set two saw Dark Side of the Moon played in its entirety and shifted the encore to Wish You Were Here, Comfortably Numb, and Run Like Hell. Surprisingly, the second list cut back the songs from the Division Bell album they were promoting. Even so, those are all great songs. But now, here’s what I would have chose for them.
My Pink Floyd Dream Set List
Everyone loves an opinion, so here’s mine. My additions to the existing list are in bold, and you can listen to them all at the YouTube Link below.
Welcome to the Machine
Cirrus Minor blended intro to Wish You Were Here
See Emily Play
The Nile Song
Pigs on the Wing, Parts 1 & 2
Learning to Fly
The Great Gig in the Sky
Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2
A Great Day for Freedom
Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun blended intro to One of These Days
On the Turning Away
When the Tigers Broke Free
The Dogs of War
Is There Anybody Out There?
Us and Them
The Show Must Go On blended intro to Comfortably Numb
Run Like Hell
Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Parts I to V
Pink Floyd Dream Set List: Final Thoughts
The unlikely reunion for Live 8 was a huge deal for Pink Floyd fans. The rift between Waters and Gilmour divided fans as well as the band. Both of them went on to successful solo careers, and rumor has it they’ve finally buried their personal hatchets, though they do not perform together any longer.
In 2006, Syd Barret passed away. Even though he wasn’t involved with the band officially, many fans felt he was still a part of this odyssey through psychedelic rock. Shortly after in 2008, keyboardist Richard Wright passed away as well. Rogers went back to his solo career, and Mason and Gilmour went on to record Pink Floyd’s final and largely instrumental release Endless River in 2014. The cool part of the album is they have parts recorded by Wright prior to his death, so the three do appear once again. However, it didn’t receive high critical acclaim. That’s one reason none of it made it into my dream set list, but it’s still a good cut.
The music of Pink Floyd will live on long after the band members are gone. They are regarded as one of the most influential rock bands of all time and have sold a whopping 250 million albums the world over. I consider myself among the luckiest to have seen them live, even if it wasn’t the full band. It was an awesome show I will never forget.
Author’s note:This article originally appeared for another website I write for, www.thathashtagshow.com and originally appeared on May 8th.
Over four decades of live performances, Rush dazzled crowds with some of the most amazing music three people could make, and each set for each show had it’s own unique flair. I was fortunate enough to see Rush live one time during the R30 Tour. Looking back, I had multiple opportunities to see them. Let’s face it, these guys were on tour more times than they were off.
The R40 Tour in 2015 was their last, and featured songs from across their multi-decade catalog. It was great, for certain, but it needed more oomph in my opinion. So now, let’s turn their final set list on it’s ear and speculate on what it should have been!
In writing this piece, I have the benefit of already knowing the songs they chose for the last-ever live Rush performance, and it was tremendous. However, everyone has an opinion. There were some tunes I would rather have heard than the ones they ended up choosing. First, let’s dive in to that final show set and see what they actually played.
Rush’s Final On-stage Performance
On August 1, 2015, Rush took the stage for the final time at the Los Angeles Forum. That’s not to say the individual musicians never played again. I have zero doubt the requests for special guest performances poured in from everywhere. I was particularly fond of Geddy Lee performing with Yes! at their rock and roll hall of fame induction. Alex Lifespan jamming with the Trailer Park Boys was great, too. Other bands and musicians adored Rush. Many of them wouldn’t be where they were/are if not for our trio of pioneer prog-rockers.
In that final show, they left nothing on the table and ground out a 26-song show that included tunes they rarely played live over their 40+ year touring career. Here’s the last show set list:
Final Concert Opening Set:
The Anarchist, Headlong Flight, Far Cry, The Main Monkey Business, One Little Victory, Animate, Roll the Bones, Distant Early Warning, Losing It, Subdivisions.
Final Concert Second Set:
Tom Sawyer, Red Barchetta, Spirit of the Radio, Jacob’s Ladder, Cygnus X-1 – part II: prelude part 1 and drum solo, Closer to the Heart, Xanadu, 2112: parts I, II, IV and VII.
…and the Encore:
Lakeside Park, Anthem, What You’re Doing, Working Man.
That’s a who’s-who list of Rush’s greatest hits. Also, keep in mind their songs are not 3-and-a-half minute bubble gum pop-boppers. These are long and complex tracks. You won’t find the standard, three or four-chord pop riffs anywhere in here.
Everyone Loves An Opinion, So Here’s Mine On What Rush’s Final Set List Should Have Been.
If I were writing their last set list, Rush would hate me because they probably would have to be carried off stage in stretchers when I was through. As philosophically dreamy as it may sound, nothing lasts forever. Not even the immense on-stage stamina of Rush. The guys were ailing when the R40 Tour rolled around. For any band, life on the touring road is grueling. Though Lee said he felt pretty good throughout, his voice during R40 was different. Lifeson was struggling with staving off arthritis for a three-hour show, and Peart was dealing with some serious medical issues of his own.
“(The) last gig was a difficult night. But what you’re talking about is really what was going through Neil’s mind. He was struggling throughout that tour to play at his peak, because of physical ailments and other things that were going on with him. He’s a perfectionist, and he didn’t want to go out and do anything less than what people expected of him. That’s what drove him his whole career, and that’s the way he wanted to go out, and I totally respect that.”
Keep in mind while reading this, that Rush cut over 180 songs across their discography and 26 made the original list. That’s nearly 15% of their song catalog in that final three-hour show. That is a lot of awesome Rush as it stands. However, if I were king for the day, here’s how it would go. Songs that were not on the original list are in bold.
Opening tape: The Three Stooges Theme, then it fades into the opening riff for what I think it the tightest Rush opening track, Anthem from Fly by Night.
By-Tor and the Snow Dog
Test for Echo
Cygnus X-1: Book II (in it’s entirety)
Opening tape: The original 1984 Count Floyd introduction fades into…
The Main Monkey Business
Closer to the Heart
Spirit of the Radio
Leave That Thing Alone
2112: Parts I and V
Time Stand Still
La Villa Strangiato
It hurt to cut out others I wanted, like A Farewell to Kings, Ghost Rider, BU2B, Bravado. Force Ten, Bastille Day, The Necromancer, The Garden, and Cygnus X-1: Book I, among many, many others. But sadly, a concert can only last so long. By my calculation, my dream list above would be just over four hours. However, that’s my list and I’m sticking to it. Oh, and Neil can have drum solos anywhere he wants for all I care!
Final Thoughts On My Rush Dream Set List
While I’m sure my set list will not satisfy every Rush fan, I look through that track list and could simply put it on repeat for days. There’s a representation of every era of Rush tucked in there. All the major hits are covered, and there’s a few of my dark horse favorites mixed in. It’s a fan’s fan list of all the ones we know and love.
It seems the old adage of how artists typically aren’t famous until they are gone did not apply here. The untimely passing of Neil Peart solidified in my mind that true artistry in the age of information is recognized quickly and spreads to the masses like lightning in real time. Rush was on the forefront of technology before it was cool, and we got a front row seat to musical brilliance that started in 1974 and brought down the house in 2015.
This was not an easy list to make by any means. While writing my Rush discography reviews, I listened to each song multiple times over the course of months I was writing it. There’s so many that deserve a spot on this list. I’ll boldly declare there has never been, nor will there ever be another band quite like Rush. All fans of rock-and-roll were fortunate to witness their talent and blessed to share in their music.
What does your dream set list look like? To learn more about Rush, visit their official site at www.rush.com. Rock on!
Author’s Note: This article originally appeared on another website I write for, That Hashtag Show, and was published on April 2nd, 2020.
Rush’s twentieth and final studio album, Clockwork Angels, was started about an hour from where I sit now, at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, Tennessee with the first two singles. They traveled back north, finishing up in Toronto at Revolution Recording. The album heralded their return to roots in a final, true concept album coming 5 years after their last triumph in Snakes and Arrows. Each track was part of a larger chronicle, telling of a young man chasing his dreams in a dystopian steampunk world filled with alchemy, fire and industry. The album would also be turned into a novel by author Kevin J. Anderson in 2012.
Upon release, Clockwork Angels (the album) would reach #2 on the Billboard 200, and really struck a chord at #1 in Canada and climbed high in European markets. I think they knew this would be their last album, based on some risks they took within the project. It’s obvious they didn’t want to leave anything on the cutting room floor.
The first example of their nostalgia is the Clockwork Angels cover, designed by long-time Rush collaborator Hugh Syme. The alchemy symbols replace numbers on the clock, and note the time, 9:12. In military time, that’s 2112. Next, Peart said in May 2011 that “I intend it to be my highest achievement lyrically and drumming-wise.” Finally, they added more strings—in the form of six violins and two cellos. The best part there is they weren’t really back up… they were majorly featured in big parts of the music.
In honor of these new revelations in their music, something different we’ll do in this review is include a written excerpt from the story for each song, giving context within the tale. These words appear in the lyrics section of Rush’s website, but are not part of the recorded track.
Clockwork Angels – Track 1: Caravan
IT SEEMS LIKE A LIFETIME AGO – which of course it was, all that and more. For a boy, life on the farm was idyllic, but for the young man I became, that very peace and predictability were stifling, unbearable. I had big dreams, and needed a big place to explore them: the whole wide world.
Strap your dentures in, because Caravan will shake them out of your head if you aren’t careful. This pounding opener rocks the house and sets the tone to high and heavy. Caravan was available as a single earlier than the rest of the album and played on their Time Machine Tour in 2011. It was billed as a teaser of this great epic album they were working on, and keeping with a long tradition, launches Rush’s final album off with a sonic boom.
Clockwork Angels – Track 2: BU2B
WE WERE ALWAYS TAUGHT that we lived in “the best of all possible worlds.” The Watchmaker ruled from Crown City through the Regulators; the alchemist-priests gave us coldfire for power and light, and everything was well ordered. We accepted our various individual fates as inevitable, for we had also been taught, “Whatever happens to us must be what we deserve, for it could not happen to us if we did not deserve it.”
BU2B introduces us to the antagonist of the tale, The Watchmaker. It also hits us with Lifeson’s brilliant and screaming, layered guitar and Peart wrecking it on drums behind him. Lee’s theremin instrument makes an appearance here, too. (If you’ve never seen this bizarre instrument, Google it. It’s worth checking out). BU2B stands for “Brought Up To Believe”, and tells how our story’s hero learns what he knows from his farmhouse upbringing and what happens out in the real world are two very different things.
Peart went all out on writing this album, especially on BU2B, making some deep psychic cuts. The lyrics dig into the dark corner of your mind closet and pull out the things you know are there but choose to leave buried under the clothes pile.
“The joy and pain that we receive / Each comes with its own cost / The price of what we’re winning / Is the same as what we’ve lost”
Clockwork Angels – Track 3: Clockwork Angels
THE PLACE I HAD MOST WANTED TO SEE – Chronos Square, at the heart of Crown City. I had seen many images of the city before, and Chronos Square, but nothing could convey its immensity – the heaven-reaching towers of the Cathedral of the Timekeepers, or the radiant glory of the Angels – Land, Sea, Sky, and Light – bathed in the brilliant glow of the floating globes... A foggy woodland road, a crowded village square, the busy streets of Crown City – a wandering pedlar travels the land, uttering the ageless call: “What do you lack?”
The odd time signature here makes the song hard to follow, so you have to repeat it a couple times to really immerse yourself into Clockwork Angels. Imagine growing up in a rural setting, then suddenly you’re delving into a massive city center with sights and sounds you never dreamed could exist. That’s the mental image I get from this tune. The sheer racket of the song hammers your senses the same way you would feel in the shoes of our hero visiting Chronos Square for the first time. It’s a lot to take in and a little messy in delivery, but in a good way. Solid track. I like it!
Clockwork Angels – Track 4: The Anarchist
WALKING AMONG THE PEOPLE – who are so content, so blind – the Anarchist hears the pedlar’s call, and sneers derisively. “What do I lack? Ah… vengeance?”
