I got blindsided Friday night with the news that Rush’s drummer/lyricist Neil Peart had died after over three years of undergoing brain cancer treatment. This was a sad thing to hear. Particularly since I had been listening more to my very sensible but incomplete Rush collection in the last year following a trip to the Rock N’Roll Hall Of Fame where the highlight was video of Rush’s against-all-odds induction. My favorite Rush album had been “Hold Your Fire” since it was released, but hearing my 1980-1991 run of their albums at once [I’d never binged this deeply with Rush before] nudged me into changing my top pick after all of these years. “Power Windows” now takes my top spot with “Hold Your Fire” just beneath it in the Rush-Goes-New Wave® era beloved by me. Rush were many things to me; Led Zeppelin wannabes, bloodless Prog, something more than a False New Wave band, then eventually, Respected Elders of Rock®. Even getting rock crit love after decades of cold shoulder. I grew up when it was not cool to like Rush [for those of the generally Monastic persuasion] but I honestly appreciated them when and while I could. A lot. And it hurts to know Neil Peart; the band’s heart in more ways than one, is no longer with us.
I first heard Rush relatively late in the game. It was 1977 and I was in my Prog Phase. I had heard about the band in print and eventually heard their latest album on the FM Rock® of the time. “Hemispheres” had a song that got FM airplay called “The Trees” and singer Geddy Lee’s voice was so high then, I thought that Rush had a female vocalist! Eager to sample, I bought “Hemipsheres,” their current [and sixth studio album] and a budget 3xLP reissue called “Archives” that contained the band’s first three albums. None of it gelled with me at the time. The first three albums were in Led Zep territory and I didn’t really go there. “Hemispheres” was a side of hi-concept Prog based on the notion of intellect-vs-emotion brain dominance as illustrated by the cod-Hipgnosis cover by Hugh Syme. The side one suite was actually the conclusion of an idea from their previous album [which I’ve never heard] called “Cygnus X-1 [book II],” presumably about a black hole! Your guess is as good as mine as to how these two seemingly disparate concepts were united across the albums! The three songs on the B-side of the album had no overarching theme. Here was a band finishing ideas across albums and daring listeners to jump in. Well, this one didn’t. I sold my Rush albums to my schoolmates since I had not yet learned of used record stores.
By the next year, Rush was of no relevance to me at all. Indeed, all of Prog was collapsing under the weight of its pretenses as New Wave was connecting with me much more strongly than my brief dalliance with Prog ever had. And it also had synthesizers in it but the music made with them was more my style. The songs were generally much sharper and cooler. It was 1981 when I bought the Ultravox 2×7” of “Slow Motion” and played it for an acquaintance who compared the A-side to Rush and I was most vociferous in that it Could Not Be Further From That®! Rush was old guard Rock. Heavily steeped in sci-fi concepts that failed to resonate with me at the time even though all I read from ’75-’80 was science fiction! I remember reading an Rush interview in a local music paper where they were name checking Ultravox and expressed an interest in having Midge Ure produce them! Wha…??!!
By 1982, I had another friend, Tom, who was a Rush fan. I exposed Tom to some of my Core Collection bands like OMD and Ultravox, but I sort of looked askance at his championship of Rush. I think it was 1982 where he got to go to a date in the band’s “Signals” tour for his birthday and was quite excited. I was non-plussed. I put the difference down to the fact that I had no taste for playing simulation/role-playing games, even though I was a sci-fi geek. By that year we had MTV so I was now exposed to the scant Rush videos the channel showed. Hmmm. They seemed to be getting very heavily into synthesizers. The next year, I read an article in the Village Voice where the writer made the case that Rush was now more closely aligned with a band like Ultravox than their Zeppelin roots. Hmmmmmmmm.
