Background and commentary

Imre2 165 lines, 165 song meanings

Fancy Dancer

This piece is among the handful that Rush played during its Toronto bar days in the early 1970s before Neil replaced John Rutsey on drums. Others of the period include “Garden Road,” “You Can’t Fight It,” and some cover tunes, including Larry Williams’ “Bad Boy,” best known for the version recorded by The Beatles.

At the bars (Larry’s Hideaway, The Piccadilly Tube, The Colonial, Abbey Road), the band started “to build a loyal following of older fans and some even started to request individual songs like ‘Fancy Dancer’ and ‘Garden Road,’ both bar-room favorites never released on record. . . . Geddy was playing a Fender bass with two Sunn twin 15-inch cabinets, Alex used two Marshall four-by-twelve cabinets, with a 50-watt head and a makeshift pedal board incorporating a phaser, echoplex and crybaby wah-wah. John would bash away on his blue Gretsch drum kit: two bass drums, two tom toms, two floor toms and a snare.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

Lyrically, “Fancy Dancer” is along the same lines as the pieces that were eventually recorded for the band’s debut album. The piece talks about a love gone bad. “The woman was all to me / Yeah, she left me feeling misery.”

The piece starts out with thumping drum and guitar. Geddy sings the blues in his highest register. Alex has called this and other songs of the period riffy songs that don’t survive the test of time. But you do hear indications of where they ended up going on their debut album and on Fly by Night.

Run Willie Run

The piece “Run Willie Run” is mentioned periodically in interviews with Alex and Geddy as one of the originals they played in the early 1970s, before Neil replaced John Rutsey on drums.

It’s something of a Southern R&B tune about a young guy who’s running from the law. “What you gonna do when the sun come up? Where you gonna go where the law won’t find you?”

It’s about three stanzas long, with lyrics along those lines throughout.

In a video that looks like it dates back to the late-1960s or early 1970s, Alex is playing the piece on an acoustic guitar, while one of his friends is dancing around and singing the lyrics in a kind of imitation Southern drawl. Other friends look on.—Rush Vault

Garden Road

The piece has a simple hard-rock structure and vaguely alludes to finding happiness with an early love.

“Garden Road was last performed less than a month after Neil joined the band. In the 1988 “Rush Backstage Club Newsletter,” when asked why “Fancy Dancer” and “Garden Road” were never officially released, Neil replied, “Two original songs written before I joined the band? Well, why do you think we never recorded them?”—2112.net

At the bars (Larry’s Hideaway, The Piccadilly Tube, The Colonial, Abbey Road), the band started “to build a loyal following of older fans and some even started to request individual songs like ‘Fancy Dancer’ and ‘Garden Road,’ both bar-room favorites never released on record. . . . Geddy was playing a Fender bass with two Sunn twin 15-inch cabinets, Alex used two Marshall four-by-twelve cabinets, with a 50-watt head and a makeshift pedal board incorporating a phaser, echoplex and crybaby wah-wah. John would bash away on his blue Gretsch drum kit: two bass drums, two tom toms, two floor toms and a snare.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“‘Garden Road’ and ‘Fancy Dancer’ . . . never made the grade. ‘Yeah, they were sort of riffy songs,’ says Alex, ‘very repetitive, mostly 12-bar sorts of things. They wouldn’t have survived the test of time, I don’t think.'”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“Most of the material on the first album had existed for five years. The band had played it around bars and high schools in Ontario.”—Neil in Circus Magazine (1976), quoted in Merely Players

“September 1970. At shows, the band plays original songs like ‘Number One,’ ‘Keep in Line,’ ‘Run Willie Run,’ ‘Mike’s Idea,’ and ‘Tale,’ along with hits from heavy blues rock bands like Cream, Led Zeppelin, and The Who. They also debuted additional songs like ‘Sing Guitar,’ ‘Morning Star,’ ‘Marguerite,’ ‘Feel So Good,’ ‘Love Light,’ and ‘Garden Road.’—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Tapes of “Garden Road” and other early pieces might still be around. Alex in a late 2008 Modern Guitar interview with Skip Daly said he found a box in his home studio that might contain tapes of the band’s earliest pieces: “I was cleaning up the back room [of my home studio] and I just found a case that was way up on the top shelf, and at the bottom of this box were a bunch of reel-to-reel, unlisted, unmarked, recordings . . . and I can only imagine that they’re pre-’74. So, they would probably be from between ’70 and ’73 . . . recordings from that period. So, they would probably have songs like ‘Run Willie Run’ and ‘Slaughterhouse’ and ‘Garden Road,’ and all of those early songs that we wrote and played during our bar days.”—Blabbermouth.net

Bad Boy

“Bad Boy,” about a young rock and roll rebel, is a Larry Williams song with a boogie rock sound made popular by The Beatles, who recorded it in 1965. Larry Williams (1935-1980) was a rhythm and blues songwriter from New Orleans whose most influential song was Bony Moronie (covered by The Who and John Lennon).—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

“Rush featured the song in a Led Zeppelin–type arrangement during their early live shows. The Cleveland bootleg ‘New in Town’ features the song, as well as an extended solo from guitarist Alex Lifeson. Vocalist/bassist Geddy Lee introduces the song as being from the Beatles VI album. After 1974, the group no longer performed the song live.”—Wikipedia

“‘Bad Boy’ . . . got some airtime, actually right up until December 1974.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

Not Fade Away

The Rush version of “Not Fade Away,” a Buddy Holly piece, was their debut single, released in 1973. The B-side of this single, “You Can’t Fight It,” was the first original song Rush released, recorded under its own label, Moon Records, produced by David Stock (who later produced their debut album, although a good part of what he did was later reproduced by Terry Brown at the suggestion of manager Ray Danniels).—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

“We were having such a hard time getting a deal, our management thought that maybe something a little more accessible, possibly something already known, would be the way to go [for the debut single]. ‘Not Fade Away’ is something we’d been playing live, but we did it really heavy. We rocked it out, sort of the way Led Zeppelin might have. It was powerful and very full. We had a good time with it. By the time we recorded it, though, we lightened it up a little to make it more palatable for radio. This is the version that was to be on our debut album, but we ended up dropping it and rerecorded some of the other songs. Everything was done so quickly, and it didn’t really come out the way we wanted it to. But you know, we were 18, 19 years old. In our minds, we’d arrived. We’d made a record, which meant . . . we were recording artists.”—Alex on MusicRadar

“1973. ‘Not Fade away’ was recorded at Eastern Sound Studios. The logo and the registered company name [for the record] cost $400. Well-known distributors London Records agreed to distribute the 1,000 copies of the single, but it received no airplay.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“Nobody wanted to pick us up; they said we were too heavy, and there was no market for the music the band was playing. So all the record companies in Canada passed on us.”—Geddy in Guitar Player (1980), quoted in Merely Players

“‘Finding My Way’, ‘Need Some Love’ and, I think, ‘Here Again’ were the songs that we rerecorded for the record. So we dropped ‘Not Fade Away’, ‘Can’t Fight It’, and there may have been another one. . . ‘In The Mood’ was probably at least two years old, if not three, when we recorded the first record.”—Geddy in Contents Under Pressure

You Can’t Fight It

B-side original piece on the band’s first professional recording, in 1973, at Eastern Sound Studio in Toronto, David Stock producing. The A side featured a cover of Buddy Holly’s classic “Not Fade Away.”

“‘You Can’t Fight It’ actually figures prominently as Rush’s first original recording . . . on what is now a very collectible seven-inch single on the band’s own Moon Records.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“Geddy and John Rutsey wrote this one. I think it came about in 1971. It was a fun tune to play, especially in the bars late at night. We would never play it early in our show; we’d always do it in the second set or the last set, when everybody was feeling pretty spirited, in both senses of the word. I think the reason [we picked it for the first single] was because it was short. You had to be under three minutes to get on the radio in 1973, and ‘You Can’t Fight It’ fit. Like ‘Not Fade Away,’ I thought this recording was a little tame. I thought so then, and I’ve always thought so. But it’s what we did at the time. It was supposed to be on our first album, but we dropped it. I think we took off three or four songs that were going to be on the album.”—Alex on MusicRadar

“The B-side showed . . . the band as it sounded at the time and through the first album. Once the single was completed, Rush manager Ray Danniels took it around to just about every record company in Canada. But nobody would listen to it. In the early 1970s, few Canadian artists got record deals and those that did generally had a softer sound . . . The best offer Ray received was from London Records, who told him they wouldn’t sign the band but that if he formed his own label they would distribute the single. So for the cost of $400 and getting a record company logo made up and registering the company, Rush became a band with a single to their credit. The disc, featuring a Moon Records label, sold a few copies in Toronto, but received no airplay. Ray and Vic Wilson (who formed SRO Productions, an artist management company, with Ray) thought the single would pave the way for a major record deal. They were wrong.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

Finding My way

“‘Finding My Way’ [which replaced the Buddy Holly cover ‘Not Fade Away’ on the debut album] is a prime example of early 1970s hard rock, with prototype Rush guitar and bass attack. It features a highlight in Geddy’s screeching, ‘Sang some sad songs.'”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

The song “is the most Led Zeppelin-like of the debut album’s composition, Geddy trying out the odd “ooh yeah” over a drumless verse.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“The first track on the first album, this is the recording the band chose to give first impressions.”—John Swenson, “Rush Chronicles”

“Dave Marsden [whose influence at radio station CFNY in Toronto inspired the Rush hit ‘The Spirit of Radio’] used to play ‘Finding My Way’ before the rerelease, as the Moon record.”—Alex in Contents Under Pressure

The song was the first one the band heard played on the radio. “Geddy said he will never forget hearing himself on the radio for the first time. ‘It really freaked me out when DJ David Marsden played ‘Finding My way’ on CHUM-FM.’ Marsden got an unusual phone call that day. ‘My request lines were ringing and I believe in talking to the people, so I picked up the phone with Rush playing and the voice said, “David, how are you doing? It’s Alex calling.” My reply, “Okay, Alex, what do you want to hear?” and Alex said, “No, I just wanted to thank you for playing our record. It’s the very first time I’ve heard it on the radio.” CHUM-FM continued to play the dsc. It also got air time in Montreal, but that was about it for radio.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

After the release of the debut album, Rush opened for ZZ Top at the Allen Theater in Cleveland. “We opened with ‘Finding My Way’ and the crowd went crazy! They obviously knew the material. We got an encore, and before we could go back up for a second encore, somebody ordered te lights turned up.”—Alex in Rush Visions

Need Some Love

“‘Need Some Love’ . . . [is] a bit more dated [than some of the other songs on the debut album], something closer to what U.K. and U.S. boogie rockers of the day might have written.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

The piece was one (along with “Finding My Way,” “Here Again,” among others) that had to be re-recorded.

“We worked with this guy named David [Stock] . . . He was from England, a nice enough guy and everything, and he had an engineering background, but he did such a horrible job . . . the drums were out of phase, and I think they were recorded on just two tracks. Things were missing, the sounds were awful, and it was just a real mess.”—Alex in Contents Under Pressure

Boogie rock is a music genre which came out of the hard heavy blues-rock of the late 1960s. It tends to feature a repetitive driving rhythm in place of instrumental experimentation found in the more progressive blues-rock bands of the period. Boogie rockers concentrate on the groove, working a steady, chugging back beat, often in shuffle time. Boogie rock can be considered the upbeat form of blues-rock. One of the first bands to popularize the genre worldwide was Canned Heat. The main distinction between bookie rock bands is their instrumental attack. The band that came to become synonymous with the term was Status Quo. The genre reached the height of its popularity in the mid to late 1970s.—From the Wikipedia Boogie Rock page.

Take a Friend

The song can be taken in one of two ways: either as a straight-ahead ode to the value of friendship or as a come-on, albeit one in which the narrator uses good English: “Well, you need a friend / Someone on whom you can always depend.”—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

“Most of the lyrics we had [on the debut album and prior] were just what rhymed.”—John Rutsey in Rush Visions

“The song starts quiet until it gradually makes it way to full gear. Geddy’s voice sounds especially good on this track, and there is some great guitar work on this song by Lifeson. This song is a bit more laidback compared to the previous two songs [‘Finding My Way’ and ‘Need Some Love’]. Take A Friend is a very good song, but doesn’t stand out, just keeps the flow of the album going.—Sputnik Music

Here Again

“Here Again,” a 12-bar blues piece that closes the first side of the debut album, “shows the band trying to stretch out a bit. A slower tempo and an effort to bring the dynamics of the song up, down, and then up again. It’ s a sign of things to come.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

Alex wrote the lyrics. “The funny thing was, John [Rutsey] was the lyricist in the band, and he wouldn’t submit the lyrics for any of these songs [in preparation for recording the debut album] . . . I wrote the lyrics [for this song], but everything else was just sort of thrown together.”—Alex in Contents Under Pressure

What You’re Doing

“Side two [of the debut album] opens with ‘What You’re Doing,’ a strong all-out rocker. The lyrics sound as if they were written in 15 minutes, but that’s part of the fun.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“‘What You’re Doing’ pulverizes Zep-like, housing the album’s most combative celebrations of red-hot riffery.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“For me the one which stands out [on the debut album] is the scorching ‘What You’re Doing,’ a powerhouse rocker built around a reworked version of Zeppelin’s ‘Heartbreaker’ riff. Pass me an air guitar!”—The Lone Groover, Progressive Ears

“The original [All the World’s a Stage] CD left off ‘What You’re Doing.’ This was due to time constraints (CDs could only hold 75 minutes at the time), but by the time the remasters came out, CDs could hold up to 80 minutes of music. ‘What You’re Doing’ was thus re-inserted, along with the post-show chatter and door closing.”—Rush Wiki

In the Mood

“In the Mood” became the band’s second Canadian single. “When performed as part of the band’s encore, it still gets the crowd to its feet. The great hook was a little too rough to become a hit, but with a line like ‘Hey, baby, it’s a quarter to eight and I feel I’m in the mood,’ how could you go wrong?”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“The song is sometimes said to be the first song Geddy ever wrote [in 1970] but perhaps it’s more like his first significant song) . . . . It would last long into the band’s live sets.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

It “was probably at least two years old, if not three, when we recorded the first album.”—Alex in Contents Under Pressure

On its writing, “Ged came in and said, ‘I’ve got a good idea for a song’ and played it from beginning to end.”—Alex in Rush Visions

Before and After

“‘Before and After’ is the key song on the debut album to understanding where Rush would go next. What sounds like an acoustic guitar dominates a long instrumental introduction, before Geddy and Alex have some fine moments together. That and the extended introduction show a different side of the band, even if the song is a great Led Zeppelin rip-off.—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“‘Before and After’ is perhaps a bit more dated [than some of the other songs on the debut album], something closer to what U.K. or U.S. boogie rockers of the day might have written.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“‘Before and After’ is a solid track which begins with a somber guitar riff and a slow tempo. Lots of harmonics and clean chords. Distortion kicks in at about a minute, and once the verse kicks in, the song shifts tempo up a bit. Geddy’s vocals are varied, and the simple chorus (yeah . . . yeeeeaah) is quite effective. Alex unfolds another fantastic solo, which sounds perfectly in place with the rest of the song.”—Rush Appreciator XIII

Working Man

“The song centers on the repetitious drudgery of working a day job and describes how work gets in the way of living. The traditional working-class separation of labor from life is dramatized: work is an economic necessity but a personally meaningless, alienating activity, while leisure provides meaningful personal space. The end of each verse makes clear the desire for escape from the workaday lifestyle, when Geddy sings, “It seems to me I could live my life / A lot better than I think I am,” delivered during the song’s most intense dynamic build-up. The song presents hope for upward mobility or a more personally satisfying way of spending one’s time, though without a great deal of certainty or expectation. Isolation is a key theme in the song as well, as the ‘I’ persona comes home, pours himself a beer, and wonders ‘why there’s nothing goin’ down here.’ The home context seems removed from life as well; working is not living in this song, and leisure time at home is an inadequate respite, empty and inactive.”—Christopher McDonald, Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class

It’s “the only song the band ever recorded [as of the late 1980s] which deals with blue collar workers . . . When Rush returned to contemporary characters many years later, they wrote about the suburban kids they once were. But no matter what you do for a living, ‘Working Man’ is a great song to play loud after a bad day at work. It was always popular with audiences and stayed in the live set for many years.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

If the song is an anomaly lyrically, it’s not musically. It “looks forward to what Rush would become, a fast-fretting power trip carried by Lifeson’s lightning-fast guitar leads. The jam-session format of this 7-minute workout showed just how exciting the band could be live.”—John Swenson, “Rush Chronicles”

“‘Working Man’ was the weapon of choice [for Donna Halper of WMMS-FM in Cleveland, who helped introduce the band to the United States by giving the song airplay and telling music tastemakers about it].” After she debuted the piece, “the phone lines were summarily flooded [about 50 callers], many fans under the impression they had just heard fresh Zeppelin music.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“‘Bob Roper, who was an A&M of Canada representative, sent me this record by a group that had never heard of,” said Halper . . . I dropped the needle down on the longest cut and I knew immediately that it was a Cleveland record.’ Halper told one of her DJs to play the song that night on his show to see how it went over. Denny Sanders (the DJ) found that ‘Working Man’ stirred quite a reaction from the blue collar audience . . . ‘They were asking about where they could get the record, and of course they couldn’t—there was only one copy.’ Halper phoned Ray Danniels and Vic Wilson [of the band’s management agency]. They worked out an arrangement to have a box of Rush records sent south to Cleveland. The albums were placed in the local Record Revolution store. The box sold out in a few days.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“Cliff Burnstein, a Mercury A&R rep, after receiving a copy of Rush, called Donna Harper, who said the record was getting a great response and that ‘Working Man’ is the song. ‘I hung up the phone, put it on, and sure enough, it was a motherfucker.'”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“Our parents were hard-working,” Lee explains. “Life was a struggle for most people, no one was wealthy. You thought a lot about your future, and what kind of life do you want to live? Is it going to be enough for me to have that kind of life, where it’s all about work, and a beer at the end of the day and a hug from your kids, and do it all again? So, it’s kind of an ode to that guy who we worked so hard not to be, in a sense. We wanted to be musicians, and that was our ticket out of there. That was our escape for what was sort of inevitable for all of our friends and the world that we came from. . . . It’s hard to hear the record without going back in time. Your first record is such a milestone. It’s like the impossible feat: you never think you’re going to get signed, you never think you’re going to get to make a record . . . The first version of our first record was really crappy, and that’s when we met the guy who really changed our lives, which was Terry Brown. And he became our producer for the next 10 years and taught us so much about making records. . . He saved that album, when I think of that album, I think of him, I think of that first session, when we took those poorly recorded versions of those songs, and he decided what was salvageable and what we should just re-record.”—Geddy, Radio.com, March 27, 2014

Anthem

“‘Anthem’ polished the sculpted, hard-rock sound of the first album to a glistening sheen.”—John Swenson, Rush Chronicles

“We were trying to be quite individual with ‘Fly by Night,’ which was the first record that Neil, Geddy and I did together. [‘Anthem’] was the signature for that album. Coincidentally, the name of our record company, which is Anthem Records in Canada, came from this song. Neil was in an Ayn Rand period, so he wrote the song about being very individual. We thought we were doing something that was different from everybody else. . . . I was using a Gibson ES-335 then, and I had a Fender Twin and a Marshall 50-watt with a single 4×12 cabinet. An Echoplex was my only effect.”—Alex in a 1996 Guitar World interview

“Alex and I had written this riff and we had written it back in the day when Rutsey was in the band, and Rutsey wasn’t into playing it. It was too complicated and it wasn’t his thing. He was more into straight-ahead rock & roll. We jammed with Neil the first day we met him on this opening riff. When he started playing, we looked at each other and were like, ‘Yeah, this is the guy. He can play. He’ll do.'”—Geddy in 2013 Rolling Stone interview

“When Neil Peart joined Rush in 1974, ‘Anthem’ was the first song produced by the new trio. It established Rush’s working arrangement—with Lee and Lifeson composing the music and Peart providing the lyrics—and it prefigured several hallmarks of Rush’s mature style, including the use of asymmetrical meters (7/8 for the song’s intro), contrapuntal separation between the bass and the guitar, and elaborate drum fills. [Contrapuntal means two or more independent but harmonically related melodic parts sounding together.] Most important, it introduced the theme for which Rush would become most renowned—individualism. ‘Anthem’ shares its title with with a short novella by Russian American writer Ayn Rand, an author Peart very much admired during the mid-1970s, and whom Rush would acknowledge two years later as the inspiration for ‘2112.’ [In the novella, a totalitarian state eliminates individual rights (even outlaws the word “I”), and only allows state-planned technological progress.]

“Rand, a Soviet defector, came to the United States in 1926 with boundless enthusiasm for some of the key pillars of American identity—liberty, individualism, capitalism, and certain constitutional rights—which stood in marked contrast to the political climate she fled in the USSR . . . . ‘Anthem’ merged heavy metal with individualist philosophy. . . . Rush was never a one-issue band, but individualism recurred frequently in the group’s repertoire . . . .”