The title of The Anarchist fits this song perfectly. There’s a lot of anarchy in the music, but it’s an orderly anarchy that delivers a thunderous, anthemic case for another villain in the story, The Anarchist. When I first heard this track, I didn’t really like it. However, the more I repeated it to get the feel of what The Anarchist was trying to convey, it finally hit me. The dread, sense of urgency, and the I’ve-got-a-bad-feeling-about-this vibe came through. A cool way of putting it comes from another review of this song by Ultimate Classic Rock back in 2013:
He [Alex Lifeson] has a flair for explosive dungeons-and-dragons, sword-wielding arpeggios bathed in flange. They’re all here; ‘The Anarchist’ is a sonic flip book of Lifeson’s many guitar specialties.
Ultimate Classic Rock, 2013
Clockwork Angels – Track 5: Carnies
I FOUND WORK WITH A TRAVELING CARNIVAL, and for the Midsummer Festival in Crown City, our games and rides were set up right in the middle of the Square, beneath the Angels. One night, amid the noise and confusion of the crowded midway, I saw a man working with wires and wooden barrels. He stood and turned – the Anarchist! – holding a clockwork detonator in his hand. I called out to warn the crowd, then suddenly he threw the device at me, and I caught it automatically – just as the people turned to look my way. I escaped, but in disgrace, and fled down the Winding Pinion River to the sea.
Carnies has some really good parts to it. I love the monster-rock chords that Lifeson assaults us with, and Lee gets his voice back up to that high range where it belongs. However, this is the first song on Clockwork Angels that didn’t appeal to me. It’s good, but there are much better tracks here. Peart’s lyrics do accomplish the goal though of dropping us into the chaotic and nomadic world of a carnival worker. This song just doesn’t feel well put together. It still rocks hard though!
Clockwork Angels – Track 6: Halo Effect
I HAD FALLEN HELPLESSLY IN LOVE with one of the performers. She was so different from “the girl I left behind,” and I was beginning to understand I had only pretended she was right for me. I pursued my beautiful acrobat obsessively until she let me be with her – then I suffered her rejection and contempt. Once again, I had created an ideal of the perfect soulmate, and tried to graft it onto her. It didn’t fit. Such illusions have colored my whole life.
This is simply a great track. Halo Effect is about the only cut on Clockwork Angels that qualifies as a “standard” rock song. It takes a breath from the heavier tracks that got us this far into the album. You can really hear the raw string work here with the violins and cellos in the background, giving a greater depth to this beautiful lament about thinking you love something that isn’t really there. Really, really good stuff going on in the lyrics, too:
What did I do? / Fool that I was / To profit from youthful mistakes? / It’s shameful to tell / How often I fell / In love with illusions again / A goddess with wings on her heels . . .
Clockwork Angels – Track 7: Seven Cities of Gold
THE LEGEND HAD PASSED DOWN FOR GENERATIONS. Far across the Western Sea, where the steamliners could not fly, lay a wilderness land hiding seven cities of gold. I dared the crossing on one of the stout ships that followed the trade route to Poseidon, a tough port city. I worked there for a while on the steamliners that served the alchemy mines, then eventually set out into the Redrock Desert. The stones were sculpted into unearthly monuments, and the country grew cold as I traveled north in search of the most famous City of Gold: CÃbola. Its name had sounded in my dreams since childhood.
Gimme more of that bass! I absolutely love the opening riffs on Seven Cities of Gold. It brings me back to the heavy metal sound of the 80s, and will definitely make your head bob. Maybe even thrash a little! Our hero finds himself venturing to another continent in search of lost treasure. The melodic choral arrangement masterfully links together the hard rock parts and keeps with a modern sound for Rush that still sounds like early Rush. Absolutely well done.
Neil Peart gushed about writing this one as a favorite out of his own studies of Southwest American history:
“The Seven Cities of Gold always fascinated me. Southwestern U.S. history especially fascinates me. The whole spur of the Spanish exploration of the Southwestern U.S. was the search for these mythical Seven Cities of Gold. The Spanish ones would go back to Mexico City and say, ‘I saw it! I saw it! I just couldn’t get to it, but I could see this city of gold in the distance!’ They kept believing it and sending expeditions. “
Neil Peart to Rolling Stone Magazine
How can anyone not love this nerdy bastard of a song-writer?!?! If I had a spirit animal, I’d want it to be Neil Peart.
Clockwork Angels – Track 8: The Wreckers
NARROWLY ESCAPING A FROZEN DEATH IN THAT DESERT, I made my way back to Poseidon, and found a berth on a homeward ship. Caught in a terrible storm, we seemed to find salvation in an unexpected signal light. Steering toward it, we soon learned it was false – placed by the denizens to lure ships to their doom on the jagged reefs. They plundered the cargoes and abandoned the crews and passengers to the icy waves.
One of the cooler trivia facts on The Wreckers is the result of Lee and Lifeson swapping instruments during a writing session. The result is a solid, rocking track with great harmony, haunting melody, and a kick-ass seafaring tune. I truly feel The Wreckers is the hit song of the album. The triumphant jangle in the verse just screams for adventure and exploration. The Wreckers is my favorite song on Clockwork Angels. If you added in a little synthesizer, this track would fit in on any 80s-era Rush album and be a bright, shining highlight.
Clockwork Angels – Track 9: Headlong Flight
THINKING BACK OVER MY LIFE, AND TELLING STORIES ABOUT MY “GREAT ADVENTURES” – they didn’t always feel that grand at the time. But on balance, I wouldn’t change anything. In the words of one of our great alchemists, Friedrich Gruber, “I wish I could do it all again.”
Headlong Flight, in my opinion, is a speedy rocking double entendre. The lyrics are meant to portray the story of someone recounting their full and adventurous life and wishing they could do it all again. I think this is Rush saying the same thing as a band. They probably suspected Clockwork Angels was their righteous swan song and they’re wishing they could do it all again, from Caress of Steel onward. Plus, it just rocks. I love the jumping time signature, Peart’s mini-drum solo that falls around 4:30. This song has all the sonic texture of Rush we know and love.
Clockwork Angels – Track 10: BU2B2
THOSE FATEFUL WORDS, “What do you lack?” spark an inner monologue about all that I have lost. No more boundless optimism, no more faith in greater powers, too much pain, too much grief, and too much disillusion. Despite all that, I realize the great irony that although I now believe only in the exchange of love, even that little faith follows the childhood reflex that “I was brought up to believe.”
BU2B2 feels like a misfit on the album. It’s good, but more of a bridge between rockers than a stand-alone song itself. It’s very short at 87 seconds, but gives a reflection of our story’s hero on what’s really important to believe in. This track is definitely a change of pace based on what we’ve heard so far. It’s odd, but I like Lee singing against an orchestral background. Yet another musical experiment!
Clockwork Angels – Track 11: Wish Them Well
VICTIMIZED, BEREAVED, AND DISAPPOINTED, SEEMINGLY AT EVERY TURN, I still resist feeling defeated, or cynical. I have come to believe that anger and grudges are burning embers in the heart not worth carrying through life. The best response to those who wound me is to get away from them – and wish them well.
A rocking modern-day message to cut out toxic people from your life and don’t hold a grudge. Wish Them Well is a drumming double-timer that Peart had to come out of his shell to do.
“This was the hardest drum track of any of the songs to get. Neil doesn’t really play double-time, so this was taking him out of what he usually does… He dug in—sat down on his throne, picked up his sticks and made it happen… I was throwing stuff at him that an octopus couldn’t play, but he could.”
Nick Raskulinecz to Music Radar.com
While I can appreciate the effort, and appreciate the lyrical message, the song is a little bland for me. Peart would later say this track was his attempt to angrily write about appalling and despicable human behaviors that he had to learn how to just let it go.
“With people too, you constantly think, ‘If I’m nice to people and treat them well, they’ll appreciate it and behave better.’ They won’t, but it’s still not a bad way to live.”
No, Neil, it’s not a bad way at all.
Clockwork Angels – Track 12: The Garden
LONG AGO I READ A STORY FROM ANOTHER TIMELINE about a character named Candide. He also survived a harrowing series of misadventures and tragedies, then settled on a farm near Constantinople. Listening to a philosophical rant, Candide replied, “That is all very well, but now we must tend our garden.”
This is it! The final Rush studio song ever recorded, called The Garden. What a way to send off a brilliant rock and roll career: with a blended melody of beautiful proportions. This song is the perfect outro for a brilliant 40-plus year rock and roll career. I chose this live performance as the example just because seeing it performed adds to the wonderful mystique of just simply hearing it.
Rush has always sent fans out on a high note with closing songs. They blew the lid off of it with The Garden, reminding us that even after a full and prosperous life, there comes a time for the journey to end. Lifeson’s guitar solo and piano piece, and those backing strings make this the first Rush tear-jerker. An absolutely brilliant track to cap off one of the greatest rock bands of all time.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the best)…
I give Clockwork Angels a 9 out of 10. Rush’s final album is epic and fires on almost all cylinders. There was so much right with this album it’s sad it will be their last studio cut. This whole effort is a glorious steampunk geek-fest that I wish would never end. Neil Peart was right when he predicted this would be his finest hour both in lyrics and drumming. Lifeson and Lee didn’t leave anything on the table either. I can’t help but wonder what their next album would have sounded like, but I can’t imagine adding more on top of this modern Rush masterpiece.
As much as this album belongs to our triumphant trio from Toronto, not enough can be said about the influence of producer Nick Raskulinecz on Clockwork Angels, as well as Snakes and Arrows. The amazing job of bringing out this amazing new and raw sound from three of the greatest rock musicians in modern history cannot be understated. His effect on Neil Peart, most of all, is astonishing:
“I played through each song just a few times on my own, checking out patterns and fills that might work, then called in Booujzhe (Rush’s nickname for Nick). He stood in the room with me, facing my drums, with a music stand and a single drumstick—he was my conductor, and I was his orchestra… I would attack the drums, responding to his enthusiasm, and his suggestions between takes, and together we would hammer out the basic architecture of the part. His baton would conduct me into choruses, half-time bridges, and double-time outros and so on—so I didn’t have to worry about their duration. No counting, and no endless repetition.”
Clockwork Angels is a fitting end to the band that defied all norms to produce 20 studio albums, 11 live albums and gather a legion of fans that never quit. With a resume like that, it’s a perfect time to tend The Garden.
Go to page 2 for my final thoughts on the Rush Review!
Author‘s Note: This article originally appeared on another website I write for, That Hashtag Show, and appeared on March 23rd, 2020.
Vapor Trails – 2002
Studio album number seventeen rolls in six years after their last one, and it took over a year to make. Vapor Trails would hit #6 on the Billboard 200 but has not yet hit gold or platinum status. In reality, that doesn’t make much difference when you’ve reached the peak of rock like Rush has by this time in their careers. This is studio album seventeen! Add to that the four live albums, and each member had released their own solo albums by this time. Rush had nothing left to prove. They just wanted to rock again.
Vapor Trails is the first time since Caress of Steel that they used no synthesizers on a Rush album. Lifeson also gave up his fancy guitar effects in an effort to find a “more raw” sound. Even with these compromises, they still struggled to put down solid tracks and would take a three-week on, one-week off approach to meshing their lyrics with sound. In the end, thirteen tracks were released but there were still some problems with the sound.
“It was a contest, and it was mastered too high, and it crackles, and it spits, and it just crushes everything. All the dynamics get lost, especially anything that had an acoustic guitar in it.”
Alex Lifeson, on Vapor Trails
Vapor Trails would get a full remix in 2013, which are all shared in the review below. Fans still were ravenous after the long break to hear new Rush music, even if it wasn’t in best form. One thing this album declares is there is no limit to the creative direction Rush can go.
Peart – A terrible tragedy strikes… twice.
Neil Peart would suffer a terrible personal tragedy after Test for Echo, losing his daughter in a car accident, and his wife to cancer about a year later. I cannot imagine the feelings and the emotions you carry after such a loss, but it just about made him quit music altogether. It would be hard to blame him if he had.
