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!
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.
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!