“The song “could well be seen as a paean to the 1970s, which became known as the ‘Me Decade.’ It urges listeners to pursue their own interests and forget about what others think. Drawing on Rand’s ethic called the ‘virtue of selfishness,’ the song tells listeners to take ownership of their lives and never let anyone tell them ‘that you owe it all to me.'”—Christopher McDonald, Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class

“Paradoxically, Rand would probably have been horrified by the group. Although they went their own way, they did so collectively, and Rand railed against long-haired hippies and rock music on several occasions, most notably in a collection of essays on the Woodstock Generation.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

Best I Can

The band had been playing “Best I Can” in pre-Neil days but waited until Fly By Night to press it into vinyl. To hear how Neil’s highly compositional approach to drumming added dynamism to the song, you just need to compare how Neil opens the song on the album to John Rutsey’s opening, an example of which was recoded at a live 1974 St. Catharines, Ontario, performance. The difference is striking.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

“Even golden oldie ‘Best I Can’ gets an unexpected bounce from that new drummer there.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

Lyrically, “Best I Can” is a throwback to the band’s days of making up words on the fly. It wouldn’t be too off the mark to say it’s little more than a middle finger directed at snobs. “Bankers and boasters / All the bluffers and posers / I’m not into that scene.”

“This song announces a theme of dreaming of success [in rock and roll as opposed to the corporate suite], which became a Rush staple over the next few albums.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Beneath, Between & Behind

“The song opens with a guitar riff like the break in Led Zeppelin’s ‘Heartbreaker.’ Contrary to some fans’ opinions, this is not a sexual song, but harkens to the ideas of travel, departure, immigration, and new beginnings.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Chris McDonald in his essay “Enlightened Thoughts, Mystic Words” in Rush and Philosophy says the piece is about the failed promise of the United States. The country was built on rational, humanistic ideals, the kind of ideals that grew out of the Enlightenment, but with the encroachment of fundamentalist religion and other backward movements, the country is failing to live up to its early promise.

The influence of Ayn Rand is evident in lines referencing cracks in the foundation of the virgin land’s principles, which can be taken to mean that the American promise of individualism is facing erosion from encroachment by a paternalistic state: “Beneath the noble bird / Between the proudest words / Behind the beauty cracks appear / Once with heads held high / They sang out to the sky / Why do their shadows bow in fear? . . . The guns replace the plow, facades are tarnished now / The principles have been betrayed / The dream’s gone stale.”—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

Geddy in an interview on VH1-Classic’s Hanging With says the lyrics were the first they co-wrote with Neil.

By-Tor and the Snow Dog

The song is the band’s “brisk, slashing, progressive-metal blueprint.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“‘By-Tor and the Snowdog’ marks the beginning of a Rush tradition of extended story songs, in this case a battle between By-Tor and the Snowdog. The song has bite in more ways than one. Howard Ungerleider [the band’s long-time roadie] came up with the title one night at a party at Rush manager Ray Danniels’ house.

“‘Ray had these two dogs. One was a German Shepherd that had these fangs, and the other was this little tiny white nervous dog. I used to call the Shepherd By-Tor because anyone who would walk into the house would get bitten by him. Ray would go, “The dog is trained fine; don’t worry about it.” Well, the night of the party, we were sitting down eating our steaks when the Shepherd started biting my leg. I started screaming and calling the dog By-Tor. Now, the other dog was real neurotic, constantly barking and jumping all over you. And since he was a snow dog, I started calling the pair By-Tor and the Snowdog.”‘—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“We must have been high one day, imagining a song about these two dogs. And then Neil went ahead and wrote it. But the guys at our record company weren’t happy. They signed the band that was on the first album, and they said, ‘This is not the same – what is this By-tor shit? You were talking about Working Man and now you’re talking about this crazy stuff.’ It was a bit of hiccup in the plan they had for us. … The title of the first part of By-tor and the Snow Dog is a mystery to all three members of Rush. Geddy: “I don’t know what ‘tobes’ are. I assumed that Neil knew, and there must be such a place in mythology. I just went with it.” Alex: “I think the Tobes of Hades is kind of like the waiting room to Hell!” Neil: “Nobody know what it means – that’s what I love about it. But it’s something that my friend’s father used to say: ‘It’s hotter than the Tobes of Hades!'”—Geddy, Alex, and Neil, Prog Magazine, Issue 35, April 2013

“My friend’s dad always said ‘colder than the Tobes of Hell.’ That’s all. I don’t know what it means.”—Neil in Backstage Club (1990), quoted in Merely Players

“‘Eth’ is an Old English name, probably for demonic power. Styx was a river in Hades, the underworld. This song is an 8-minuter demonstrating the band’s early musical unity and prowess. The song is the first to be broken up in sections: Section III was originally called ‘The battle.'”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Fly by Night

“‘Fly by Night’ offers a hint of the kind of melodic song structure that the band would eventually evolve.”—John Swenson, Rush Chronicles

Neil wrote a short prologue to the piece that isn’t in the song: “airport scurry / flurry faces / parade of passers-by / people going many places / with a smile or just a sigh / waiting, waiting, pass the time / another cigarette / get in line, gate thirty-nine / the time is not here yet.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

The theme of being suspended between places, waiting to move, as featured in this song, is weaved throughout the band’s work. Neil talks about the feelings evoked specifically by airports, as environments that are both grounded in place and not grounded in place, in “YYZ.”—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

“Fly by Night” and a few other of the first songs with lyrics written by Neil made an appearance before the second album was recorded in a WQIV (New York City) radio concert at the end of 1974. In this concert, “Fly by Night” “was very different,” with “By-Tor and the Snowdog” tacked onto its end, among other things. In its final version, as recorded, it was considered the most pop-like piece on the album. “The second side opens on a high note with ‘Fly by Night,’ a really potential hit single.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

Martin Popoff calls it a “progressive pop” piece.—Contents Under Pressure

Making Memories

“‘Making Memories’ was written on a drive where we got lost. It was in the Midwest somewhere, Indiana, maybe. I forget where we were going, but we made a right, and we should have made a left! We went out of our way by a few hours, and we were sitting in the car with an acoustic guitar, and that’s the way we wrote the songs then. Pretty much everything was written in dressing rooms and sound checks. Neil’s lyrics were written on the road. That one was all written before we went into the studio.”—Alex in Contents Under Pressure

The piece, which was never played in the live set, “ties in the ‘fly by night’ theme with its mood and wanderlust.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Musically, Geddy almost seems to be channeling Patrick Simmons of the Doobie Brothers in its bluegrass-like hit, Black Water, which came out the same year as Fly by Night, 1975. There’s no fiddle or a cappella section in “Making Memories,” but Geddy and Simmons share the same vocal intonation.

Rivendell

“The title comes from the serene village in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, which was inhabited by elves and landscaped by misty mountains (mist was an ancient mystery as it was an indeterminate element). It was a paradise on earth.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

In the piece, “ethereal timbres depict the elven sanctuary through gentle mid-range vocals, classical guitar (played by Geddy), soft and slow electric guitar, and no bass or percussion. In the electric guitar part, the volume fades in and out on each note, making their attacks and releases inaudible. This dissociates the sounds from the physical act of playing, enhancing their unearthliness.”—Nicole Biamonte, “Contre Nous,” in Rush and Philosophy. Biamonte points to the piece as an example of the band using exotic sounds to depict a literary landscape.

“Geddy’s keening vocals suggest the beauty this imaginary refuge had for him and Neil. Tolkien’s influence could also be heard on ‘By-Tor and the Snowdog’ and several later songs by the band. . . . The ever-popular Tolkien inspired other early 1970s rockers, including Led Zeppelin.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

Geddy tells a funny story about recording the song. The band had been working on Fly by Night for several days straight with little sleep and were due to leave the next day. Producer Terry Brown kept playing “Rivendell,” the last song to be mixed, to get their take on how it sounded. But the band members could never stay awake long enough to give their opinion. “We would begin the song, listening back, all kind of lying on the floor in front of the mixing console and we’d get to the end of the song and every single time one of us was sound asleep.”—Geddy in an April 16, 2013, interview with Jim Ladd, the day before the band’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Watch 40-second clip on this. 

Among the Tolkien-inspired Led Zeppelin pieces: “Ramble On,” “Misty Mountain Hop,” The Battle of Evermore,” and “Stairway to Heaven.”

In the End

“A coming home (from the road) song. Neil’s original lyric sheet had the title written on a tombstone, which suggests a more serious meaning for the song.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“‘In the End’ opens quietly, much like ‘Rivendell,’ but then Alex kicks in with a killer guitar riff, followed by Neil and Geddy before a classic Rush tempo change.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

Bastille Day

The French Revolution imagery was “inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, with proud and defiant guitar rifs and tempos. Neil’s first real themes of a class struggle and oppression. The opening line was what the Queen of France said: ‘If there’s no bread, let them eat cake.'”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Geddy’s high vocals in the piece evoke the “righteous anger” of that revolutionary period.—Christopher McDonald, Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class

“‘Bastille Day’ is a barnstormer of a speed metaller, one of the band’s heaviest three or four songs, wrapped around a tale of the French Revolution, vocals on fire.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“‘Bastille Day’ is one of the finest hard rock songs ever recorded, with music to match the angry words of the French Revolution. . . . Neil expresses both the savagery of the mob and the reasons for its behavior. While at other times in the band’s career Neil’s mistrust of people acting en masse would bring out a palpabe loathing of such collective action [think ‘Witch Hunt,’ for example], on this song you can’t quite tell which side he is on. This impression is reinforced by Geddy’s passionate vocal. After all, the band now had the experience of playing in front of thousands of excited people and seen both the positive and negative aspects of communal experiences.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“Rush’s Led Zeppelin influence is most obviously prominent on Caress of Steel in ‘Bastille Day’ (which discusses the storming of the Bastille in the French Revolution), though it is apparent on all three of the shorter songs on the album. The piece reappeared on the R30 CD and DVD as part of the instrumental ‘R30 Overture.’ Reportedly, Dream Theater‘s core members John Petrucci, Mike Portnoy and John Myung named the first incarnation of the band Majesty after a comment by Portnoy suggesting the ending of ‘Bastille Day’ was majestic.—Wikipedia

I Think I’m Going Bald

“‘I Think I’m Going Bald’ opens with an echoed shriek from Geddy that sounds as if he has just seen what he is about to describe. It is about waking up, looking in the mirror, and thinking that you are going bald. The song has an amusing closing lyrical prophecy: ‘But even when I’m grey I’ll still be grey my way.'”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“We were touring a lot with Kiss in those days, and they had a song called ‘I Think I’m Gong Blind’ [actually just ‘Goin’ Blind’]. So we were kind of taking the piss out of that title by just coming up with this. . . . Pratt [a nickname for Neil, another one being The Professor] came up with this line, “I think I’m going bald,” because Alex is always worried about losing his hair. Even when he was not losing his hair, he was obsessed with the fact that he might lose his hair. So he would try all kinds of ingredients to put on his scalp. And I think it just got Neil thinking about aging, even though we weren’t aging yet and had no right to talk about that stuff yet. It would be much more appropriate now [2004]. And it just became a kind of funny song. And even though the song is not funny, in terms of sentiment, it kind of is, and the music is really goofy. A lot of people mistake us for being deadly serious, but some of our songs are just plain goofy.”—Geddy in Contents Under Pressure

In an early draft of the lyrics, another verse was to follow “But now it must be wine:” “Kitchen table hours / Building castles in the sand / (Now we’ve been)”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“I think I’m Going Bald” is a “curious case . . . a boogie rocker similar to ‘In the Mood’ and a host of blues-derived hard rock hits and also-rans from years such as 1972.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

Lakeside Park

“‘Lakeside Park’ evokes lazy summer days and nights, the kind of life the band had given up in order to ‘make it.’ Geddy’s vocal has a poignancy that shows that at least part of him misses those carefree days. It’s the kind of song to which just about every listener can relate because most of us have a Lakeside Park of our own.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“Neil grew up in Port Dalhousie, where there was an amusement park on the lakeshore. The lyrics try to capture the feelings of being adolescent and being free on Victoria Day (May 24), [Queen Victoria’s birthday and the traditional start of the summer season in Canada)].”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“In my early teens I achieved every Port kid’s dream: a summer job at Lakeside Park. In those days it was still a thriving and exciting whirl of rides, games, music, and lights. So many ghosts haunt that vanished midway; so many memories bring it back for me. I ran the Bubble Game—calling out ‘Catch a bubble; prize every time’ all day—and sometimes the Ball Toss game. When it wasn’t busy, I would sit at the back door and watch the kids on the trampoline. . . . I got fired.”—Neil in “A Port Boy’s Story,” quoted in Merely Players

Geddy in a 1993 Raw interview says the song makes him cringe when he hears it on the radio. If one were to guess why, it’s probably because of its unvarnished sentimentality.

The Necromancer

“‘The Necromancer’ is subtitled ‘A Short Story by Rush.’ The title was from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, in which the Necromancer, a wizard who either summons the dead or reduces the living into specter form, is confronted by three travelers, Sam, Frodo, and Gollum. In the old tales of quests, the travelers were always restless and with a goal. So were Rush, always on tour.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“A necromancer is one who practices necromancy, a type of divination involving the summoning of Operative Spirits to discern information about the future. ‘The Necromancer’ starts with heavy influence from J.R.R. Tolkien‘s literary mythology. The Necromancer was a pseudonym used by Tolkien in The Hobbit for the character Sauron. The song departs from the story of the book as Part III, ‘Return of the Prince,’ sees the return of By-Tor from Fly by Night, this time as a hero and not a villain. ‘Return of the Prince’ was also released as a single in some countries. Also in the introductory prologue to the song, the “three travelers, men of Willowdale” is a reference to the band itself, an allusion to the band’s home in the suburb of Willowdale in Toronto, Ontario. On the inside gatefold of the album, just below the lyrics to ‘The Necromancer,’ the Latin phrase Terminat hora diem; terminat auctor opus appears. This translates (loosely) to: ‘[as] The hour ends the day; the author ends his work.'”—Caress of Steel on Wikipedia

Among some of the references in the piece, “fording a river” was used by ancients in stories [a literary device] to show a decisive stage in a journey. “O’er” is an old Gaelic term. Another “bow’ reference, as in “Bastille Day,” with the travelers becoming specters and locked in dungeons. The labyrinth classically represented the quest to find the center (the start, the sprit, the center of time and space in the microcosm of a maze). Perhaps By-Tor is not evil here and battles for freedom because of his defeat in Fly By Night by the Snowdog?”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

The strange introductory vocal in the song “was created by treating Neil’s voice with a digital delay unit and slowing the recording speed. [The song] expands on the tentative art rock experiments of Fly By Night. A whole bevy of effects are employed to heighten the sonic experience.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

In The Necromancer, Rush made a “selective, unspecific, and fanciful” reconstruction of medieval times. Such medievalist fantasy “flatter a middle-class sensibility. . . . The archetypal quest corresponds to the bourgeois notion of starting an enterprise or ‘following one’s dreams,’ and the successful fulfillment of the quest (after some deferral of gratification) leads directly to upward mobility or social elevation.”—
Christopher McDonald, Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class

Following “nostalgic popster” “Lakeside Park,” the Caress of Steel album “wings out, offering 12 and a half minutes of . . . a creepy, quite heavy, often jarring prog metal opus.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

The Fountain of Lamneth

“The second half of Caress of Steel contains Rush’s first side-long composition. On the cover of the record, six individual songs are listed, but even a casual listen reveals they are meant to be taken as a whole. There are several recurring musical and lyrical motifs, and the tracks all melt into each ether. The epic appears to be about a man’s compulsion to see and taste the world, and if possible to understand what these experiences mean. The traveler finds that the key, the end, the answer, is that there is none. Even with the strict time limits, you can hear how the band is developing its compositional skills. The playing is solid, with definite signs of improvement, but it is not as noticeable as the leaps in technique made from the first to the second album.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

Alex in 2013 listed the “Panacea” portion of the song as among Rush’s worst, saying they were trying to do something with it but it just didn’t work out. “It was . . . innocent.”

“[The song] was just something we had to do. But it’s kind of absurd. I mean, it’s just where we were at. We were a young band, a little pretentious, full of ambitions, full of grand ideas, and we wanted to see if we could make some of those grand ideas happen. And ‘Fountain of Lamneth’ was the first attempt to do that. And I think there are some beautiful moments, but a lot of it is ponderous and off the mark. It’s also the most time we ever had to make a record. I think we had a full three weeks, and we were just indulging ourselves.'”—Geddy in Contents Under Pressure

The piece is “considered by some to be overly ambitious and convoluted. . . . The first song in the suite recounts the birth of the child and his bond with his mother. The ‘valley’ is a classical symbol of fertility and creation. The fountain represents the life-force of man, situated at the center of the four rivers of paradise on earth. Carl Jung [the influential psychologist, contemporary of Freud] called this the ‘land of infancy’ that arises when life is inhibited. The mountain is an ascension symbol, the place where the philosophers dwelled (hence it was a symbol of the intellect). Fields of dew is a spiritual metaphor. ‘No One at the Bridge’ opens with sounds of waves as it describes the sea of alienation and the bridge to maturity. The troubled waters may be symbolic of the unconscuous as well.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Alex points to the influence of Gensis and GTR songwriter and guitarist Steve Hackett in influencing the sound he strived for in the album, and particularly on the solo in “No One at the Bridge.” He’s “so articulate and melodic, precise and flowing. . . . The solo is almost a steal from his style of playing, It’s one of my favorites.”—Alex in Merely Players

In reference to “Panacea,” the title is “Greek for ‘cure-all’ and the song recounts the ‘discovery’ of the opposite sex, almost a mother figure again. Homer’s navigation epic, The Odyssey, may have inspired this suite as Panacea could be a Calypso or Circe, an enchantress or siren who lured the hero Odysseus to stay with her on the island. The next lines were to follow the question, ‘have I left my life behind?’ but Neil vetoed these and a few other stanzas before finalizing the song: ‘The symmetry of snowflakes / In the music of the stream / A symphony of springtime / In the shadow of a dream.’ In ‘Bacchus Plateau,’ the traveler is at a crossroads. He discovers wine as a temporary distraction or panacea. Bacchus was the Roman equivalent of the Greek god of wine and fertility. Dionysus would appear in future Rush songs [most notably in ‘Cygnus X-1: Hemspheres’]. The cask of ’43 symbolizes the futility of existence [although here’s another view of this] and the goblet, of possibilities. Originally, the chorus went, ‘You’ve something more to give / I guess it doesn’t matter / You’ve so much more to live.’ Neil changed his character’s outlook for the final lyrics: ‘There’s not much more to live.'”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“‘The Fountain of Lamneth’ predates epics like ‘2112’ and the Cygnus X-1 series, and is only 34 seconds shorter than ‘2112.’ It also forms a complete story, this one about a man in search of the Fountain of Lamneth, and chronicles the individual occurrences of his journey. Regarding ‘Didacts and Narpets’ (which consists mostly of a drum solo), in the October 1991 news release from the Rush Backstage Club, Neil Peart said: ‘Okay, I may have answered this before, but if not, the shouted words in that song represent an argument between our hero and the Didacts and Narpets—teachers and parents. I honestly can’t remember what the actual words were, but they took up opposite positions like: “Work! Live! Earn! Give!” and the like.’ A didact is a teacher, and ‘narpet’ is an anagram of parent.”—Wikipedia

2112

“2112,” released in 1976, is the band’s breakthrough piece. Although it’s based in part on Ayn Rand’s anti-collectivist novella Anthem, and contains echoes of George Orwell’s 1984 and Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001, Neil credits the genesis of his interest in science fiction to a less widely known author, Samuel R. Delany.

