Tag Archives: Music

The Top Ten List of My Favorite Rock and Roll Songs of All Time

The only piece of Apple electronics I own is an 8GB 4th generation refurbished iPod Touch. I know, I’m a Luddite, right? However, this one device has precisely 1,019 songs that define my 46-year love of music. Within that 1,019 songs, you’ll find a wide and varied appreciation for all types of music from rock to rap, country to classical, and heavy metal to easy listening. For this list, I chose to focus on rock. Our friends at Oxford Dictionary define rock and roll as follows:

a type of popular dance music originating in the 1950s, characterized by a heavy beat and simple melodies. Rock and roll was an amalgam of black rhythm and blues and white country music, usually based on a twelve-bar structure and an instrumentation of guitar, bass, and drums.

While doing my Sunday morning workout and listening to my rock playlist (which consists of 316 songs), It occurred to me there are really only about ten of those tracks that really get me moving and keep me motivated. Of course I like all 316 of them, but I never touch the next button when any of these ten songs come on. There are many lists out there, but this one is mine. Get ready to rock!


Honorable Mention 1: Start Me Up by The Rolling Stones

For the record, I am not a Rolling Stones fan. However, credit where it is due. Mick Jagger and company never fail to keep me moving with this iconic track. I’ll admit, there are other really good Stones songs, but if I could only choose one from their discography, this is it. Plus, I had to throw a bone to my friend John, who might be the biggest Stones nerd I’ve ever met!

I really chose them for honorable mention for three reasons. One, the opening chords might be the most recognizable in all of rock and roll. Even with only one note, any rock and roller would probably get this one on Name That Tune. Two, no rock and roll top ten list would be complete without mentioning the 13th best-selling band of all time, and the holder of the most expensive concert ticket face value ($624). The only age these guys show is on their faces because the music is still kicking all these years later. Finally, number three, this video. Mick Jagger looks like a holdover from a heavily edited Richard Simmons workout video and does not care one bit. With their charisma, The Stones and their music will outlive us all.


Honorable Mention 2: Welcome to the Jungle by Guns and Roses

Some rock and roll songs are subtle in their structure. This one is not. Welcome to the Jungle is one that jumps up and smacks you in the face and leaves subtlety lying bloody on the floor. While Guns N’ Roses had several really good rock tracks, I feel like this is the one that put them on the map and separated them from the other 80’s hair band chaff. Many of those bands were and still are amazing, but none of them really had the brazen rock audacity of G-N’-R. They have several tunes that rank high for me, but this one stands out.

The only other one that came close was Motley Crue, and they have a different moxie all their own, but Axl laying down that opening scream cements this one as an honorable mention in my Top-Ten. Click the link and see if they still got your disease!


Honorable Mention 3: Baba O’Riley by The Who

So what happens when you mix a trashed Isle of Wight music festival, an organ with a marimba repeat, the musically sequenced vital signs of an Indian spiritual leader, and the influence of a minimalist composer on Pete Townsend? The obvious result is this track, Baba O’Riley. Townsend wrote this as part of a rock opera follow-up to Tommy, but it never materialized. However, the track was salvaged, shortened and became the lead off single from 1971’s Who’s Next? by The Who.

Townsend subscribed to a concept that music could connect with an audience at the level of their DNA, and tried to put that data into a musical sequence. Another song he wrote, Join Together, was based on the same concept. I know, it hurts my head to think about too, but there may be something to it. There are some songs that when you hear it, the melody just speaks to your soul. It’s hard to explain, but you always feel it when your jam comes on. For me, its just about anything rock-and-roll. Baba O’Riley is one of those songs for me and lingers just outside my Top-Ten All-Time Greatest.


Alright, so enough with the honorable mentions. Let’s get to the meat on this Top-Ten bone. Are you ready? Head to the next page to start my official Favorite Top-Ten Rock and Roll Songs of All-Time list. Buckle in, cupcakes, because here we go.

#10: Roundabout by Yes

There are musicians, there is musicianship, and sometimes you find a group that embodies the very definition of both. Roundabout by Yes is unlike any song I have ever heard. It fits no mold or predefined composition. It is a mashup of instruments going a hundred crazy directions but still makes a melody that cannot be duplicated. Plus, if you see a band with a keyboardist rocking a glitter cape, well, that’s a wizard, Harry. Don’t mess with him.

Seeing Yes inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 2017 and play this song with Geddy Lee standing in on bass was the highlight of my musical observing life. One of my co-workers told me how she went to see Yes in the 70’s and said she didn’t need to smoke anything at the show because the music was so insane she got high off the melody. I don’t believe her about not smoking anything, (if you knew her, you wouldn’t believe her either) but I do believe her about the melody. There’s not a band out there that can put together so much complicated noise and notes and pull out a mega-hit like this, but they did it and I am here for it.


#9: The Trooper by Iron Maiden

A rock and roll song that’s about a historical event is a song right down my alley. The Trooper by Iron Maiden tells the musical story of the famous Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War in 1854. What’s interesting is that today’s listeners try compare the song to today’s military actions going on in the Middle East, but that couldn’t be further than the truth because it was written well before the current hostilities going on there even started. Bruce Dickinson wearing a red coat and waving a Union Jack is all just part of the show.

All that aside, this song rocks. It’s proof that metal can have melody, and that rock can have musical depth. It debuted in 1983 and still stands as a solid metal classic all the way into 2021. Some fans even joke that this should be the new National Anthem of England. I’m not from England, but part of me agrees. That riff mimicking a horse gallop and the scene in the video with the flag being passed just makes this song so awesome that it will always have a home on my top ten playlist.


#8: Sweet Emotion by Aerosmith

Sweet Emotion by Aerosmith is a sentimental favorite on my list. I had the interesting pleasure back in the late 90’s of meeting Steven Tyler at a gas station in Sarasota, Florida, and I met Joe Perry at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida. Both guys were stellar to talk to, but I was an Aerosmith fan even before those chance meetings. As a teenager, I was on an awkward date in a pool hall the first time I heard this song and I never forgot that moment. She selected it on the jukebox, and with a single wrinkled dollar bill, introduced me to one of my favorite rock bands of my formative years.

Out of all their tracks, I like this one because riffs are tight, the cadence is smooth, and the off-speed beat changes blend metal with melody. And that opening bass riff—just drills into your soul. Aerosmith has more rocking songs for sure, but this cut IS rock and roll and I am all about it.

