Sunday, 28 February 2021


In my late teens, in the late seventies, I knew several boys who were really into Rush, mocking my punk taste, telling me that Rush were the real thing. I was not convinced at all, and it is only recently that I have paid them any attention at all....

A Retrospective (1974-1980)

As it happens, I have enjoyed my recent dabbling in their early career, they were an appealing bridge between prog and heavy rock. They had several side-long suites of music, prog-style, some lengthy instrumental workouts and their lyrics were on the weird-pretentious side. They also boasted, however, the powerhouse drumming of Neil Peart, some really great rock guitar riffing from Alex Lifeson and singer Geddy Lee’ s typically heavy rock high-pitched vocal. The latter is a bit irritating at times, like that of Journey’s Steve Perry. They had an ear for a rousing, anthemic  tune and a catchy melody too that has meant that whenever I have come across one of their tracks in a prog or heavy rock playlist I have enjoyed them.

So, were they prog or were they rock? This early stuff is their most proggy, but there is a pure, essential heavy rock power to their work that makes them a rock band with proggy inclinations, for me. What makes their stuff sound good to me are the pounding drums and the rock guitar. So, although I have pigeonholed them as prog I realise that is something that can be debated. They certainly went on to be a big stadium rock band in the eighties.

Highlights are the irresistibly rousing, Journey-like The Spirit Of Radio; the acoustic-heavy rock mix of The Trees; the lengthy but exciting instrumental edits of longer suites in La Vila Strangiato and 2112 and the powerful and captivating riffy rock of  Bastille Day

Also impressive are the short but rocking Closer To The Heart and the dignified grind of Something For Nothing. To be honest, there is something to be enjoyed in all the tracks, usually a blistering guitar solo or some relentless drumming.

Rush (1974)

This was Canadian rockers Rush’s debut, and a storming one it was too, leaning firmly to the hard rock side of things as opposed to the prog - I have always been more of a rocker than a proggy. The album did not include legendary drummer Neil Peart, though, and this is seen by some as a negative point, although John Rutsey’s drumming sounds great to me.  

Finding My Way is wonderful riffy rock, with Deep Purple meets Bad Company-style guitars topped off with Robert Plant-esque vocals. I seriously love the big, chunky, hard-rockin’ sound on this. The guitar soloing is awesome too as is the rubbery bass. Great stuff all round. Need Some Love rocks in frantic, almost punky fashion and, although Geddy Lee’s vocal is a bit stereotypically heavy rock in that high-pitched style, it suits these songs. This is simply proper mid-seventies rock of the highest order. Take A Friend is also very Led Zeppelin-esque, particularly in the vocal and guitar departments.

Here Again is a seven minute slow burner once more with heavy Zeppelin overtones. The guitar, bass and drum sound in here is just fantastic, in my view. Love it. The same can be said of the robust riffery of What You’re Doing, which rocks like buggery, as they say. In The Mood is upbeat and extremely catchy, the tempo not letting up for one second.

Before And After is one of those totally sumptuous heavy rock ballads, that, while heavy, have a melody and delicateness of touch that is really appealing. Half way through, though, the song breaks out into some glorious heavy rocking. More of that can be found on the Lynyrd Skynyrd-influenced rock behemoth of Working Man, which was one of the first songs from the band to come to people’s attention. It was a real tour de force, so its popularity is unsurprising.

I am not sure why this great rock album has remained unheralded for years. For me, it is one of the best seventies hard rock albums and an impressive debut.

Fly By Night (1975)

On this, Rush’s second album, from 1975, new drummer Neil Peart brought with him the prog rock instincts that would go on to serve the band so well over so many subsequent years. The album still contained some serious hard rocking, but there were also signs of a proggy desire for variety.

Anthem has some great riffs and rolling drums and provides more of the rock power that had been showcased on the debut album. Best I Can continues that same tradition on a frantic rocker that is pretty damn difficult to resist. Beneath, Between & Behind is also from the same mould, demonstrating more unbridled rock power - the pictures on my walls are shaking with the power.

Now is the point that the prog tradition of creating a lengthy song from several smaller ones begins for Rush, on the innovative and enjoyable By-Tor & The Snow Dog. They would go on to compose many more “suites” like this as they became more associated with prog. To be fair, though, this plays as one whole, without the changes of tempo that prog was getting known for, well not until about five minutes in, at least, when we enter a quiet, tranquil, instrumental passage. I guess this is where things start to dramatically change from the all-out, barnstorming rock of the previous album.

Fly By Night merges a strong rock sound with a slightly Genesis-like ear for a quirky melody - something in its staccato vocal delivery. Making Memories sees acoustic guitar used for the first real time, before a beautifully heavy and warm bass and drum sound bursts out, making it a short but extremely pleasant number.

Fully acoustic is the beautiful, folky ballad Rivendell, showing a real change from the first album, and the closer, In The End, is also a slow Zeppelin-style number at the beginning, before some huge grandiose riffing comes back, also in a very LZ fashion. You would think it was Stairway To Heaven’s denouement. So, while this album starts off rocking in a fast and furious way, its second half shows a willingness to adopt other styles, methods of composition and instrumentation. This would be the way things would progress for Rush.

Caress Of Steel (1975)

This is the point that Rush really started to go prog. Personally I preferred their shorter, more up-and-at-'em kick-ass rocking songs, but their longer compositions all have their moments.