Delany is the author of The Fall of the Towers, a science fiction epic, which Neil stumbled upon while in London and which influenced the writing of “2112” and “Cygnus X-1.” “In retrospect, how amazing I should come across that particular book, so poetic, richly imagined, and original, by that particular writer, who still ranks among the best in the genre, I think. . . . Similar to the way a few novels and plays were drilled into my head at the time without much seeming effect, or affect, later they would resonate in ways I could never have suspected.”—Neil in Traveling Music

“2112,” the 20-minute, side-long, 7-suite piece, follows an anonymous member of Megadon, who awakens to what’s missing in his world after discovering a guitar and teaching himself to make music. In his world, autonomous people whose creativity propel a society forward have been gone for a generation, replaced by a cadre of priests who maintain order and stability with the help of computers. The protagonist feels hopeless after he’s rebuffed in his effort to get the priests’ approval to make music a part of their world. He falls into a trancelike sleep, dreams of the society that used to be, only to awaken to stark hopelessness. He’s not the one to lead a revolution, and indeed he commits suicide. But the dream of restoring the world to one in which people thrive and grow isn’t extinguished. The elder generation is returning. The story has the character of a parable, and it is: of a music industry that sacrifices creativity to profit.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

“You know, that came from a different place, more from a place of defiance and anger that things were sort of going the way they were around us. So we were fighting back. There was a lot of pressure on us, from the record company and, to some degree, from management, to go back to our rock roots, make another Rush album. And we basically said, ‘You know what? That’s not what we’re about. . . . If we go down, we’re going to go down in flames.”‘—Alex in Contents Under Pressure

“‘2112’ is probably the most important thing we’ve ever written, because without that song, we probably would not have continued as a band.”—Geddy in Contents Under Pressure

“We started writing the song while on the road. We wrote on the road quite often in those days. ‘The Fountain of Lamneth,’ on Caress of Steel, was really our first full concept song, and ‘2112’ was an extension of it. That was a tough period for Rush, because Caress of Steel didn’t do that well commercially, but we were really happy with it and wanted to develop that style. Because there was so much negative feeling from the record company and our management was worried, we came back full force with ‘2112.’ There was a lot of passion and anger on that record. It was about one person standing up against everybody else. . . . I used the [Gibson] ES-335 and a Strat, which I borrowed for the session; I couldn’t afford one at the time. I used a Marshall 50-watt and the Fender Twin as well. I may have had a Hiwatt in the studio at that time, too, but I think it came a little later. My effects were a Maestro phase shifter and a good old Echoplex. There were a limited number of effects available back then. The Echoplex and wah-wah were staples in those days.”—Alex in a 1996 Guitar World interview

“By naming the [overseers] ‘priests,’ Peart captures the cult-like aspect of mass culture, since rock bands, movies, and television shows spawn cult followings, and by producing celebrities the industry tries to create ‘false gods.’ The priests’ culture factory is thus a temple, and the mass audience congregates (at their computer terminals and televisions) to worship their creations; they surrender their will to religosity and cede their creativity by proxy to the producers of mass culture. In 1976, Peart himsef made this connection to the culture industry: ‘I just re-read Ayn Rand’s [novels] for the first time in years, and I’m relating it to the music business. It deals with corruption of the spirit. . . . I like to feel that we’re doing out part to change that through our music.'”—Christopher McDonald, Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class

The iconography of the Red Star of the Solar Federation suggests the priests oversaw a totalitarian regime. When Geddy expresses the point of view of the priests, he sings “at a high pitch and at a fast-paced, heavy metal-style. The collectivist philosophy of the morally untouchable priests leaves no room for resistance. . . . The listener’s sympathy remains strongly with the young protagonist, who has no way to challenge the priests, and the song suite critiques their demotic rule through the amplified distortion of the lyric in the seventh track, ‘Grand Finale,’ in which the priestly order is reestablished. . . . Read through the filter of Rand’s philosophy, this story is a critique of a totalitarian, left-wing government in which noble Republican ideals are favourably contrasted, but where the music incorporates a paradox as its centerpiece: a tightly knit song played collectively by a three-piece band on electric guitar, bass and drums has as its symbol of freedom and creativity an acoustic guitar plucked gently by Alex Lifeson. . . . The ‘tentative and gentle’ strumming is distinct from the ‘forceful and determined’ individualism that Ayn Rand would promote as an embodiment of her philosophy of libertarian rationalism.”—Paul Hegarty and Martin Halliwell, Beyond and Before

“The number 12 is classically indicative of a cosmic order or salvation, the reason that it is the standard for the clock or the calendar.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“21/12, or December 21, is the date of the winter solstice, the beginning of the lunar calendar.”—Songfacts

The day is also now informally known as International Rush Day.

Before it closed in 2009, the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada in 2006 chose 2112 as one of three audio recordings to be preserved as part of Canada’s artistic cultural heritage.

The website PopMatters selected the piece as the 6th most important prog rock piece of all time (“In the Court of the Crimson King” by King Crimson is the first):

“Just over halfway into the decade, when many of the old guard progressive rock bands were out of ideas or on hiatus, Rush delivered one of the genre’s definitive anthems. ‘2112’ is a harder edged music combining the proficiency of their influences with an aggression that captured the actual urgency attending the sessions. This album sounded—and still sounds—at once familiar and forward-looking, putting Rush somewhere on the sonic spectrum in between Led Zeppelin’s adventurous, riff-laden workouts and Pink Floyd’s deliberate, almost chilly precision.

“The rock media, which had not paid Rush much attention, now took notice and generally found the Ayn Rand-inspired story line (the multi-track suite, filling up all of side one, updates Rand’s early novel Anthem and places the narrative in a dystopian future where music has been outlawed and long forgotten) unfashionably right-wing—an indictment the band found perplexing, and continues to be amused about. In these interviews, each member (particularly Peart, who wrote the lyrics and undoubtedly regrets his youthful shout-out, in the liner notes, to Rand’s ‘genius’) makes a convincing case that the inspiration had everything to do with artistic freedom and avoiding compromise, and less than a little to do with politics or social statements. Of course, plenty of pundits (then, now) find Rush—in general and prog rock in particular—pretentious, but the sentiment informing this particular album has more in common with the much celebrated punk rock ethos, with the added bonus that the band are actually quite capable musicians. 2112 remains the album that made possible what Rush would become, and it inspired both peers and pretenders to emulate their purpose and passion, if not their scarves and kimonos.”—Sean Murphy, PopMatters, May 2011

A 1976 issue of “The Defenders” comic book is based loosely on “2112,” with the Red Rajah seeking to turn New York City into a collectivist society ruled by him. The Red Rajah turns out to be Dr. Strange, who had been missing. The issue is dedicated to Neil, Geddy, and Alex.

A Passage to Bangkok

“Neil borrowed the title from E.M. Forster’s novel, A Passage to India. The song describes a dreamlike journey around the world in search of marijuana fields, with an allusion to Acapulco Gold. New Rush fans even today [2002] immediately notice that the synthesizer playing before the solo sounds like someone inhaling from a joint.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“Alex Lifeson has cited Led Zeppelin’s ‘Kashmir’ as an indirect influence on ‘A Passage to Bangkok’ because of its ‘similar sort of odd-tempo arrangement to the verses’ (interview in Guitar World, June 3, 2009). He might have meant the heavily syncopated vocal melodies of both songs, in which almost all of the notes fall between beats rather than on them, creating a stretched-out effect. Or he might have meant the disjunction between the instrumental riffs and the vocal melodies, which have slower rhythms and irregular phrases that don’t line up with the riffs. In both songs, the result of this rhythmic layering is that the melody seems to float above the accompaniment, disconnected from it. This floating, disjointed effect is highly appropriate to the lyrics. . . . Zeppelin’s ‘Kahmir’ is also a travel song with otherworldly lyrics, although it is less obviously drug-related and more musically exotic. . . . The disconnect between voice and instruments in these two songs is more evocative of a state of mind than a physical place.”—Nicole Biamonte in “Contre Nous” in Rush and Philosophy

“Obviously the work of a THC connoisseur.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

The Twilight Zone

“Neil is a big fan of The Twilight Zone TV series, and he based this song on two episodes. The first is ‘Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?’ (episode 28, season 2, May 26, 1961), which is set in a diner and Barney Phillips is the easygoing counterman with the three eyes. The second is ‘Stopover In a Quiet Town’ (episode 30, season 5, April 24, 1964), about a couple who get drunk at a party and wake up in an empty house in an empty town with no other residents and everything is fake or like a stage prop and at the end they look up and see a giant child. It turns out they are now a play-toy. Rod Serling’s closing narration is among the series funniest. ‘The moral of what you’ve just seen is clear. If you drink, don’t drive. And if your wife has had a couple, she shouldn’t drive either. You both might just wind up with a whale of a headache in a deserted village in The Twilight Zone.’ Peart changed the giant girl to a boy in the lyrics.”—Songfacts

“It is notable that Rush had already credited Rod Serling, the host of The Twilight Zone television series, on their last album [Caress of Steel] and would again on their next. this was the last track done for the album, another fantasy trip [the first being ‘A Passage to Bangkok’], this time through the fourth dimension. It’s interesting to hear the vocals whispered at the same time they’re sung. The Defenders 1977 comic book from Marvel dedicated their forty-fifth issue to each member in the band. In it, a character named Red Rajah says, “Truth is false and logic is lost, consult the Rajah at all cost.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“‘The Twilight Zone’ has a mystical space feel and I think Rod Serling would have loved it.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

A 1976 issue of “The Defenders” comic book includes a quote—“truth is false and logic lost”—from Rush’s lyrics in the piece. The comic book story loosely tracks “2112,” with the Red Rajah seeking to turn New York City into a collectivist society ruled by him. The Red Rajah turns out to be Dr. Strange, who had been missing. The issue is dedicated to Neil, Geddy, and Alex.

Lessons

“‘Lessons’ is a rarity in that Alex gets the sole songwriting credit. But, in another sense, it is an atypical Rush song, opening quietly before rocking out.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“The lyrics don’t mean a whole lot but they almost sound like the priests [from ‘2112’] are still rambling . . . ‘You know we’ve told you before!'”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

The lyrics are in fact enigmatic, but they appear to pick up on the same theme as “Best I Can” from the band’s second album: despite moments of self-doubt, and despite opposing advice from others, the narrator knows what his goal is. He has to stop and remind himself periodically why he’s doing what he’s doing. The fact is, his goal is larger than his own wants and needs. As it is, he’s already advanced part of the way, and although what he’s experienced hasn’t always matched up to what he expected, he’ll press on, and he’ll press on despite the chorus of doubters who think he should have taken a different road.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

Tears

The studio production piece on 2112. Lyrics by Geddy.

It’s “better produced than ‘Lessons’,” which immediately precedes it. “It is very much in the mode of ‘Rivendell’ [from Fly By Night] and marks one of the few times that Neil plays in a straight four-time signature.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“Once again Geddy proves he’s not just a screamer and his lyrics improved. Hugh Syme [who occasionally plays keyboards and art directs the album covers] plays the Mellotron keyboards.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

A “haunting, ambitiously arranged ballad.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure.

Something for Nothing

2112 closes with perhaps the clearest and most concise statement of purpose the band ever recorded. ‘Something for Nothing’ sounds like a call to action: ‘You don’t get something for nothing / You don’t get freedom for free / You won’t get wise with the sleep still in your eyes / No matter what your dream might be.'”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“The point of the whole song, though expressed in different ways, is you must be inner-directed if you are ever to follow your dreams to fruition. That doesn’t mean automatic rebellion against self-proclaimed authorities. If you felt you had to do the opposite of whatever they say to you, your action would still be controlled, albeit in a perverse way, by their commands. . . . This point is made strikingly by the clear allusion to the closing doxology of the Lord’s Prayer (‘For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.’) Here the phrases are reapplied: you are to seek your own kingdom, your own glory, your own power, your own story.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

“An important example of individualsm as a motivational theme. . . . The values of self-reliance and responsibility for the self are urgently expounded and laziness is criticized.—Christopher McDonald, Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class

Neil in his book Traveling Music says he adapted the concept of “Something for Nothing” from a line, “Freedom isn’t free,” he found scrawled on a building wall in the 1970s near the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.

A Farewell to Kings

“The title is adapted from Ernest Hemingway’s novel A Farewell to Arms. Longing for a new Renaissance era [which focused on our place in the cosmos], this revolution is more down to earth, the new world envisioned in ‘2112,’ a timeless realm. As in ‘2112,’ the wise are again resented, and the sacred ‘Halls of Truth’ are the churches, courthouses, and schools. The hypocrites are teachers, lawyers, and clergy.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

The piece “establishes a dual temporal plane, inviting the listener to ‘turn the pages of history,’ not to view a mythical past of heroic kings but a moment when courtly heroism was crumbling . . . . The appeal of the song, taking us back to the first line about history, is to rediscover a lost capacity to distinguish between right and wrong and to bridge ‘minds that make us strong’ with a belief that thoughts and feelings can be severed only at a great cost.”—Paul Hegarty and Martin Halliwell, Beyond and Before

The piece “opens on a meditative note as Alex plays a short classical guitar introduction. Birds at Rockfield [the studio in rural Wales where they recorded the album] can be heard whistling in the background as Neil joins in with chimes, triangle, and other percussion. Geddy plays a meditative synthesizer pattern. The band then pause for a moment before the traditional power attack. As Geddy wonders what future generations will think of us, the band plays with anger.

“The subject then turns to the problems of today. Then comes an instrumental break that shows the band as hard-hitting as ever, but a little leaner and with a more focused idea of where they are going [than on previous albums]. The metallic rock of the earlier albums remain, but the arrangement and the sound are fuller. Geddy outs in a great performance. He seems to be [genuinely] angry that the ‘hypocrites are slandering the sacred halls of truth.'”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“‘The acoustic was recorded outdoors and all of the woodblock and percussion sounds that Neil used were recorded outdoors at the same time. You can here them echoing off the other buildings, and you can hear the birds tweeting.'”—Geddy in Contents Under Pressure

“How did we start with Locke, Rousseau, Jefferson, and Madison and end up like this, [with weak leaders and their cynical advisors]? We, too, it seems, have been following the path of least resistance. We let the kings get away with murder, perhaps because of our own cynicism or our self-absorption. Or perhaps because we have let our sensibilities atrophy. Whose are the withered hearts, but ours? We have forgotten how to feel what’s right and wrong and must now try, in the eleventh hour, to relearn it before it’s too late.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

The album cover image of the marionette puppet dressed as a king, with the urban wasteland behind him, illustrates the song. The cape thrown over one side of the throne shields the figure from the wasteland, but the king has lost his sovereignty. Inside the album, the three band members are photographed in a stately house. “The heaviness of the furniture contrasts with the bright light streaming through the half-open French window . . . . The tensions embedded in the lyrics are subtly introduced through the lighting, where darkness and light meet at a strong vertical line that cuts downward between the three band members.”—Paul Hegarty and Martin Halliwell, Beyond and Before

Xanadu

“The Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem ‘Kubla Khan: A Vision in a Dream’ inspired this epic, while opium induced dreams inspired Coleridge’s version. He wrote only 55 lines and left it unfinished. Neil’s lyrics paraphrase the poetry, which concerns the ancients’ obsession with immortality and the person who seeks it in the land of Xanadu. Honey symbolizes rebirth and wisdom, while caves of ice are definite metaphors for the unconscious. The eternity the person in the lyrics is seeking becomes frozen and stagnant (like death or coma): a precursor to ‘Time Stand Still.'”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Neil in his book Roadshow says the song was originally going to be about the Orson Welles movie Citizen Kane, which opens with a line from Kubla Khan, but when he started looking up background information on the Coleridge poem, he became more interested in the poem and reoriented the song in that direction. “In the end, there was entirely too much ‘honey dew’ in it—too much Coleridge, that is to say—and though musically the song was one of our earliest big ‘epics,’ I never cared much for the lyrics.” As a side note, Neil says a video of the band playing the song gave them their first exposure on British television, because the video was played over the closing credits of a music program called The Old Grey Whistle Test.

Neil in a March 24, 2011, Guardian interview says the power of the Coleridge poem overwhelmed him: “More or less against my will, I found the song being taken over by the poem, in a way that has never happened before or since. For that reason, the finished song has never been my favorite piece of work, lyrically––too derivative––but it made a good musical vehicle for one of our first ‘extended works.’ Also, it was portentous that I added the ‘adventure travel’ aspect to the song’s story way back then––‘I scaled the frozen mountaintops of eastern lands unknown/ Time and man alone/ Searching for the lost Xanadu’––before I’d ever traveled farther than the arenas and rock clubs of North America. It is also noteworthy that I portrayed the idea of immortality as a grim fate, a curse, because the first lyrics I ever wrote, at about age 17, were for a song by the band I was in, JR Flood, called ‘Retribution.’ (When I told my mother about the song, and the title, she cracked: ‘Who are you writing for––college professors?’ That was rich, said to a high-school-dropout wannabe drummer. In later years, having attained success with Rush, I once heard a disparaging remark: ‘Rush is what happens when you let the drummer write the songs.’ Pretty funny––though of course I’m not entirely to blame; I only write the lyrics.) “Retribution was a first-person story about a soul trapped in immortality as a punishment, foreshadowing the character I made up for Xanadu. It is further ironic that a dominant theme in Citizen Kane is the opposite: mortality as a punishment––symbolised by Kane’s dying word: ‘Rosebud.’ But in terms of the influence of Coleridge on my lyrics, I am much more fond of a less obvious reference, a line in our song ‘Animate,’ from Counterparts(1994): ‘Daughter of a demon lover.’ It pays homage to these powerful lines from Kubla Khan: ‘As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted/ By woman wailing for her demon lover!'”—Neil in March 24, 2011, Guardian interview.

Alex and Geddy both play double-necks on the piece. “‘Xanadu’ is the song that we really both used them in. [I used mine] just so I could go back and play a couple of guitar bits. Because I used to play rhythm guitar in the middle section.”—Geddy in Contents Under Pressure

“Geddy’s double-neck was heralded at the time as the first double-neck Rickenbacker, constructed in Los Angeles specifically for Rush. Neil bulked up as well, using keyboard percussion and a whole array of tubular bells and chimes.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“The song relishes the splendour of Kubla Khans palace, but it emphasizes the consequences of overreaching and the explorer’s solitary endless quest [for immortality] in the fade-out at the end of the song. An epic stature is lent through reference to the Mongolian dynasty, but more importantly through the extended length of the track and its musical virtuosity.”—Paul Hegarty and Martin Halliwell, Beyond and Before

On the piece, the band has “absorbed the progressive rock influences they sought, but even more than on ‘2112’ they have created their own sound and identity. It is passionate, yet with a strong intelligence. The words convey the theme in a clear manner and the music supports the lyrics. The louder, more aggressive passages are not just there so the group can rock out; they serve the story.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

Closer to the Heart

The piece “was the first Rush song to have an outside co-writer, Peter Talbot, a friend of Neil’s. It was released as a single in time for Christmas 1977, and after two near misses with “Fly by Night” and “Bastille Day” in 1975, it gave Rush their first hit single in the United Kingdom, reaching No. 36 in February 1978.

“It is one of Rush’s most popular recordings, receiving a fair amount of radio airplay still to this day. The song has also been part of the set list on nearly every tour since 1977. The band decided to drop the piece for the bulk of their 2002 Vapor Trails Tour and the entire R30: 30th Anniversary Tour in 2004 because, according to Peart, ‘we got sick of it.’ The song was also not played during the 2007 and 2008 legs of the Snakes & Arrows Tour, but was brought back for the 2010 Time Machine Tour.

“On their live albums A Show of Hands and Different Stages, Rush appended several minutes of jam-type playing at the end of the performance.

“On the original track and live performances from October 1977 to May 1983 and then again from November 1996 to January 2005, Peart played his acoustic drum kit but used a Simmons (then later Drum) electronic drum kit in live performances of the track from June 1984 to May 1994.”—Wikipedia

“Neil has said that, lyrically, the song offers solutions to the concerns raised within the title track [of A Farewell to Kings], and indeed the lyrics of the two songs link up seamlessly.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

Paul Hegarty and Martin Halliwell in their book Beyond and Before say the song, along with “Freewill,” offers a solution to people’s increasing alienation from the “mass-living” of the suburbs by emphasizing the role of work in our sense of belonging. In the song, “social integration” is “based on everyone accepting their roles and developing them according to their strengths: ‘Philosophers and ploughmen/Each must know his part.’ The almost feudal imagery seems very conservative (blacksmith and artist are the other roles identified), but the key is the creativity in every part of society, ‘to sow a new mentality’ by balancing heart and mind. There is a sense of restoration and a reattainment of a holistic society, where the individuals are specifically not alienated from their labour (an unexpected and unconscious Marxist angle) and where labour is the essence of social and individual development.”

“It remains a favorite of female Rush fans and would open quite a few radio station doors.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

The piece is one of five songs for which Rush was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010. The other four are “Subdivisions,” “The Spirit of Radio,” “Tom Sawyer,” and “Limelight.”

Cinderella Man

Based loosely on Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, a 1936 comedy starring Gary Cooper about a small-town man who inherits a fortune, the piece has the character of a fable. Lyrics by Geddy, with help from Alex.

The piece has a “beautiful melodic chorus. The band is able to soften its approach here without losing any of its intensity.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

Musically, it “contrasts acoustic and electric guitars dynamically in a manner consciously addressed in the Rupert Hine years [Presto, Roll the Bones], with songs like ‘Roll the Bones.’ it would serve an encore track on the A Farewell to Kings tour.”—
Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

Geddy in the program guide to the tour describes the middle section of the piece as almost funky.—Songfacts

Madrigal

“Madrigal” is named after a sixteenth-century vocal genre, a short love poem set to music.

The piece was written in its entirety at Rockfield Studios in Wales. On the Farewell to Kings album, it follows “Cinderella Man.” “On any previous Rush album, the next song would be a kick-out-the-jams rocker, but with ‘Madrigal’ the band spins another enchanting melody and does an all-out love song. The tune opens with two bittersweet lines from Neil, ‘When the dragons grow too mighty to slay with pen or sword.’ Geddy’s voice convincingly carries a tone of weariness that the whole band must have felt. They had had very little time off since the summer and they were far away from home.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“Madrigal is the album’s true ballad and the only track from the record not played live.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

The piece, dedicated to their wives, expresses their weariness of being on the road.—Robert Telleria in Merely Players

This piece and others were targeted by Robert Christgau and other critics as ham-handed attempts by the band to sound highbrow.