#7: Wherever I May Roam by Metallica

I’ve never seen Metallica live, but I’ve been told from more than one person that their stage show is something to behold, and with their armory of head-banging chugging tracks, it was hard to choose one. King Nothing, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Master of Puppets, Whiskey in the Jar, and the list goes on. But if I had to choose one song from them that I like the most, Wherever I May Roam gets the nod. Plus, how could such a proper and divine demonstration of the whammy bar NOT be on my top ten list?

I’m a lyrics nerd and I love alliteration and unexpected twists in the song. At the end, “My body lies, but still I roam, yeah, yeah.” So this whole time, a ghost has been singing us this song? That’s fricken’ awesome just by itself. Plus, I’m just a fan of James Hetfield’s tireless gravel. That guy can grind out a song from the depths of somewhere that doesn’t exist in most of us mortals.


#6: Barracuda by Heart

Though Heart was not the first female-led band in rock and roll, Barracuda leads my list of the best female vocal track in rock and roll. This is no slight to other girl rocker pioneers like Joan Jett, Lita Ford, Patti Smith and the many others in that hallowed pantheon, but Ann Wilson’s voice is so pure rock and roll in this song, it almost makes me cry. And for the record, Heart’s rendition of Stairway to Heaven with Jason Bonham on drums in 2012 at the Kennedy Center was the best thing since the original. Disagree? I’ll fight over that one!

I wish Heart had kept this edgy nature to their music in later albums. but it felt like they caved to the mainstream with their music soon after this gem debuted on their second album. It’s full of metaphorical anger and obscene gestures over a rude comment made to the sisters by some sleazy music executive. Part of me is glad he was a sleaze because without him, we wouldn’t have this track. In one interview, Heart guitarist Nancy Wilson was asked what she liked about playing this song:

“I love playing (Barracuda) every time. It feels really big and muscular and larger than life and, you know, it gets me off to play “Barracuda” because it’s so loud and so big and it’s fun and fast, you know? The cool little parts where it skips a beat here and skips a beat there. There are a couple of odd time signature things in there that bring it into a more sophisticated song. A sophisticated song of rage!”

Nancy Wilson to American Songwriter

#5: All Along the Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix died before I was born, but I had the benefit of a rich musical upbringing that included all the gods of classic rock. As I said with Aerosmith above, Jimi Hendrix had a lot of songs that rocked, but none of them struck me as much as All Along the Watchtower. Maybe The Wind Cries Mary or Hey Joe comes close, but neither one jams like this one does.

There have been times I wondered if artists like Hendrix had not died so young, what other awesome songs were still in there waiting to be recorded? Had he and others like Jim Morrison lived to later years, there’s no telling what other songs we would have received. Sadly, we’ll never know, but I’m glad we got what we did before Jimi left the world. He made amazing music and I, for one, am grateful for it.

#4: Crazy Train by Ozzy Osborne

When Ozzy yells, “All Aboard!”, you know what comes next. Everyone gets out their tickets for Crazy Train. I’m not an Ozzy purist, so I don’t really differentiate his solo and Black Sabbath years, but Ozzy is a rock legend that is hard to ignore on any list. Honestly, this song could be interchanged with War Pigs or Iron Man and it would still be in my top ten favorites. In his early years, Ozzy was kinda taboo to be a fan of because of his extreme antics, but as he got older and became a little more commercialized, his career saw a resurgence and he pulled his whole family along for the ride.

If you listen to the lyrics here, they are somewhat hopeful with lines like, “Crazy, but that’s how it goes, Millions of people living as foes, Maybe it’s not too late, To learn how to love, And forget how to hate.” Not exactly the message some might expect from a hard rocker like this, but it just goes to show you that suppositions about Ozzy were not always accurate. Plus, Randy Rhoads’s guitar solo here is ranked 9th best of all time by Guitar World Magazine and VH1 named it 23rd all-time greatest rock song. I concur. It’s dang good.


#3: Far Cry by Rush

I would be a hypocrite to not include my favorite band in my Top Ten list. Rush has a ton of material I like and it was hard to pick just one song. For this list, I chose Far Cry to represent the trio from Toronto. I love all their music, but this song has a little something extra in it. It’s not their most popular, but I will argue that it’s one of their most rocking tracks they ever made. When this song rolls up on the playlist, if I’m driving, I have to be really careful because Neil Peart’s drums make my foot much heavier than it really is.

In all seriousness, Rush is a group like no other and I cannot even measure my level of reverence for their musical genius. It was so hard to pick just one of their songs, but this lead-footer is my choice. I haven’t had to use the excuse yet, but I wonder if an officer or a judge will accept my excuse for going 90 in a 45 because the music made me do it. If this was a list of top ten driving songs, this would be my number one every time. In fact, maybe I should do that list next…

#2: Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin

Does Led Zeppelin have more rocking songs than this? Of course they do. But none of them come close to marrying beautiful lyrics, melodic strumming, singing electric solos and legendary bass and drum lines like Stairway to Heaven. I struggled with settling on one song from them to make my list. Achilles Last Stand is a rock triumph. Immigrant Song will blow your speakers at any given moment. Rock and Roll and Black Dog stand the test of time and are great tunes. However, there is no song from the classic rock era more iconic than this one.

When I was a teenager in Tampa, Florida, I remember the 98 Rock radio station there played this song on repeat for 24 hours as a radio stunt. The rumor was the DJ locked himself in the studio and had a heart attack, forever leaving the song that was playing when he died on eternal repeat until the police broke in the door. Of course that was all false, but a glorious and full Gregorian calendar day was devoted to this rock classic and I listened to it all day long.


#1: Shoot to Thrill by AC/DC

Everything about this song is rock and roll. The lyrics, the music, the attitude… it’s all there. In addition, what other group of senior citizen rock legends can rock a stadium full of millennials like they do in this video? And for the record, Iron Man II did not make AC/DC famous. AC/DC wrote the soundtrack 30 years before that movie was made and caused Iron Man II to be the best movie in the Marvel pantheon (yes, it was better than Endgame). I never was lucky enough to meet Brian Johnson when I lived in Sarasota, Florida, but I saw him out driving his green Bentley Vanden Plas, nicknamed “Thunder Guts”, more than a few times. If you honked at him, you’d always get a wave or a fist pump in return.

I have zero doubt that some of you are scratching your head going, “AC/DC at #1? Really?” But not only is the song good, these guys command a stage with this larger-than-life song. I can’t imagine any tune better representing the fictional life of Tony Stark, and rock and roll as a whole. It talks about the excess of a rock star and their goal of thrilling the audience every time they step out on stage. I will always love this song and it is, without a doubt, my #1 favorite rock and roll song of all time.