Bastille Day is a great riffy rocker with one of those high-pitched vocals that so many heavy metal bands' vocalists would approximate over subsequent years. It has a nice bass line too in the middle as well as carrying one hell of a rock thump to it. Good track. I Think I'm Going Bald really is about going bald and thus is lyrically ridiculous, but once again it is a powerful rocker. The third shorter track is also a goodie - the infectious groove of Lakeside Park, which has a very vague reggae-funk feel to its beat. Check out the great rumbling but melodic bass on this. 

Then we get the prog - the extended suites of The Necromancer and The Fountain Of Lamneth, complete with proggy titles. I find when these tracks split into their various passages, they may as well be different tracks - the excellent riffy and melodic last part of The Necromancer, for example, (check out that great guitar solo too) but suites were de rigeur in the early to mid seventies, weren't they? The same principle applies - even more so - on the twenty minutes of the Zeppelin-esque The Fountain Of Lamneth, it simply changes in tempo too many times for my liking. That said, you can't beat the riffy bit around thirty minutes in. Sometimes Rush just hit a run, musically, and they are great, this is one of those times. There is some good stuff on this album in both its shorter and longer songs, but I have to come down on the side of the shorter numbers.

Rush carried on in this vein for several years, releasing albums containing longer suites together with shorter, rock numbers, progressing to gain a large "stadium rock" audience in the eighties. 

Three of their most popular albums from the late seventies-early eighties are shown below. All of them are enjoyable and listenable in their own way but they are not albums close enough to me to justify really in-depth reviews. The later of the three, Moving Pictures, is the most eighties-style heavy rock of them, while 2112 is probably the one I like the best. 

2112 (1976)

Notable for its superb, lengthy multi-passage opener,
2112, one of my favourites of the band's tracks, despite its side-long length. Lordy mama - those killer riffs and those drums - great stuff. Yes, I accept that it does go on way too long (proper Rush aficionados will no doubt disagree). The problem with these suites is that they simply change tempo too many times  - but these guys could play, couldn't they? They proved themselves to be three of rock's great instrumentalists. Lyrically, however, a few heavy rock stereotypes are give free rein -

"We are the priests of the Temples of Syrinx
All the gifts of life are held within our walls..."

Back then, I found it hard to separate Rush from clichés like this. Now, I can accept them because the sheer rock power between eleven and fourteen minutes of 2112 is so barnstormingly good. I prefer Rush when they rock more succinctly, though, as indeed they do on the remainder of the album but the trend was set here for long, multi-passage "prog" tracks (or track) to form half an album, while the other half rocked with shorter songs.

The afore-mentioned "other tracks" are all sub-four minute ones, including the very Deep Purple-esque a Passage To Bangkok, with its superb mid-song guitar solo, the Thin Lizzy-ish and attractive The Twilight Zone, the very Led Zeppelin III vibe of the acoustic-driven Lessons, the gentle, mainly acoustic ballad Tears and the stately but pounding heavy rock of Something For Nothing. All these songs are good ones. This was a fine heavy rock album, and one which provided a nice mix of the long and the short of the group's compositions on its two distinct sides. It showcases the band at their seventies peak. I am only disappointed that it has taken me around forty-five years to properly appreciate it. The sound on it is fantastic too - warm, clear and bassy, as it should be.

Hemispheres (1978)

On to one of Rush's most popular offerings....

Released at the height of punk and new wave, this was a classic four track piece of proggy indulgence - acknowledged on the title of the otherwise excellent final track, La Villa Strangiato (An Exercise In Self-Indulgence). Check out the pretentious cover too - most un-1978. 

Yes, Cygnus is full of prog and extended heavy rock musical and lyrical stereotypes but that should not detract from the fact that it is crammed full of great drums and guitar. I know it goes on a bit (just a bit!) but some of the rock contained therein is just top notch. Geddy Lee's strangled, high-pitched yelp of a vocal is a bit much at times, however. The brief pauses between passages of music on suites like this virtually turn them into separate songs, it has to be said. I mentioned the mix of acoustic and heavy rock of The Trees on my review of the band's retrospective compilation. Circumstances is a classic, short Rush rock number, full of killer riffs. I really like Rush when they rock like this. 

As with a surprising number of albums, this was totally incongruous when compared with much contemporary 1978 material, but many people didn't give a damn and loved it.

Moving Pictures (1981)

This is the most popular of Rush's "stadium rock" albums, and, while extremely enjoyable, has a somewhat homogenous uniformity of sound - a slightly tinny eighties rock sound. To be honest, and surprisingly, I find myself preferring the proggy albums. Listening to it a few times, though, I find I warm to it with each play.

Tom Sawyer is a robust, muscular opener, though, with some powerful, innovative, rolling drums and chunky riffs. It features a fine keyboard solo too. In 1981 this sort of thing was very much in another world to what I was listening to, but I stick it on now and can find myself really enjoying it. Red Barchetta is equally strong, with a bit of a later-era Deep Purple-Whitesnake feel to it. YYZ is a kick-ass guitar-bass-drum lively instrumental. Limelight is both riffy and melodic, its riff sounding vaguely like Blue Öyster Cult's Don't Fear The Reaper at times.

The Camera Eye is the album's one nod to the old proggy lengthy track thing, but it plays out pretty well over its ten minutes, featuring some good slow riffage. Witch Hunt is a bit chugging but Vital Signs ends the album well with a slightly white reggae-sounding number.

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