Instead, he packed up his BMW motorcycle and rode it around the country. In between working out lyrics on Vapor Trails, he would pen his book, Ghost Rider, and tell the story of his biking journey on the road to healing, and eventually to decide to make more music. The epiphanies he had on the road led him back to Rush and to make more music for the fans and himself. A long hiatus can sometimes be a good thing, even for Rush. Let’s get into the tracks and see how they did.
Vapor Trails – Track 1: One Little Victory
One Little Victory is the first album opening track I didn’t care much for. They meet the listener with rapid-fire drums and riffs that blows your hair back from the opening note. The song would become part of the soundtrack for Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2, also released in 2002. That probably led to some of the popularity this track garnered.
I can definitely see the foot getting heavier on the gas pedal with it blasting in the speakers. It rocks, and demands your attention as an opening track, but didn’t appeal to me the way it does to most fans.
Vapor Trails – Track 2: Ceiling Unlimited
It’s just bland. The guitar riff at the 4:05 mark is nice, but other than that, this is room temperature Rush at a high rate of speed. There is so much going on in the song it’s difficult to hear any part come through clearly. This could be a problem they tried to fix with the re-master, but it might have been too late for this track. The opening lyric is poignant though:
“It’s not the heat / It’s the inhumanity”
That gives you food for thought, but the rest of the song is starving.
Vapor Trails – Track 3: Ghost Rider
“Pack up all those phantoms / Shoulder that invisible load / Keep on riding north and west / Haunting that wilderness road / Like a ghost rider”
This track shares its name with the book Neil Peart wrote about his journey across country to deal with his personal loss. Overall, this is one of the more solid songs on this entire album. It’s echo-ey, dissonant, maybe even haunting. I might even go so far as to call this a 2000s rocker follow-up to The Allman Brother’s Midnight Rider. I know, maybe a stretch but the feel of the song reminds me of that.
“The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”
excerpt from Ghost Rider, Travels on the Healing Road
He released the book in 2002, the same year as this album. I haven’t read it yet, but a browse of reviews on Good Reads and Amazon say this is one to pick up. The song is good, and I wish they would have used that sound more on this record.
Vapor Trails – Track 4: Peaceable Kingdom
When I first heard Peaceable Kingdom, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. There is zero doubt it’s a swipe at the perpetrators behind the September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. The lyrics are a sharp rebuke of saying one thing and meaning another, in this case on Islamic fundamentalism:
“Talk of a Peaceable Kingdom / Talk of a time without fear / The ones we wish would listen / Are never going to hear.”
As with other tracks here, there’s a lot of noise going on in the background but it’s too dulled down and drowned to hear any clear musical motive. The words drive the tune, but the music is left out.
Vapor Trails – Track 5: The Stars Look Down
An abstract artist once told me he felt like it was his job in his paintings to make the viewer think about his work and split their emotions in half. Do they like it or hate it? If they can’t decide, then he’s succeeded. Well, here’s my Rush example of that.
I go back and forth on whether I really like this song. I love the choral arrangement and the harmony blending at the end, but it’s too late in the song to save the track. Overall, I get more of the individual musicians coming through. I can pick out the bass line, and the drums are sharper, but my jury is out. I’ll still listen to it, but I don’t know if I like it or hate it.
Vapor Trails – Track 6: How It Is
How It Is would have been awesome as an acoustic. In Rush’s pantheon, outside of Rivendell and Tears, there’s not much acoustic material until we get to Snakes and Arrows. This song would have been great with just Lifeson and Lee giving an unplugged run at this. It kind of starts out that way, with the clear ringing acoustics and melodic woo-woos, but then Lifeson jumps in and screw that, let’s rock! I like the track overall, but this on an acoustic list would be a hit.
Vapor Trails – Track 7: Vapor Trail
The title track, Vapor Trails, has the most Rush-y feel on the whole album. Nerdy lyrics, clear bass hum, ringing guitar riffs, sharp and pounding drums. They blend the instrument harmony so much better here than other places on this album. This one is the dark horse hit that should have gotten more attention. It certainly deserves it.
Vapor Trails – Track 8: Secret Touch
Secret Touch is Geddy Lee’s favorite song on this album.
“This is a bit of an extravaganza. We built the song around these repeating bass chords that I thought sounded like French Horns. The tune has a hypnotic feel, and because we weren’t happy just enjoying that feel, we had to smack it up with some power. When we get to the middle section and all hell breaks loose, there are these stuttering bass punctuations. I double-tracked them, but on one track I digitally truncated the notes to make them sound abrupt and punchy.”
Geddy Lee to Bass Player Magazine
While I appreciate his enthusiasm, I didn’t get the same feeling. I really like that banging guitar riff. At first, I felt like it was out of place in this track, but it actually is the saving grace of the song. Overall, the track is a little bland. The lyrics are Peart trying to express his feelings, especially after his personal tragedy, but the delivery comes across a little jumbled. The last two minutes and the outro are better than the whole song together.
Vapor Trails – Track 9: Earthshine
Earthshine is another dark horse favorite on this album. That electric opening riff rocks and the ride cymbal builds the tension into a melodic chorus of doo-de-doos. The one problem I have is how close Lifeson edges toward overpowering the song.
It’s hard for any Rush fan to complain about too much Alex Lifeson on guitar, but through this whole album, some of his new sound smashes everything else down. I’m glad he kept it in check here, and bonus points for the crying stratospheric solo starting at 3:17. This is a good Rush song in any era.
Vapor Trails – Track 10: Sweet Miracle
I love the opening of Sweet Miracle, the shortest track on Vapor Trails. It has good harmonious blends and fresh guitar work, but doesn’t hit all the marks for me to like it that much. I rate it “just okay”.
Vapor Trails – Track 11: Nocturne
Nocturne is a rare Rush trip-and-fall. Lyrics are interesting but the song lacks substance. Vapor Trails could have been twelve tracks without this and been just as good.
Vapor Trails – Track 12: Freeze
At long last, the final part of the four songs of Fear! Freeze has a crazy time signature and doesn’t follow any mold or pattern for anything. It jangles and jumps, crashes and rocks wherever it wants to and all at the same time. The lyrics are on-point. It’s hard to determine if the hero of the song is actually the hero or the beast, but it’s awesome and better than the other tracks on this record.
A word about the brilliance of the four songs of Fear
The first track released was Part III: Witch Hunt way back on Moving Pictures, twenty years earlier. If you listen to the songs in order now that all four parts exist, each one paints its own canvas that make one larger picture when they’re together, and each one has its own unique sound for the time they released them.
Part II: The Enemy Within has a ska-inspired back beat to it. Part I: The Weapon has an original sound all its own, almost like 80’s techno (and the famous Count Floyd intro!). Part III: Witch Hunt has a creepy, almost operatic vibe. Part IV: Freeze is a gritty hard-rocker that closes out the saga. Releasing them in distant parts makes them relevant at release and is genius before it’s time. Neil was a madman!
Vapor Trails – Track 13: Out Of The Cradle
Keeping with the history of hopeful and uplifting closing tracks, Out of the Cradle offers just that. It’s not a great track, but it is definitely sending us out on a high note. It keeps all the fun jangle this album started with, but is arranged much better than some of its predecessors, and overall has a different sound than any other track on Vapor Trails. It has serious foot-tapping quality.
One a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being the best…)
I give Vapor Trails a 4 out of 10. I realize that may not seem fair, but hear me out. With a couple exceptions, I struggled to like this album. Not that it’s a bad record, but this is the first album I felt didn’t sound like Rush. The whole track list feels like the band is stumbling back into relevance after their longest break ever, and a couple tracks are full face-plants.
Lee’s voice and bass pop is always unique and instantly recognizable. Peart’s drum technique and offbeat cadence is also a recognizable standout, and Lifeson’s guitar work has a signature all it’s own. On Vapor Trails, the elegant sounds of the three best musicians to pick up instruments were so smashed together that they drowned each other out in a bland pool of new-metal textures. The remaster may have helped, but there are some songs here that needed more work than that.
Where this album loses me is the songs begin to run together. Only Freeze, Ghost Rider and Earthshine stick out to me as distinct, original, stand-alone Rush sound. Vapor Trails, How It Is, and Secret Touch have redeeming qualities, but the rest is just noise, and that makes me sad. The late 90’s and early 2000’s were full of bands muscling for position to have the sharpest off-key sound vibe. I feel like Rush tried to join in that cacophony and succeeded. They didn’t need to. They’re better than that.
Riding the success of Roll the Bones, the boys got back in studio two years later for their 15th album, Counterparts. I mention Roll the Bones because it signaled the departure of the process-heavy synth sound, where Counterparts nearly cuts the ties altogether. Here, Rush returns to the simple sounds that three guys can make into melodies off of strings and drums; pounding, glorious drums.
Peart wrote the lyrics for Counterparts with a deep emotional theme in mind as well.
The term ‘counterparts’ is described as both “duplicate” and “opposite” – a definition that so intrigued Neil that he contemplated to himself: “…considered in this way, contraries are reflections of each other, and not necessarily contradictions.”
Using that as a guide, listen to the lyrics and seek out the contrary reflections. He wrote a lot of them in there, so they’re not terribly hard to find. Fans dug Counterparts, too. The album peaked at #2 on the Billboard 200, giving Rush their highest U.S. charted album, and was certified gold status two months after release. It would hit platinum in Canada and Atlantic Records claimed platinum in the U.S., but the RIAA only has Counterparts at gold. Still, in a time where many rock groups were trying to find their sound, Rush joins in the alternative rock movement and still keeps it sounding like golden Rush.
Counterparts, track 1: Animate
That opening drum is sweet music! A signature of all Rush albums is the attention-grabbing opening track. Gone is the electronic processing and here stands a great, organic rock and roll song. Across the board, Animate is a solid track giving each instrument the spotlight for a time. It has a hard-rocking beat with a little grungy sound that was popular on the air waves in the early 90’s. Lifeson grinds down his Paul Reed Smith guitar, while Peart gives that Ride Cymbal a workout and Lee rattles your fillings with his steady bass. This is Rush rocking at their best in over a decade.
Counterparts, track 2: Stick It Out
Love that gritty, monster-rock guitar riff at the beginning. Stick It Out, to this Rush fan, sounds like an Alice Cooper track that Rush recorded instead of him, and it’s darkly awesome. The song is distinctly Rush, however, and it’s nice to hear the boys get back to those rock and roll roots and drop all the synth.
Stick It Out taps deep into the strong misfit emotions of the early 90’s teenager (I was one of ’em!) and rides the wave of angst all the way through. A casual listener might hear this and be shocked it’s Rush, but I guarantee you’ll be thrashing along before it ends!
Counterparts, track 3: Cut To The Chase
Peart’s lyrics jump back into the nerdy realm here on this rocker, but don’t let that fool you. Cut to the Chase is another gritty effort that rewards the listener with a rollick through all three instruments before the end. I feel like this lyric describes this song perfectly:
“It is the engine that drives itself / But it chooses the uphill climb / A bearing on magnetic north / Growing farther away all the time”
Lifeson rarely “noodles”, but we get a little of that on his guitar solo. Normally, the 80’s/90’s metal trick of unorganized, wild string work is a turn-off for me, but here on Cut to the Chase, it works. I like it!
Counterparts, track 4: Nobody’s Hero
Nobody’s Hero would be the closest thing I would call a ballad on Counterparts, but it’s not really even that. However you categorize this track, you have to admit it has some of the most powerful lyrics on the album. Many say it’s simply a song about HIV awareness, but I think its more than that. To me, it’s a song about how the common person, or the different person, or the odd person, and how at any moment and for any reason, they could be the hero we never expected.
The lyrics remind me of a quote I remind my sons of from time to time:
“Nurture your minds with great thoughts. To believe in the heroic makes heroes.”
Counterparts, track 5: Between Sun and Moon
While not a bad song, Between Sun and Moon just doesn’t do anything for me. It’s got the nerdy lyrics I like, but it sounds like a Roadhouse barroom song, and that’s not the Rush I want. To the song’s credit, Lifeson has some ferocious guitar going on here, but the sound is too Stevie Ray Vaughn for me. While SRV is a guitar god, I don’t see much in common between him and Rush except this song. Still a good track, just not my favorite.