Well, there you have it. The music world according to me. There are so many more artists I love and would love to list, but I had to narrow this down to my favorites. What did you think of the list? What does your Top-Ten look like? Write it up and let me hear it. Until then, rock on!

What Rush’s Song, Cygnus X-1, Can Teach Us About The Current Political Climate in America

While driving home from a baseball game a few nights ago, I had my iPod (yes, I still use an iPod) in my car set to play Rush. I wasn’t even out of the parking lot before Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres cranked up. I love that song and I know the lyrics well. However, for some reason, this time they painted a picture I had not considered much before. But before we get into that, let me bring any unfamiliar readers up to speed.

The Black Hole known as Cygnus X-1 - Artist's depiction and photograph
The Black Hole known as Cygnus X-1 – Artist’s depiction and photograph

What is Cygnus X-1?

The real Cygnus X-1 is a black hole in the constellation of Cygnus, The Swan. The constellation is also called the Northern Cross and is visible all across the northern hemisphere. In 1971, the black hole was discovered as the first source of X-rays within Cygnus (hence the name X-1). Neil Peart read a newspaper article about it and, using his brilliant imagination, penned a nearly 29-minute progressive rock epic about it.

Cygnus X-1, Book 1: The Voyage is from the 1977 Rush album A Farewell to Kings. It’s about an explorer that sets his space ship, The Rocinante, for the heart of a newly discovered black hole. Our hero knows this is probably a one way trip, but undaunted, plunges on. Book 1 of this prog-rock epic goes on for about 10-minutes, and ends with The Rocinante spiraling into oblivion. Our hero expects his demise and the song ends. It’s in Book 2 from 1979’s Hemispheres that got me thinking about the parallels between the song and politics.

Political commentary is a dangerous minefield these days, but art does imitate life. This song is no different and was a prophecy before its time. I’m going to make some broad-brush generalizations in here about followers of the political left and right, so before you send me responses like I am a so-and-so and that’s not what I believe or My party believes in this platform, not that, just calm down and digest the core basics of what I’ve interpreted here. I’m going to ask you in advance for grace, and ask that you consider what I say with introspect. However, I always invite thoughtful discourse if you want to voice your opinion on it.

Disclaimers in place? Check. Now, let’s launch into it.

So what does a song about Cygnus X-1 have to do with American Politics?

Let’s examine the lyrics of Book 2:

“When our weary world was young, the struggle of the ancients first began. The gods of Love and Reason, sought alone to rule the fate of Man. They battled through the ages, but still neither force would yield. The people were divided, every soul a battlefield…”

This first part just sets the stage, reminding the listener that since the beginning of time, humankind has struggled with how best to govern their affairs between the boundaries of love and reason. The Rocinante emerges through the black hole to find it was a gateway to Mount Olympus, where Apollo and Dionysus are engaged in epic battle over the fate of mankind. Will they be ruled by Apollo’s wisdom and reason, or Dionysus’s love and emotion? Each god makes a plea for their case while our hero observes.

Apollo’s Plea for Reason

Apollo gets to go first:

Apollo, God of Light with Urania, Muse of Astronomy is a painting by Charles Meynier
Apollo, God of Light, with Urania, Muse of Astronomy is a painting by Charles Meynier

I bring truth and understanding, I bring wit and wisdom fair,
precious gifts beyond compare. We can build a world of wonder,
I can make you all aware. I will find you food and shelter, show you fire to keep you warm through the endless winter storm. You can live in grace and comfort in the world that you transform.

I would contend Apollo’s vision falls more to the right side of political ideology. Typically, Republicans see through the lens of numbers and logic, placing a lower value on feelings and emotion. Apollo offers to share knowledge, the basics of food and shelter, and to show you how to make fire, but it is up the individual to take those tools transform their world for their own grace and comfort. Again, it’s a broad brush approach, but one of the party platforms of the right is deeply rooted in the idea of each person being the captain of their own destiny. Apollo’s offer was accepted, and here’s what happened:

The people were delighted, coming forth to claim their prize. They ran to build their cities and converse among the wise. But one day the streets fell silent, yet they knew not what was wrong. The urge to build these fine things seemed not to be so strong. The wise men were consulted
and the Bridge of Death was crossed, in quest of Dionysus to find out what they had lost…

My interpretation of this is knowledge, numbers, and logic is only going to get you so far before you run out of creativity. In a simpler term, this world feels like a minimalist black and white painting; probably beautiful in it simplicity, but devoid of color and personality. It’s cold and hard there. In my observations, Republicans can get caught within their own versions of reason and take a narrow-minded world view; very much like a horse with blinders. The mind needs expansion or it will die.

I think the key statement in here is crossing the Bridge of Death. Curious wording, don’t you think? I would liken this to the idea that you sometimes hear out of right-wingers warning you don’t go over there by those lefties… it’s dangerous! You’ll be in peril unless you walk this fine line! Don’t cross that bridge of death! It’s a group-think idea that once you try a forbidden fruit, you are a lost cause.

Dionysus’s Plea for Love

When humankind crossed their Bridge of Death seeking out Dionysus to see what he could offer, here’s what he said:

Dionysus, God of Wine by Caravaggio
Dionysus, God of Wine by Caravaggio

I bring love to give you solace, in the darkness of the night; in the heart’s eternal light. You need only trust your feelings, only Love can steer you right. I bring laughter, I bring music, I bring joy and I bring tears, I will soothe your primal fears. Throw off those chains of reason and your prison disappears

It’s not a stretch to see Dionysus is taking the political left approach. He’s playing on your heart strings and telling you that only love can make things right with the world. He’s ready to give humankind everything they need to fuel a creative fire – joy, laughter, music, solace. He promises a spiritual freedom of they will abandon reason and pursue their heart’s desire. Where the kicker comes is the line that he will soothe their primal fears. That line begs a question: What are your primal fears?

