Manhattan Project

Background and Commentary

“The focus is on the awesome wonder that human beings could effect so great a feat as marshaling the elemental powers of the cosmos, atomic energy, for human use. Evil or tragic, perhaps; great with the hubris of fallen Lucifer, it may be, but great and Olympian nonetheless.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

“I wanted to write about the birth of the nuclear age. Well, easier said than done, especially when writing lyrics. You’ve got a couple of hundred words to say what you want to say. So, each word counts, and each word had better be accurate. I had found I was having to go back and read histories of the time and place, biographies of all the people involved—having to read a dozen books and collate all your knowledge and experience just so you can write, you know, if it says the scientists were in the desert sands. Well, make sure they were and why, and all that.” (Profiled!)—Neil in Merely Players

“It wasn’t easy to ‘sell’ the notion of a historical rock song, even to my bandmates. But it was Geddy, thinking as a singer, who suggested that I construct the song so the listener was invited to imagine the scene. ‘Imagine a time . . . Imagine a man . . .'”—Neil in Far and Away

“The title was taken from Midcentury by John Dos Passos, which in turn was taken from the name of the project that built the atomic bomb that was dropped on Japan.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

The piece “marks a return to a more cinematic style. And, of course, there is the aural pleasure of an orchestra playing Rush. . . . The band could not stop laughing as they watched classical musicians playing their material.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“‘Manhattan Project’ mirrors ‘Distant Early Warning’ from Grace Under Pressure in nuclear pursuit (although not focusing on the obvious but rather on the extraordinary minds behind the weaponry). It also mirrors the lay-low riff, building prechorus and then explosive, rock-out chorus.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

Musically, Geddy says the song is a good example of how the band changed the dynamics of its sound when it started working with Peter Collins. For example, there are no guitar and bass parts in certain sections of the song. “We tried to make this record with bolder strokes,” he told Guitar World magazine in a 1986 interview. “We pulled things out, but tried never to lose the focus of the trio. In ‘Manhattan Project’ on verse one and verse three it’s vocals, drums, and keyboards. This is not a typical thing for this band. Let’s pull the bass and guitar out? How can you do this to a Rush song? But it worked and I loved the effect of it.”—Geddy in Guitar World


Imagine a time when it all began
In the dying days of a war
A weapon that would settle the score
Whoever found it first would be sure to do their worst
They always had before

Imagine a man where it all began
A scientist pacing the floor
In each nation, always eager to explore
To build the best big stick
To turn the winning trick
But this was something more

The big bang took and shook the world
Shot down the rising sun
The end was begun and it hit everyone
When the chain reaction was done
The big shots tried to hold it back
Fools tried to wish it away
The hopeful depend on a world without end
Whatever the hopeless may say

Imagine a place where it all began
Gathered from across the land
To work in the secrecy of the desert sand
All of the brightest boys
To play with the biggest toys
More than they bargained for


Imagine a man when it all began
The pilot of “Enola Gay”
Flying out of the shockwave on that August day
All the powers that be, and the course of history
Would be changed forevermore

Tablature (bass)

By Don Dianetti (

Excerpted from Ultimate Guitar.

w h+Q e w h+e q e w h+Q e w h+Q e w e h+Q w+ w

e e e e e e e e 4x e e e e e e e e 4x e e e e e e e e 4x

e e e e e e e e 3x e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e 3x e e e

e e e e e e e e e e e e e 3x e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e 4x

e e e e e e e e 4x Q e e e e e e e e e e e
||——————-||-13mm |-r———–|———————–|
||*—————–*||-rest |-e———–|-10-10-10-10-10-10—–|

For complete tab, go to Ultimate Guitar.


“Manhattan Project” guitar cover

“Manhattan Project” bass cover (with keyboards)

“Manhattan Project” drum cover

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~ by rvkeeper on February 7, 2011.

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