Cygnus X-1: The Voyage

“The song was inspired by a Time magazine article on black holes. Producer Terry Brown reads the prologue through a voice synthesizer. The tale is of a space ship journeying into a time warp in the black hole of Cygnus (Greek for dog), which is referred to as the Swan constellation, where scientists believe there might be one (Stephen Hawking and Carl Sagan have said that life might exist there). The music can be described as a dark, wrenching, heavy metal vortex. The “sound and fury” allusion is to a line in Shakespeare’s MacBeth, which William Faulkner used for the title of his most famous novel. The allusion to Rocinante is to Cervantes and Steinbeck.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“Rocinante was Don Quixote’s horse [from the Miguel de Cervantes novel], and also the name of the truck in Travels With Charley. I just liked it, that’s all. (Backstage Club, 1990). I was never a sci-fi nerd and didn’t watch Star Trek or read science fiction, but then when I was in England, I was poor and couldn’t afford to buy books. So, I was ransacking the closet where I lived and I found a lot of sci-fi. It reintroduced me to the genre and made me realize it wasn’t all about numbers and integrated circuits. It refreshed my idea of what the style was, and that led me into fantasy. It was a whole lot of reading at that time, of being young an interested in fantasy and science fiction and alternative universes. That was all in my reading, so naturally it was reflected in the lyrics.” (Seconds, 1994). Neil in Merely Players

To get the unique sound they wanted for the futuristic epic, they “allocated a day for special effects [at Rockfield Studios in South wales, where they recorded A Farewell to Kings], which you can’t just pull out of a hat. So we messed around and had Alex hook up his guitar through various pedals and we hooked up a bunch of digital units in the control room. We just developed ideas with tape loops, a whole bunch of different sounds.” Terry Brown, producer, in Merely Players

“The menace of the black hole is conveyed through a staccato instrumental passage. The percussion work seems enough to frighten off all but the most hardy character. But the traveler [depicted in the piece] heads onward in his ship, the ‘Rocinante,’ towards the heart of the dead star. But what awaits him is not known, but it is clearly worth the risk. The ship enters the black hole, ‘spinning, whirling, descending like a spiral sea unending.’ A brief phrase, ‘To be continued . . . ‘ closes out the lyrics, and leaves listeners wondering if they’ll ever learn of the fate of the ‘Rocinante.'”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

Cygnus X-1: Hemispheres

The piece is about the same space traveler that appears in “Cygnus X-1” on Farewell to Kings. After arriving through a black hole, he helps bring people into balance after their unsuccessful experiments living first under the guidance of Apollo, god of reason, and then of Dionysus, god of love.

“The basic idea for the piece came from a book I was reading, Powers of Mind. It was just an incidental thing, but it was something I had read before, so I tied it into a whole lot of things and it’s the basic constant conflict between thoughts and emotions, between your feelings and your rational ideas. Apollo and Dionysus have been used in a lot of books to characterize these two elements, the rational side and the instinctive side. I’ve always been interested in the ways these two themes transmit themselves into people in political life or in social life. All these conflicts—whether the instinctive way is right or the rational way is right—are always going on between people. The basic theme of ‘Hemisphers’ is that conflict.

“‘Armageddon’ [the fourth section of the piece] is really the focus of that. It’s the climax of that conflict and our hero Cygnus comes in and breaks up the conflict. One of the main points that I wanted to make is that the battle is inside each of us. It’s not some abstract, cosmic battle.”—Neil in Rush Visions

For more on Neil discussing the story line of the piece, go here.

Liz Stillwaggon Swan, a post-doctoral fellow in history at Oregon State University, in the book Rush and Philosophy calls the piece a good vehicle for thinking about the “hard problem” in the philosophy of mind. This is the problem of trying to reduce our conscious feelings to physical states that we can analyze and measure. Physicalists say we should be able to measure all states, even mental states like feelings, because everything ultimately should be reducible to physical things, but others say not everything in the natural world reduces to a physical state that’s measurable. Read more on this in a Rush Vault essay.

U.K. rock critic Geoff Barton, an early champion of the band, was ambivalent about “Hemispheres,” saying he wasn’t sure if it was a “masterpiece or a terrible mistake.” In his Sounds piece, he leans toward it being a mistake.

The idea of the two sides coming together “comes through loud and clear on the side-long epic. It achieves a unity that the longer pieces on Caress of Steel and 2112 were unable to attain. While the other long compositions seemed like stitched-together song cycles, ‘Hemispheres’ is a complete piece of music. Evidence of the thematic and musical unity can even be found in the special effects: during ‘Armageddon,’ as Geddy sings the word ‘hemispheres,’ the left and right channels of the recording phase back and forth, emphasizing the conflict between the two hemispheres of the brain.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

The website PopMatters selected the piece as the 22nd most important prog rock piece of all time (“In the Court of the Crimson King” by King Crimson is the first):

“This was the last side-long ‘suite’ Rush attempted, and it remains the last necessary one any prog-rock group ever did. Not as incendiary or influential as 1976’s ‘2112,’ it will have to settle for merely being flawless, and the pinnacle of the band’s output to this point. By 1978 the trio was truly hitting on all cylinders, musically: arguably the most ambitious of all the progressive bands (which is really saying something), Rush had spent the better part of the decade trying to make a cohesive statement where all elements came together. Interestingly, if not ironically (since irony is anathema to prog-rock) this album/song that studies, and then celebrates the separate hemispheres (of our left/right brains, of our organized/emancipated natures) matches the smarts and technical proficiency with the ingredient that would play an increasingly obvious and vital role in the band’s subsequent work: soul.”—Sean Murphy, PopMatters, May 2011

Circumstances

“Written by Neil about his experience on his own at 18 years old in England, this is one of the most discussed Rush songs written with the central issue the question of whether our lives are shaped by fate or circumstances.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“‘Circumstances’ is a combination of the personal and the universal. The first two verses refer to Neil’s frustrating first trip to England. The chorus talks about the experience in more general terms as it discusses the chances we all take, the circumstances in which they occur, and the way that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The French phrase in the chorus, besides conveying the latter thought more concisely, shows Neil’s growing interest in the language.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

Especially notable, about Hemispheres in general but this song in particular, is the unusually high key Geddy sings in, particulaly in the chorus. “When I went in to do the vocals, I realized that I had not sung any of these things out, with the guys, during the writing process. Because when we wrote the music, I would sit down and acoustically sing some of the melodies, and everybody would go, ‘Yeah, that’s going to work, that’s going to work, OK.’ And we just assumed it would all be fine. So, we never really checked out the keys the songs were written in. And when I went to sing them, they were in such difficult keys for me to sing. . . . And it was just a ball-buster to record. I remember it being incredibly frustrating, you know, [and I had] huge blowouts with Terry [Brown].”—Geddy in Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

The Trees

“In ‘The Trees,’ the maples think that the oaks have too much light, so the maples organize and move to cast off the oak tyranny. The result is that the trees are all made equal by hatchet, axe, and saw.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

Durrell Bowman in his essay “How is Rush Canadian?” in Rush and Philosophy says the piece criticzes the Canadian Content regulations, which were introduced by Ottawa in the 1970s to recognize and separate Canadian artistic content from American content. “One could interpret the narrative solution of this song—legislated equality—as critical of Canadian Content regulations as a variant of affirmative action.” More on this.

“The forest is a mother symbol and may represent the perilous unconscious. C.S. Lewis in ‘Screwtape Proposes a Toast’ discusses how Greek tyrants leveled off tall stalks in corn fields to make them as good or bad (equal) as the rest. Also, the cartoonish images may have been inspired by Dr. Seuss’s book Lorax, published in te 1960s, where the trees are bickering about height. Incidentally, Neil’s pet birds chirp away on the tune.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“Lyrically, the song’s a piece of doggerel. I certainly wouldn’t be proud of that. What I would be proud of is taking a pure idea and creating an image for it. I was very proud of what I achieved in that sense. . . . I wrote ‘The Trees’ in about five minutes. It’s simple rhyming and phrasing, but it illustrates a point so clearly. I wish I could do that all the time. It was just a flash. I was working on an entirely different thing when I saw a cartoon picture of these trees carrying on like fools. I thought, ‘What if trees acted like people?’ So, I saw it as a cartoon, really, and wrote it that way.”—Neil in Merely Players

Neil in his book Roadshow talks about a poignant moment with the song while the band was playing in a former communist country, the Czech Republic, during the R30 tour in 2004. “Ray [Danniels, the band’s manager] was in Prague for that show and during intermission, he told me got a kick out of hearing us play the song in a former communist country. That song is a parable about collectivism, in which the maples rebel against the oaks for being so lofty and taking all the light, concluding with, ‘So the maples formed a union, and they passed a noble law / Now the trees are all kept equal, by hatchet, axe, and saw.’ Well, yes, I thought, we were there representing something, and I was proud of that.”

La Villa Strangiato

“Subtitled ‘an exercise in self-indulgence,’ this instrumental combines jazz fusion, metal, power rock, and other influences the members felt at the time. La villa means ‘city’ in Spanish, while Strangiato is made up, a fusion of Spanish and Italian to mean ‘strange.’ The images in the suite titles were inspired by nightmares Alex was having. The fused German-Spanish title of the first section is almost identical to a German song called ‘Gute Nacht, Freunde’ by A. Yondrascheck [whose real name is Reinhard Mey], which features the same classical guitar intro. ‘To sleep, perchance to dream’ is from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Lerxst was Alex’s nickname. The Aragon was a region in Medieval Spain, but here may also refer to the old Aragon ballrooms the band used to play. Danforth (Avenue) and Pape (Street) is a Toronto intersection. The shreves was the name for the roadies. The guitarwork [of part of the song was] lifted from Warner Bros. cartoon music of the 1930s and ’40s, particularly ‘Powerhouse’ by Raymond Scott.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

The publishers of Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse” did not attempt to take legal action until after the statute of limitations had run out, but “Rush’s management, feeling it was the right thing to do, gave some monetary compensation to Mr. and Mrs. Scott.”—Wikipedia

The appropriation of “Powerhouse” comes at about the 5:50-minute mark, in the “Monsters” suite.  Listen to “Powerhouse” here.  Go to the 30-second mark.  Now listen to “La Villa Strangiato.”  Go to the 5:50-minute mark.

“We wrote this one on the road. We used our soundchecks to run through songs that we were going to record; then, when we would have a few days off we’d start recording. This song was recorded in one take, with all of us in the same room. We had baffles up around the guitar, bass, and drums, and we would look at each other for the cues. My solo in the middle section was overdubbed after we recorded the basic tracks. I played a solo while we did the first take and rerecorded it later. If you listen very carefully, you can hear the other solo ghosted in the background. That was a fun exercise in developing a lot of different sections in an instrumental. It gave everyone the chance to stretch out. . . . By that time I had my [Gibson] ES-355, and my acoustics were a Gibson Dove, J-55, and a B-45 12-string. I had my Marshall in the studio. I had the Twin and two Hiwatts, which I was also using live, but the Marshall was my real workhorse. The Boss Chorus unit had just come out at that time, but I think I used a Roland JC-120 for the chorus sound here.Hemispheres was the first of many ‘chorus’ albums.”—Alex in a 1996 Guitar World interview

“‘La Villa Strangiato’ has two parts that were each recorded in one take. We felt it was a song that needed the feeling of spontaneity to make it work, so we spent over a week learning it before we recorded. After we were finished, none of us thought we’d ever be able to play it again. But now I can do it while watching TV. (Guitar Player, 1980). I always enjoy playing that solo. I like the changes and it’s a very emotive, bluesy kind of solo. It stays the same every night. The band is in the background, modulating between two notes, and it gives me a chance to wail.” (Guitar, 1984)—Alex in Merely Players

The Spirit of Radio

The song took its title from the slogan of Toronto radio station CFNY, which took chances with new music and was the first station to play a Rush song over the air.

“They were totally free-form at a time when all these big programmers were coming in and consultants were telling all these station managers how to keep their jobs. ‘Play these records and you’ll keep your job.’ So there was this one station that was playing anything, and you’d hear very abstract things, very hard things, or classical. It sort of reminded us of what it used to be like when FM just started, and guys like Murray the K were on the air. And it was really great, and everybody was so into it, and you’d live by the FM radio.” (Up Close, 1994)—Geddy in Merely Players

“It’s about musical integrity. We wanted to get across the idea of a radio station playing a wide variety of music. There are bits of reggae and one or two verses has a new-wave feel. The choruses are very electronic, just a digital sequencer with a glockenspiel and a counter riff guitar. The verse is a standard, straight-ahead Rush verse. (Modern Drummer)—Neil in Merely Players

“Oddly enough, this track would unlock the doors to radio airplay for Rush. . . . For David Marsden [the DJ who first played the band on the station] ‘it was really flattering that [the song alludes to] the station. We don’t even play that much Rush, but they were obviously quite taken with our willingness to play bands before anyone else would even go near them.'”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“Radio has become a lot more commercialized since then. Now, the station that we wrote that song about won’t play our music.”—Alex in a 1996 Guitar Player interview

“The last lines are a twist on Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sounds of Silence: ‘for the words of the prophet are written on the subway walls.’ The first verse syncopates the choked hi hat with the “s” sounds in the lyrics.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“This is where a sense of humor comes into it. I was sitting there, thinking of the conclusion of the song, and the parody came into my mind. And I thought, ‘well, either this is very stupid or it’s very great.’ But, all it says is, salesman as artist I can see as an ideal, but they have no place in telling us what to play on stage, and they have no place, any more than a car salesman, in the recording studio.”—Neil in Merely Players

“By the time we cut this, I was using mainly a Strat that I had modified by putting humbuckers in the bridge position. I also used the 355, which I used in the studio for the next couple of records. My amps were Hiwatts, the Marshall and the Twin. I also had a Sixties Bassman head and cabinet. The flanger on that song was an Electro-Harmonix Electric Mistress, which I still have. I used the Boss Chorus Ensemble, and I had graduated to the Roland Space Echo, which replaced my Echoplex.”–-Alex in a 1996 Guitar Player interview

The piece is one of five songs for which Rush was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010. The other four are “Closer to the Heart,” “Limelight,” “Tom Sawyer,” and “Subdivisions.”

Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone thinks the main riff of “The Sprit of Radio” is a lot like the chord sequence for “Sweet Jane” by The Velvet Underground. You compare. 

Freewill

“Freewill” returns to the theme of “Something for Nothing” by urging us to use the freewill inherent in us to act. “Rush’s fear of over-insistence on the collective to the detriment of the individual gradually metamorphosed in the band’s music towards a diagnosis of the late twentieth-century individual. The first responsibility is to act and to be aware of the situation in which one acts, not unlike the existentialist responsibility identified by Jean-paul Satre and Simone de Beauvoir as the route to authentic existence.”—Paul Hegarty and Martin Halliwell, Beyond and Before

“In about five minutes of propulsive beats, melodic guitar figures, and utterly inimitable vocalizing, Rush perceptively observe the tendency to blame someone else for our faults, deny that fate is controlled by outside forces, and embrace self-determination.”—Neil Florek, Rush and Philosophy

“‘Freewill’ continues the bright approach of ‘The Spirit of Radio’ on Permanent Waves with a crisp and clean sound as Geddy sings Neil’s words about choices we must all make, even if we deny that choices exist.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

Among other things, Rush uses the piece to “scoff at superstitious people who pay heed to celestial voices to make their difficult decisions for them instead of thinking for themselves.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

Neil comments in his book Roadshow that listeners have told him they credit this and other Rush songs with widening their views about the world. “One young man told me about being raised a strict Catholic, sure that his faith and received doctrine were the only truth, then he started to listen to some of our songs, like ‘Freewill,’ and began to consider that it was possible to believe differently.

“Not long ago [this was around 2007], a former Mormon wrote to me recounting a similar experience, of being brought up and simply accepting what he was told, until his independence of thought was kindled by our music.”

Neil mentions these episodes while talking about religious extremism. “Even if the voice of reason is increasingly drowned out by the evangelical crowd, that is all the more reason to speak up.”

“‘Kill them with kindness’ is the play on words behind ‘kindness that can kill.’ Lotus eaters in Homer’s The Odyssey became lazy when they ate them. An ancient symbol, the lotus can also stand for all forms of evolution.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“Lotus land as it appears in ‘Freewill’ is simply a metaphor for an idealized background, a land of milk and honey. It is sometimes also used as a pejorative name for Los Angeles, though that was not in my mind when I wrote it. . . . [Musically], the song is a new thing for us in terms of time signatures. [The piece is mostly in 13/4.] We experiment a lot with time signatures. We work in nearly every one of them that I know of that’s legitimate: all of the 5s, 7s, 9s, 11s, 13s, and combinations thereof. I don’t think you have to play in 4/4 to feel comfortable.” (Modern Drummer)—Neil in Merely Players

Jacob’s Ladder

“Part heavy metal, part New Age, this song is not about the vision seen by Jacob in the Bible but rather the atmospheric phenomena that has been named after that image. The tympani pounding parts rock like apocalyptic earthquakes. Alex plays like he’s ascending the ladder in the clouds.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“We built a whole song around a picture . . . where the rays break through the clouds. I came up with a couple of short pieces of lyrics to set the musical parts up. And we built it all musically, trying to describe it cinematically, as if our music were a film. We have a luminous sky happening and the whole stormy, gloomy atmosphere, and all of a sudden these shafts of brilliance come bursting through. (Modern Drummer) I think Geddy actually suggested the idea, after hearing his mother-in-law use the name. It had a nice sound to it, and of course the event itself is a beautiful and inspiring one.” (Backstage Club, 1985)—Neil in Merely Players

Entre Nous

“The lyrics in Ente Nous (“Between Us”) are about recognizing that we can transcend individual differences between ourselves and others. The music uses a technique called text-painting, in which musical gestures imitate the meaning of a word or phrase. The differences described in the lyrics are reflected by the vocal pauses in the chorus after ‘just between us,’ ‘time for us to recognize,’ ‘spaces in between,’ and ‘leave room,’ which represent points of separation. The larger message of the song, about overcoming such differences, is expressed by musical elements that create unity: the verse and chorus are in closely related keys (D and G), and the guitar and synthesizer play together in the bridge but there is no individual solo.”—Nicole Biamonte, “Contre Nous,” in Rush and Philosophy

“The title comes from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, meaning ‘between us’ in French and captures the sense of rapport Neil feels with members of the audience. In some foreign pressings, the label included the English translation.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“When the lights come on behind us and I look out at the audience and see all those little circles, [I sense that] each of those circles is a person. Each person is a story. They have circumstances surrounding their lives that can never be repeated. All those people have a whole novel about their lives, the time they were born, how they grew up, what they did, and what they wanted to do, their relationships with other people, their romances and marriages. And they are individuals. That’s what I respond to. They’re not a mob. They’re not a crowd. . . . I’m always playing for an individual. I don’t play for the crowd, for some faceless ideal of commerciality of some lowest common denominator. It’s a person up there every night, who knows everything I’m supposed to do. If I don’t do it, that person knows it.” (Modern Drummer)—Neil in Merely Players

Different Strings

“Odd man out of Permanent Waves is ‘Different Strings,’ a hugely underrated ballad [written by Geddy] for the band, sophisticated textures and melodies marking a step forward indeed. ‘There’s usually one song per album that is produced in such a way that we’ll never play it live,’ says Alex. ‘”Madrigal” [on A Farewell to Kings] is one of those. So is “Different Strings.”‘—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“‘Different Strings’ was designed as a purely studio creation to test the band’s most ornate musical instincts. Hugh Syme [who art directs the band’s album covers] made another guest appearance, playing the grand piano.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“I love the feel of the tune. It reminds me of soldiers sitting around a piano in a smoke-filled pub in England during the war. It’s the type of solo I really enjoy playing, an emotive, bluesy sort of thing.” (Guitar Player, 1980)—Alex in Merely Players

Natural Science

“This is epic Rush. Life in a tidal pool is likened to our own little world in the big universe. The quantum leap forward seems inspired by the transitional evolution scene in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Like the synthesis or balance in ‘Cygnus,’ art needs to be balanced with science.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

The piece discusses “the balance between the natural and the synthetic world and how integrity of purpose could allow us to reach an equilibrium between control and understanding through science.”—David Bradley, Sciencebase

“Obviously the original relationship between man and nature was that he had to tame it in order to survive, and that became more and more sophisticated and out of hand, and finally it just became destruction. It’s become the same thing with science, where people don’t understand it, and are afraid of it. They think you have to eradicate science to control it. (Jim Ladd Innerview) There is no doubt that working under pressure can be rewarding, as we have found many times in the studio. It seems as if the creative mind slips into a burst of overdrive, allowing a brief, exhausting, but productive surge in the creative process. On the third day of my confinement this phenomenon arrived at last, and something new began to take shape. It was the product of a whole host of unconnected experiences, books, images, thoughts, feelings, observations, and confirmed principles, that somehow took the form of ‘Natural Science.'” (Personal Waves)—Neil in Merely Players

“Once we had the guitar track down, we stuck a speaker cabinet outside—this was up at the studio in Morin Heights, Quebec—and we recorded the natural echo off the mountains in combination with the sound of splashing water and Geddy’s voice. We didn’t use any sort of synthetic echo on the water track.” (Guitar Player, 1980)—Alex in Merely Players

To get the tide pool sound, Neil and Alex “splashed oars in the lake with shivering hands,” Neil says in the Permanent waves tourbook.