The answer will be different for everyone. For some, it’s eliminating loneliness and finding their soul mate. For others, it’s financial stability. Others might argue for spiritual or physical well-being. The bounds are endless on what people fear. Dionysus is telling them he’ll take all that away for them. The Democratic platform sometimes claims to have government provide everything people would fear to lose. I contend, however, that no god or government can possibly provide for everything a person needs. No one. The people, in this song’s case, decide to take him up on the offer. Here’s how it went:

The cities were abandoned and the forests echoed song. They danced and lived as brothers. They knew love could not be wrong. Food and wine they had aplenty and they slept beneath the stars. The people were contented and the Gods watched from afar. But the winter fell upon them and it caught them unprepared, bringing wolves and cold starvation, and the hearts of men despaired…

The romantic notion of throwing all logical caution to the wind and living your best Bohemian life—Y.O.L.O., if you will—is popular among younger generations today. But there are consequences to an ideology that only lives and loves in the moment without logical planning for the future. There’s even greater consequence for depending on someone else to provide everything for you. A day will come where the well dries up. In our song, the winter falls upon the people who lived only for the summery moment with Dionysus, thinking all they needed was love to sustain them. The wolves and weather had a different idea.

The Great Battle for the Heart and Mind of Humankind

The heart and mind, the greatest assets of a human being.
The heart and mind, the greatest assets of a human being.

In modern politics, this same metaphoric battle rages today as I type this and as you read it. There is a deadly competition for your vote without your voice, and each side knows exactly what string to pluck to get it. One side preys on fear of losing all reason, while the other preys on your fear of losing all hope. Many good people are entrenched in one side or the other and will not accept any olive branches offered by the opposition. In the song, their battle goes like this:

The universe divided as the heart and mind collided, with the people left unguided for so many troubled years; in a cloud of doubts and fears. Their world was torn asunder into hollow hemispheres. Some fought themselves, some fought each other. Most just followed one another, lost and aimless like their brothers. For their hearts were so unclear and the truth could not appear. Their spirits were divided into blinded hemispheres.

There has never been a more poignant description of today’s Left vs. Right political ideology than that stanza right there. The whole of the United States lives in a cloud of doubt and fear because many have buried themselves so far into their beliefs that no one will budge. People fear each other. They don’t trust each other. They prey on each other. And many who are not clear on their own thoughts blindly follow others to fit in to one of these camps just for the sense of belonging. More importantly, no one wants to admit their side is wrong. Not on one single thing. The faithful are so blinded without sound judgement that they can’t see a bitter truth in front of their face: That the opposition is truly not their enemy. In the song, a select few were blessed with discernment:

Some who did not fight brought tales of old to light. My Rocinante sailed by night on her final flight. To the heart of Cygnus’ fearsome force, we set our course. Spiraled through that timeless space to this immortal place.

Our hero is not yet sullied with the ideological dilemmas of Apollo and Dionysus, and encounters people I would call the Neutrals. These are people who haven’t fully decided their fate yet and observe the battle before them between the heart and mind. They tell the sordid tales from both sides, taking on traits of each. Some may call that not choosing a side. Sometimes it’s necessary to choose, but in this case, I think the Neutrals have created a third option to consider.

Cygnus, the Bringer of Balance

A depiction of Balance
A depiction of Balance

Enter the hero of our story, which in my mind is you. Yes, you, who sit here and have read to this point. Here’s your grand entrance:

I have memory and awareness, but I have no shape or form. As a disembodied spirit, I am dead and yet unborn. I have passed into Olympus, as was told in tales of old, to the City of Immortals; marble white and purest gold. I see the gods in battle rage on high, thunderbolts across the sky. I cannot move, I cannot hide, I feel a silent scream begin inside.

This stanza is chock full of metaphor. The U.S. Capitol is loaded to the gills with white marble buildings and monuments gilded in gold leaf. For an every-day citizen or political outsider, the halls of government might feel like an Olympus. A place where the gods of elected government rule from on high. You could even stretch to think of it as a City of Immortals.

United States Capitol Building east facade - Washington DC United States
United States Capitol Building east facade – Washington DC United States

You enter the halls of Congress to see and hear the “thunderbolts” being hurled from the right and left sides of the aisle; the nonstop bickering over how you will live your life. It’s messy, complicated, drowned in a legalese few laymen can understand. Who would enter that fray, and upon seeing the ridiculousness of it, would not want to scream? What if you actually did it? Here’s what the song says happened:

Then all at once the chaos ceased. A stillness fell, a sudden peace. The warriors felt my silent cry and stayed their struggle, mystified. Apollo was astonished. Dionysus thought me mad. But they heard my story further and they wondered, and were sad. Looking down from Olympus on a world of doubt and fear; its surface splintered into sorry hemispheres.

In reality, if you walked into a Senate or House session, or the Oval Office, or the Supreme Court chambers and screamed in bloody frustration at them, they are going to have you escorted out. Probably with prejudice. But imagine what would happen if you did and they actually stopped and listened to you? I know what you’re thinking: Lyle, seriously, government stopped listening to the people a long time ago. You’re right. But that’s not my point in all this. Now this next part, this is the true science fiction of the tale:

They sat a while in silence, then they turned at last to me. ‘We will call you Cygnus, the God of Balance you shall be.’

Just think, for one moment, if you had the chance to be the arbiter between the left and right ideology, and they had to abide by your final judgement on their argument. Who would you side with? Always the Left? Always the Right? Some might, but the majority of us would not. We would invoke the third option of the Neutrals, and that brings me to the conclusion of this extremely long political rant.

The Hemispheres United

If you’ve stuck with me this long, I have to think you’ve got at least a foot in the camp of the Neutrals. In my mind, we the Neutrals are the centrists. I would argue the centrists live with the mantra that if you can’t do what is right, then you do what is fair. We are the ones in the middle that see merit and fault on both political fronts… the ones who political parties have abandoned for the warm and fuzzy fringes of their followers. We in the middle are left in the political cold and both sides are making a fire to warm us. We are the ones those governing gods fight over. We are the ones they hope are afraid of being alone so we can get pulled in to their fold.

It is us who pilot the Rocinante into the black hole of politics and scream in frustration at Apollo and Dionysus for their limited vision and schoolyard pettiness. It is us who seek the peace in an arena that only knows war. But not war in the traditional sense. Oh no. They don’t want to kill you. It’s the war for your heart and mind. They are the most precious bastions you can ever protect. The day we once again realize we are not enemies is the first day of our freedom. There is a way to reconcile our trespasses against each other, and Rush sums it up nicely in the final stanza:

We can walk our road together, if our goals are all the same. We can run alone and free, if we pursue a different aim. Let the truth of love be lighted. Let the love of truth shine clear. Sensibility, armed with sense and liberty, with the heart and mind united in a single, perfect sphere.

