Seven Cities of Gold: Background


The piece sits at “6 0’clock” on the Clockwork Angels clock, and relates to the hieroglyphic rune for gold. Neil credits Southern Gothic writer Cormac McCarthy for ideas in the piece. McCarthy is best known for No Country for Old Men, the novel on which the Academy Award-winning film is based. “I’d read a lot of history from the southwestern part of the U.S. and that figured into the story of the explorer Coronado, who kept going out into the desert to find the fabled cities of gold,” Neil says in a 2012 Classic Rock interview.

“The Seven Cities of Gold always fascinated me,” Neil says in a June 12, 2012, Rolling Stone interview. “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.”

There was an immediate marriage of words and music in this piece, says Neil. “As a general thing, Geddy would listen back to their jams and note the most compelling bits, then assemble them into a random arrangement. Only then did he turn to the pile of lyrics I had sent, to see if anything wanted to go with that music. Sometimes, as with ‘Seven Cities of Gold,’ there was an immediate spark of connection. As Alex relates, ‘We talked about having a raucous beginning that related to the middle “solo” section, all feedback and crazy, and as the song evolved it took on the appropriate character; entering the city with all the wild, dangerous sensory experience it offers.'”

Alex and Geddy had “a good six minutes” when they came up with this song, Alex says in a MusicRadar interview. “We so got into this one. It started in the pre-studio writing stage, right when we were catching up and reviewing things at Ged’s place in September. We had some songs, but we wanted to get a few more things written before going into the studio in October. We spent the first week just drinking coffee and throwing the idea around that maybe we weren’t ready to record. I remember we went downstairs and didn’t really do anything for a couple of days, except drink more coffee and talk. And then we had what we call our ‘good six minutes.’ That’s all you need, a good six minutes a day. From there, the song took off. We started with the whole feedback thing, which is pretty cool. The idea was to do something from the hip and get real snarky and strident. It’s also very cinematic: You can hear the danger of the big city as our traveler approaches. Then when Neil comes in and we break out the riff, you’re there––you’re in the city with all of its excitement and opportunity and trouble. The song has a swagger to it. It turned out exactly as I envisioned. I love the end . . . the guitar squealing and spitting as you leave the city.”

Producer Nick Raskulinecz in a MusicRadar interview says the ending part of the piece is something that wasn’t brought out in the song originally: “Where the drums and the rhythm section fade out and you’re left with those big, beautiful guitar chords, that was in the mix.”

“Lifeson’s guitar breathes fire straight off – his first riff is Hendrixian in spirit – with Lee and Peart catching up for this devilish workout, underpinned by urgent keyboards and Lee’s dark-toned vocals. Seven Cities Of Gold contains nods to Rush’s past, but the whole thing feels incredibly alive and vital, with a dazzling assortment of riffs that dodge and weave, rise and fall. The middle section is a sea of psychedelia – it’s not outwardly trippy or retro, but it’s disorienting, the aural equivalent of the light show in 2001: A Space Odyssey. A mind-blower, and by the end, all three members are kicking up major dirt.”—Joe Bosso, MusicRadar

“The breather is indeed brief as ‘Seven Cities Of Gold’, quite probably the standout track from Clockwork Angels, sees Alex Lifeson once again bringing the hammer down. Slower than anything from the first half of the album, it heads towards the land of doom with yet another rip-roaring riff and dark menace aplenty. Another soaring solo in the middle eight, and is quite possibly the pick of the bunch; as a result of the new writing process for this album, a lot of the music has a loose, improvised, almost jazzy, feel to it, and ‘Seven Cities Of Gold’ is the most exhilarating example of this.”—Dominic Hemy, The Digital Fix

“’Seven Cities of Gold’” is quite simply superb. With Geddy Lee issuing a funk bass without mercy, add to it a soaring riff, this song is like something from the first album, with a late 70s feel. It’s a dominating, towering piece, that is the best thus far by some distance.”—Rob Palladino, Audio Times

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~ by rvkeeper on May 23, 2012.

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