Counterparts, track 6: Alien Shore
While I agree with the premise behind the song’s lyrics, Alien Shore has a clunky delivery. The highlight is Lee laying down that funky bass from start to end. However, I find the rest of the track forgettable. I usually skip this one on the ol’ iPod.
Counterparts, track 7: Speed of Love
Speed of Love feels like it was recorded on the wrong album. It’s a good track that might have been a leftover from Power Windows or Grace Under Pressure. The nice thing about this song is it gives a needed breather from the first six tracks without dragging the whole album down. It rocks enough to keep the record going, but slow enough to give you a track to sway to. Lifeson gets a clear and bright guitar spotlight throughout. That’s exactly what Rush needed, and Lee’s vocals deliver the lyrics with a crisp, melodic grace.
Counterparts, track 8: Double Agent
Double Agent is a conundrum. It’s serious and silly; a mix of old Rush and new. It has the feel of the old progressive epics, like Cygnus X-1, but with a grunge edge that trended with the times. The spoken lyrics are edgy, creepy and weird. Like Vincent Price swung by the studio and said, “Hey fellas… need a creepy voiceover?”
The guitar is definitely in the forefront here and the time signature bounces all over the place. Part of me wants to hate it, but my Counterpart (see what I did there?) won’t let me skip listening to those dissonant strings ringing back at me.
Counterparts, track 9: Leave That Thing Alone
The funky instrumental Leave That Thing Alone received a lot of attention with a Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Song. It’s a good jam-out dance track showcasing Lee’s funky bass riffs laid over a sequenced beat.
Peart joins the party every once in a while, but Lifeson jumps in and steals the show with his crying guitar. Are we getting some Dr. Who theme song blended in there as well?
Counterparts, track 10: Cold Fire
I didn’t like Cold Fire the first time I heard it, but it grew on me once I appreciated it’s complexity. I discounted it as a song about a guy getting lucky in the back seat and turning it into a long-term relationship, sort of. What it’s really about is close to that, but the deeper meaning is the fallout after a sexual encounter where one doesn’t know if the other really wants to be with them any more.
I may have misinterpreted the band’s intent, but that’s what I get from it, and mostly because I’ve had that experience before.
“She said just don’t disappoint me — You know how complex women are / I’ll be around / If you don’t let me down / Too far / I’ll be around / If you don’t let me down.”
Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but Cold Fire to me is a metaphor for the heat of a new relationship that suddenly becomes a cold “whoa, we’ve made a mistake here” moment. Oh well. Good track nonetheless!
Counterparts, track 11: Everyday Glory
Having experienced two marital splits as a kid and enduring a divorce myself, this song resonates with my personal experiences of overcoming terrible circumstances and realizing you’re going to be okay no matter what happens. Everyday Glory captures that spirit of triumph for me. It’s an optimistic song that showcases strong lyrics over flashy riffs or solos, and for that, it’s beautiful.
I’ve said before, one of the biggest reasons I love Rush is the upbeat nature of their music and the lift in their lyrics. I wish every kid living with fighting parents could hear this verse:
“Just one spark of decency / Against a starless night / One glow of hope and dignity / A child can follow the light.”
Hang in there, kids. No matter what they say, rise from the ashes as a blaze of everyday glory.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best)…
I give Counterparts an 8 out of 10. I rank it high because it’s a return to what I like most about Rush: that three guys and their instruments can make such awesome noise. The album has a couple stinkers, but on the whole, Counterparts is their triumphant return to rock and roll. And really good rock and roll to boot.
Alex Lifeson says this album was more of a back-to-basics effort in search of Rush’s sound, and I say they found it.
“We’ve kinda shifted the interest back to the guitar. We’ve been talking about moving in that direction for quite a while, but certainly with this one we made a concerted effort to do that. The keyboards are much deeper in the mix. It was to sort of capture an energy that we used to have when it was more of a concentrated three-piece.”
Alex Lifeson, 1993
Geddy Lee said later in 1994 that it was also time to part ways with the processed gloss of 80’s new-wave.
“When Alex and I started writing this record, we kind of looked at these mountains of synthesizers that were being brought into the writing room, and we kinda had this reaction; it was almost like an allergic reaction: ‘I think it’s time maybe we stepped back from this stuff.’ So, we went back to a more simpler, basic way of writing, which just… guitar, bass, vocals, and drums. A lot of the material was written in that way, so in that sense it was kind of a purer sound.”
They were both right! And now, on to their 16th studio album…
Go to Page 2 for the review of 1996’s Test for Echo!
Writing is a complicated profession, wouldn’t you agree? Anyone who has ever tried to write anything, from blog posts like this, to articles, to novels will tell you how easy it is to start and how hard it is to finish. Inspiration can run dry at the drop of a hat, and all writers suffer from it.
A set of song lyrics I became acquainted with recently is the best summation of writer’s block I’ve seen yet. The song Losing It off of 1982’s Signals album by Rush says this:
The writer stares with glassy eyes — defies the empty page / his beard is white, his face is lined and streaked with tears of rage / Thirty years ago, how the words would flow with passion and precision / But now his mind is dark and dulled by sickness and indecision / and he stares out the kitchen door / where the sun will rise no more…
Losing It, written by Neil Peart
While I don’t think I’m to the point of sickness and indecision yet (the jury is still out), hitting blocks in your work is a terrible affliction I would not wish on anyone. Something I have found to assuage the faltering imagination is music. Many writers will tell you there is no way they can concentrate with all that racket going on; that music is distracting. They just can’t do it. However, I say, yes you can.
Use Music to Spark Imagination
I’ll caveat this bold statement with a disclaimer: Every writer has their own method, and not everyone’s brain works the same. What works for me may not work for others.
I am fortunate to be an imagination-driven, visual thinker. I adore a vivid mental picture, and see things more clearly in my head sometimes than I do with my own eyes. Music speaks to me in that way. The song tells a story, and not just with the words but in the notes and melodies. Here’s an example:
While working on an outline for a fantasy story I’d like to write, my brain fell flat on a tense moment. I knew how I wanted the scene to begin and end, but the tension in the middle read like an instructional textbook rather than anything remotely exciting. I can’t begin to describe the aggravation I felt, and lost count of how many times I hit the delete button in one simple paragraph. I laid the project aside for a couple days and simmered below a boil on how to progress the scene. Then, in the car, it hit me. My iPod rolled over to this song, Dragons at the Gate by Epic Score. Take a listen below:
If the idea was a piano, then it fell on my head from a 20-story building. I was so excited I had to pull over and start jotting notes before I forgot any of it. The tenseness in the music played out the whole scene right before my eyes. I could see it like I was watching a movie. The block was moved like Sampson knocking over his pillars. It was a glorious moment I’ll never forget.
What else is on my iPod?
Epic Score is one of several artists I go to for inspiration. They are all instrumental, so no worries about their words getting in the way. However, sometimes lyrics paint pictures you least expect. Classic rock from the 60s and 70s is a gold mine of story ideas and scene manifestations. Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, The Who, Rush, The Moody Blues, YES, and multiple others leave nuggets all over the place if you know how to mine them up.
I wrote an entire outline off of a King Crimson song for a medieval fantasy that currently is awaiting my attention. The Seeker by The Who conjures all sorts of ideas for me to put on paper. Red Rain by Peter Gabriel was probably my first outline based on my brain’s interpretation of a song. Neil Peart’s lyrics on any Rush album is a mother lode of ideas. Here’s some I’m currently listening to:
So what’s the take-away from this?
What you’re writing will likely determine what you listen to. A romance author is probably not going to heavy metal for inspiration, and a horror novelist may not find inspirational solace in show tunes, but you never know. Don’t look at music being distracting, or background noise. Embrace it for the wonder it can spark in your mind.
The next time you’re struggling, slip on an obscure record. Sit back, close your eyes, and let the music take you for a little bit. When it’s over, and you are safely deposited back on the shores of your reality, you might be surprised at the adventures you had in the melodies. Give it a try. You never know… you might have the idea for the next best-seller. Happy writing!
To check out these amazingly inspirational artists, try their official links below:
Author’s Note: This article originally appeared on another website I write for, That Hashtag Show.com, on February 25th, 2020.
Both Presto and Roll the Bones are very special Rush albums to me. Even though they cross decades, I’m reviewing them together. They both came out while I was in high school. Being the geek that I was (and still claim to be), these two cuts were comforting friends that helped me get through the roughest three years of any teenager’s life; 10th through 12th grade. These lyrics, especially on Presto, spoke to my heart. I went through two soul-crushing break-ups in high school. The first one was eased with the music of this album.
Critically, Presto would reach #16 on the Billboard charts and hit Gold status about a year after release. I know fans of many bands have “their” album. You know the one I mean. That album that happened to release at a vulnerable or triumphant time for you, and it was as if your entire being was laid bare to the world through the music. I’m sure my review of Power Windows and Hold Your Fire felt unfair to some fans for the same reason. Regardless of what any critic thinks, some tracks simply belong to a fan’s heart. Presto and Roll the Bones fill that bill for me.
Did you miss the last review of Power Windows and Hold Your Fire? Read it here.
Musically, this album showed a significant shift in Rush’s sound. The leading edge of the grunge-rock movement was upon the world in 1989 and listeners were looking for a harder, dirtier sound. Rush began the slow return to those base rock-and-roll roots here, on their first album under a new record label (Atlantic Records). They kept a clean 80’s sound but processed less and rocked more. Let’s dig into the music and see what makes these tracks so special.
Presto, Track 1: Show Don’t Tell
A new sound and new look hits on their opening rocker, Show Don’t Tell. Rush has never struggled with album openers, and this track continues the tradition. If ever there was a rock song that paid homage to courtroom proceedings, this is it.
It has a catchy riff with a tossed-around time signature. It almost defies logic you could stutter guitar, drums and bass into such a great melody. I especially like the jangly acoustic slashing going on behind the scenes. This song is advanced for the late 80’s era of ho-hum rock, and it’s glorious!
Presto, Track 2: Chain Lightning
Chain Lightning is another flash of Rush brilliance. It starts like a typical 80’s synth song but breaks into a chugging rocker that’s hard to turn off. It also has the nerdy lyrics I like with a mean bass and guitar solo at 2:25.
The lyrics focus on a weather phenomenon called Sun Dogs, which can be seen anywhere in the world during any season as a halo lens flare around the sun. This is some deep, nerdy meteorology and I love it. Thank you Neil for making the weather rock!
Presto, Track 3: The Pass
The Pass is lauded as the centerpiece of this album, and lyrically, it is. Teen suicide is still a real problem we face and this song tries it’s best to tackle the tragic feelings that lead someone to take their own life. Having experienced the loss that comes with a suicide, this song pulls back the canvas on some scarred memories. A scroll through some of the YouTube comments on the Rush: Official link tells the stories of what songs can mean to people, especially when they find themselves on the edge of a life-changing, or ending, decision. Seeing this song live was a treat.
Presto, Track 4: War Paint
No album is without its stinkers, and Presto has a couple. The beat here is tight and well-made, but I couldn’t get into the lyrics of War Paint, which is strange. The reason I love this album is because of a break-up. This song is about the facades in relationships. It should be THE break-up song on Presto I should love, but it’s not my favorite. It still rocks though.
Presto, Track 5: Scars
That opening bass and beat… it’s catchy! Your foot will definitely tap, and you might even start to bob your head. When it bursts open, Peart is going bananas on the drums back there. He mixes electric and acoustic drums into a tribal rhythm inspired by a trip to Cameroon and it’s dang good. Lee has some fun here with the vocal effects, too.
Scars is an upbeat, fun song that shows a beat-heavy side of Rush we don’t get to see too often. We’ll see it again on a later review of their Counterparts album.
“Each emotional injury / leaves behind its mark / sometimes they come tumbling out / like shadows in the dark.”