While I am not naive enough to think those who govern will stop and hear us when we scream, I am hopeful that, outside of their influence, we will hear each other when we scream. Maybe then we can once again come together—those with love and those with logic—and make our country a better example for the world.

Reverend Wrinkle

A short story of the supernatural – Part 1

The round spectacles at the end of his nose fogged from the hot tea the Right Reverend Wrinkle sipped, annoying Marie past her short level of tolerance. He’s not even listening to me, she thought. He must be deaf or stupid, haven’t figured out which. The wiry reverend set the delicate cup back down in the saucer at his side table. He stared off out the window watching the dark clouds roll in.

“Storms a’comin,” he said. The old bloodhound lying by the front door perked her ears at the word storm. Marie lost her patience with the man. Her limit was reached

“Have you even heard a word I’ve said?” She got up from her chair in frustration. “They say you’re the only one around here who knows how I can get back home, but if you ask me, you don’t know a damn thing!”

The Right Reverend Wrinkle sat calm as could be and continued to glide gently in his rocker. At last, he spoke again. “I know many things, but you never can tell with a storm. They kinda’ just do what they want. It’s as if God let’s a little chaos roam free once in a while. Hard to find your way home in a storm, they say.” He reached down with a lazy hand and brushed off some of the bone dust from his sleeve. Then he put his index finger behind the tight white clergy collar and loosened it. The low rumble of distant thunder rolled across the churchyard outside.

“Yep, this storm’s gonna be a good’n. Best to keep inside, I think, eh Sticks?” The dog got up and moved to the reverend’s feet, careful not to get her tail under the curved runner of the chair.

Marie sat back down in a heap, burying her face in her frustrated hands. “Alright, let’s try this again, shall we?” She sat directly across from him, looking down at the dog. Sticks looked back up at her through tired and droopy eyes, groaning as she rolled to her side to sleep. The reverend peered down over his glasses and took another sip of his tea.

“Look, I’m sorry about running over your mailbox and smashing the headstones. Can I just use your phone? I’ll call my dad to pick me up and send a tow truck for my car. My cell phone is in my purse but I don’t remember where I left it. I promise, he’ll write you a check for the damages.” A strong gust came up as the first drops of rain streaked down the window. Another roll of thunder boomed, giving the windows a rattle. Marie sighed. “Oh great… now it’s raining. I’m gonna be stuck here forever!”

She stomped her foot and looked out the window. The accident scene looked worse from here than she remembered it. The side of the first mausoleum lay in rubble under the front of her red two-seater convertible. It was her 18th birthday present. She loved that car, but now it was junk. Rutted tire tracks smashed through the front fence, the mailbox, several headstones, and coming to an end where she crashed into the side of the one crypt in the cemetery. Marie noted that had she been going a little faster, she probably would have hit the church building, too.

“Next time, I won’t swerve to miss a cat. That’s what I get for being nice, I guess.” He got up and stood beside her, also surveying the damage and shook his head.

“You know, it’s not really about the money, is it? Oh, I can just hear it now… Them Rigbys are gonna be hoppin’ mad that old lady Eleanor’s tomb was disturbed. They said she was mean in life, but Ellie would be a sight meaner in death!” He chuckled and took back the rest of the warm tea in one swift gulp. “Well they were right about that one. I remember ol’ Ellie Rigby back when I first got to this parish. She wanted nothing to do with a shiny new deacon-in-training. Almighty, that was a wicked woman. Only one who ever took a shinin’ to her was that ol’ Father Mackenzie, but he liked everybody anyhow. Ah well, couldn’ta happened to a nicer lady!”  He looked down again at the old hound, and she looked back up at her master waiting for his instruction. “Well, whaddya say, Sticks? Should we go find the phone and get somebody out here? We’ve got work to do.” Sticks woofed in approval.

“Ugh. Yes. Finally!” Marie said, and then felt bad for it. This lonely old parish priest probably never got visitors this far out in the country. He’d been kind and just made idle chat once he tended to her wounds. Even though she’d just wrecked her car and smashed his crypt, the guilt of her rudeness took control. The reverend reached down and rubbed to old dog’s head. The dog looked at Marie and gave a tired woof in admonishment for her poor manners. He rubbed her head again between the ears.

“That’s right Sticks, you go on an’ tell us all about it now.” Reverend Wrinkle opened the church office door and they cut across the empty and silent pews to the vestibule at the front door. The old dog wandered between them. Not overly excited about anything except just because the reverend was going somewhere, his faithful companion followed without hesitation. On a side table by the vestibule door sat Marie’s purse. She couldn’t remember bringing it inside. The purse had a large blood smear on the side right across the gold Coach emblem. She must have hit her head harder than she first thought.

“Oh no, my purse is ruined! Ah well. My phone is probab—”

Reverend Wrinkle picked it up and started rifling through it.

“Hey wait just a minute! What are yo—”

“A-ha! Here it is!” He held up her wallet. “Now let’s see who you are, lil’ missy.” He opened it up to her license. “Andromeda Marie Olson. Andromeda? Who names a poor kid something like that?”

“Well, excuse me for having parents who like science fiction. My dad was an actor,” she said as she swiped at her wallet. The reverend held it just out of reach and she missed. “Hey, give me that!”

He ignored her and opened the vestibule door. Marie gasped. On the table at the center of the room lie a young woman in her early 20s. Her head wrapped in a bandage, soaked through in red. Her eyes were open wide and dilated. Sprawled out on the table before her was Andromeda Marie Olson, and she was dead. Reverend Wrinkle looked down at the old brown Bloodhound, who quietly woofed back at him.

“I know it, girl. Poor little Andromeda. I guess there’s worse places to die than a cemetery in a churchyard, eh Sticks? Well don’t just sit there, ol’ girl. We’ve got rites to administer.”

“OhmyGodohmyGodohmyGod…” Marie repeated frantically. “This isn’t happening. This can’t be happening!” She wrapped her arms around herself and started to cry. “That’s why you can’t hear me… Oh my God, I’m dead!”

“Now there’s where you’re wrong, Andromeda Marie,” Reverend Wrinkle said. “Well, right and wrong, I suppose. Yes, you are dead, but I can hear you just fine, and so can Sticks.” He went to the cabinet and pulled out a plastic tablecloth from some long-ago church picnic and covered her body. “It’s hard on everybody when they first see their own mortal vessel layin’ there all cold and stiff, but it does get a little easier with time.”

“This isn’t happening…”

“It is happening,” he interrupted. “It is, and it happens around here more than you might think. I got more spirits haunting this place than ol’ Sticks has fleas.” As if on cue, Sticks scratched her ear with a hind leg. “Only question we have to answer now is why are you still here?”