How I Stopped Worrying And Learned To Love Rush
I finally crossed the line in 1985 after enjoying the songs “Big Money” and “Mystic Rhythms” via MTV clips. I picked up a used CD of “Power Windows” and found it very much to my liking. The band had obviously responded to the New Wave of the late 70s bubbling around them when I was looking elsewhere and had evolved into an appealing hybrid of The Police and Ultravox! It was as if by 1981 the band were devouring The Police and Ultravox while understanding how to add synthesizers more adroitly than on “The Ghost In The Machine.” Truth be told, by 1984, Rush was playing the Ultravox game far more compellingly than Ultravox themselves!
In 1987 I didn’t wait for used. I bought their new album “Hold Your Fire” immediately and reveled in their pivot to pop. Where they used to have 4-7 songs of heavy concept Prog on their albums, this new one had ten sharp, pop songs with rock chops. These shorter songs had all of the complexity that their side-long opuses used to have, but with all of the fat removed for a lean sharp thrill that hit closer to the mark of 1980s King Crimson than Yes or Led Zeppelin. Their last two albums had keyboard support from the talented Andy Richards, then neck deep in Trevor Horn’s ZTT Theam. You may remember Mr. Richards from a post on White Door a short while back. His synth prowess was foundational to all of the great work that ZTT had done from 1983-1988 and Rush, being no dummies, enlisted him to enhance both “Power Windows” and “Hold Your Fire.” The kicker had arrived earlier in the fall of 1986 when the second FGTH album “Liverpool” had arrived and sounded for all the world like a contemporary Rush album!
By 1989, I crossed the line in the sand and saw Rush in concert in a group with Mr. Ware and his drummer, Ray. We attended the Rush show at the Orlando Arena and as I struggle to recall, the opening act was Damn Yankees with Ted Nugent and Tommy Shaw of Stynx! Did we arrive fashionably late? I can’t remember how we would have blocked that out otherwise. But the Rush show was extremely tasty! They opened with my favorite song, the gripping “Force Ten” from “Hold Your Fire” so missing that tour didn’t really deal me a loss this time. The show was heavily skewed towards the material that was highly preferential to me with some old warhorses only getting trotted out at the end. The amount of change and development that the band evidenced over the 16 years of their existence was heartening.
That was as great a time to see Rush as I could have picked. By the end of the 80s, their New Wave era began to wrap up for the band as they got fave Rupert Hine to produce their albums. Rupert was no stranger to hi-tec rock music having created definitive examples of the form on his solo and Thinkman® albums. But after his two albums I lost track of Rush in the 90s. I’m told that they dialed down the synths during the grunge era. Not a shock, but I’d not heard anything they’d released following 1989’s “Presto.” I began picking up Rush CDs used when I happened across them at the right price in that decade. I snapped up the seminal in retrospect “Permanent Waves” where their first flowerings of New Wave DNA made for a surprisingly great album. A huge leap forward for the band in my view. The popular “Moving Pictures.” In recent years, Mr. Ware had given me “Signals,” “Grace Under Pressure,” and “Roll The Bones” as birthday presents. I now had the Rush run in the studio from 1980 to 1991 and it was an impressive, coherent body of work.
The changes in the band were profound up to that point. First the hard rock sound got dumped for a hard prog hybrid. The hair got cut [except for holdout Lee]. Then the lyrics went from Ayn Rand sci-fi to something far more humanistic. Rush had gotten pigeonholed as Rock Objectivists and even when I Was A Teenaged Randroid†®, I had never bothered hearing Rush’s “2112” album which had raised their profile considerably with an adaptation of one of her short stories. I was astonished when listening to 1984’s “Grace Under Pressure” when “Red Sector A” was not a dystopian sci-fi scenario [in spite of the deceptive name] but was instead inspired by the story of Geddy Lee’s parents being liberated during the Holocaust. It rips my heart out to hear it now.