“This is one of my favorite songs. It kind of went away in our live show for many years, and when we brought it back, we changed the arrangement a bit. There were things in the arrangement that were a little shortchanged in the original song. Like in the second part, [where we say] ‘Wheels within wheels.’ It’s not a traditional song; there’s no real verse/chorus/verse/chorus, but there are certain melodies like that that I felt deserved to appear more than they did. I thought [making that change] would give the song more resonance. So, we did those things, and the last section of the song is made shorter than it was in the original version. I felt we had kind of overdone it on the record. So, sometimes there’s that opportunity to fix a mistake or an arrangement. I think that our current version live is the best we’ve ever played it.”—Geddy in Contents Under Pressure

The piece wasn’t originally planned for the album and it took the longest of all of the songs to come together. Brian Harrigan says in his 1984 book Rush, the band had “finished doing the demos for everything on the album except one track. They had moved from Lakewoods Farm to Le Studio in Montreal to begin recording in earnest, but there was still that gap. For a while it looked as though something Neil had been working on, based on the medieval epic ‘Sir Gawain & The Green Knight’ might fill the gap, but it wasn’t to be. ‘It became too out of place with the album’s other material,” explained Neil, ‘so the project was shelved. But this did leave us with a gaping hole in the LP’s plan. So while Alex and Geddy worked on overdubs I secluded myself to try to write something. For two days I stared in frustration at blank sheets of paper but on the third day something began to take shape, eventually taking the form of “Natural Science,” the album’s concluding track.'”

Although “Sir Gawain & The Green Knight” had been scrapped, parts of it were repurposed for “Natural Science,” as Neil writes in Personal Waves, the Permanent Waves tourbook: “In Le Studio, ‘Natural Science’ was becoming a song, forged from some bits from ‘Gawain,’ some instrumental ideas that were still unused, and some parts newly written.”

The website PopMatters selected the piece as the 10th most important prog rock piece of all time (“In the Court of the Crimson King” by King Crimson is the first):

“If 2112 is the album Rush had to make, Permanent Waves is the work that paved the way for a new decade and the next (most successful) phase of their career. The centerpiece of the album is the sixth and final song, ‘Natural Science:’ it does not grab you by the ear the way ‘2112’ does and it does not have the immediate, irresistible appeal of ‘Tom Sawyer,’ but it’s, quite possibly, the band’s most perfect achievement. Neil Peart’s lyrics, which tackle ecology, commercialism, and artistic integrity (without being pretentious or self-righteous) are, in hindsight, not merely an end-of-decade statement of purpose but a presciently fin-de-siecle assessment that still, amazingly, functions as both indictment and appeal. ‘Natural Science’ endures as the last document before Moving Picturestriangulated math rock, prog rock, and the fertile new soil of synth-based popular music and did the inconceivable, making Rush a household name.”—Sean Murphy, PopMatters, May 2011

Tom Sawyer

“Co-written with fellow Canadian rock band Max Webster’s lyricist Pye Dubois (originally he called it ‘Louis the Warrior,’ [and also “Louis the Lawyer”]), this song, widely recognized as the quintessential Rush song with its familiar dynamics, is about a detached streetwise rebel with mean, mean pride, partly inspired by Mark Twain’s character.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

When Dubois presented the lyrics to them, the band was at the home of rock legend Ronnie Hawkins, who first made his mark in the late 1950s with Marylou” and then put together the back-up bands for Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin, among others. He was born in Arkansas but moved to Ontario early in his career and remained there.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

“Pye Dubois is an excellent lyricist. His original lyrics [for the piece that became ‘Tom Sawyer’] were of a portrait of a modern day rebel, a free-spirited individualist striding through the world wide-eyed and purposeful. I added the themes of reconciling the boy and the man in myself and the difference between what people are and what others perceive them to be. (Backstage Newsletter, 1985) There are parts of the song that I don’t necessarily understand. But I like the arrogance implied. But it’s a mistaken arrogance. There are . . . little games you’re expected to play that Tom Sawyer and I don’t have time for. (Sounds) The instrumental section grew from a little melody that Geddy had been using to set up his synthesizers at sound checks. (A Rush Newsreel) I’m playing full strength through the entire song and it took about a day and a half to record. I remember collapsing afterwards with raw, red aching hands. I had been playing the bass drum so hard that my toes were all mashed together and very sore. Physically, this was certainly the most difficult track, and even now it takes as much energy to play properly as my solo.”—Neil in Merely Players

“I remember when we layered the opening [Oberheim OB-X ] keyboard thing on top [of the other elements], how cool it sounded, and what power and punch the opening had. And the toughness of the way Neil played in that opening, where it’s just basically the drums and Geddy with this synth rasping away in the background, then the rest of the band diving into it and screaming all the way through. I always thought that we had really, again, achieved what we set out to with that song, of having that real punky kind of rebellious attitude to it.”—Alex in Merely Players

“‘Tom Sawyer’” was in many ways the most difficult song to record on [the album]. I remember even though the writing of the song came together pretty quickly, putting it down on tape was a little difficult. We were trying different sounds, and going with a whole different approach to lyrics—the kind of spoken-word thing, getting the right sound for Alex’s guitar, and so on. It was kind of a dark horse. And then in the mixing, it all came together. When we finished it, we were so pleased with what happened, because we kind of had the least expectations of it, because of the difficulty we had [with it]. I think a lot of musicians probably go through a similar thing, where they have this one song that they beat themselves up over, and then the next thing you know, it’s their biggest song.”—Geddy in Rolling Stone

The piece, “swirling into the camera eye with vortextual sounds cycloning a slow and deliberate 4/4 beat, propelled Moving Pictures to lofty heights. Its ebbs and flows are legion, its totality Rush’s ambassador of a song. ‘I love that song and I never get tired of playing it,’ says Geddy. ‘The fact that it is so popular still just confuses the hell out of me. I love the fact that it begins with such a great backbeat, and there’s this kind of faux rap part. To me, the song is just about innocence more than anything, and I think that comes through. And it still holds through somehow; the slightly inscrutable lyrics still deliver that message to people, and people identify with it, and they dig it. And it’s got this weird middle part. And if you can get away with that in a popular song . . . geez, it’s a major victory.'”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

The piece is one of five songs for which Rush was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010. The other four are “Closer to the Heart,” “Limelight,” “The Spirit of Radio,” and “Subdivisions.”

VH1 in 2009 named it the 19th greatest hard rock song of all time, and gaming site 411 Mania in 2012 ranked it third on its top 10 list of songs about guys. Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” was second and Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey, Joe” was first.

“Tom Sawyer” in 30-second spot promoting 2013 football game between Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders:


“Tom Sawyer,” acoustic version, makes brief appearance in NBC’s “Revolution” (2013)

Red Barchetta

“Barchettas are body car types and in its original Italian means ‘little boat.’ Inspired by Richard S. Foster’s article A Nice Morning Drive, which Neil read in a Novemember 1973 Car and Track Magazine, the piece, which was recorded in one take, is a sci-fi excursion in the vein of their early works about an age where cars are outlawed, perhaps because they represent individuality, sexuality, freedom, and cause pollution and accidents. Mass transit is now in the form of the Turbine Freight, which the narrator takes to an abandoned farm that conceals a well-kept automobile from the past. So, the car is to the guitar in ‘2112.’ The adrenaline-filled car chase led by a rebel takes the form of a cinematic image. The Eyes (authorities) have a two-lane wide alloy air-car vehicle that cannot cross the narrow bridge and the driver leaves them stranded. Even the senses seem heightened as if the air was purer as a result of the Motor Law. At the end of the song we realize that the chase may have been imaginary, in the mind of the uncle or nephew reliving a rebellious experience in a fireside chat.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“The intention of ‘Red Barchetta’ was to create a song that was very vivid, so that you had a sense of action. It does become a movie. I think that song really worked with that in mind. It’s something that I think we’ve tried to carry on—become a little more visual with our music. . . . I like the way the parts knit together. I like the changes. I like the melody. I love the dynamics, the way it opens with the harmonics and creates a mood, then gets right into the driving, right up to the middle section where it’s really screaming along, where you really feel like you’re in the open car, and the music is very vibrant and moving. And then it ends as it began, with that quiet dynamic, and let’s you down lightly. So, it picks you up for the whole thing and drops you off at your next spot.” (In the Studio)—Alex in Merely Players

“‘Red Barchetta’ is another Randian protest against the rule of enforced mediocrity and cloying collective safety. But the piece is also another in which technology is a symbol for human nature, human craftsmanship, creativity, and daring. Really, the Barchetta sports car stands for the daring spirit of the nephew. It stands for the vitality as well as the superior standards of an earlier day, before human nature was degraded by the leaded weights of modernity and mediocrity.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

Neil in his book Roadshow, which recounts the R30 tour in 2004, says the band still enjoys playing the piece live. “I made a note [after the show in Oberhausen, Germany, near Dusseldorf], about a bridge in the song, where we pounded out a repeating 7/4 riff leading from the guitar solo back into the verse—a classic ‘tension-and-release’ moment: ‘Gave me goosebumps the other night, and always a great part, for us and the audience.'”

In a 2010 essay included in his 2011 book Far and Away, Neil says the song still captures the spirit of adventurous abandon in which it was written 30 years prior. But if he were to write the lyrics now to capture his experience as a proud owner of a classic Aston Martin DB5 (which he spent three years restoring), he would give the lyrics the following subtext:

“Wind in my hair [Windows always open, ’cause there’s no AC]

“Shifting and drifting [Slipping and sliding on those skinny bias-ply tires]

“Mechanical music [Vroom-vroom—ka-ching!]

“Adrenaline surge [The clutch pedal just went to the floor and stayed there]

“Well-weathered leather [Need to repair passenger seat-back]

“Hot metal and oil [Is that temperature gauge creeping up too high?]

“The scented country air [Windows always open, ’cause there’s no AC]

“Sunlight on chrome [Note to have the door handles redone]

“The blur of the landscape [With due regard to the California Highway Patrol—and at night, the failed speedometer light—requiring an occasional check with Maglite]

“Every nerve aware  [Is that temperature gauge creeping up too high?]”

YYZ

“The title ‘YYZ’ refers to Toronto International Airport. It is the code that’s used by the pilots and the control tower. The introduction to the song is actually the Morse code readout for ‘YYZ.'”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“‘YYZ’ is actually pronounced Y-Y-Zed (Canadian/British way of pronouncing ‘Z’). Neil smashes quarter-inch plywood against a stool for the crashing sound effect near the end. The loud synthesizer part is supposed to represent ‘coming home from a long trip,’ according to Geddy. ‘It is always a happy day when YYZ appears on our luggage tags!'”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“There are parts of the song that are semi-evocative of the feelings that are engendered when you are going to the airport to leave. You are sort of feeling edgy and tense because you are having to leave home and go to work, and you are thinking that you are half at home and half away. It’s a very transitional period, and you always have a sense of infinite possibilities at the airport. You can change your mind and fly anywhere in the world, and all of a sudden you are not in Toronto any more; you are in the the world. An airport really should not be said to be in a city, because it never is; it is always a crossroad. And that, of course, is a big part of the song. We tried to work a lot of the exotic nature of the airport in there. And the big, sappy instrumental bridge in the middle that is really orchestrated, really emotional, really rich, is of course again half symbolizing the tremendous emotional impact of coming home.”—Neil in Rush Visions

After the Rush in Rio DVD came out, in 2003, in which Brazilian audiences were shown “singing” to instrumental portions of their music, American crowds started doing that, most notably to portions of ‘YYZ.’ “It sounded great,” Neil says in his book Roadshow.

Limelight

Neil in his book Roadshow says the song is one of his attempts to capture the experience of a touring musician. “I had tried to capture that paradigm from the beginning with the Wes Emerson stories [early attempts at fiction writing that he abandoned], and time after time since then, even in songs like ‘Limelight,’ but I had never been satisfied. I kept thinking that if I could just make people see what it was really like, they would understand everything. And, like everybody, I wanted so badly to be understood.”

“Limelight” is Neil’s take on fame. It “opens with a ‘Fly by Night’ power riff. This could have been an early Rush metallic tune, but there’s a much more accomplished band playing here [than before].”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“It deals with two kinds of ways you can look at success. On the one hand, you can treat it as living out some sort of charade. On the other hand, it’s something that’s very real. You certainly have to draw the line somewhere as far as when you become public property and when you’re a private person.”—Geddy in Merely Players

“Because we’ve never been a high-profile band, we’ve managed to retain a lot of our privacy. But we’ve had to work at it. Neil’s very militant about his privacy.”—Alex in a 1996 Guitar Player interview

“Fame, for me, is embarrassing. It’s not something I get arrogant about. I don’t feel like people are bothering me. But, at the same time, I get embarrassed if strangers walk up to me on the street who think they know me. I just get embarrassed, tense, and uncomfortable. They don’t know me. It just makes me defensive. (Modern Drummer, 1984) I . . . changed it from the first person, to say ‘One must put up barriers to keep oneself intact,’ whereas my original intention had been ‘I must put up barriers.’ And when Geddy suggested the change of focus I realized it was right.”—Neil in Merely Players

The piece is one of five songs for which Rush was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010. The other four are “Closer to the Heart,” “The Spirit of Radio,” “Tom Sawyer,” and “Subdivisions.”

The Camera Eye

“‘The Camera Eye’ is an 11-minute battle between barned riffs from Alex and tidal synthesizers from Geddy.”–Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

The piece “focuses on a lighter mood [than ‘Limelight’] in an attempt to capture what was perhaps the most unique talent of a half-forgotten, early 20th century American writer. John Dos Passos [one of whose books is The Camera Eye] is not ranked highly in the canon of literature nowadays, but he helped expand the limits of the novel much like Rush were trying to do with music. And this song, more than any essay about Dos Passos, captures his wide-eyed sense of wonder and ability to see the magic of life. It describes the feeling of place that one can experience in New York or London or any town anywhere that . . . [has] a character and a quality its own.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“The contrast between possibilities [London] and hard realities [New York City] is exactly the same one that’s drawn by H.P. Lovecraft in his short story ‘He,’ in a semi-autobiographical monument to his unhappy ‘New York exile.’ . . . Lovecraft lived for a few years in New York City, a prospect he first greeted with eagerness, but soon it palled on him. The possibility and the reality of New York proved to be two quite different things. . . . [And, like Neil,] Lovecraft chose yesterday’s London as his point of comparison and contrast with today’s New York.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

“The sampled cinematic street sounds are from ‘Metropolis’ in Superman: The Movie. Part one is about New York and the hard realities, while part two is about London and the possibilities, the two verses linked by rain. Chase scenes in Incident at Channel Q [a 1986 movie by Storm Thorgerson about suburbanites taking a dim view of heavy metal] used some of the faster parts in the song.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Witch Hunt

“‘Witch Hunt,’ the production piece on Moving Pictures, is the most reworked and fretted-over song on the album, and introduces the three-part Fear trilogy [later a four-part series] from the vantage point of the third part. Lyrically, it is a poetic indictment of mob mentality; musically, it is Alex at his most sinister.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

The piece is comprised of “cinematic images of a night lit by torches held by howling mobs. Metallica’s lyrics for ‘Holier Than Thou’ is a direct steal from the song’s final verse: ‘Point the finger, slow to understand / Arrogance and ignorance go hand in hand.'”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“The narrative part of the song, the description of the assembling of the lynch mob, very adroitly uses the mage of darkness and firelight to reveal how evil lies beneath the surface of pious intentions, obvious to everyone but the self-deceived mob itself. The darkness of the moonless night, in the eyes of the vigilantes, is a tactical shield making possible the righteous crusade, yet the rest of us plainly see that the mob gathers in darkness because they are creatures of darkness.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

“We went outside of Le Studio [in Quebec] and it was so cold; we were well into December by then, I think. We put a couple of mics outside. We started ranting and raving. We did a couple of tracks of that. I think we had a bottle of scotch or something with us to keep warm. So, as the contents of the bottle became less and less, the ranting and raving took on a different flavor and you got little lines of—you remember the cartoon Roger Ramjet [first aired in 1965]? What was the bad guy’s name? His gang of hoods, they always had these little things they would say whenever they were mumbling. We were in the control room after we had laid down about 12 tracks of mob—in hysterics. Every once in a while you’d hear somebody say something really stupid.” (In the Studio)—Neil in Merely Players

The piece is the third part of the four-part Fear series. (Originally it was a trilogy.)

“The idea for the trilogy was suggested by an older man telling that he didn’t think life was ruled by love, or reason, or money, or the pursuit of happiness—but by fear. This smart-but cynical guy’s position was that most people’s actions are motivated by fear of being hungry, fear of being hurt, fear of being alone, fear of being robbed, etc., and that people don’t make choices based on hope that something good will happen, but in fear that something bad will happen.

“I reacted to this the way all of us tend to react to generalities: ‘Well, I’m not like that!’ But then I started thinking about it more, watching the way people around me behaved, and I soon realised that there was something to this viewpoint, So I sketched out the three ‘theaters of fear,’ as I saw them: how fear works inside us (‘The Enemy Within’), how fear is used against us (‘The Weapon’), and how fear feeds the mob mentality (‘Witch Hunt’).

“As it happened, the last theme was easiest to deal with, so it was written first, and consequently appeared first on record, and the other two followed in reverse order for the same reason.”—Wikipedia

The fourth in the series, ‘Freeze,’ released almost 20 years after release of ‘Witch Hunt,’ looks at that moment when one chooses to fight or flee.

Vital Signs

“‘Vital Signs’ closes the picture show, continuing the softly pulsing legacy of exploring what can be called exotic, technology-steeped reggae, a slight and side preoccupation began one record previous [Permanent Waves], to be revisited on Signals, double that on Grace Under Pressure.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

In the piece, “free will is assumed, as well as our capacity to choose our dreams based on our basic values. ‘Vital Signs’ specifies virtues which must be developed and fully engaged if our dreams are to be realized. The quirky, even funky rhythms and relatively spare arrangement sonically frame a passionate plea to avoid the vice of conformity and actualize our dreams through courage and persistence.”—Neil Florek, Rush and Philosophy

“The song [the last on the album] reprises many of the themes of Moving Pictures: the inability to absorb all the events flashing by and the struggle to achieve balance.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“We purposefully left one song still unwritten with a view of writing it in the studio. Eclectic in the extreme, it embraces a wde variety of stylistic influences, ranging from the sixties to the present [1981]. Lyrically, it derives from my response to ‘Technospeak,’ the language of electronics and computers, which often seem to parallel the human machine, in the functions and interrelationships they employ. It is interesting, if not irrelevant, to speculate as to whether we impose our nature on the machines we build, or whether they are merely governed by the same inscrutable laws of nature as we [are]. (A Rush Nesreel) That song took about three tours to catch on. It was kind of a baby for us. We kept playing it and wouldn’t give up. . . . It opens up so many musical approaches. Everythng we wanted in the song is there. So, it’s very special for us. But we had to wait. We had to be patient and wait for the audience to understand us.” (Guitar, 1986)—Neil in Merely Players

“Keeping with the album themes, there’s even a cinematic touch in the line ‘pause rewind replay.’ Geddy actually sings ‘evelate’ instead of ‘elevate’ near the end.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

For a little more on the “evelate” matter, go here.