We?” Marie asked through the tears.

“Well in case you haven’t noticed, it’s just me and Sticks here, that’s who. This is what we do.” He sat in the wingback chair against the sidewall and crossed his legs while Sticks curled up by his foot. “You see, Andromeda—”

She held her hand up. “Please stop calling me that. I go by Marie.” She sat at the table next to her covered body, arms across herself, and unsure if her form would fall through the chair as she was now a ghost.

“Now don’t interrupt, Andromeda, or I won’t be able to help you. As I was about to say, you said a certain phrase back in the parlor that gave me all the inkling I need to know about your current predicament. It could be worse.”

Marie started feeling angry again at his choice of words. “Predicament? Predicament? In case you haven’t noticed, I’m dead, you moron! How much worse of a predicament could I be in?”

The reverend leaned forward with a squinted and piercing gaze. “Careful now, darlin’. There are worse things than being dead.” He said back with a grin. “Much worse.” With that, emotions resumed control and Marie broke down in sobs of anguish. Sticks sauntered over to her and rested her head on Marie’s leg to offer comfort. She looked down at the dog but saw something different this time. The warmth of the dog’s jowls on her leg was soothing; comforting in a way she couldn’t describe. All the sadness she felt over her own demise dissipated. The droopy eyes of the old hound sparkled like crystals. They offered a comfort unlike anything Marie had ever felt.

Sticks the Bloodhound

“You feel it, don’t cha? See, Sticks there, she has a gift. A gentle nudge from her and suddenly all seems right with the world. Ain’t it a grand thing?”

“It’s unreal,” Marie said and extended her hand to the dog’s head for a rub. “Can she feel me touch her?”

“Oh yes, she can feel it alright.” He scooted his chair a little closer to them and leaned in. “Just cause you’re dead doesn’t mean you can’t interact with the physical world. It takes some practice, but you’ll be poltergeistin’ in no time.”

“Her eyes…” Marie continued to stare into the deep, dark pools of the dog’s red-rimmed eyes. They looked as if the whole universe was just on the other side of them.

“With the slightest touch, Sticks takes the fight right out of someone right down to the point of docile so I can talk some sense into them. You ready to hear some sense now?”

“I don’t want to talk,” she said as if in a trance. “I’m ready to go… Just let me go…” The reverend snapped his fingers under her nose and broke the spell Marie was falling under.

“Hey, hey… Andromeda. Hey, don’t go there yet. You’ll get to travel down that river eventually, but first I have to do my part.” Marie looked up blinking. “Yeah, there you are. Okay now, stay with me on this. In all my years of actin’ the ferryman, I’ve found this the easiest way for the newly-deads to get a grip on their situation. You ready?”

Marie was trying to pay attention to the reverend but could not shake the feeling from Sticks’ touch. Her mind was foggy with the euphoria of the revelations laid before her. She was dead, yet here she sat in a church vestibule with a priest and his dog talking about why she was still here as a spirit. This was definitely not how she thought the day would go. Sticks laid down by the reverend’s chair, breaking their connection. The emotion of her realizing her death crashed back in like a wave on the sea.

“Okay Andromeda, try this on for size. You told me I was the only one who could get you home. That’s how I knew you were dead. It’s the same phrase everyone says when we first meet.”

“Yes, that’s right. You’re the only one who knows the way back home.” Marie couldn’t figure out how she knew that, but she just knew.

“That’s partially true. I’m not the only one, but I’m the only one around here. Sticks has her gifts, and so do I. You see, certain people attract spirits; spirits with unfinished business here in the mortal realm. What I’m gonna tell you here will be a bit of a shock, but it’s my job to be your guide.”

“Guide…?”

“Yep. Hear me out. Psalms chapter 23, verse 4, you know it? It’s a famous one. Even the most heathenistic amongst humanity has heard it at least once. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me. Sound familiar?” He leaned further forward, only inches from Marie’s face. “That valley is a real place and right now, you’re in it. But you can’t toil in there for long. Death only gives me so much time with you because it is his valley and he don’t suffer visitors much. I’m your guide out.” The storm outside increased to a fevered pitch. Marie could hear the rain pound on the tin roof above and the wind whistled through the trees outside. The reverend continued. “What we have to do is figure out which end of that valley you’re going out of.”

“This is crazy,” she said. “I have to be dreaming this. What in the hell is going on here?”

Sticks’ ears perked at the mention of hell. The reverend chuckled. “Funny choice of words there, darlin’, but you hit the nail pretty close to the head. That option is at one end of the valley.”

“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon Marie… wake up. Wake up!”

“Andromeda Marie Olson, you are not sleeping, you are dead! You sit here in this room before me as a spirit separated from the body. The Book of James, chapter 2 verse 26 starts For as the body apart from the spirit is dead and I’m tellin’ you sweetheart, you are indeed dead. Sooner you accept it, the sooner we can get you goin’ home. Now, you ready to hear me yet?” He sat back and folded his arms awaiting and answer. Marie slumped is resignation.

“I’m truly dead…”

“Yes, you’re truly dead and for that I am sorry, but we’ll have time to mourn later. Right now, I need to get you on a path so I’m gonna need both those radar dishes on the side of your ghostly head pointed in my holy direction. We’re going to figure out what’s keeping you in this valley, and we should be quick about it. Just ’cause your dead doesn’t mean Death is finished with you yet. The Moonlit Man is coming and we don’t have much time. So now, are you ready to tell me which direction you wanna go?”

to be continued…

The Mausoleum of Ellie Rigby

More coming soon from Andromeda and Reverend Wrinkle. Stay tuned!

Based on the song, Reverend Wrinkle on the album Folklore and Superstition, by Black Stone Cherry. Let me know if you want to read more!

My Dream Set List: Pink Floyd

It’s hard to talk about great music and not include Pink Floyd. The British super-group still outsells most of today’s artists since they dropped their first album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, back in 1967. Their music, in all it’s crazy and glorious forms, still represents a major segment of progressive rock that can never be duplicated, and a musical sound still unmatched, though many have tried.