Scars, Rush: Presto
Presto, Track 6: Presto
I repeated this song so much I can recite it word for word at any moment. Presto isn’t Rush’s hardest hitting track, but the lyrics here are breathtaking. Even without that deep prose, this song rocks. If I had a complaint, I wish they would have driven the guitar solo a little harder and longer. Alex Lifeson lays down some sick string work, but it gets cut a little too short here. Other than that, box it and ship it. I love this song.
“I had a dream of the open water / I was swimming away out to sea / so deep I could never touch bottom / what a fool I used to be.”
In the acoustics of my shower, I slay this song—sometimes to the detriment of my wife’s peace and quiet. But hey, when you’re made from the dust of the stars and the oceans flow in your veins, sometimes you just have to belt it out.
Presto, Track 7: Superconductor
Alright, so this isn’t Rush’s finest lyrical moment of the album. The words here are alright, but this track as an instrumental would rock. I wish they would have left it that way.
Best I can tell, the song is about show business, and a man and woman who are addicted to stardom. I think the man is a manager of sorts, and the woman a performer. I don’t know… the beat is slick, but the lyrical execution is a little clunky. Still not terrible. Superconductor also rocks.
Presto, Track 8: Anagram (for Mongo)
So Neil is just showing off here. Anagrams adorn almost every line of Anagram (for Mongo), such as “take Heart from Earth and Weather”. The tune also has a gentle-rocking sonic vibe to it, making Anagram a fun blend of processed Rush and rocking Rush. Bonus points for the clear nod to Blazing Saddles: “Candygram for Mongo!”
Presto, Track 9: Red Tide
Rush again delves into the environmental with Red Tide. Critics relegate this one to Rush’s dustbin, but I like it the same way I like Synchronicity II by The Police. Here, the Red Tide replaces the something that crawls from the bottom of a dark Scottish loch.
Throughout the song, the dreaded creature inches closer, verse by verse. It’s a little dark for most of Rush’s armory, but the lyrics drive home the point of limited time and the things that can take it from you. Let us not go gently into the endless winter night, indeed.
Presto, Track 10: Hand Over Fist
Ugh. Hand Over Fist is an anthem for rock-paper-scissors and is sadly a forgettable tune. The bright spot is this one stanza:
“hand over fist / paper around the stone / scissors cut the paper / and the rock must stand alone
I can relate to that rock, but struggle relating to this song. I’ll just take it for what it is and move on.
Presto, Track 11: Available Light
Our trio from Toronto didn’t do many ballad-type tunes, but it’s hard to categorize Available Light any other way. I put this in the Presto stinker category, too. It feels like a filler track. I like the lyrics, but I don’t like the arrangement. When it rolls through my playlist though, I’ll still let it play. It rocks enough. Extra credit noted for Lee’s stratospheric falsetto vocals here.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best)…
I give Presto a 8 out of 10. I know, I know… but hear me out. Critics weren’t kind to this album, but this LP means a lot to me, personally. Especially the song Presto. This isn’t a hard rocker. Some fans may call it soft. While I can agree that some of the music is off for Rush, I call this entire effort lyrical genius. Neil Peart’s wordplay on this album is so deep you can’t really reach the bottom. He tells such great stories and evokes so much powerful emotion with his words if you take the time to hear and read them. This album also does not have an overarching theme like previous cuts did.
“There is no manifesto, although there are many threads and a strong motif of looking at life today and trying to act inside it.”
Neil Peart, 1990
Another thing that stands out on this album is the clear definition of each instrument. The way this album was produced is brilliant. The blends are a wonderful harmony together, but you can still pick out the licks from each instrument clearly. This is likely the result of new producer Rupert Hine’s influence. Presto is their first album together.
All that said, the next album sees a bigger break from the synth-heavy 80’s era Rush, and it speaks to my soul, too. Click over to the next page for Roll the Bones…
Author’s Note: This review was originally published on another website I write for, That Hashtag Show, and was published on February 17, 2020.
Power Windows, 1985
Rush traveled back across the pond in 1985 for Power Windows, their 11th studio album. Three studios shared duties on this LP; The Manor in Oxfordshire, SARM East Studios in London, and AIR studios on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. During the time of over-processed 80’s synthesizer music, Power Windows fit right in even with some of Rush’s hard rock roots poking through.
The album’s theme centered around “power”, with Peart’s poignant lyrics and Lee’s synth-bending compositions putting on display yet again, the trio’s talent and intelligence in music. Power Windows would chart at #10 in the U.S., #2 in Canada, and had a great showing in Europe as Rush extended their musical reach to greater global audiences. Interesting side note: This was Rush’s first album to be released directly to CD. The original cut vinyl was available on release, but the remaster wouldn’t come on vinyl until 30 years later. Power Windows went gold and then platinum within four months of release.
Synthesizer-era Rush is a contentious subject among hard core fans. I’m personally a bigger fan of hard rock Rush, but these 80s albums have their bright spots. Let’s dig in and see what made this album so “powerful”…
Power Windows – Track 1: The Big Money
I wonder how Parker Brothers felt about the obvious parody of Monopoly in this video. Either way, The Big Money is a whimsical track about the power of the almighty dollar. MTV liked it (back when MTV played music videos) and The Big Money became part of their regular video rotation. Lifeson’s guitar work on this track is as slick as it gets.
It’s a good track, blending the popping reggae sound in with enough rock to work for most fans. This song has a lot of moving parts going on. It’s like one of those shows where if you go to the bathroom in the middle, you have to watch the whole thing all over again because you missed something. Rush’s opening songs on all their albums make a statement, and this one says “We still rock, even in the 80s when rock isn’t cool.”
Power Windows – Track 2: Grand Designs
I love the opening riffs to :20. Then I don’t know what else to say about Grand Designs. The lyrics are on-point, but the composition feels scattered to me, and not what I’ve come to expect from Rush. Bonus points for the quick Red Barchetta chords at 1:01, and the pinpoint accuracy of this choral stanza about the failings of being powerful:
So much poison in power / The principles get left out / So much mind on the matter / The spirit gets forgotten about
Grand Designs, Rush: Power Windows
Power Windows – Track 3: Manhattan Project
Alright, before you pull out the slings and arrows, I like Manhattan Project, but I also don’t. I understand the Cold War reference and the lament of creating technology of such destructive capability, but this song is too peppy for it’s content.
“Normally Neil (Peart) writes from outside observations, whereas with ‘Manhattan Project’ he took facts, and put them together as an objective point of view about the power of technology and science, about how we use and have used it, and how it changes where we’re going.”
Geddy Lee in 1985
The lyrics captured the sentiment beautifully. The music, while stylish, didn’t match the substance of the subject matter. I know Rush can do it. Look at Countdown on Signals. I like this song, but it was a missed opportunity to be so much more.
Power Windows – Track 4: Marathon
I found myself putting this song on repeat more often as it popped up on the ole’ iPod. Marathon evokes an odd mental picture for me. Each year, my town holds a Soap Box Derby and I work the race as the announcer and keep race statistics. I can see every lyric and feel every beat in this song on the faces of the kids as they go flying by my booth at the bottom of the West Lincoln Street hill on the first Saturday every May.
The backing angel-choir that joins the final chorus really drives home the glory of this song. If you’ve ever been down in a competition or a race, you know what it feels like to be faced with a win-or-go-home scenario. This track makes you want to hit that buzzer-beater, to get that empty-netter for the win. So put on this song, win it, kiss the girl and hoist the trophy!
Power Windows – Track 5: Territories
Lee describes this song as “dark, but optimistic.” I agree, but I also can’t find my way into this song and enjoy it. This is another one that I wish they would have made an instrumental. Neil Peart is a lyrical genius, and I give him credit for writing lyrics that challenge the status quo. This song does that for people who feel strongly about their home country. On this song’s message , Neil and I disagree.
This will be the only time I get political, so here it goes: The people of planet Earth will never erase borders of their respective countries until a disaster or threat that goes beyond a border is faced. Some could argue cyclical climate change is that foe, but I don’t think that’s enough to erase a border and 7 billion people to live as one. I’m talking about an Independence Day-style alien invasion type of threat. Until that happens, we’ll always fight over lines on a map. This track is, in my opinion, just okay.
Power Windows – Track 6: Middletown Dreams
My dark horse favorite on Power Windows. This ballad-y sounding piece captures the essence of restlessness for those who wish to be more than they are. This song feels like an experiment gone right. As if our fearless trio decided to apply their unique sound and really embrace the 80s.
It’s been hard to critique this album because there are several hit-and-miss songs. This one is a hit. The beginning is thin, I know, but once that first verse concludes, the new wave sound I wish Rush had throughout this album jumps through with a bang.
Power Windows – Track 7: Emotion Detector
This one hurts. Sometimes when this one rolls up on the play list, Emotion Detector reminds me Rush can make some clunky stuff. The lyrics are sharp and Lifeson’s guitar solo at 3:30 with Lee’s bass tearing it up in the background keep it afloat, but this song is a disposable 80s track that anyone from that era could have made.
Said it before and I’ll say it again: Not every song can be a hit and that’s alright. Again, the lyrics are striking but the music here does them no justice.
Power Windows – Track 8: Mystic Rhythms
It’s not often a band makes a song that is bigger than the band itself. Mystic Rhythms takes that title off of Power Windows. It made the regular rounds on MTV just like The Big Money, yet is so much better than the “Monopoly song”. This song went much, much deeper both musically and lyrically.
So yes, the video is…peculiar… to say the least. But if you can overlook that part and just hear the song, it’s a beautiful track about a global view of the mysterious things that connect us all, music chiefly among them. It’s difficult to understand how this beauty can follow Emotion Detector, and while using the same instruments and musicians, be so starkly different. The old phrase “one of these things is not like the other” comes to mind. Mystic Rhythms rocks, and closes out the album on a perfect note.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best)…
I give Power Windows a 5 out of 10. Many fans loved this new-wave sound, and it’s not a bad album. But other than a couple tracks, it doesn’t stick out in my album collection as a favorite. Through whole album, the brightest spot is the new bass Geddy Lee wields here. He switched over to a Wal bass guitar and it shreds across all eight tracks. It’s some of the best bass riffs in Rush’s discography. Peart’s drums and lyrics are crisp throughout the album, too, and Lifeson’s Gibson always rocks, but Power Windows leaves out the power guitar and pushes the electronic and sonic sound too much for me.
Exceptions to that rule are Marathon and Mystic Rhythms. Both tracks are stellar in blending all three main instruments in with the synth sound required to survive on 80s radio, but the spirit of neither were captured in the other tracks. The only other one that gets close is Middletown Dreams. Many fans consider this to be their most underrated album, however I disagree. Until Caress of Steel hits platinum, it will always hold that honor. After that, we can fight about it! We’ve got one more album to review here, so let’s move on to 1987’s Hold Your Fire.
Children raised on Nintendo, rejoice! The videography group Devin Super Tramp has produced an amazing fan film titled Zelda-The Blood Moon from the Legend of Zelda franchise. I am biased in my opinion on this, since it was written and produced by my nephew, but even if that were not the case, it’s still amazing work. So what’s it about?
“We’ve always been intrigued by what Link would look like/become as an old man. What would happen if he was to lose Zelda in battle?
Devin Super Tramp, from their YouTube channel
Cool concept, right? Fans on YouTube agree that this film is the standard that any Zelda film should go by. Here’s what other fans had to say:
“Your fight scenes are BEAUTIFULLY choreographed and executed. They looked and felt amazingly perfectly. Kudos to your fight lead and to your fighters. They have great skill!!!! This was just…a wonderful surprise find in my recommended feed.”
“This is actually the most amazing thing I have ever seen. I was in tears the whole time, could not look away.”
“This is SO AMAZING!!! You captured everything Legend of Zelda is but with real people. The settings are perfect. I cannot believe this is fan made- You guys did an amazing job!”
So what’s all the fuss about? Made by fans for fans, the Tri-Force is strong with this one. Check it out below:
Fans of the Legend of Zelda franchise will appreciate that Link remains the silent hero, however, the one who steals the show is the Witch. That laugh and the curse she drops is pretty wicked (pun intended). This gem was written and directed by Team Super Tramp member Zane O’Gwin and photographed by Devin Graham.
