Rush has one distinguishing feature which puts them in an elite group including such musical greats as Neil Young
, Joni Mitchell
, Gordon Lightfoot
and The Guess Who
: they're Canadian. ::rimshot:: Thanks, I'll be here all week. But seriously, folks...
Rush is one of the most eclectic and, true to their genre, progressive bands of all time. While every band has their contingent of loyal fans who will claim that their band is the best, most will acknowledge that the Beatles or the Rolling Stones were probably really the best band of all time. There is, however, an unusually large number of people who honestly believe that Rush is the greatest band in music history. It could be that this is because of their undeniable musical talent, or their penchant for original songs, both musically and lyrically, or perhaps due to their longevity or their fantastic live performances... or it could be all of these.
Rush was founded in 1969 by Geddy Lee (vocals, bass and keyboard), Alex Lifeson (guitars) and John Rutsey (drums) as a cover band, drawing from British Blues greats Cream and the Yardbirds as well as the roots of metal in the form of The Who and Led Zeppelin. They began experimenting with their own sound and gradually became one of the premier rock groups of the Toronto scene with a reputation for excellent live shows. The Toronto scene, however, is every bit as insignificant as it sounds. Very few rock bands that stayed in Canada remained successful up to that point. Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Robbie Robertson all had to venture into the U.S. to reach true stardom.
Released on the independent Moon Records label, Rush's eponymous debut album was an accurate representation of the band's rocking live sound. Tracks like Finding My Way and Working Man both exemplify the band's early dynamic which earned them the reputation of being Canada's first serious metal band. To this day, Working Man is the only song I have heard that genuinely sound like Jimmy Page and isn't. Impressive as this is, the band still had not quite developed its own unique sound, though Geddy Lee's spirited and, above all, high-pitched lyrics made them, at the very least, distinct.
Thanks to the largely word-of-mouth success of this album, the band began playing gigs across the border with ZZ Top and was soon signed to a major recording label, Mercury Records. Original drummer John Rutsey's health began to falter and he was forced to bow out of the band and was replaced by the talented Neil Peart. Peart brought to the band both his considerable drumming skills and his talents as a song-writer and quickly became the band's creative leader. Their next release continued in the band's heavy metal vein, but with a more art rock flair, contributed by Peart, in the style of Pink Floyd and King Crimson. Their subsequent album, Caress of Steel, began to further demonstrate the band's progressive tendencies, as their songs assumed more complex structures and drew more and more on literary and science fiction-inspired themes.
The band's first major breakthrough came with their 1976 release, 2112. This album told the tale of a futuristic world where a hero leads a musical coup d'etat. 2112 was inspired and shaped by Ayn Rand's principles of free will and the power of the individual. It cemented the band's position as one of the leaders of progressive rock and became a classic of the genre. The band followed with their two most commercially successful records yet, A Farewell To Kings and Hemispheres, both of which tended more towards shorter, more radio-friendly songs, like Closer to the Heart, rather than 2112's epic 20 minute style. The band's success led them to be awarded the official titles of Ambassadors of Music by the Canadian government.
2112, A Farewell To Kings and Hemispheres became the centerpieces of the band's increasingly dramatic live performances. Their common themes of post-apocalyptic worlds allowed the band to link them closely together and develop a complicated and very visually impressive concert motif, featuring elaborate visuals, lasers and extended sets of narrative music. All this and Lifeson's powerful, virtuosic guitar sound, Lee's complex, layered bass and Peart's extraordinary drumming made Rush one of the most exciting live bands around.
Despite all this success, Rush decided it was time to change the band's sound. They felt they had exhausted the creative potential of the concept album and turned to more FM-oriented pop rock, with Lee's impressive synthesizer work taking center stage. In this format, they released Permanent Waves in 1980 and Moving Pictures in 1981, which produced some of the bands most memorable hits: Spirit of the Radio, Tom Sawyer and Limelight. After this, though the band still regularly played to arena venues packed to the gills with die-hard fans, the band's albums became steadily less original and the band's new material was not quite so thrilling.
The band agreed to take a breather in 1994 and pursued other projects. Geddy Lee produced albums by Boys Brigade and SCTV's Great White North album with Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas. Alex Lifeson has performed with his own band, Victor, and has played at the Kumbaya Festival as well as guest starring on the albums of many other artists. Neil Peart has apparently biked around the world several times in the interim. Tragedy struck in '97 and '98 when Peart's daughter died in a car accident and his wife died of cancer the following year. The band has released Test For Echo in the mid-90s, but took another extended extended hiatus to allow them a time to heal. In 2002, they released Vapor Trails, their strongest album in many years and began an American tour complete with all the lasers and dramatic visuals their fans have come to expect and, of course, their timeless music.
During their long and prolific recording career, Rush has released 25 records, 23 of which have all gone gold consecutively. They were named Group of the Decade in Canada for the 1980s. They have been made Officers of the Order of Canada. They have received Grammy nominations for best rock instrumental twice, for YYZ and Where's My Thing, but perhaps most importantly, they have won the hearts and minds of many a devoted fan.
Rush - Chronicles album sleeve