The albums of Pink Floyd, from 1967 to present
The albums of Pink Floyd, from 1967 to present

I got to see them live in 1994 at the old Tampa Stadium (The Big Sombrero to the locals!) in Florida during the Division Bell tour. I had a nosebleed view of my second favorite band of all time and it was glorious. Not being a smoker, my seats were great, because floor seats were covered by an odd fog over the crowd that would have made it difficult to see! Even from my seat in the clouds, it was an awesome show I will never forget. Little did I realize, that tour would end in October and be their last full-length concert ever (minus the 18-minute reunion show Live 8 show in 2005). That means I got to see one of their final set lists live. It was excellent, but I have some changes for it.

Pink Floyd: Loaded with Drama

Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii in 1972
Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii in 1972

If you keep up with the band today, you know there are some rifts that may never heal between Roger Waters and David Gilmour. When Waters broke away in the early 80’s to launch a solo career, he declared Pink Floyd to be over with. The other members disagreed and went on without him, opening a chasm that to this day remains deep and wide.

Going back further to the Sid Barrett/Bob Klose days, there was more of a divide when Barrett left and David Gilmour was permanently added to the roster. All five were together for a few months, but times were tense. Let’s be honest here. While Sid launched the band and made some great—albeit weird—music, Pink Floyd would have been a footnote in musical history without David Gilmour. Waters alone could have pulled them a little higher, but it was Gilmour’s musical vision that sent the band into the stratosphere after Barrett’s departure. Hardcore fans may disagree, but search your feelings. You know it to be true.

Rare photo of all five members of Pink Floyd, including Syd Barrett, in 1968
Rare photo of all five members of Pink Floyd, including Syd Barrett, in 1968

I talk about their drama because I think that final set list they chose is due to much of the music that featured Waters’ parts being omitted. Whether or not that was intentional, we’ll never know. With that in mind, my dream set list would be if all five members (Barrett, Waters, Mason, Wright, and Gilmour) were still happily singing as one. First, let’s see what the actual set list was.

Their Final Tour and the Tale of Two Set Lists

Some songs rotated throughout the tour, but a major change in songs happened around July prior to the European shows. The first set list is as follows:

If you ever got to see Pink Floyd live, the laser show was always as good as the music
If you ever got to see Pink Floyd live, the laser show was always as good as the music

Opening Set:

Astronomy Domine, Learning to Fly, What Do You Want From Me, On The Turning Away, Take It Back, A Great Day For Freedom, Sorrow, Keep Talking, One of These Days,

Second Set:

Shine On You Crazy Diamond parts I thru V, Breathe, Time, Breathe (reprise), High Hopes, Great Gig in the Sky, Wish You Were Here, Us and Them, Money, Another Brick in the Wall, Comfortably Numb

…and the encore:

Hey You and Run Like Hell.

That was the set list I saw, and even though I was likely the only one in the stadium who wasn’t high, the crowd was berserk during the encore. Swaying and singing along to Hey You, and then almost moshing with pumping fists during Run Like Hell. And for the record, the greatest guitar solo ever in rock and roll is Gilmour’s outro of Comfortably Numb and I’ll fight those who disagree!

The second set list was similar for the most part, but set two saw Dark Side of the Moon played in its entirety and shifted the encore to Wish You Were Here, Comfortably Numb, and Run Like Hell. Surprisingly, the second list cut back the songs from the Division Bell album they were promoting. Even so, those are all great songs. But now, here’s what I would have chose for them.

My Pink Floyd Dream Set List

David Gilmour live at Pompeii
David Gilmour live at Pompeii

Everyone loves an opinion, so here’s mine. My additions to the existing list are in bold, and you can listen to them all at the YouTube Link below.

Opening Set:

  1. Welcome to the Machine
  2. Cirrus Minor blended intro to Wish You Were Here
  3. Astronomy Domine
  4. Arnold Layne
  5. See Emily Play
  6. The Nile Song
  7. Money
  8. Pigs on the Wing, Parts 1 & 2
  9. Learning to Fly
  10. The Great Gig in the Sky
  11. Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2
  12. A Great Day for Freedom

Second Set:

  1. Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun blended intro to One of These Days
  2. On the Turning Away
  3. Poles Apart
  4. When the Tigers Broke Free
  5. The Dogs of War
  6. Hey You
  7. Is There Anybody Out There?
  8. Us and Them
  9. Brain Damage/Eclipse
  10. The Show Must Go On blended intro to Comfortably Numb
  11. Run Like Hell

Encore

  1. Mother
  2. Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Parts I to V
My Dream Set List: Pink Floyd

Pink Floyd Dream Set List: Final Thoughts

The unlikely reunion for Live 8 was a huge deal for Pink Floyd fans. The rift between Waters and Gilmour divided fans as well as the band. Both of them went on to successful solo careers, and rumor has it they’ve finally buried their personal hatchets, though they do not perform together any longer.

Pink Floyd at Live 8 in 2005 - David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright
Pink Floyd at Live 8 in 2005 – David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Nick Mason, and Richard Wright

In 2006, Syd Barret passed away. Even though he wasn’t involved with the band officially, many fans felt he was still a part of this odyssey through psychedelic rock. Shortly after in 2008, keyboardist Richard Wright passed away as well. Rogers went back to his solo career, and Mason and Gilmour went on to record Pink Floyd’s final and largely instrumental release Endless River in 2014. The cool part of the album is they have parts recorded by Wright prior to his death, so the three do appear once again. However, it didn’t receive high critical acclaim. That’s one reason none of it made it into my dream set list, but it’s still a good cut.

One of my prize musical collectibles: A vinyl Wish You Were Here album signed by Nick Mason, Richard Wright, Roger Waters and David Gilmour.
One of my prize musical collectibles: A vinyl Wish You Were Here album signed by Nick Mason, Richard Wright, Roger Waters and David Gilmour.

The music of Pink Floyd will live on long after the band members are gone. They are regarded as one of the most influential rock bands of all time and have sold a whopping 250 million albums the world over. I consider myself among the luckiest to have seen them live, even if it wasn’t the full band. It was an awesome show I will never forget.

Thanks for reading!

My Dream Set List: RUSH

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.”

Geddy Lee to Ultimate Classic Rock

My dream set list for Rush’s Farewell Tour

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 Set

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.

  1. Anthem
  2. By-Tor and the Snow Dog
  3. The Trees
  4. Working Man
  5. Xanadu
  6. Marathon
  7. Test for Echo
  8. The Wreckers
  9. Presto
  10. Far Cry
  11. Countdown
  12. Cygnus X-1: Book II (in it’s entirety)

Second Set

Opening tape: The original 1984 Count Floyd introduction fades into…

  1. The Weapon
  2. The Main Monkey Business
  3. Closer to the Heart
  4. Spirit of the Radio
  5. Leave That Thing Alone
  6. Dreamline
  7. Losing It
  8. Subdivisions
  9. 2112: Parts I and V
  10. Jacob’s Ladder
  11. Freewill
  12. YYZ

Encore

  1. Red Barchetta
  2. Time Stand Still
  3. La Villa Strangiato
  4. Tom Sawyer

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!