I actually bought some more recent Rush CDs last fall at a record show. Just to see how the wind had blown while I hadn’t been paying attention. Their album of acid rock covers stood up very favorably to the one by Ramones! It’s almost an EP of eight songs under 30 minutes. In contrast, I also got the final Rush album, “Clockwork Angels.” I recall hearing that it was said to be a return to a Prog concept for their final opus but I’ve yet to spin it. Well, if now is not the time, when is? I doubt I will ever own a complete Rush collection. I’ve never heard any of their numerous live albums, and doubt that I ever will seeing as how the band liked to replicate their studio sound to the best of their ability. But there was a time when Rush were in the center of a Venn diagram drawn between The Police, Ultravox, and Frankie Goes To Hollywood with their sound stretched into a place that had old line fans scratching their heads even as I finally managed to finally capitulate to their charms. That the band had the ability to vary their attack wildly throughout their 42 year career was down to the clarity of their vision and the nous that Peart brought to them as a drummer’s drummer who was much more than just that. Condolences to his bandmates and family.
– 30 –
Rush were never among my favorites, and my level of interest waxed and waned over the years, but they were one of those groups that I always liked and always went back to eventually. Of their early period, much more so than “2112” (which so many make such a big deal about), the ultimate track for me is “Xanadu” (from Farewell to Kings). I also liked their 80s output, with “Subdivisions” and its message of “conform or be cast out” particular resonating with me, non-conformer that I am. I drifted off to various other musical interests but eventually came to appreciate their 90s output, particularly “Test For Echo” and “Roll The Bones”.
So sad to see Neil gone so soon; in the documentary about the group’s 2015 final tour, he speaks of how painful it had become for him to maintain his standard of playing, how he felt that, like an athlete, it was time for him to acknowledge that he needed to stop. Hearing all this upon watching that film again this weekend makes it seem particularly sad that he didn’t have a longer time to enjoy his retirement.
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Mark Moerman – Well. I think you hit the nail on the head there with your wax and wane comment. That was how most of us related to Rush, if at all. [Echorich excepted, of course!] the band were several things to several groups of audience and I’m sure there’s something there for most people if they gave them a chance. I mean, from “Working Man” to “2112,” to “Time Stands Still” with Aimee Mann on BVs is quite a stylistic spread! When St. Etienne sampled the distinctive “Spirit Of Radio” intro for “Conchita Martinez” on “So Tough” that was probably the point where it became cool to like Rush. I still need a CD of “Rush” because the only Rush track my wife rates is their first hit: “Working Man!”
I sit comfortably in the middle years. Honestly I have little patience for their 70s output, and more recent titles like Vapor Trails and Snakes And Arrows just didn’t have the special sauce that appeals to me. Again I suggest you pick up “Counterparts” which completes the six album imperial arc that started for me with “Grace Under Pressure”.
Mr. Ware – Noted! I’m up for it. It’s not like there aren’t a ton of used copies out there.
Holy Heck BatMonk, your memory is far better than mine. I had utterly forgotten seeing that show , lo all those decades ago. The album which got me started was very certainly Permanent Waves (bought my junior year IIRC) and I still find it the perfect meld of their best prog tendencies with. as you mention, their oncoming evolution toward Nu Wav and beyond. I’ve never had quite the same level of distain for prog as you – I mean, there’s certainly a lot of REALLY BAD prog around (Styx comes readily to mind), but applying Sturgeon’s law I personally find the amount of GOOD prog is generally ABOVE the expected 10% threshold :) YMMV of course. Gods honest truth, and looking back at the MTV of the period, I think the percentage of good New Wave was well BELOW 10% (Tommy Tutone anyone?).
That said, Rush’s earlier albums, which I believe I picked up in reverse chronological order, were pretty nyeh the further back in their catalog one went – an enjoyable song here or there, but nothing to write home about. Being also an “objectivist youth” on the prowl for pseudo-intellectual validation, I at the time considered 2112 to be nominally brilliant, but in truth I’ve prolly only listened to it a couple-or-three times over the years. I outgrew that sort of less than subtle “message-upside-the-head” entertainment shortly after escaping my college short-pants.