Subdivisions

“‘Subdivisions’ deals with growing up in suburbs—alienation, dreams, conformity—as Alex explores more of an angular, textural guitar sound and synths take over more. Contrary to popular belief, Neil does not sing the part ‘Subdivisions’ (nor does Alex, who filled in for concerts and the video promo). It was actually Toronto newsman Mark Dailey’s voice.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“I had been working on some lyrics and had come up with ‘Subdivisions,’ an exploration of the background from which all of us (and probably most of our audience) had come from. . . . I listened closely [to the music Alex and Geddy were creating for the song], picking up the variations on 7/8 and the way the guitar adopts the role of rhythm section while the keyboards take the melody, returning to bass with guitar leading in the chorus, then the mini-moog taking over again for the instrumental bridge.” (Stories from Signals)—Neil in Merely Players

The piece “brings home to many young Rush listeners that face of conformity that they most often see: the anonymity of the suburbs. Here the forces toward conformity are two. First is the very structure of suburban life, with its limiting, stifling options. Second is the gravity of peer pressure that is so hard to defy.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

“We longed to break out of the boring surrounding of the suburbs, and the endless similarities, the houses after houses after houses that were the same, and no trees and the shopping plazas and all of that stuff. Our way of trying to be different and our way of not wanting to conform was by growing our hair long. This music that we were into spoke to us in a way that was a vehicle for us to speak out against whatever you speak out against when you’re a teenager. That’s part of teenage life is going through all these hormonal and psychological changes that you don’t even know what you’re doing half the time. We were growing our hair, we were playing in a band, we thought we were kind of hip. I guess we thought we were kind of cooler than the next guy, but we probably weren’t.”—Geddy on In the Studio with Redbeard

“Rush addressed the anti-conformist theme numerous times before and after the song’s release, but ‘Subdivisions’ provides a clear and engaging introduction to some of the key mythologies of middle-class identity and the suburbs. Rush portrays the North American suburb as a place where quiet and comfort is privileged in place of stimulation; a place that traps young people in ennui and conformity; a place hostile to dreamers and misfits. The bureaucratic rationality and ‘geometric order’ of the suburb hold sway over the chaotic, unpredictable, but ultimately creative character which presumably resides in young people who seek escape.”—Christopher McDonald, Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class

“Geddy does a great job of switching from a synth lead to a bass line during the chorus, but you can barely hear guitar until the closing section of the song. [The under-production of guitar is a problem throughout Signals.] Alex wanted to expand his rhythmic role in the band and Geddy was anxious to use the keyboards as the lead instrument on at least some songs. While this sounded like an interesting idea at least in theory, it would cause problems and create tensions in practice. The band entered Le Studio [in Quebec] on April 21 [1982]. They would not leave until July 15.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

The piece is one of five songs for which Rush was inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010. The other four are “Closer to the Heart,” “The Spirit of Radio,” “Tom Sawyer,” and “Limelight.” At the induction ceremony, Jacob Moon performed the piece as a solo act using two guitars. How he came to be selected to perform the piece is an interesting story.

The Analog Kid

“Almost a sequel to ‘Subdivisions,’ the analog kid, dreaming of success, represents Rush growing up in the days of analog.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“I think every young musician can relate to this. You have this dream about making it but don’t really know what that means. You just go for this goal with your eyes closed, you heart wide open, and let things happen from there. I don’t think any of us realized how far Rush would go and I don’t think we like to think about it, either.” (Success Under Pressure)—Geddy in Merely Players

In the piece, “a boy’s suburban reverie of busy urban streets, autumn woods, and winter skies (visions interrupted as his mother’s voice calls him back to reality) dramatizes the desire to flee suburbs.”—Christopher McDonald, Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class

“The fawn-eyed girl with the sun-browned legs,” about whom the narrator is daydreaming before his mother calls him home, is based on Neil’s first experience with puppy love. It was with a girl from Beach City, Ohio, that he met while attending the 1967 World’s Fair in Montreal when he was 15. For a year afterward they maintained their relationship through letters. “Her father was extremely watchful and we never even kissed. . . . When her letters trickled off, I was devastated. Maybe her father made her stop writing to me.”—Neil in Roadshow

After the boy’s daydream is interrupted by his mother, he “pulls down his baseball cap over his eyes. Like the humanoid escapee in ‘The Body Electric’ [on Grace Under Pressure] he is experiencing overload, a clash of signals, a confusion of programming. Whose voice will he heed? That of the dryad [the beautiful maiden featured in his daydream] or his mother? Heartstrings or apron-strings? He will leave home; there’s really no question about that. But when? And what will he find?”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

“‘The Analog Kid’ was my first attempt at non-fiction. For the longest time I stepped into characters until I had my own confidence and technique to be able to step outside them as a writer.” (Canadian Musician)—Neil in Merely Players

In the production of the song, the guitar is given more emphasis than other songs on Signals, “but nowhere near the levels of earlier records. Still, there is some meticulous musical interplay between Alex and Geddy.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“‘The Analog Kid’ and ‘Digital Man’ served as the inspiration for writer Troy Hickman to create the comic book heroes of the same name, Digital Man and Analog Kid, in the 2004 comic Common Grounds.”—Wikipedia

Chemistry

Lyrics, by all three band members, describe how humans communicate without using language. “With words such as ‘signals,’ ‘energy,’ ‘reaction,’ ‘telepathy,’ and ‘synergy,’ the lyrics describe the body language, eye contact, the symbiotic connection between musicians and the connection between musicians and their audience.”—Timothy Smolko, “What Can This Strange Device Be?” in Rush and Philosophy

“‘Chemistry’ is a song about interpersonal relationships, similar in theme to ‘Entre Nous’ . . . and serves as an interlude between the segments of the ‘Digital Man,’ ‘Analog Kid,’ and ‘New World Man’ sequence” on Signals.—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

“While some might consder this song to be a drug metaphor, it alludes to the subatomic world, the microcosmos. The invisible and intangible things and laws that exist are discussed in the first part of the song, and ’emotional chemistry’ are discussed in the second.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

On the Moving Pictures tour, “our sound man, Jon Erickson, had been taping our soundcheck meanderings and it had proved fruitful to us. On one particular day, we will unknowingly write a whole song at once, each of us playing a different part. While Geddy plays what will become the keyboard melody for the bridge section, Alex is playing the guitar riff for the verses, and I’m playing the drumbeat for the choruses. When Alex and Geddy get together to sift through the soundcheck tapes [while working on Signals] they will find a whole song written, and will arrange it, and make a demo that will be very close to the finished song. Lyrically, this is the first time that all three of us have collaborated on the words. Geddy and Alex came up with the title and concept, wrote out a few key phrases and words they wanted to get in, then passed it along to me for organization and a little further development. When all of this is put together, we have what was probably the easiest song to write on the album.” (Stories from Signals)—Neil in Merely Players

Digital Man

“The title character in ‘Digital Man’ is he who left behind his identity as the analog kid. The digital man is the creature of a world of high-speed technology, of the breakneck pace, of a rat race in which human beings sooner or later wear down or burn out because they are forced to try to match the pace of tireless, instant-replay machine. He is pretty much the same image as the humanoid, only here the focus is less on his denatured degradation as it is on his function as a cog in a wheel. . . . In some ways, the perfect example of the digital man is Winston Smith, the hapless anti-hero, the card-carrying member of the party, of George Orwell’s nightmare masterpiece, 1984. Digital man as a species may be ascendant, but his fate is sealed. The mechanical world of which he is a part must eventually collapse under its own weight. The human spirit will burst forth like the Phoenix from its own pyre, and on that day we’ll see the emergence of the New World Man.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

“The digital man character was running in the fast lane, faster than life. (Jim Ladd Interview) It was our first attempt at juggling disparate stylistic influences—ska, synth-pop, and hard rock—and at the time we ended up with three pieces of one song held together by Crazy Glue (Metal Hammer)—Neil in Merely Players

“Everyone was reaching for a new direction. The band even had one of its few arguments with Terry [Brown, long-time producer] over ‘Digital Man.’ He did not like it. They did. Usually, they would come around to his point of view. This time they did not.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“It was really a necessary thing, not out of any disrespect for Terry or any problem in communicating with each other, but a matter of our band falling into a dangerous rut. We could anticipate his input abd structure our music around that. At the time [of making Signals] we wondered if some songs could not have been better if they were treated in a different way, but we were confused as to what our direction should be. We were so close to Terry. He was in the band almost, and he wasn’t objective anymore. We wanted to put ourselves into a kind of shock treatment, some kind of outside attitude to make us less insular and maybe help us learn more about what we were doing. We needed someone with new ideas and a new point of view to point out things in our music that weren’t growing as rapidly as we’d like, ways of writing songs that maybe we hadn’t thought of using. We felt like we weren’t getting that, because our friendship had become too comfortable.” (Only Music)—Geddy in Merely Players

“The digital man refers to Peter Jenson, who did the digital mastering on Moving Pictures as well as Signals. Babylon symbolically stands for any corrupt existence or the material world.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

The Weapon

“The Weapon” is about figures of authority wielding fear of consequences to keep people in line.

“Though it seems like the establishment as a whole is accused in this song [of using fear to cow us], institutional religion is used as the instrument and perhaps as the figurehead for the establishment. Certainly the established church, moved by ignorance, prejudice, and fear, has more than once felt entitled to beat, burn, and kill. . . . The church and its leaders in ‘The Weapon’ are just like the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s parable (in the Brothers Karamazov) [in which Jesus appears on earth and is promptly locked up by the authorities of the Church and interrogated and admonished by the Grand Inquisitor for making it harder for the church to keep order.]”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

“The song alludes to U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inaugural address, with the memorable line, ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ Once again we have the church/kingdom/glory/power references [as in ‘Something for Nothing’].—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

It deals with “how people use your fears against you, as a weapon, and that took little longer to come to grips with [than group fear, as in ‘Witch Hunt’], but eventually I got my thinking straightened out and the images that I wanted to use, and collected them all up, and it came out. (Jim Ladd Innerview) [The tempo] brings the feel of the song perilously close to a (shudder) d-d-d-dance song, like, you know, disco! Treason! They wrote a song you can dance to! (Stories From Signals)—Neil in Merely Players

The piece is the second part of the four-part Fear series. (Originally it was a trilogy.)

“The idea for the trilogy was suggested by an older man telling that he didn’t think life was ruled by love, or reason, or money, or the pursuit of happiness—but by fear. This smart-but cynical guy’s position was that most people’s actions are motivated by fear of being hungry, fear of being hurt, fear of being alone, fear of being robbed, etc., and that people don’t make choices based on hope that something good will happen, but in fear that something bad will happen.

“I reacted to this the way all of us tend to react to generalities: ‘Well, I’m not like that!’ But then I started thinking about it more, watching the way people around me behaved, and I soon realised that there was something to this viewpoint, So I sketched out the three ‘theaters of fear,’ as I saw them: how fear works inside us (‘The Enemy Within’), how fear is used against us (‘The Weapon’), and how fear feeds the mob mentality (‘Witch Hunt’).

“As it happened, the last theme was easiest to deal with, so it was written first, and consequently appeared first on record, and the other two followed in reverse order for the same reason.”—Wikipedia

The fourth in the series, ‘Freeze,’ released almost 20 years after release of ‘Witch Hunt,’ looks at that moment when one chooses to fight or flee.

New World Man

The new world man is enlightened and powerful, but still “human, all too human.”—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

“‘New World Man’ speaks of the need to start over, building a better society from the ground up, using self-assured individualists as the building blocks.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

The piece was known as “Project 3:57” during the recording period because the band had that much time to fill on the album before they could call the album done. “What it really boiled down to was that we’d worked so hard getting all these slick sounds that we were all in the mood to put something down that was spontaneous. In the end, the whole song took one day to write and record. It’s good to put together something like that.”—Geddy in Merely Players

It “continues the band’s experiments with exotic rhythms. Even more than on ‘The Spirit of Radio,’ reggae infiltrates the music. Some of the sonic problems of the other tunes [guitar pushed too far back in the mixing] are toned down on the piece; the song is a little sharper than most of the material.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

It “was the first single that we ever had that had a quite wide appeal, especially on radio where it wasn’t only those kind of stations that played harder stuff. As a musical piece it was a departure for us, something a little poppier, I think.” (Up Close, 1994)—Alex in Merely Players

“It was almost compulsory to do solos at that time, but I didn’t want to feel that every song had to have that kind of structure. I wanted to get away from that, and to this day I feel that way. I enjoy playing solos and I feel that my soloing is quite unique to my style, but I’m bored with that structure. . . . I used a Tele for the whole song. I played it through the Hiwatts with a little bit of reverb and chorus.”—Alex in a 1996 Guitar World interview

Losing It

“Losing It’ is a gentle, peaceful song on which Ben Mink plays eloquently a beautiful violin part. The production sound works in this song’s favor: Jean Luc Rush in action. Missing in action: Alex Lifeson.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

Ben Mink is long-time k.d. lang collaborator and in 2000 collaborated with Geddy on My Favorite Headache. “Jean Luc” refers to French-born jazz violinist Jean-Lun Ponty who joined Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention on several projects.

“We had talked for a while about getting Ben Mink to play electric violin somewhere on this album, and this seemed like the perfect track. Once we got into the studio, we developed the jazzy solo section, recorded the basic track, and gave Ben a call. Fortunately, he was able to get away from his group FM for a couple of days, and bring his unique instrument up to play his heart out for us. We worked him hard, squeezed him dry, and threw him away. He just stood there in front of the console, taking it and and giving it, fueled by occasional sips of C.C. Not only the monumentally fantastic solo did we demand, but we had him multiple-tracking an entire string section as well. That’ll teach him to be our friend!” (Stories From Signals)—Neil in Merely Players

“The writer referred to in the song is Ernest Hemingway, not only his writings (The Sun Also Rises—‘the sun will rise no more’—and For Whom the Bell Tolls—‘the bell tolls for thee’), but also his physique. But the song was inspired by the film The Turning Point.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“It drew a bit from that film with Shirley MacLaine about the two ballet dancers. One of them had continued on and was getting to be a bit of a has-been. The the had given it up to to get married and raise a family. I was a bit inspired from that. You have to respond to that kind of tragedy compassionately. It’s a horrible thing. You spend all your life learning how to do a thing and then because of something beyond your control, all of a sudden you can’t do it anymore. It’s very sad. There’s an essential dynamic to life that you have a prime, and you have something leading up to that prime. The essence was whether it was worse to lose something great or whether it was worse to have never known it.” (Modern Drummer)—Neil in Merely Players

Countdown

“‘Countdown’ is the surging, shifting closer on Signals that was inspired by a trip the band took to Cape Canaveral in April 1982 to watch the liftoff of the space shuttle Columbia from the VIP area, Red Sector A. The song’s video would be memorable for its NASA-authorized space footage.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“It was an amazing thing, an amazing site to witness. I’ve never heard anything so loud in my life. Your pants are flapping, you could feel the ground vibrating, and this was three miles away. That’s the closest you could get. We decided right then that on the next album we’d like to do something.” (Harmonix)—Alex in Merely Players

“‘Countdown’ didn’t work at the time but led us forward. It was a first attempt at a documentary, taking real life and putting it into a song.” (Modern Drummer)—Neil in Merely Players

“Geddy was later to say that the song came across like a textbook, but it does have drama, and is not dull. The moment comes alive. Here is a band that’s always been fascinated by technology trying to describe a leap forward in man’s development.”—
Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

Geddy plays the solo on keyboards. “I don’t think I’ll ever do that again. I do a little improvisation on keyboards, but not much. I stick to business with the keyboards.” (Keyboard)—Geddy in Merely Players

“Dedicated to astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen, the NASA audio excerpts as well as the footage in the video promo are provided by Gerry Griffin, a director at NASA at the time.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Distant Early Warning

A “prog rock reggae pastiche, ‘Distant Early Warning’ would provide Grace Under Pressure with its live-lasting, concert-consummate moment. The track’s heavy chorus roils beneath a poignant, straight-forward few lyrics, this surging section set up by a rhythmic prechorus that continues to raise the energy bar at many a Rush show. The piece would provide the soundtrack for the band’s first production video, an appropriate futuristic set and script ensuing.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“Originally subtitled ‘Red Alert’ to further create the sense of urgency, the title ‘Distant Early Warning’ refers to the systems that are part of NORAD (national missile detection dishes across Canada). Government disinformation, revolving door policies, absolute power, heavy water (found in nuclear reactors but here also meaning floods of acid rain) are the contemporary political references, while biblical images of doom appear in the reference to the cities of the plain—Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19) were called cities of the plain—destroyed by fire and sulphur. ‘Red books’ are political platforms in Canada.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

The song represents “a style of writing I’ve been working towards over the last couple of albums that’s inspired by T.S. Eliot in an indirect way. It’s the style of pouring so much into it, so many images, almost flooding the reader or listener with ideas and images so that you don’t seem to grasp anything out of it, but in the end you’re left with something. (Off the Record) The main theme of the song is a series of things, but our very tense world situation [fueled in part by President Reagan’s pressing ahead with the Strategic Defense Initiative, for which the Soviet Union threatened retaliation] is part of it. And then it deals with the closer things in terms of relationships and how to keep a relationship in such a swift-moving world, work and the mundane concerns of life tend to take precedence over the important values of relationships. . . . And when I see a little bit of grace in someone’s life, like when you drive past a horrible tenement building and you see these wonderful pink flamingos on the balcony, some little aspect of humanity, it strikes you as beautiful resistance.” (Jim Ladd Innerview)—Neil in Merely Players

Afterimage

“Written in memory of Robbie Whelan, a friend of the band’s [and assistant to Paul Northfield, engineer on Grace Under Pressure] who died in a car accident not too far from the studio [Le Studio in Quebec]. Alex’s guitar playing in the bridge flashes and disappears thoughtfully. The title is a photographical term referring to the ghost-like image that continues to appear in one’s vision after the exposure to the original image has ceased.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“Although it has a tone of sadness, it tries to capture the beautiful memories the band had of their friend. The sense of a friend trying to explain to someone who is not there and never will be again how much he meant to them is captured in the call and response between Geddy’s vocals and Alex’s guitar on the chorus.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

Red Sector A

“‘Red Sector A’ is a hopeful song amid darkness. A man in a futuristic death camp, his fate unknown. Geddy sings as if he understands at least partly what such an experience would be like. [Geddy’s father was interred in Dachau and his mother in Bergen-Belsen during World War II and they migrated to Canada after the camp was liberated by Allied forces at the end of the war.] His voice carries the tone of hope through fear and horror. Even though the outcome is unknown, a vivid picture comes to mind of the man carrying his mother to freedom. Musically, it is a quintessential latter-day Rush song, with complexity, dexterity, sharpness, and provocative passion.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“I read a first-person account of someone who had survived the whole system of trains and work camps and Dachau and all of that. She was a young girl, like 13 years old. [Her account and others like hers show] an essence of grace, grace under pressure, in that through all of it, they never gave up the strong will to survive. I wanted to give it more of a timeless atmosphere, because [acts of genocide like the Holocaust have] happened in more than one time and by more than one race of people. Another moving image is that, these people had been isolated from the rest of the world, and in the cases I read, they believed that they were the last people surviving.” (Jim Ladd Innerview)—Neil in Merely Players

The topic of victims of concentration camps believing they’re the last ones left alive is further explored in an interview Neil gave in 2011 on the radio show In the Studio with Redbeard. In his remarks, Neil says that victims can’t believe that anyone would allow such inhumanity against them, so they come to believe that no one else is alive. Otherwise, someone would have tried to liberate them:

“I’ve done a certain amount of reading, both fictional and biographical, of living through concentration camps of all kinds, but I wanted to make [the song] timeless in a sense. Because I’m not pointing a finger at anybody, because I know [such inhumane treatment] can happen anywhere. You can’t say, ‘Well, the Nazis did that, the Americans did it, the English did it.’ Everyone has done that at some time to someone. It’s strange the sources a [song] like that comes from. The germ of it was outrage at the way the Native Americans were handled, the way native Canadians were handled. Again, not to point a finger, because this happens so many times—in Canada, the inland Eskimos were treated just as rudely as the American Indians, and first-person accounts that I had heard of, or read, of World War II, of course. All these things just kind of came together. And it was an expression of the incredible inhumanity that people can demonstrate. That’s one thing. But that’s almost a cliché. But the other [issue] that was important was how these people reacted to it. And reading all of the accounts I could find, under the most horrible of circumstances, no one ever wanted to die. That was an important issue that I dealt with in that song and an important issue in the other songs in Grace Under Pressure that reflect that situation. But the important thing I discovered through all of [that research] is when people were released from that kind of incredible confinement, and incredible inhumanity, they believed that no one else in the world existed, because they couldn’t believe that anyone else would let that go on. When people were freed out of concentration camps after World War II, when Indian people were confined in the same way, never allowed to communicate with anyone, their relatives, they had no idea if anyone in their tribes lived anymore. And with the Eskimos in Canada, it was the same story. That they were just treated so inhumanely that when any of them did survive they couldn’t believe that there was anyone left that could let them be treated that way. So, that’s a heavy thing, but it’s a common denominator I found in all of those things. There’s no despair there. It’s just wonderment: ‘Are we the last ones left alive?’”

The line “For my father and my brother, it’s too late / But I must help my mother stand up straight” refers to the practice of those living in the World War II death camps to hold up the sick and the feeble when the guards came around, to prevent them from being taken away and gassed, because it was the practice in the camps to immediately gas those who couldn’t work. Neil talks about this in his June 26, 2013, blog post about his ride through Eastern Europe during the cLockwiok Angels tour:

“A memoir by another female survivor of Auschwitz filled in more details, like how if anyone appeared too ill or feeble to work, they would be sent straight to the gas chambers. So even in that dehumanized nightmare, people showed ‘grace under pressure,’ and tried to help each other appear ‘healthy. (‘For my father and my brother, it’s too late/ But I must help my mother stand up straight.)”