Legend of Zelda: Blood Moon – Go Behind the Scenes!
If the film itself wasn’t enough for you Zelda fans, they also did a featurette of the making of the film, from location to cast, and filming to fight sequences, see it all right here:
As I’ve said in other reviews, when someone makes something like this from a fan perspective, it’s instantly better simply because they love it. It’s not a big budget studio with an expected return-on-investment. It’s a story from the heart, and there is no better place for it to come from.
What do you think?
Was that awesome or what? Being a fan fiction writer myself, I appreciate projects like this more than most. When you love a project as a fan, it always bleeds through the work. Zelda fans have got to be digging this one. To check out other videos from Devin Super Tramp, click their website here: DevinSuperTramp.com, and their YouTube channel here.
Author’s Note: This article originally appeared on another website I write for, That Hashtag Show, on 8 Feb.
Signals – 1982
Signals would be Rush’s 9th studio album and follow-up to the monumental success of Moving Pictures only a year prior.It would go gold and platinum status in November 1982, only two months after release. The album would reach #10 on Billboard. It found greater success in the UK Albums Charts, reaching #3. Those numbers showed Rush could survive as prog-rock giants when prog-rock wasn’t cool anymore. They learned how to be themselves and still be commercial radio-friendly, and delight fans all at once.
“…with Signals, we wanted to get a more angular sound, where everything had its place and there was a little more perspective to all the instruments. The focus was not so much on the guitar being ‘here’ and the drums being ‘there.’ It was a little more spread out in different percentages. So that took a bit of experimenting, which meant more time in the studio.”
Geddy Lee would say that they based the whole Signals album on communication, and it wouldn’t be the last time they would use this concept. 1996’s Test for Echo would also center on a communication theme.
“It’s something that comes from maturity and having been through the whole techno side of things. We’ve played in these weird times and made all these big points that we’ve wanted to make. Now it seems there’s a bigger concern for communication, and that’s what Signals is all about.”
So let’s dig in and see what it was they are trying to communicate.
Signals: Track 1 – Subdivisions
A synth-heavy example of 80’s Rush about the need of youth to fit in and the boxes we’re all supposed to neatly fit into. It was a radio hit that remained a staple of Rush’s live shows hereafter. In fact, the synthesizer would graduate from backing sound to main instrument on this whole album, and on Subdivisions, it really makes the whole tune.
The hook is catchy and the guitar work is solid, as usual. If you stop to listen closely, the lyrics hit heavy into the psychology of a teen’s need to have fun and damn the consequences of said fun. So like this song and conform, or be cast out. Your choice.
Signals: Track 2 – The Analog Kid
This song hearkens back to Rush’s rock beginnings and still brings in the sound of new wave 80’s in the chorus. The lyrics here are such a call back for every kid (back when they went outside) and daydreamed of a girl they had a crush on.
Peart first presented the lyrics of this upbeat prog-rock classic to the Lee aboard a boat down in the The Caribbean, and it would inspire a comic book character. The 2004 comic Common Grounds, written by Troy Hickman featured two characters, Digital Man and The Analog Kid, both based on songs from this album.
Signals: Track 3 – Chemistry
One of the last songs that all three band members would contribute on lyrics, Chemistry was written in parts by all of three of them. Lee and Lifeson wrote the concept and title, then presented a rough draft for The Professor to shine up.
Then the story goes that the music was written by each of them while apart from each other, making the title all the more ironic. They each took control of the part of the instrument they played. Lee would write the keyboard melody, Lifeson penned the guitar riffs, and Peart wrote the drum line. If ever there was an example of divine music chemistry, this trio is it.
Signals: Track 4 – Digital Man
The second half of the Common Grounds comic dynamic duo, Digital Man sports a moderate reggae beat and super-geeky lyrics. Despite all that, I just couldn’t get into this song. All the beats are tight, and the hook is catchy, but it feels a little nonsensical to me.
This is one I wish they had just left instrumental. I’m likely in the minority on this tune, but I can see how Producer Terry Brown felt. He didn’t want to cut this track and it eventually led to a creative split with the long-time Rush collaborator. However, fans love it anyway!
Signals: Track 5 – The Weapon
The Weapon is part II of the four-part Fear song that plays out over four different albums. Its another synth-heavy rocker meshing with the sound of the early 80’s. This song, to me, sounds like it could be lifted both lyrically and musically right out of the TRON soundtrack.
As with all four parts of Fear, it’s better if you listen to them back to back. They make more sense together than alone. And you’ll have a hard time convincing me it wasn’t done like this on purpose; a way to make one of their epic long-running-time tracks and still keep the album radio short-song friendly.
Signals: Track 6 – New World Man
New World Man became the surprise hit single of the album. It climbed to #22 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart for three weeks after release and remains their highest-charting U.S. single. That’s pretty dang slick for a song that was written and recorded on one day as a filler track to keep both sides of the cassette at the correct time length! It’s got a good hook, poignant flawed-hero lyrics, and gives the listener an urge to air-drum, air-bass, and air-guitar all at once.
“He’s not concerned with yesterday / He knows constant change is here today / He’s noble enough to know what’s right / But weak enough not to choose it / He’s wise enough to win the world / But fool enough to lose it”
New World Man lyrics
Deep and awesome lyrical stuff!
Signals: Track 7 – Losing It
This excellent track jumps all over the Rush repertoire. Quick-step drums, ballad-type lyrics that drag right out of Hemingway, hazy guitar effects and melodic keyboards galore. Oh, toss in a little electric violin for good measure.
It’s rare guests appear on a Rush track, but Ben Mink from FM wields his bow and builds this track a haunting background riff. Sadly, this would be the only Rush track never performed live in concert until the R40 Tour some 30-years later. The lyrics paint a darker outlook than most Rush tunes, but it works here. I particularly love this one:
Some are born to move the world / To live their fantasies / But most of us just dream about / The things we’d like to be
Losing It lyrics
A sobering reminder… get out there and chase those dreams people!
Signals: Track 8 – Countdown
Yes! Rush and spaceships again! This time, however, the spaceship wasn’t fantasy. Rush went to Orlando in my home state of Florida to witness the launch of the Space Shuttle Columbia back in 1981. On a clear day, you could see the launch from across the state, easily over 100 miles away. It was a spectacle of my youth immortalized in this song and I’ll never forget it.
Having witnessed several shuttle launches myself back when I lived there, this song evokes some of the best times I had as a kid visiting Cocoa Beach on the weekend of a launch, camping with my dad and uncle. The whole tune tickles the space nerd inside me and I love it. Bonus points for the actual audio backing track from the Columbia launch. God, I miss the U.S. space program!
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best)…
I give Signals a 9 out of 10. It’s hard to beat early 80’s Rush. Signals is not Moving Pictures, but it’s a solid follow-up. Across all eight tracks, it’s modernized Rush but still has the rock essence fans know and love them for. If there was a complaint from me, it would be the lack of solos. I love hearing Lifeson shred a fretboard. Signals, however, keeps him more in the rhythm section than forefront. That’s what makes him such an awesome guitarist though; he still makes his presence known in texture rather than substance. One standout feature that shines through is the bass riffs. They are strong throughout, showing the world why Geddy Lee is ranked by Rolling Stone magazine in the top-10 bassists of all time.
Click the next page for the review of 1984’s Grace Under Pressure!
Author’s Note: This article originally appeared on another website I write for, That Hashtag Show, on January 30th, 2020
Permanent Waves – Released in 1980
Rush smashed into the next decade with a new radio-friendly concept on the 1980 release Permanent Waves. This album, and the one behind it, are in this writer’s opinion, peak Rush. The near-perfect blend of rock-and-roll with synthesizer sounds would propel Rush’s music into the 20th century and beyond.
What made this album uniquely different was the change in songs to make them more playable on radio. To find out why this was significant, I asked a friend who’s in the business:
“Sometimes a listener’s attention span doesn’t last long enough over the radio to handle a longer songs. The long songs are great, but tough for a radio format. Three to four minutes is good for the listener, for the station, and for the other artists being played during the show. Remember, a radio show is exactly that, a show. The programming needs to be in shorter parts to maintain enough variety.”
Matthew Jackson, from Afternoons with Matthew Jackson on Whiskey Country 105.1-FM, Bowman Media Company
Somewhere along their travels, Rush must have received a similar revelation from an industry insider. They didn’t fully submit to the commercial gods, as three tracks on this cut pass the 5-minute mark, but listeners and fans loved it, anyway. Permanent Waves went Gold in two months, then Platinum a few years later and made it to #4 on the Billboard 200. Let’s dissect and find out why.
Rush Permanent Waves: Track 1 – The Spirit of the Radio
The first track on this album registers as my 2nd all-time favorite Rush song. The Spirit of the Radio encompasses everything I love about this band. It has an opening shred that demands your attention, Neil Peart’s amazing and complex drumming, sharp lyrics and an overall beat that commands you bob along. Oh and toss in a little reggae beat for good measure! The longevity of this hit is nothing short of remarkable. It still rocks radios to this day.
“We’ve always played around with reggae in the studio and we used to do a reggae intro to Working Man onstage, so when it came to doing Spirit Of Radio we just thought we’d do the reggae bit to make us smile and have a little fun.”
This is one of those 10-or-so songs that is immediately identifiable even to part-time fans. If you like good rock-and-roll, you’ll never flip the dial until this song ends. Those that do are filthy, heartless, music-hating animals!
Permanent Waves: Track 2 – Freewill
What can you say about this one other than it’s awesome from start to finish. Freewill again combines deep, thought-provoking lyrics overlaid atop slick guitar and bass riffs and making this another lasting Rush staple. It’s hard to overshadow the drums of Neil Peart, but on this song, the string work of Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson is nearly flawless.
Sonnets like, “A planet of playthings / we dance on the strings / of powers we cannot perceive“, and “If you choose not to decide / you still have made a choice.” I’ve pulled that gem out on my kids when they get that I’m-giving-up-can’t-win attitude. Those of you who are parents know what I’m talking about. These lyrics made me look like a psychological genius to them!
Rush Permanent Waves: Track 3 – Jacob’s Ladder
One of Rush’s shorter and final rocking epics, but an epic song none-the-less. Jacob’s Ladder is largely instrumental and tells the story of the battle between storm clouds and sunshine, taking a page from the success of The Trees.
Hear me out now—you don’t have to be chemically enhanced to hear Lifeson’s growling guitar work and picture a wicked storm gathering that soon bursts into a rage. That is, until the synthesizer takes over with a new time signature and fills in when the sunlight quells the storm. The closing minutes just showcase why we love this band and all their nerdy greatness.
Permanent Waves: Track 4 – Entre Nous
An adverb translated as “between ourselves; privately”, Entre Nous is a beautiful upbeat song about love and human connection. Leave it to Neil Peart to find a way to marry science fiction to a love song, but he did. And it sounds great. This is one with a rocking beat, but the lyrics steal the show with the hook:
“Just between us / I think it’s time for us to recognize / The differences we sometimes fear to show / Just between us / I think it’s time for us to realize / The spaces in between / Leave room for you and I to grow”
Entre Nous by Rush
Rush Permanent Waves: Track 5 – Different Strings
This is a great, slower, almost-bluesy piece that fits a similar mold to Tears from 2112. The lyrics feel like fantasy to start with, but if you pay attention, it slowly reveals this is a song about two people that aren’t really getting along much anymore. “Different hearts / beat on different strings” can sum up the result of a lot of broken relationships. Only fault is I wish they would have drawn out Lifeson’s outro. That weeping guitar is such sweet music. Deep stuff put to a beautiful tune. I love it.
Rush Permanent Waves: Track 6 – Natural Science
I wanted you to see the lyrics in the video for Natural Science because they are among the best written prose in Rush’s armory. This music is pretty dang good, too; blending in a lot of synths and effects with intricate melodies. There is some heavy rhythm-timing shifts going on in here that just plain astounds me they could keep up with it.