Note that Peart complained on multiple occassions that he was DRAFTED into writing their lyrics – he was constantly scrabbling to find something, anything, to write about because he didn’t find it came naturally. Given that caveat, much of his rambling Randian dialogs and story-tellings make more sense – less a conscious effort at “deep prog” as “oh god, I have another 45 minute album to make up words for – aw fuck it, I’ll just rip off Anthem”.
Sadly, I also dropped the ball on them somewhere in the early 90s – I really should dig back in. Peart is a HUGE loss – likely my favorite drummer, when I remembered him. Certainly the most variable – both in style, and within the contect of a given song – that I can think of off the top of my head.
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RAHB! – Oh, I can’t say I have disdain for Prog. And there was so much bad stuff. I still enjoy two ELP albums even as I consider the others artistic scorched earth! I just want really good Prog which like anything, is subject to Sturgeon’s Law®! And I think Sturgeon was pretty liberal with his praise at 10%! I play FM’s “Black Noise” a hell of a lot! It never fails to give me pleasure and it’s full of [not very great, it must be said] sci-fi lyrics! Did Prog EVER have good lyrics? I say thee, nay! The lyrics were almost 100% kitsch. It was about the musial chops. Of course, Nash The Slash was a genius! Screw your synths and sequencers! Give that man an electric mandolin and an echoplex and stand back! And even he went New Wave after leaving FM [wisely] as well! Played with Gary Numan after he couldn’t rope in Billy Currie any more! And the bottom line? My friends were right to champion Rush when I [wrongly] considered them Old News amid the hubbub of New Wave. At least you started with what I consider a classic of theirs! I tried earlier stuff which probably set me off on a worse foot; hence my bad attitude for some years.
Now that I think about it, you may have seen the “Grace Under Pressure” 1984 tour instead of/as well as the “Signals” 1982 tour. Lakeland Civic Center with Krokus opening, as I recall. Rush never had good opening acts, I guess! Did you go with Dirk? Note: King Crimson actually had some good lyrics amid the admitted faerie dust. The mid period with Bruford and Wetton was not bad at all and even SInfield had some winners.
RAHB! – It speaks volumes that even to the end of his career, Neil Peart, in spite of being the youngest drummer inducted into Modern Drummer’s Hall of Fame, was taking lessons right to the end! No coaster, he. Remember kids, world class talents like Robert Fripp and Neil Peart practiced and studied their craft constantly. They laugh at the “10,000 hours” scenario and are taking the long view.
Well, HECK, everyone was going New Wave, even Billy Joel….
“Prog is HARD WORK! These twits on MTV are pulling in the cash (and chix!) just doing AABA over 2 chords, with mebbe some poncy lyrics about alienation or someat thrown in?!? Screw prog, we’re a New Wave band now!”.
I (possibly with a bit of cynicism) imagine that’s how many of this “changes of artistic direction” actually came about :)
I admit I find most prog to be intolerable these days, but it’s hard to tell whether my tastes have improved, or just changed, or I’ve simply become too lazy to make the effort – I also used to enjoy a variety of classical composers who find annoying now. Mozart gets under my skin, Bach grates for the most part. I still enjoy Haydn and a few others but much of my collection sits gathering dust.
The ONLY prog-ish things I still play with any regularity are Lizard, the various 80s era King Crimson albums, and by far most importanly Close to the Edge. The latter is (to my mind) the final statement needed by prog, and everything afterward (by Yes, ELP, or anyone else) was either gilding the lily (if you’re being nice) or extraneous surplusage if not. King Crimson, alone and only, get a gracious exception from the latter statement, simply because… well fuck, it’s Robert Fripp and he’s God and can do no wrong and that’s that!