“The title is the name of the VIP section at Cape Canaveral’s launching site [to which the band had access in 1982 to watch the Columbia liftoff], but here it is the name for a concentration camp in a futuristic Holocaust. Neil’s electronic drums were meant to literally sound like ‘smoking guns.'”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

The Enemy Within

“Lays bare where fear begins: within ourselves. We are our own jailor. The things that seem to crawl in the darkness are really but ghosts draped in shrouds spun by our fear-fevered imaginations. ‘We have met the enemy, and he is us,’ Pogo said. We think we possess the potential for great things, but what if the attempt shows we lack what success requires? So we tell ourselves it’s better to rest content with daydreams, which at least allow us the pleasant belief that we might have what it takes. Martin Heidegger said that we flee the terrible risk of personal authenticity and take refuge in a kind of lowest common denominator existence.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

“Neil plays a drum part on the song that reminds listeners how dextrous he really is. At one point during the chorus, he plays the high-hat with his left foot, then kicks his foot over to the closest bass drum, throws in an accent, then it’s back to the high-hat. On the next measure, he hits another accent on a claptrap in an odd time. His left foot moves back and forth between three percussive instruments, while his right foot plays the other double bass, his right hand rides the bell of a cymbal, and his left hand plays the snare, with drum fills thrown in to top it all off.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

The piece is the first part of the four-part Fear series. (Originally the series was a trilogy.)

“The idea for the trilogy was suggested by an older man telling that he didn’t think life was ruled by love, or reason, or money, or the pursuit of happiness—but by fear. This smart-but cynical guy’s position was that most people’s actions are motivated by fear of being hungry, fear of being hurt, fear of being alone, fear of being robbed, etc., and that people don’t make choices based on hope that something good will happen, but in fear that something bad will happen.

“I reacted to this the way all of us tend to react to generalities: ‘Well, I’m not like that!’ But then I started thinking about it more, watching the way people around me behaved, and I soon realised that there was something to this viewpoint, So I sketched out the three ‘theaters of fear,’ as I saw them: how fear works inside us (‘The Enemy Within’), how fear is used against us (‘The Weapon’), and how fear feeds the mob mentality (‘Witch Hunt’).

“As it happened, the last theme was easiest to deal with, so it was written first, and consequently appeared first on record, and the other two followed in reverse order for the same reason.”—Wikipedia

The fourth in the series, ‘Freeze,’ released almost 20 years after release of ‘Witch Hunt,’ looks at that moment when one chooses to fight or flee.

The Body Electric

“The [conformist] addressed in ‘Grand Designs’ [from Power Windows] is pictured here. ‘The Body Electric’ observes a compliant consumer who still manages to hear the call of his buried identity and struggles to become authentically human. The title comes from Walt Whitman’s poem, ‘I Sing the Body Electric,’ a long hymn to the beauty and glory of the human body. Why ‘electric? Because, Whitman says, all bodies are charged [with an electricity, the source for which is the soul].”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

“In binary digits, 1001001 [which is a line in the song] is equivalent to the 73 decimal and that is the ASCII [American Standard Code for Information Interchange] equal to the letter ‘I,’ which was banned by society in the Ayn Rand book Anthem. The video of the piece borrows images from George Lucas’ film THX 1138, with its numbered prisoners in the future and the scene where the escapee goes up to the surface of the underground prison and sees the sun. The concept is actually from Plato’s well-known ‘Allegory of the cave,’ where reality as we see it is a shadow of the truth. The Humanoid escapee in the song seems to have traces of humanity inside and tries to break free of its programmed existence.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“‘The Body Electric’ depicts a humanoid protagonist’s quest for human selfhood, which depends on the outcome of his struggle to ‘change his program,’ to ‘change his mode’ and ‘crack the code.’ The chorus contains two codes—‘SOS’ and ‘1-0-0’—and is infused with the urgency that ‘SOS’ is meant to telegraph, with Peart’s snare drum punctuating the ‘zero’,’zero’ sung on the second and third beats of each measure. In binary code the numbers ‘1001001’ stand for the capital letter ‘I,’ which in the context of the song refers to the human identity the android is trying to achieve. In ‘The Body Electric,’ code cracking is thematically linked to aspiration and desire, to an ambition to transform oneself.”—John Reuland, “Nailed It,” in Rush and Philosophy.

Kid Gloves

“With its circular riff and 5/4 beat, ‘Kid Gloves’ would be the warmest jaunt on Grace Under Pressure.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

Written to describe the band’s response to pressures of the period. “1983 was a tough year for us. The last tiour was a grind, and everybody had been going through some changes. Before Peter [Henderson, the producer of Grace Under Pressure] we had a couple of other people in mind we wanted to work with [namely, Steve Lillywhite, producer of U2], but things got screwed up along the way and there was a bit of a panic. ‘Kid Gloves’ is our response to rolling with the punches during pressure.” (Circus)—Alex in Merely Players

‘Oh, God, Rush hate me.’ Steve Lillywhite talks about his row with Rush because of Grace Under Pressure.

The pieces “contains what is perhaps Alex’s best recorded guitar solo, a welcomed change of pace on an otherwise dark album.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

Red Lenses

“‘Red Lenses’ sounds like a cross between Jimi Hendrix, U2, and Peter Gabriel. The song is constructed around a complex drum pattern during the chorus. Neil wanted to base the piece on the rhythm. Lyrically, the tune highlights what has been a slow change in Neil’s approach to words. He began reading 20th century poets like T.S. Eliot, along with prose writers of that same period. He tries to play with cliches and subvert meanings. And the words are intended to give pleasure on two levels: first by their sounds and second by their meanings.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“This was probably the hardest song I ever worked on, in spite of the pleasure it gave me. It went through so many rewrites and changed its title so many times. Each little image was juggled around and I just fought for the right words to put each little phrase and to make it sound exactly right to me, so that it sounded a little bit nonsensical. I wanted to get that kind of jabberwocky word game thing happening with it, and also there are little things going on that your mind sort of catches without identifying, like a lot of poetic devices. You take the number of words that sound the same or start with the same letter or whatever. You just certainly don’t start in the middle of it and go, ‘Oh, that’s alliteration.'” (Jim Ladd Innerview)—Neil in Merely Players

Between the Wheels

There are three ways people interact with the wheels of time: they get picked up by them and, like the digital man, are carried along; they get crushed; or they roll through the middle of the wheels, neither hurt nor helped.

“The idea of ‘Between the Wheels’ was really kind of the opposite of ‘Digital Man,’ where life goes faster than a person does. They’re in the back water, watching the action go by, and watching the time go by. [Another way to look at its is] the wheels of time pick up some people and carry them forward; other people, without being too melodramatic about it, are crushed by these wheels. But in the middle, there are people who are untouched by the wheels, and that was what I was getting at: the fact that these people are neither hurt nor helped by them. They are in a very sedentary position.” (Jim Ladd Innerview)—Neil in Merely Players

“‘Between the Wheels’ is about pressure, and returns to the gloom of much of the rest of Grace Under Pressure. Alex’s guitar really jumps out. A lyric from the song puts across what they all must have felt at the time. ‘We can go from boom to bust . . . from dreams to a bowl of dust.'”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“Gertrude Stein used the term ‘lost generation.’ ‘Brother, can you spare a dime?’ was a catch phrase during the Depression. The lines that segue to the next album [Power Windows]: ‘soaking up the cathode rays.'”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“I did some listening to ‘Between the Wheels’ and [other pieces on Grace Under Pressure a couple of months ago [in 2004], and I just love them. They’re really dense. Peter Henderson [who worked on the album] was a very good engineer. I do think he did a great job recording the album.”—Geddy in Contents Under Pressure

The Big Money

“The genesis of the song is the first book of The U.S.A. trilogy by John Dos Passos in the 1920s. It deals with the J.P. Morgan loans and the economic causes of World War I. I didn’t want the voice of the song to be totally in the voice of a cynical, anti-corporate reactionary, though, because things like the Ford Foundation do accomplish a lot of good. I mean, the church and worthy events like Live Aid are big money, too.” (Boston Globe, 1985)—Neil in Merely Players

The piece is a “parable of how power tries to corrupt. While the song keeps hammering home the theme of monetary success, it also deals with other sorts of power, in venomous asides, whether fame or religion. ‘It’s a Cinderella story . . . a war in paradise.’ Sonically, it shows how the band is advancing to a new musical age. The influences of the past few years [reggae, ska, jazz fusion, etc.] have been absorbed beyond the point of recognition.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

In the same way that Dos Passos uses experimental literary techniques to tell his story (“camera eye” stream of consciousness and “newsreel” excerpts of headlines and articles), the song uses an experimental motif: the TV game show.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

“We see a stark contrast between ‘Something for Nothing’ and ‘The Big Money.’ Both titles, both songs, use mercantile imagery. You might even say the listener addressed in ‘Something for Nothing,’ waiting for someone else to come and solve his problems, is hoping to be discovered and seduced by Big Money. On its own terms, ‘Something for Nothing’ is telling you your dreams won’t be realized for free. But ‘The Big Money’ adds to that picture the warning that you can pay too much for the realization of your dreams, namely your soul. Being a sold-out phony is hardly better than being a lazy zero.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

“The song is a tour de force of arrangement, mood, movements, and emotional ebbs and flows, quite a handful for the radio hit it was.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“The music sounds like it’s a game show theme. ‘Spinning wheels’ might refer to game shows like Wheel of Fortune. Originally written as ‘big wheels,’ the line could refer to people in power.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“That was a tough one that took a long time to complete. It was recorded in Montserrat. The guitar was tuned up a whole step with the E string at Fs, and I played a lot of open chords. I did a lot of drop-ins where I hit a chord and let it ring, then dropped in the next chord and let it ring and so on. When we started recording the song, it sounded too ordinary, so we tried dropping in those chords during the verses as an experiment. I remember doing the solo in this studio in England, SARM East, which is in the East End of London. We set aside a week for solos, last-minute vocals and mixing. The control room was tiny; there was barely enough room for me to turn my body around when I was playing, but I got a really great sound with the repeats and lots of reverb. I loved to be soaked in that kind of effect at the time. I used a white modified Fender Strat that I called the ‘Hentor Sportscaster.’ The name came from Peter Henderson, who co-produced Grace Under Pressure. The amp setup was a couple of Dean Markley 2×12 combos, two Marshall 2×12 combos, two Marshall 100-watt JCM800 heads and two 4×12 cabinets. I also ran a direct signal. By that time I had a pretty comprehensive rack with two TC Electronic 2290s and a 1210 that I used for phasing, and I had a Roland DEP-5.”—Alex in a 1996 Guitar World interview

Grand Designs

“The title of the song comes from book III of The U.S.A. Trilogy, The Grand Design, by John Dos Passos.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Dos Passos’ “grand design” references FDR’s New Deal. The term isn’t used admiringly. Critiquing the New Deal from a conservative perspective, the broad-based effort is seen as an overly ambitious scheme to pull the country out of the Great Depression that’s doomed to fail, because no scheme, no matter how sophisticated, can anticipate and respond to all the dynamics at work in a complex economy like ours.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault 

“Public opinion, inherited values, political slogans, and religious dogmas substitute for our own critical thinking. And we, lazy slugs, are only too happy to surrender. We loyally march in lock-step conformity with the masses, what Martin Heidegger calls das Mann, more or less the idea of the faceless John Q. Public. Such existence is inauthentic. We were intended for better things.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

The piece “articulates the myth of individual uniqueness . . . [and along with some other songs] takes on a didactic, proverb-like tone, but the effect is not necessarily one of teaching or persuasion but of recognition.”—Christopher McDonald, Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class

In his interview with Rush Vault, McDonald calls the piece a strong example of the band’s focus on individualism at the time. “It sets up this idea of the run of the mill vs. the diamond in the rough, and that one should seek to be true to oneself and be nonconformist, swimming against the stream. Most people are stuck in this two-dimensional life, and it takes real courage and time to be different from that.”—McDonald on Rush Vault

“Rush intended the song to be about contemporary music, which they felt was becoming increasingly image-oriented and superficial.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“Very often the guys will have worked out something musically and made a tape of it for which they have nothing in particular in mind. ‘Grand Designs’ was done that way. They had the musical ideas laid out and just made a little tape for me with guitar, keyboards, and drum machine.” (Guitar, 1986)—Neil in Merely Players

Manhattan Project

“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

Marathon

The song ‘is about the triumph of time and a kind of message to myself, because I think life is too short for all the things that I want to do. There’s a self-admonition saying that life is long enough. You can do a lot, just don’t burn yourself out too fast trying to do everything at once. ‘Marathon’ is a song about individual goals and trying to achieve them. And it’s also about the old Chinese proverb: ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.'” (Canadian Composer)—Neil in Merely Players

“The song rejects the ‘live fast, die early’ model of life so inexplicably popular in some quarters. If life were intended as a sprint, fine; a short life, shooting your wad as fast as you can, would be the way to do it. But it is not. Life is a long-distance run, and if you end it fast, it’s only because you paced yourself poorly and dropped out somewhere along the way.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

Neil says the song was partly inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s motto, “First, one must last ” (to be distinguished from Jack London’s motto, which was “I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” In a March 2013 blog post, Neil writes, “Ernest Hemingway . . . quoted a motto from a statue of one of Napoleon’s generals, “Il faut d’abord durer”—“First one must last.” Or, the shorter version I prefer, “At first, to last.” (That was one inspiration for the Rush song, “Marathon.”)”

“‘Heartbreak Hill’ is a runner’s term describing that place in the marathon where a runner needs a second wind to finish. The play on words in the line “first you’ve got to last’ (perfect for the space needed before the chorus starts again) came from Hemingway, who, in turn, adopted it from a motto used by one of Napoleon’s marshals.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

The choir at the end of the piece was recorded in London. “At the same time [that we recorded the orchestra bits at Abbey Road Studios in London], we recorded a choir for ‘Marathon,’ and then we went to this church in another part of London where this really marvelous choir was singing, and it was a really great sounding room, and that’s why Peter [Collins, the producer of Power Windows] wanted to record them in that room.”—Geddy in Contents Under Pressure

Territories

“The title comes from an area around Hong Kong called The New Territories. I was struck by the sound of that word, and the territorial instinct. And what with the Northwest Territories being part of Canada, it was just the right sort of word to describe what I was after. As for the opening line about the Middle Kingdom, that’s still what China calls itself today. The reason for the Middle Kingdom is because it’s a middle between Heaven and Earth. In other words, it’s slightly below Heaven, but still above everybody on Earth. Some people look at patriotism or nationalism as being the next best thing to loyalty to your family. I don’t buy it.” (Canadian Composer)—Neil in Merely Players

“The song brings to mind the ‘2112’ lyric ‘let the banners be unfurled,’ referring to Neil’s belief that a person should be a citizen of the word, not a flag-toting nationalist.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“Nationalism cannot help leading to chauvinism [and in fact there is] no difference between the two.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

“‘Territories’ echoes both the band’s visit to the Far East and the divisions between cultures and people. Specific references to the trip in lines such as ‘better people, better food, and better beer,’ which are similar to comments during the early part of the Japan visit [where Rush played in 1984] can also be seen as the comments of all cultural and military invaders. Neil then compares that pride to someone who will not be committed to a single territory. The song is a showcase for Geddy’s new bass, a Wahl, and he gets an amazing tone out of it.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

In his book Roadshow, Neil alludes to a pointlessness in the whole exercise of raising your homeland above others, and that includes people who leave their homeland because they had to, like the many Europeans who came to the United States to escape food or work shortages or political trouble. “Like religion, that kind of patriotism definitely causes a lot of trouble,” he says. In making the point, he talks about the tendency of immigrants to the United States to wax nostalgic about the superiority of the place and the culture they left behind. “That could seem demeaning to the place they called home now—like living with someone who is always talking about a former lover. I used to think, ‘If “home” was so great, why did you leave? And why wouldn’t you just go back?'”

Middletown Dreams

“‘Middletown Dreams’ traces the routine lifestyle of a businessman, a housewife, and a teenager, contrasting their daily habits with the more exciting, fulfilling lives they fantasize about. [This song] may lack the fantasy or science-fiction overlay of Rush’s music from the 1970s, but the Romanticism remains, especially in the way Rush contrasts untethered individualism with conformist myths about the suburbs.”—Christopher McDonald, Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class

“Modest people like us are central to history and to true heroism. We may seem anything but heroic, but if we seem minor and mundane to ourselves, it is only because we do not see that the myths of great figures are really the long shadows cast by us and our modest efforts. We fall to see that [great tales of fantasy] are stories about us after all.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

Neil argues that ‘Middletown Dreams’ is a very positive song. “The middle-aged man sticks to his dreams,” says Neil, “and they eventually become reality.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“I chose ‘Middletown’ because there is a Middletown in almost every state in the U.S. It comes from people identifying with a strong sense of neighborhood. It’s a way of looking at the world with the eyeglass in reverse. The first character [in the song] is based on a writer called Sherwood Anderson. Late in his life, Anderson literally walked down the railroad tracks out of a small town and went to Chicago in the early 1900s to become a very important writer of his generation. That’s an example of a middle-aged man who may have been perceived by his neighbors, and by an objective onlooker, to have sort of finished his life and he could have stagnated in his little town. But he wasn’t finished in his own mind. He had this big dream, and it was never too late for him. The painter Paul Gaugin is another example of a person who, late in life, just walked out of his environment and went away. He, too, became important and influential. He is the influence for the woman character of the song. The second verse about the young boy wanting to run away and become a musician is a bit autobiographical. But it also reflects the backgrounds of most of the successful musicians I know, many of whom came from very unlikely backgrounds. Most of them had this dream that other people secretly smiled at, or openly laughed at, and they just went out and made it happen.” (Canadian Composer)—Neil in Merely Players

Neil in Traveling Music says the third verse of the song comes from Frank Sinatra’s concept album, Watertown, which depicts an Everyman whose wife leaves him.

Neil says some people take the song as a portrait of people who failed to realize their dreams, but that interpretation misses his intention. “Unexpectedly, the song became a kind of litmus test for listeners,” he says in Traveling Music. “Although I had obviously modeled it after characters who did realize their dreams, or at least continued to be nourished by them, some listeners heard it as a cynical portrait of the defeated, of losers who were trapped in a dull existence and would never dare to escape, or pursue their dreams.”

Emotion Detector

“We thought ‘Emotion Detector’ would be a breeze but it was the killer. It was very difficult to get the mood right. I’m still not really sold on the song. It never ended up sounding the way I hoped it would. Half of ‘Emotion Detector’ was done in one pass. Actually, that song had a whole different solo that took quite a bit of work. We left it, went ahead with some other parts, lived with it for four or five days, and Neil didn’t feel quite right about it. He didn’t think that it made the proper kind of statement to the song, so we re-examined it and I gave it another whirl. That was tough. It’s one thing to rewrite a rhythm guitar part—you’ve got stuff to lock onto. But it was so hard to divorce what had been in my head as a solo for three months and come up with something that was a totally different feel. But I am satisfied with the results.””(Guitar Player)—Alex in Merely Players and on Songfacts

The piece, called “stirring” by Martin Popoff and the sole ballad on Power Windows, “can be seen as the shattering of illusions and dreams. ‘Sometimes our big splashes are just ripples in the pool / feelings running high.'”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

All of the songs on Power Windows with the exception of “Emotion Detector” would be played live on the band’s 1985-86 tour.

Mystic Rhythms

The piece is a very different one for the band. “Instead of describing what should be done, it tries to capture things we feel but can’t describe. Musically, it goes after that sense of wonder which occurs when that feeling of something far beyond us grips our imagination. Neil beats his electronic primitive drum kit on the choruses to capture an exotic sound, using African rhythms, while the keyboards play an Oriental pattern. It is hard to pin down all the musical styles and elements that are being employed.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

“I don’t really believe in astrology, but I don’t discount it out of hand either. It’s one of those things the piece talks about. ‘We suspend our disbelief, and we are entertained.’ As long as the President isn’t being guided by astrologers (I know, I know), then it doesn’t hurt anybody.” (Backstage Club, 1990) I’m agnostic, but curious, and romantic enough to want [astrology] to be true. (1986)—Neil in Merely Players

The President being guided by astrologers refers to news reports at the time that President Ronald Reagan revised travel plans based in part on recommendations from a mystic his wife Nancy consulted regularly.