Rush Review – Clockwork Angels, The Band's Legacy, & Final Thoughts

Clockwork Angels album cover by Hugh Syme
Clockwork Angels album cover by Hugh Syme

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.

Clockwork Angels book cover
Clockwork Angels book cover

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.

Clockwork Angels Tour

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: Cíbola. 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.”

Neil Peart

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)…

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - NOVEMBER 19:  (L-R) Alex Lifeson, Neil Pert and Geddy Lee of Rush perform in concert at the Gibson Amphitheatre on November 19, 2012 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic)
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA – NOVEMBER 19: (L-R) Alex Lifeson, Neil Pert and Geddy Lee of Rush perform in concert at the Gibson Amphitheatre on November 19, 2012 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic)

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.

Nick Raskulinecz works with Alex Lifeson on Clockwork Angels
Nick Raskulinecz works with Alex Lifeson on Clockwork Angels

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.”

Neil Peart
Neil Peart performs with clockwork precision
Neil Peart performs with precision

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!

Rush Review – The 2k's: "Vapor Trails" & "Snakes and Arrows"

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 cover art
Vapor Trails cover art

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.

Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road by Neil Peart
Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road by Neil Peart

“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.

From the Vapor Trails Tour
From the Vapor Trails Tour

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.

Performing Tom Sawyer on the Vapor Trails Tour
Performing Tom Sawyer on the Vapor Trails Tour

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.

Want to catch up on my Rush Review? Go back where it all started, the day before Neil died…

Click over to page two for the review of Snakes and Arrows!

Listen To Music While You Write? I Say Yes, You Can!

Writing is a complicated profession, wouldn’t you agree? Anyone who has ever tried to write anything, from blog posts like this, to articles, to novels will tell you how easy it is to start and how hard it is to finish. Inspiration can run dry at the drop of a hat, and all writers suffer from it.

I’m all too familiar with the scent of regurgitated ideas…

A set of song lyrics I became acquainted with recently is the best summation of writer’s block I’ve seen yet. The song Losing It off of 1982’s Signals album by Rush says this:

The writer stares with glassy eyes — defies the empty page /
his beard is white, his face is lined and streaked with tears of rage / Thirty years ago, how the words would flow with passion and precision / But now his mind is dark and dulled by sickness and indecision / and he stares out the kitchen door / where the sun will rise no more…

Losing It, written by Neil Peart

While I don’t think I’m to the point of sickness and indecision yet (the jury is still out), hitting blocks in your work is a terrible affliction I would not wish on anyone. Something I have found to assuage the faltering imagination is music. Many writers will tell you there is no way they can concentrate with all that racket going on; that music is distracting. They just can’t do it. However, I say, yes you can.

Use Music to Spark Imagination

I’ll caveat this bold statement with a disclaimer: Every writer has their own method, and not everyone’s brain works the same. What works for me may not work for others.

I am fortunate to be an imagination-driven, visual thinker. I adore a vivid mental picture, and see things more clearly in my head sometimes than I do with my own eyes. Music speaks to me in that way. The song tells a story, and not just with the words but in the notes and melodies. Here’s an example:

The power of imagination

While working on an outline for a fantasy story I’d like to write, my brain fell flat on a tense moment. I knew how I wanted the scene to begin and end, but the tension in the middle read like an instructional textbook rather than anything remotely exciting. I can’t begin to describe the aggravation I felt, and lost count of how many times I hit the delete button in one simple paragraph. I laid the project aside for a couple days and simmered below a boil on how to progress the scene. Then, in the car, it hit me. My iPod rolled over to this song, Dragons at the Gate by Epic Score. Take a listen below:

If the idea was a piano, then it fell on my head from a 20-story building. I was so excited I had to pull over and start jotting notes before I forgot any of it. The tenseness in the music played out the whole scene right before my eyes. I could see it like I was watching a movie. The block was moved like Sampson knocking over his pillars. It was a glorious moment I’ll never forget.

What else is on my iPod?

Epic Score is one of several artists I go to for inspiration. They are all instrumental, so no worries about their words getting in the way. However, sometimes lyrics paint pictures you least expect. Classic rock from the 60s and 70s is a gold mine of story ideas and scene manifestations. Led Zeppelin, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, The Who, Rush, The Moody Blues, YES, and multiple others leave nuggets all over the place if you know how to mine them up.

I wrote an entire outline off of a King Crimson song for a medieval fantasy that currently is awaiting my attention. The Seeker by The Who conjures all sorts of ideas for me to put on paper. Red Rain by Peter Gabriel was probably my first outline based on my brain’s interpretation of a song. Neil Peart’s lyrics on any Rush album is a mother lode of ideas. Here’s some I’m currently listening to:

The beautiful and talented Lindsey Sterling’s music is always inspirational. Roundtable Rival got me through an entire written scene!
break
Break of Reality – awesome group to listen for textural ideas and gritty action
Love, love, love The Piano Guys. Always great, inspirational stuff
No one, and I mean NO ONE tells a story through song better than Loreena McKinnett!
The Hu. Listen to these guys for a few minutes and you’ll be ready to invade China with them. Somebody bring me my horse and my eagle!
Enya’s haunting vocals pry out some great ideas from my brain
Evanescence has deep lyrics with a chugging beat that conjures vivid scenes for me

So what’s the take-away from this?

What you’re writing will likely determine what you listen to. A romance author is probably not going to heavy metal for inspiration, and a horror novelist may not find inspirational solace in show tunes, but you never know. Don’t look at music being distracting, or background noise. Embrace it for the wonder it can spark in your mind.

The next time you’re struggling, slip on an obscure record. Sit back, close your eyes, and let the music take you for a little bit. When it’s over, and you are safely deposited back on the shores of your reality, you might be surprised at the adventures you had in the melodies. Give it a try. You never know… you might have the idea for the next best-seller. Happy writing!

To check out these amazingly inspirational artists, try their official links below:

Loreena McKinnett – Home Page

Lindsey Sterling – Home Page

Official Rush Page

Home of Evanescence

The Piano Guys

Epic Score Home Page

Break of Reality Official Page