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RAHB! – While I have 2 different CD editions of the only Yes album in the Record Cell, 1980’s “Drama,” I still need one of “Close To the Edge.” The rest are superfluous. “Drama” may be my favorite Yes album, but “Close To The Edge” is the one for the ages.” “Lizard” is indeed a spectacular KC release. My favorite of the first three. But I’d rank “Lark’s Tongues In Aspic,” “Starless + Bible Black,” and “Red” as even better than the 80s trilogy [though “Discipline” bests any one of them]. Do you have copies? Bruford!
Heh, that was I guess my point really, I have all these things that I KNOW are “brilliant”/”classics”/”werks of ARRHHT”/”best of breed”/etc. But what I FIND myself actually LISTENING to – that is, when I walk into the living room and flip through my library, and see literally years of music available to be played, and say “Hmm, none of this is grabbing me – OH WAIT, what about ‘Close to the Edge’ (or ‘Lizard’), (again)”? It’s the “gravitation” thing rather than “conscious assessment of relative worth” you might say. I know 2nd KC trilogy is “better” in many regards, but they’re also darker/harsher/”more brittle” mebbe, and I don’t get quiiiite the same pleasure from listening to them (though I do get plenty, don’t get me wrong), so when my gut speaks…
Anywho: Horse -> Dead -> Buried :)
Hrm, … almost dead. I should mention I’ve also been pulling out 666 (Aphrodite’s Child) a fair bit in recent times. Certainly Prog by anyone’s measuring stick, but so bizarrely different (“Greek Prog?!?”) as to not leave that “we tried too hard but still just sound like more of the same” taste in your mouth you get from most late-period material in the genre…
And your mention of Black Noise was much appreciated – I hadn’t thought of it in too long and now I’m jonesing hard!
RAHB! – Wow. “Aphrodite’s Child?” Using the “hard stuff” I see? My Prog Phase didn’t last long enough for me to grow into obscure EuroProg outside of the UK “Mainstream Prog” [Yes, Genesis, ELP, King Crimson, Pink Floyd] axis. Hell, I still have not heard any “Canterbury Prog” music, other than the latest Dave Stewart + Barbara Gaskin album, which I think, qualifies. If Ron Kane were here; he’d no doubt chime in about the ItaloProg that I’ve never heard. Plus, I was too young/broke to get into things that obscure at a that young of an age. Going mano-a-mano with import New Wave when I was 17 probably couldn’t have happened any younger for me as I had no siblings. I just stumbled through the period.
I only got CD of “Lizard” in the last 20 years, but I’m all the richer for it! How fortunate we were to have heard as much of that album live as we have! [I would not have balked at “Happy Families,” personally…] When Mel Collins was re-introduced into the modern King Crimson lineup I was on high alert! You do have a valid thread notion with the whole “musical comfort food” thing guiding our listening choices. I could probably gut 70% of my collection but as long as I had the first seven Simple Minds albums, I’d be as happy as a clam.
You do own a CD of “Black Noise,” yes? I have the first 1993 CAN CD that Cameron Hawkins issues with a remaster from unplayed vinyl [topnotch, though] since the masters could not be found. There have been further issues of the CD in the USA in 1994, the UK/JAPAN in 2014, and another CAN in 2014. Dunno if the later issues were from a safety master or not. And for those who care, there is a strong Rush/FM bond with Rush eventually signing the band to their own Anthem label in Canada. FM’s second album was produced by Terry Brown who did a long tour of duty with Rush.
Thanks for an interesting article on Rush, I have heard “moving pictures ” once and filed it away and I am too long in the tooth now to go back and listen to their back catalogue. I have still got a soft spot for prog, I still play “lamb lies down”, ” Starless and bible black” and my all time fave prog album “UK”. I also consider “Phil Manzanera’s solo stuff a bit progy, “Quiet Sun”, “Listen Now ” etc and his 2 latest live albums are really good.