If you read the lyrics without the music, this whole song is a solemn reminder of how small we are in the great scheme of the universe. I walk away from this song with the upbeat reminder not to sweat the small stuff. This would be their last multi-part progressive rock epic before diving deep into their 80’s electronic sound.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best)…
I give Permanent Waves an 8 out of 10. While all the songs are good, the meat and potatoes are tracks one, two, and three. As much as I like Natural Science and Jacob’s Ladder, neither lived up to their epic predecessors. They felt like a good try to keep those long songs alive, but both left me wanting just a little more.
Entre Nous is a dark horse hit in my mind, but didn’t get the attention it deserved. Different Strings would be higher on my favorites list if they would have let it end naturally. It feels like they chopped it off for time before it really got cooking. Even with those criticisms, Permanent Waves is Rush approaching the summit, and it is a rockingly righteous album.
“There were still several long songs, but there were quite a few shorter songs, and we condensed them more. We were more economical with them, and that sort of set the tone for at least the next ten years.”
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.”
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.”
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!
Author’s note: This article originally appeared on another website I write for, That Hashtag Show, on January 17th, 2020.
After Caress of Steel met with mixed critical review and mediocre fan reaction, the record label begged the rocking trio from Toronto to abandon the idea of another musical concept album. Undaunted, our heroes plunged on and released an album that other concept albums are now measured by… 2112.
“We don’t want to change what people think about rock & roll, we just want to show them what we think about it.”
Alex Lifeson on 2112 from an interview in 1976
The Billboard 200 climb only made it to #94, however, album sales told a whole different story. 2112 was certified Gold status in 1977—only a year-and-a-half after release. Four years later, it hit platinum and continued to the summit of Three-times Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America. Rush found their first major commercial success here.
“We’ve got a big future ahead of us.”
Geddy Lee, 1976
2112 – Track 1: 2112
The 7-part opening track tells the story of life under the rule of The Red Star of the Solar Federation. The basis is, by the year 2112, apocalyptic events have occurred that leaves humanity under the thumb of The Priests of the Temple of Syrinx. They control everything this era of mankind does. Part I. Overture and II. The Temples of Syrinx are head-banging rockers that set the stage.
The best part of this whole epic comes at 6:48 in III. Discovery and IV. Presentation. Anyone who has ever learned to play guitar from rock bottom can relate to every part of this song, and Lee’s vocals here tell the amazing story of a priest who found a guitar, reveled in its beautiful sound, and tried to introduce music back into the world. Opposition comes from the Temple leadership, but that won’t stop our heroic priest. The face-melting bass and guitar solo at the end are some of the best of Rush.
The closing pieces of the movement round out what I consider being the best prog rock piece ever written. At the end of twenty minutes and thirty-three seconds, if you are a true fan of rock-and-roll, you’ll be grinning from ear to ear. Bring on the spaceships.
2112 – Track 2: A Passage to Bangkok
You don’t have to get high to enjoy Rush. I never smoked, but this song grew on me like it was under a grow light. It has a good sound, but it’s also a little goofy. The addition of the cheesy “Kung Fu” riff, while meant to be humorous, distracts from a solid guitar piece. The solo at the 2-minute mark is quite redeeming, however.
Lee and Peart always get a lot of Rush’s limelight, but Lifeson is definitely the meat in this taco. The comment that wins the internet comes from a YouTube viewer that said of this tune, “When Rush does a weed song, it takes the form of a lesson in agricultural geography.” Touche, my friend… touche.
2112 – Track 3: The Twilight Zone
Take a trip to the surreal in this tune that follows a couple famous Twilight Zone episodes with the lyrics, and was written and recorded in one day. It was the first single released from the album. While the tune is catchy, in my opinion, it’s the least of the songs on this album. Rod Serling gets his second album credit from Rush on this one, and even Marvel comics got in on the action. In 1977, The Defenders dedicated their 45th issue to each member of the band. In it, the antagonist Red Rajah (who is really a mind-controlled Dr. Strange) says: “Truth is false and logic lost, consult the Raja at all cost.”
2112 – Track 4: Lessons
Lessons has one of the best overall complete beats on this album. You can’t help but bob your head to this Zeppelin-sounding track about teen angst. Alex Lifeson’s introduction to show business was in a documentary showing him arguing with his parents about quitting school to become a professional guitarist. You can’t help but wonder if this wasn’t written with a strong lean towards that experience. His guitar work on this short song is superb, and the fact that Lifeson penned the lyrics here lends to that theory.
2112 – Track 5: Tears
Rush didn’t do many love songs, but Tears would fall into that category, or perhaps a “love-lost” song. The genius of the lyrics here is we can translate them either way. There’s no burning guitar riffs or blazing drum work here, just a harmonious blend of Lee’s voice and Mellotron work, with Lifeson’s weeping guitar and Peart’s gentle taps and cymbals. Fans have used this for wedding marches, break-up songs, celebration of newfound love, or lament of missed romantic opportunities. You don’t have to be a mega-fan to appreciate the beauty of this tune.
2112 – Track 6: Something for Nothing
The album closes with this rocker, finishing up your journey on 2112 with classic Rush sound: Ripping guitar work, intricate bass licks, and walloping drums. The idea for this tune came from graffiti Peart saw from the tour bus in downtown Los Angeles that said, “Freedom isn’t free.”
“All those paeans to American restlessness and the American road carried a tinge of wistfulness, an acknowledgment of the hardships of the vagrant life, the notion that wanderlust could be involuntary, exile as much as freedom, and indeed, the understanding that freedom wasn’t free.”
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best)…
I give 2112 a 9.5 out of 10. It’s not their penultimate album, but it’s one of their top-three of all time. Fans have voted more than once claiming 2112 is the definitive Rush album, but I believe that title belongs to a different one we’ll review later. This album is also the origin of the Star Man logo that would show up in artwork on later cuts. Peart describes the art in an interview with Creem Magazine:
“All he (the naked man) means is the abstract man against the masses. The red star symbolizes any collectivist mentality.”
Another first on this album is the addition of musician Hugh Syme, who helps out with keyboards on Tears, and who would also design several other Rush album covers. He had something to say about the Star Man as well:
“The man is the hero of the story. That he is nude is just a classic tradition… the pureness of his person and creativity without the trappings of other elements such as clothing. The red star is the evil red star of the Federation, which was one of Neil’s symbols. We based that (album) cover around the red star and that hero.”
In summary, 2112 is on the 1001 Albums You Need to Hear Before You Die list, and deservedly so. It is a musical triumph that solidified Rush as a super-group in the prog rock universe and launched them on a 40-year odyssey where we all got to ride along.
What’s next in the Rush Review?
Check back later this week for a two-album review of A Farewell to Kings and Hemispheres! And if you missed it, check out the review for Caress of Steelhere.
Author’s Note: This article was originally published on another site I write for, That Hashtag Show, on 16 Jan 2020.
I decided to do this album as a separate article from the next one, 2112, for one simple reason: They both deserve their own review. These two were concept albums that shaped the future of Rush as a band, and how their fans would expect future albums to be. As far as their recording label is concerned, 1975’s Caress of Steel was not a success. The highest it got to on the Billboard 200 is 148th, However, mega-fans love it and often refer to it as Rush’s underrated triumph.
Something unique to this album is the band’s first attempt at one long song broken into pieces, not just by tracks but also within the track itself. This type of concept recording was not a new thing. The Moody Blues, YES, Pink Floyd, The Who, and many, many others had published concept tracks and albums by this time. This would also not be the last time Rush made a concept album like this, and though the record label hated it, Caress of Steel was the harbinger of great things to come.
Bastille Day kicks off with a rocking intro. I Think I’m Going Bald and Lakeside Park are good rock-out tunes. However, the money is made on the last two songs. This album is set apart by the epics The Necromancer and The Fountain of Lamneth; two multi-part short stories made into song. They cover more than 30 minutes of the total 43-minute cut. So when playing this album, listen to the first three songs. Rock out Rush style and have fun. When track four starts, shut off your phone and the lights, kick back, and close your eyes. The music and the words will paint pictures for you. And you don’t need any chemical enhancement to see it.
Caress of Steel – Track 1: Bastille Day
This high-energy lead off track knocks fans out of the park with Lifeson firing riffs and Peart’s double-time drums. When Lee jumps in with the high pitch call for Revolution, the song is cemented as an ode to heavy rock before heavy rock was cool. The quick beat hardly lets the listener breathe for four-and-a-half minutes. It’s not my favorite song, but it grew on me after a while. Lifeson’s master guitar-smithing is on full display here, and it’s pretty damn good.
Caress of Steel – Track 2: I Think I’m Going Bald
The title is oddball, but don’t let that fool you. This track is about a frontman in another band that was close with Rush at the time. It tells of an upbeat and comedic look at getting older, but still doing it your way. Lifeson’s rocking, more-traditional guitar riff echoes in the back while Lee belts out the realization of aging. This song is reminiscent of tracks on their debut album and will really get your foot tapping.
Caress of Steel – Track 3: Lakeside Park
Another personal memoir of Peart’s youth put to song. Lakeside Park tells the story of a park near where he grew up that he worked at, and all the menagerie that happened there. The lyrics call back to anyone who remembers a traditional carnival midway at a state fair as a youth. It paints a fond memory of carefree youth and a “pocket-full of silver” being “The key to Heaven’s door” with these lyrics:
Dancing fires on the beach, Singing songs together. Though it’s just a memory, Some memories last forever.
Lakeside Park by Rush
The words are poignant nostalgia of innocence and days gone by. It’s a good song, but feels like a filler. It didn’t have the hit track qualities of their other tunes.
Caress of Steel – Track 4: The Necromancer
Featuring the return of By-Tor from Fly by Night, The Necromancer tells an epic story in three movements. Overall, the song almost plays out like a D&D campaign and doesn’t hide its nerdy greatness in any way. In fact, I’m sure there’s some DM’s out there who turned this song into an awesome night of dice, maps, and miniatures with their buddies. These lyrics are obviously influenced by Tolkien’s writing, too. The Necromancer in The Hobbit turned out to be Sauron the Destroyer. Peart’s lyrics tell a short story on the same vein. Take a listen:
Part I. Into Darkness is very Pink Floyd-ish, and sets up the story of three adventurers passing into the Necromancer’s lands. It’s a slow, acid rock-y dirge to set the dread our heroes are feeling as they approach the Necromancer’s borders.
Part II. Under the Shadow changes perspective to the Necromancer and picks up the musical pace. Similar to By-Tor and the Snow Dog, the guitar and the bass take the spotlight for a few minutes. Our heroes from Willow Dale (ironically, also the Toronto suburb) fall in the Necromancer’s clutches.
Part III. The Return of the Prince turns the song to upbeat, cheery strumming and picking, heralding the defeat of the evil Necromancer by Prince By-Tor.
Hard-core fans love this song, and so do I. One fan on YouTube jokes that you don’t need drugs when people make music like this! When asked why By-Tor is portrayed as the hero here and not on Fly by Night, Neil Peart said, “I guess he’s like all of us—sometimes good, and sometimes he’s bad!
Caress of Steel – Track 5: The Fountain of Lamneth
Clocking in at 20 minutes long, The Fountain of Lamneth is the threshold Rush needed to cross in order to make 2112. That does not, however, take any grandeur away from this progressive rock work of art. As I said earlier, fans didn’t appreciate this entire album at the time. It grew better with age, and this song is what drives it. Snippets out of this tune show up in later tracks, like chord progression during Bacchus Plateau came back in High Water on their 1987 album, Hold Your Fire.
Some call By-Tor and the Snow Dog Rush’s first “weird” song, but I disagree. I think this is that first weird one, but it’s good. The constant tempo changes, the high fantasy lyrics, fade-ins and outs between pieces, the switch between electric and acoustic throughout, and Peart’s scorching drum work during the second movement. About that second part, called Didacts and Narpets, Peart explained the shouted lyrics:
“…the shouted words in that song represent an argument between Our Hero and the Didacts and Narpets – teachers and parents. I honestly can’t remember what the actual words were, but they took up opposite positions like: “Work! Live! Earn! Give!” and like that.”