A while ago, in a record shop, searching through the prog section the owner had put Bill Nelson’s Red Noise album “Sound on Sound” in , I mean , is that prog?
The CD ” The best prog album in the world ever” has got a Be Bop Deluxe track on it ….?
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Ade.W – “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” was a CD my wife picked up in Canada and it’s the Genesis album to have if you’re only having one. “Starless + Bible Black” is often my favorite King Crimson album. But I’ve never heard UK to this day. It’s worth pointing out that my friend Mr. Ware rates it highly and what does it, “Starless” and RAHB’s cited “Close To The Edge” have in common? The mighty Bill Bruford, of course! I will mention that I recently bought a copy of Eddie Johnson’s “Zinc” [which I had been curious about since its release] and it was a listen that was right on the dotted line between pleasure and pain that ultimately, I decided to flip it after a single listen.
Trust me. One way or another you need a copy of the U.K. debut. The last great prog record of the classic era. Not only for the mighty Bruford, but Alan Holdsworth’s superb guitar work was not that far removed from the mighty Fripp.
Mr. Ware – Oh, I do trust you!And John Wetton was not yet chopped liver. That happened in 1981.
I am in the mood to be sacrilegious, so I will make two statements:
1) “Danger Money” is the best U.K. album, far more engaging than the debut. In recent years I have obtained Japanese paper sleeve copies of all three U.K. albums, and neither age nor time has altered my view of these records.
2) I am a diehard lifelong Genesis fan, but “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” is highly overrated. The classic wisdom regarding two record sets applies: it would have trimmed down to a nice single album.
Mark Moerman – The ONLY UK I have ever heard was an FM Rock® radio ad for “Danger Money” that my 41 year memory of it said was rather faceless. I can remember the title phrase used in the song’s chorus and the overall vibe. Barely. Part of the pleasure I find in “Lamb” is the sprawling aspect, but then again, my favorite Clash album was “Sandinista!” so there you are!
Nice article Monk. I would never class myself as a Rush fan but hearing some of their eighties output at the end of that decade led me to buy ‘Presto’ and the live album ‘A Show Of Hands’. Both enjoyable listens. I really should buy more of their eighties output. I’ve heard that their later stuff isn’t up to much though. Neil Peart was an excellent drummer. A big loss.
To me, “Signals” is the best example of a “70s” band’s foray into new wave sounds…including Alice Cooper, King Crimson, Yes, etc, and possibly even Bowie (though he had already done it and moved on by 1982). Even without that qualifier, it’s a great IMO, with “Subdivisions” being my absolute favorite Rush song.
zoo – “Subdivisions” is a killer great track! It’s one of my top five Rush songs. I can imagine a even more teched up cover by Front Line Assembly, actually.
Nice article! I love eighties Rush (except, oddly enough, for Signals, though “Subdivisions” may be my favorite Rush song) – I think they were at their most experimental in that time, and their most melodic. I’m a fan of old school Rush as well (2112 onward, at least – not interested in the Zep wannabe years), but these are my favorite years. I’m very fond of Power Windows and saw them on that tour – the only time I ever saw them, alas. Over the years, Grace Under Pressure has become my go-to, along with the song “Far Cry” from Snakes & Arrows (check it out), but I played Windows to death back in the day. I also highly recommend Clockwork Angels – it hearkens back to their 70s heyday in many ways, but they hadn’t forgotten the lessons they learned in the 80s. Great way to go out. RIP Neil.
Michael Toland – Welcome to the comments! I did get “Clockwork Angels” a few months before Neil died and finally got around to listening to it shortly after typing this post. A little diffuse for the two listens I gave it but I do recall some all-time jaw-dropping riffola in the mix. Still very content to have the 1980-1992 run intact, with the handful of odd bits like the Geddy Lee solo album, the cover EP, “Clockwork Angels” and…”Fly By Night?!” My wife still wants a copy of the debut to hear “Working Man!” One of her teen faves from her WMMS daze.