Neil Peart, 1991 interview with the Rush Backstage Club
Judge it how you like. It’s a weird song, but good—and necessary. It’s the first of three songs Rush made taking an entire album side—paving the way for great works to come.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best)…
I give Caress of Steel a 6 out of 10. I want to rank it higher, but of their catalog, this whole cut is one giant musical experiment. It feels like a we-need-to-get-this-one-out-of-our-system type of recording effort. It’s a good album (there is no bad Rush album) that fans learned to appreciate more as it aged, but struggled with when it came out. Ticket sales reflected that on the tour that followed. The album, sadly, never even hit Gold status.
The record company practically begged the band to abandon this train of music-making and go back to The Working Man-type of success. Many fans agreed at the time, expressing little interest in an album where one song took up the whole side of their LP. I’m glad they stuck to their guns. Without Caress of Steel being cut like it was, and if Rush would have capitulated to the record label gods, 2112 would have never been made. That album, and the effort that went into this one, is musical master-work and I’ll fight those who disagree!
Author’s note: This article originally appeared on another website I write for, www.thathashtagshow.com. This, and my Rush articles that follow are done in memory of Neil Peart, 1952-2020.
Rush, self-titled debut– 1974
Perhaps it’s destiny, but Rush debuted their first album the same month and year I was born. Being a fan, for me, was in the stars. So let’s dig in to this debut album. The entire thing is good, and even though drummers would change after this recording, it still sounds enough like the modern Rush we know today. I mean that in the most positive way. John Rutsey was a great drummer and got this group off to a rockin’ start. Sadly, an illness associated with diabetes afflicted him, opening the door for Neil Peart, who would be with Rush for their entire career.
If you listen to this album from start to finish, it’s awesome. Lifeson’s guitar and Lee’s voice carried the load throughout. But it also was at risk of blending in with every other start-up rock band from ’70 to ’75. This album shows the abilities of a band on the verge of greatness, but there was something still missing. In the end, the problem was Rush was only two-thirds of what they needed to be before going big.
They had a clean sound with mass appeal, but success wasn’t instant. The album made it to #105 on the Billboard 200 and did get certified gold, but not until 1995. Even the band didn’t like it after the first recording and recorded it again to get a better sound. Once they did, Moon Records was born and, well, the album we got speaks for itself. It still wasn’t easy, though. Until Cleveland D.J. Donna Halper started playing Working Man on her station WMMS, no one knew who Rush was. When they did hear it, the requests for more Rush started filing in. Before long, a U.S. recording contract was sent across to Canada from Mercury Records. Rush had finally arrived.
Rush – Track 1: Finding My Way
This track rocks right off the bat with Lifeson’s mean guitar riffs and Lee’s ramped up vocals. They carry the song all the way through with raging power chords and that immediate recognizable riff. Future live performances would see this song as a mashup medley with Working Man or In The Mood, and usually include a mind-bending Neil Peart drum solo.
Rush – Track 2: Need Some Love
A good song that features the strength of Lee’s vocal runs, both high and low. The song has a more 60’s vibe than the rest of the album. It’s about the age-old saga of boys chasing girls, and, well, what rock and roll band doesn’t have one of those?
Rush – Track 3: Take A Friend
I think the lyrics of this song were more prophetic than they ever knew. Lifeson and Lee were childhood friends long before Rush, and they remained friendly with Rutsey even after he left the band. When Peart joined up, the trio would become lifelong friends, and the lyrics inspire you to be a friend when you see someone lonely. That’s something we could all do better at.
“Well, I’m lookin’ at you, and I’m wond’rin’ what you’re gonna do. Looks like you got no friends, no one to stick with you till the end. Take yourself a friend. Keep ’em till the end. Whether woman or man, it makes you feel so good, so good.”
Lyrics to Take a Friend by Rush
Rush – Track 4: Here Again
The only entry on this album to be played in a minor key, this bluesy addition to the catalog is not what Rush typically sounds like, but I love it. Growing up in a musical household to the likes of Robin Trower, Savoy Brown, The Allman Brothers and the like, I appreciated the blues ballad at a young age more than most. Lifeson’s crying guitar solo in the latter half is pure gold and just speaks to my soul. Critics hated it, so I suppose that’s why I like it.
Rush – Track 5: What You’re Doing
Great song with a monster rock sound, the angst of youth, and the feel of sticking it to the man. This song has been endlessly compared to the Led Zeppelin sound, and cements the hard rock sound of the 70’s in Rush’s history. Being a Zeppelin fan as well, it’s really easy to like the sound on this track.
Rush – Track 6: In The Mood
I’ll admit when I first heard it, I didn’t like it much, but it grew on me a little. It’s another boys chasing girls song, but again, it’s rock and roll in the 70’s and that was pretty standard, well, even to this day for rock bands. As usual, Lifeson’s guitar is wicked on this track, but the lyrics feel obligatory to the girl-chasing rocker lifestyle and didn’t really do much for me. It ranks low on my favorites list, but still a good track.
Rush – Track 7: Before and After
In my humble opinion, this is the dark horse hit of this album. It didn’t get the air play and recognition it deserved, but shows the depth of musical ability these guys have. It blends that beautiful harmonic intro perfect with the grittier riffs and lyrics that come at 2:16, and is the harbinger of what the future of Rush would sound like.
Rush – Track 8: The Working Man
This is it. The song that put Rush on the rock and roll map. It’s good. Really good. But of all the songs on the album, in my opinion, it’s not the best one. However, the lyrics and gritty riffs resonated with the working class person in Cleveland, where it was played regularly on WMMS, and the popularity of the song caught the attention of Mercury Records. The middle features scorching freestyle guitar work from Lifeson, and was voted 94th of the top 100 Greatest Guitar Solos by Guitar World magazine.
On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the best)…
I give the Rush debut album an overall 5. It’s good, but again, they were on the verge of greatness—not quite to the edge yet. Something that would push them over the edge later was the prominence of Peart’s drums and literary lyrics. Like I said, Rutsey was a great drummer, but he wasn’t the right drummer for this trio. Some fans call their songs after this album “weird”, but that’s what makes Rush so great. I’m weird and I’m an 80’s kid, so their music resonates loudly with me.
To be fair, my introduction to Rush didn’t happen until 1990 in high school, when two friends, Clint and Bryan Oxley (they’re cousins), wore Rush t-shirts to school all the time. They were both astonished I didn’t know anything about them, then they poked and prodded me every day in wood shop into checking them out. I bought my first album (which I’ll name later) and I was hooked. I went back and picked up other cassettes (yes, I said cassettes) of their previous work. Between Rush, Styx and Pink Floyd, I made it to graduation.
Author’s note: This article originally appeared on another website I write for, www.thathashtagshow.com. It was published before the announcement of Neil Peart’s passing. This, and the Rush articles that follow are done in memory of Neil Peart, 1952-2020.
Immediately following a gig in 1973, three band-mates went straight to the cheapest studio they could find in Toronto and cut their first album. At this time, the band was Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and John Rutsey, and they called themselves Rush.
“The first stab at the album was done in eight hours following a gig. We were warmed up after the show, and it came very easy. Then it was re-cut in November in about three days, including mixing time. We were lucky in that most of the songs came in two or three takes.”
That first album, simply self-titled Rush, came out in March of 1974. Rutsey left after that album due to illness, making room to bring in Neil Peart on drums. Then, three weeks later, the trio performed live for the first time together at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena, opening for Manfred Mann and Uriah Heep. Now, 40 years and 33 albums later, let’s take a look back at the 3rd-highest multi-gold and platinum band in the history of rock and roll (24 gold and 14 platinum).
Rush: Meet the Band – Geddy Lee
In 1968, Geddy Lee first took the stage as part of Rush at the behest of his childhood friend, Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson. From there, he became one of the most recognizable front men and bassists in rock and roll. His play style is often replicated but never duplicated, inspiring bass players world wide for over four decades. Lee would take on composing duties for Rush, creating some of the most amazing progressive rock tracks known to man, all while belting out the tunes as lead vocal and sometimes playing keyboard at the same time with his feet.
In 2015, Rush played their final tour but that didn’t stop Lee from getting into a new project, his 408-page opus to his instrument of choice, the bass guitar, titled The Big Beautiful Book of Bass. The book came out in 2018 and has become a best-seller in books on music. Since then, he’s been on a world-wide book signing tour. When he came to Nashville, my hometown newspaper, The Tennessean, caught up with him to ask about life after Rush and what he misses about the band:
“I miss playing with my band mates, who I played with for over 40 years, that’s for sure. I don’t miss the gut-wrenching part of it, and I don’t’ miss the wear-and-tear on my body. But, of course, I had a very unique relationship in Rush and these guys were my friends for over 40 years and to make music with your friends is a blessing of a different kind. It’s a wonderful thing. I do miss that.”
Rush: Meet the Band – Alex Lifeson
Co-founder of Rush, along with childhood friend Geddy Lee and John Rutsey, Alex Lifeson got his start in show business in a Canadian documentary, depicting him having an argument with his parents over the merits of dropping out of school to become a professional guitar player. Well, even if he didn’t win the argument, the results (in his case) speak for themselves. Lifeson went on to be lead guitar for Rush, also playing mandolin, Bouzouki, bass pedals synths, keyboards, and mandola. Oh, and he does backing vocals, too!
Lifeson makes his living on unorthodox chord structures, signature riffs, and an unlimited arsenal of electronic effects and processing. That’s why they call him “The Musical Scientist”. He can burn up the fret board either with searing solos or melodic rhythm at any moment, and sometimes one after the other in the same song. He’s also been voted the #3 best guitarist in the world by Guitar World magazine reader’s polls and is in the Top 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time from Rolling Stone magazine.
“When I sit down and play guitar, I melt into the instrument. I can play for hours by myself. Playing guitar has given me such a wonderful life and I am grateful for it.”
Rush: Meet the Band – Neil Peart
Nicknamed “The Professor”, Neil Peart can not only wield drum sticks mightily (c’mon… 9+ minute drum solos are pretty dang mighty!), but wields an even mightier pen. Peart is responsible for the lion’s share of Rush’s literary-themed lyrics, beginning with Fly by Night, and still chugging along to this day. Peart has also written multiple books on travel, with Ghost Rider being a best-seller about his personal journey to overcome family tragedy.
On stage, Neil Peart is a drumming machine. If you take a look at his drum kit above from the R40 Tour, it’s easy to see how hard this man works to put on a show, and that’s not his biggest or most intricate kit. Two things that stands out like beacons about Peart is his humanity and his humility. He’s a very private guy, rarely granting interviews. In one, however, on a Canadian TV show, he talks about his way of handling fame and being called a celebrity. Hearing him speak about it this way, it’s impossible not to become a fan:
“Constantly having to earn it (fame and celebrity) is a good motivation for it. You know, I don’t just take for granted that people admire what we do, so whatever we do, they’ll admire. No… every audience—I feel like we have to earn them, that we have to earn their dedication; their expenditure of time, energy and money to be there. Every single time.”
Neal Peart, Drummer
Album Reviews and More
Something that makes Rush stand the test of time and different from other rock bands is the lack of drama. They’ve only changed members once, and these three are genuine friends. If they weren’t on stage together melting off the crowds faces with their music, you’d see them together at a hockey game or a restaurant or something, hamming it up just like they do in their shows. When you see them on stage, they genuinely love being there. Neil Peart had a great quote in the interview I mentioned above where he said there is no democracy in a 3-piece band. There is never a 2-against-1 scenario. We talk things out and arrive at unanimous decisions. What rock band does that anymore?!
Over the next few weeks, we’ll review each album in this storied band’s rock career, highlighting the highs and lows, sharing stories and peeling back the layers on this talented trio’s 40 years of touring, making music and entertaining fans around the globe. We’ll cover their early days, from opening for KISS and Aerosmith, to their final tour of 2015. Sit back, relax, and get ready to have your senses taken to the max. Ladies and gentlemen, here comes 40 years of Rush!