It “seems to sum up the collective mind-space of neo-prog positors and those old proggers renewed such as Yes, Genesis, and Peter Gabriel, the track lunging forward into six minutes of eastern exotics.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“Chaos theory, circadian rhythms—everything is revolving in the universe to an unknown mystic rhythm. ‘Canopy of stars’ is a term referring to astrological beliefs, another mystic rhythm.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

The piece was used as the opening song for the NBC show 1986.—Wikipedia

Force Ten

“‘Force Ten’ is about stripping away the barriers between people, learning to face the world without them.” (Boston Globe)—Neil in Merely Players

“The first song on Hold Your Fire was the last written. ‘Peter Collins [the producer] thought it was important to do one more song,’ said Geddy, ‘so Force Ten was written on the last day of pre-production on Dec. 14 [1986].’ Neil took some lyrics that Pye Dubois [Max Webster lyricist and co-writer of the “Tom Sawyer” lyrics] had mailed to him and added some versus to them. With the changes completed, Neil handed Alex and Geddy the lyrics and they both liked them immediately. A few hours later Rush had written their tenth song for the new album.”—Bill Banasiewicz, Rush Visions

The term “force ten” also refers to the Beaufort Wind Scale.—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Brisk, tough album opener was written in three hours with cowboy hats on.—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“Before I had a visit from Jeff Berlin [bassist for Bill Bruford and other progressive rock and jazz fusion artists], who’s a friend, on the tour I had the opportunity to watch him goofing around backstage with a bass, and was just amazed at his knowledge of bass chords. That’s something I had never really exploited in my playing, so he inspired me to play around more with it. He probably doesn’t know it, and would be embarrassed to hear it. I ended up using bass chords on ‘Force Ten’ and ‘Turn The Page.’ Not so much in the sense of strumming them as using my thumb more, almost like a fingerpicking style of playing, which is something that I’m still working on. Just plucking with my thumb and going back and forth between the thumb and the first two fingers and pulling. Almost like a snapping technique. It’s opened up a bit more range for me. There’s more melodic possibilities and rhythmic possibilities too, which is an important role for the bass player. If you can establish not only a melody but a rhythmic feel, that’s an extra tool.” (Bass Player, 1987)—Geddy in Songfacts

“The song opens with the sound of a jackhammer. The session keyboard player Andy Richards had a sample of it that the band used.—Songfacts

The line “Cool and remote like dancing girls, in the heat of the beat and the lights” is an appreciation for the few females that come to Rush shows and their attempts to dance to the band’s music. “I always loved to see females in the audience singing along, or air-drumming, or even dancing. However, given the complexity and constant changes in our music, even their dancing had to be absorbed in the music—no mindless twitching to a metronomic beat. In our song ‘Force Ten,’ I had expressed my appreciation for that absorption.”—Neil in Roadshow

Time Stand Still

“‘Time Stand Still’ is a lament about change. The world is ablaze with constant change, but that change isn’t surreal in it’s randomness. Things always seem to come along certain paths and in certain patterns. Similarly, there’s a regular proportion in change. [This fact about constant change has implications for life satisfaction.] You cannot find a port of rest in the storm of constant change. This changing world of frustration and disapointment is what the Buddha calls Samsara. Zen meditation [in part] is aimed at transformimg consciousness so as to see eternity in a moment of time. Such an enlightened person is mentioned in the song.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

“The drum rim clicks are metaphors for clock ticking and the smashing effect symbolizes time stopping.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“‘Time Stand Still’ is a master of melodies, distinguished by an ethereal Aimee Mann [of ‘Til Tuesday] come chorus time.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“We thought we had the perfect part for a female voice, which I think it was. And we listened to a lot of records, liked Aimee’s a lot and asked her if she would sing on it, which she graciously agreed to do.” (Off the Record)—Geddy in Merely Players

“She was very nervous. I don’t think she had done that sort of thing very often, especially with a band like us. We weren’t necessarily playing the kind of music that she was into or listening to, but she liked the band. We made her feel relaxed very quickly, turning the whole session into a fun thing.”—Alex in a 1996 Guitar World interview

1987 “was the year that I got the Signature guitars with single-coil active pickups. It’s very apparent on [this] song. The guitar has a clear, metallic sound to it that really sings. I got into that bright tone, and my sound was still very chorusy. I had gotten rid of all my Hiwatts and the Dean Markleys and was using primarily Marshalls again. I used 2×12 combos as well as the JCM800.”—Alex in a 1996 Guitar World interview

Open Secrets

“‘Open Secrets’ describes the inwardness and isolation that results from hiding feelings and keeping private secrets from one’s intimate circle. The relationship described [in the piece] is full of miscommunication and irritation, because the parties are distracted by their own concerns, even as they try to open up to each other. ‘I was looking out the window,’ Lee sings, ‘I should have looked at your face instead. The things we keep inside are barriers, the things we conceal will never let us grow.’ Bringing these barriers down, learning to empathize, learning to be vulnerable to another person takes real courage.”—Christopher McDonald, Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class

The piece ‘came out of a conversation between Neil and Geddy about people they knew and how they went through life without properly addressing problems that were affecting them. ‘Quite a lot of my ideas come from having conversations with other people. I take their observations and viewpoints and personalize them. Unfortunately a lot of people think these songs are personal statements. I don’t want that to happen because it would seem I’m unburdening myself and that would be tiresome. . . . One thing I personally hate is confessional lyrics. The one where people reach down into their tormented souls and tell me how much they hurt. That’s really selfish and petty.” (Metal Hammer)—Neil in Merely Players

“That song went through a lot of changes, and by the end of it, we had established this bass riff near the top of it. At the end we got into this groove when we were in the demo stage that we knew would be fun. So when Neil locked into that groove and went with it, he felt so good that we just let him go. And I just jammed to what he already put down.” (Bass Player, 1988)—Geddy in Songfacts

“It’s more the musicality of the song than the lyrical content. For the solo I think it’s the mood that’s created by the music. I suppose in a way that makes it attached to the lyrics. But it’s more the music that provides the trigger for what the solo does. If it’s a dark, melancholy sound to that particular song, then the solo will reflect that. ‘Open Secrets’ has that lonely mood to it from a musical point of view. I think the solo in that song reflects that wailing loneliness.” (Guitar, 1988)—Merely Players

“The line ‘That’s not what I meant at all’ is from T.S. Eliot’s poem, ‘The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock.'”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Second Nature

“‘Second Nature’ sounds like an older and wiser version of ‘A Farewell to Kings’ after the painful maturation of ‘Distant Early Warning.’ The thought is not to replace the demon-kings with a flock of new Jeffersons and Lockes, but rather to negotiate with the powers that be.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

“It’s a conciliatory message. If we can’t reach perfection in this world then let’s at least settle for some degree of improvement. Sometimes we have to accept something less than total victory. It’s like the difference between compromise and balance. The politician who campaigns for clean air but doesn’t want to close down the stinking factory in his area because thousands of people will lose their jobs. My viewpoint is that I’ll take as much as I can without hurting other people. . . . To me it seems obvious that we should wish our cities to be as nice as our forests and that people should behave in a humane fashion—yet this is also clearly a naive and laughable assumption. I want a perfect world and can be bothered to do something about it, yet I can’t do it on my own. So, even if you don’t want the things that I do, at least let’s make a deal and go for some improvement. But you shouldn’t just scream about it in a song. If you really care about a cause, them get involved with people who are doing something about it, people who are self-actuating. That’s what I do in my own time, without any clarion call for publicity. I go out into the dirty world.” (Metal Hammer) You want to say things in a way that is not only not preachy but also not boring. So, finding the images like ‘second nature’—I was really fond of that analogy of saying ‘we want our homes to be a second nature.’ That was taking a common phrase and being able to twist it to say what you want it to say.” (Profiled!)—Neil in Merely Players

Neil in his book Roadshow says the song articulates a moderating of his (environmental) goals over time. The lyrics, he says, “included the realization that even if I could not accept compromise, I would have to accept limitations. ‘I know perfect’s not for real / I thought we might get closer / But I’m ready to make a deal.'”

Prime Mover

“‘Prime mover’ is Aristotle’s term for the moving force in everything. Also referred to in Midcentury by John Dos Passos.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Both Aristotle and Plato refer to a prime mover, who sets the world in motion. Plato’s prime mover is the demiurge. He’s the god-like creator of the physical universe, although he isn’t the all-powerful Judeo-Christian god; rather, he’s a god-like craftsman, sometimes described as a clockmaker, who stands between the abstract world of god and our concrete reality. Once he’s set the world in motion, the world unwinds however it will, and we who live in it just have to deal with it. Aristotle’s prime mover is similar, although the way he triggers movement in the world is different. Plato’s causes movement while Aristotle’sattracts movement. In any case, in the first two verses of the song, the point of view is ours, as people who are trying to make our way in the world while our rational side wrestles with our passionate urges. Our instincts want to embrace the world as it is, while our rational side tries to keep us out of trouble (“rational resistance to an unwise urge” and “rational responses for a change of plans”). Then, with the third verse, the point of view changes to that of the demiurge: ” I set the wheels in motion / Turn up all the machines / Activate the programs / And run behind the scene / I set the clouds in motion / Turn up light and sound / Activate the window / And watch the world go ’round.”

And that’s all there is to life. We’re caught in this moving mechanism that’s our world, and the point of our life is just to hang on and ride it out (“The point of the journey / Is not to arrive”). When looked at in that way, life takes on the character of existential absurdity, but there is a goal in life, and that’s to have the best ride we can during our time riding the wheel. The way to do that is to have fun (passions) but in a controlled way (rationality).

It’ll be interesting to see how Rush’s upcoming album, Clockwork Angels, is eventually fleshed out, because based on the album’s first two songs, “Caravan” and “BU2B,” it appears to be exploring this theme of living in a world set in motion by our benevolent clockmaker.–-Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

More on the connection between “Prime Mover” and Clockwork Angels.

“This piece shares its title with a well-known episode of The Twilight Zone (#57, March 24, 1961). Buddy Ebsen plays Jimbo Cobb, a cafe owner who has psycho-kinetic powers. When his partner Ace Larsen (Dane Clark) discovers Jimbo’s power would allow him to manipulate dice, they head for Las Vegas. The pair win big, but Ace cannot stop gambling, despite the pleas of his girlfriend Kitty (Christine White) and Jimbo, who cares more about his friend than all the money in the world.—Songfacts

“We obviously have a chordal structure, and a melodic fix or picture of what the part’s going to be. Usually I put it down, and between Neil and myself, we get little rhythm patterns going. I play around with the melody, and depending on what the tone center is and what the chord structures are in that area, I just write my part. Then Alex plays different solos around what Neil and I have already put down. He’s quite content to work with what we’ve put down, and in most parts he’s around through every stage anyway, so he’s quite aware of the direction it’s going in. He’ll go down and wail, and a lot of times he will surprise us. It’s a totally different direction than we had expected it, but it’s always within the melodic structure that exists.” (Bass Player, 1988)—Geddy in Songfacts

Lock and Key

“‘Lock and Key’ focuses on the killer instinct and our fear that, along with our other animal urges, it will get out of hand. So for the sake of security we suppress and repress the living, vibrant, animal courage, and substitute the tepid, torpid, vapid, but secure robotic, mechanistic, automatic-pilot self. Risk is the price of being free, and we’d rather not pay it.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

“Geddy uses a 5-string Wal bass on the track. “You can get that sound out of most basses I think, but a Rickenbacker has a particular kind of top end, and bottom end as well. It has a particular kind of classic twang to it. I found that I wanted to get a little more subtlety in the sound, and I couldn’t quite get it out of the Rick. I wanted to change the top end a little bit, get a little different shaped bottom end. Then I moved to a Steinberger, which really gave me a totally different sound. The top end didn’t range as high and twangy, and the bottom end was quite a different shade. I liked it a lot, and used it onstage, and on the Grace Under Pressure album. But on Power Windows I got introduced to the Wal bass, made by a small company [Electric Wood] in England. Our producer, Peter Collins, had one and suggested I try it out. I used that bass on Hold Your Fire, and I’m very pleased with the results and its flexibility. I use a 4-string most of the time, but on ‘Lock And Key’ it was a 5-string they made with an extra low ‘B.’ I find that low string really means more today, because we’re living in the world of synthesizers that go lower than basses ever went before.” (Bass Player, 1988) Geddy in —Songfacts

“The song alludes to The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, a novel by Carson McCullers. Live, Rush showed clips from the film The Last Mile to illustrate its concept of the killer instinct.—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Mission

“‘Mission’ is a meditation on the drives and demons of the greatly gifted. The real genius is the one born both with great ability and with an inborn drive that will allow him to see that ability. The great creator has little choice in the matter: he must create or be himself destroyed. Such is the power of the creative urges swelling within.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

“It relates to the creative process, the burning desire to do something and how important it is to keep your fire lit regardless of what you have to do. It relates to holding your inner flame. (Off the Record) It basically grew out of a conversation Neil and I had about the kind of people we consider ourselves to be, people who always knew what they wanted to do. We knew we would always play music in some way. ‘Mission’ also looks sadly at the people who have never really been sure what they should be doing and have never really had a clear-cut idea where to put their creative abilities.” (Bass Player)—Geddy in Merely Players

“‘Mission’ is a song Peter Collins [producer on Hold Your Fire] just loved. And at some point in Britain, when we were working in it, he really wanted to do what he called The Full Monty—put orchestra and choir on it—and there’s a particular sound of an English brass band, which I guess is something he grew up with that we had no feel for, the kind of band you saw in the park on Sunday playing the gazebo. He was kind of obsessed with finding an authentic one. And he tracked one down in the north of England, and he wanted them to play on this track. We were really working hard on that record, and there was this weekend where this band was available. We were all supposed to fly up there to record them, and we just said, ‘Look, Pete, you go. You know what you want, and we’re pooped. Why don’t you go and record them? This will be a treat for you.’ And he did. And he brought it back, and he was all excited about it, of course. And we never really shared the same enthusiasm for it. And, in the end, the version of the song that we released is kind of stripped down. I don’t think we used the brass band very much. So, there is another version of that song that exists that I hope we’ll release that has The Full Monty on it.”—Geddy in Contents Under Pressure

Turn the Page

“Turn the Page” shares with “Time Stand Still” a focus on the now-moment, the idea of savoring the moment for what it is while acknowledging the transience of time. “Just as in Buddhism, the beginning of enlightenment is to realize the truth of flux and impermanence. Don’t continue to seek the permanent where it cannot be found.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

“I had a major problem with playing ‘Turn the Page’ live on tour. It’s a very busy bass part, and the vocal part doesn’t really relate to it very much. Eventually I got it, but it took a lot of practice. You can do these things, but you have to practice them a lot. You have to split yourself, as they say. Split your hands, Split yourself in two really, and let you hands do something, and let your voice do the other.” (Bass Player, 1988)—Geddy in Merely Players

Tai’ Shan

“The song is about Neil’s climb to the top of the Chinese mountain [Mount Tai] where the natives believe that if you reach the top, you’ll live a whole century. Chinese cymbals and Oriental textures set the atmosphere.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Alex in 2013 listed the song as among Rush’s worst, saying they were trying to do something with it but it just didn’t work out. “It was . . . innocent.”

“In 1985, I took my first extended bicycle journey, to China, just after its doors, closed since the revolution in 1948, reopened to Westerners. I signed up for a two-week tour with a company called China Passage, joining about 20 cyclists from Canada, the U.S., and Australia. That [was a] difficult, but fascinating, adventure.”—Neil in Traveling Music

The piece explores “the idea of a mysticism of place and past. One reaches the crest of Tai’ Shan, the sacred mountain, where a revelation will be vouchsafed, by climbing seven thousand steps. Once there, the pilgrim senses something will happen: a kind of psychic ozone smell presages it, a sense of magic in the air. Peart’s visionary sees a presence spanning forty centuries. The wording implies that what he sees not only subsists through the duration of four thousand years, but stands changelessly above. He sees in a timeless moment eternity itself, clothed in China silks. Trapped in a ceaseless flow of change, we may become like Tom Sawyer and freeze this moment so that certain places and remembered times become for us momentary catalysts for a glimpse beyond the rushing clouds of change.”—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

Nicole Biamonte in her essay “Contre Nous” in Rush and Philosophy calls “Tai’ Shan” an obvious example of the band using exotic musical elements to evoke a sense of otherness, as if the piece is channeling meaning from a different culture. “This setting [Mount Tai] is evoked by a sampled Shakuhachi flute (actually a Japanese instrument) in the introduction and verses. The flute plays a gapped melody based on a distinctively Asian form of pentatonic scale. The plucked guitar sound in the second verse and the ending is reminiscent of a pipa, a Chinese four-stringed lute.”

“It’s a sampled Shakuhachi flute. I built the drum patterns around the woodblock rhythm that the Buddhist monks use for their chants. Subtle, but a nice touch of authenticity, I think. It is indeed Aimee Mann in there [near the end], only she’s not exactly singing anything. We took her voice from one of the other songs [‘Time Stand Still’] and played it backwards, just as a nice texture which gave an eerie, pseudo-Chinese sound.” (Backstage Club, 1991)—Neil in Merely Players

High Water

“Orchestral arrangements, watery melodies, and synth textures over a wurbling guitar riff opens this song about the most dynamic force in nature: water. Man comes from the water in a biological context (saltwater in our veins) as well as a geological and mythological context. The Flood or Great Deluge is referenced in the first verse.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“I always feel comfortable when I’m near water, be it the sound of the ocean or even the refreshing feeling of a dip in the swimming pool. I remember being in the center of one of Japan’s biggest cities and the noise pollution was incredible. But right in the middle was this garden with a small waterfall that ran over a bunch of stones. It was designed in such a way that, if you stay by the waterfall, the sound of water would drown out all the surrounding noises. I think the Japanese understand the therapeutic nature of water better than most.” (Canadian Musician)—Neil in Merely Players

Show Don’t Tell

“‘Show Don’t Tell’ illustrates Rush’s move away from synthesizer in favor of a more guitar-oriented approach; the band favored a more funk/groove style of play and away from the 1980s style of music typical in the two preceding albums Power Windows and Hold Your Fire. In Presto and particularly in ‘Show Don’t Tell,’ Rush continues to play in the style of progressive rock but in a different way. In Rush’s music of the late 1970s and early 1980s, their progressive rock is indicated by asymmetric time signatures and lyrics fitting into a concept album, and in ‘Show Don’t Tell,’ their progressive rock is shown by using a very complex riff played in unison by the members of the band. The band chose to use more funk by using extended chord tones, a dramatic pause eighteen seconds into the song and other methods as well. The funkier song structure proved to be difficult for Neil.

“He explained in Canadian Musician, ‘”Show Don’t Tell” begins with a syncopated guitar riff that appears two or three times throughout the song. That was about the hardest thing for me to find the right pattern for. I wanted to maintain a groove and yet follow the bizarre syncopations that the guitar riff was leading into. It was demanding technically, but at the same time, because of that, we were determined that it should have a rhythmic groove under it. It’s not enough for us to produce a part that’s technically demanding; it has to have an overwhelming significance musically. So it had to groove into the rest of the song and it had to have a pulse to it that was apart from what we were playing.”

“Lyrically, the piece is an example of his trend from the album Grace Under Pressure onward from writing concepts and abstractions to a more concrete, first-person viewpoint, or as Neil noted when interviewed a perspective with a ‘stance and a good attitude.’ Peart alternates between narration and a first person perspective as he writes about confronting a person who has fooled the protagonist of the song too often.

“Neil’s philosophy throughout the song is epitomized with the very no-nonsense lyric “‘You can twist perception. Reality won’t budge!’ The first verse explains the frustration of depending on others and finding out that is the wrong approach (e.g. ‘Everyone knows everything, and no one’s ever wrong, until later. Who can you believe?’). The chorus shows the protagonist’s resolution to being fooled: stop listening to the schemer’s persuasion, pay attention only if the schemer shows evidence, rather than being convinced by conniving words.

“The second verse uses vivid imagery of a courtroom trial as the solution to the protagonist’s; however, in this case, the deceived protagonist is the ‘judge and the jury.’ After the second verse and chorus, an instrumental section features a bass solo by Geddy and a shorter guitar solo by Alex. The chorus in the last section uses more courtroom imagery and then alternates lines from the chorus between the two verses and the chorus using courtroom imagery.”—Wikipedia

“The title is a phrase used by story editors. Neil’s voice is mixed in low in the background on the lines, ‘I will be the judge / Give the jury direction.'”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“By then we were working with Rupert Hine as our producer. Oddly enough, I had been working on the basic ideas of that song at home and brought it to the studio when we started writing the record. We developed it from there. It was much heavier in the early version; the tempo had come up a little bit. Rupert’s approach to the guitar sound was a little lighter than I wanted. That was partly my fault, because I was still using the Signature a lot, which didn’t lend itself to a very thick sound. That amp lineup stayed the same as before, and effects would come and go. I was fiddling around with whatever was new at the time, as I’ve always done. We’d taken a seven-month break, which at that time had been our longest hiatus. We needed to clear the cobwebs and get away. We came into Presto feeling a lot more enthusiastic about working. The change to Atlantic Records was good because we felt like we needed a change all around. We were going into the Nineties, and it made everything fresher.”—Alex in a 1996 Guitar World interview

Chain Lightning

In the song, Neil tries to capture the beauty of two natural weather phenomena and also the importance of experiencing something with another.

“I’m a weather fanatic. One night I was watching the weather report and there and there are two incidents in that song that are synchronicity to one weather report, where the weatherman showed a picture of sun dogs, and described them, and they are just two little points of light that appear at sunset, often in the winter when the sky is clear and crystalline, and they are like little prisms, and they sit about ten degrees north and south of the setting sun, and they are just beautiful little diamonds of light, and often times there’s a circle of light – one line, that connects them. So they are a really beautiful natural phenomenon, and I love the name too. ‘Sun dogs’ just has a great sound to it.

“And in that same weather forecast, the weatherman announced a meteor shower that night, and so my daughter and I went out on the lake in the middle of the night and watched this meteor shower. So the whole idea of the song was response and how people respond to things, and it’s a thing I’ve found a lot in traveling around the world, too. It’s not enough just to travel and see things. You have to respond to them—you have to feel them, and a lot of the thrust of that song is how things are transferred, like chain lightning or enthusiasm or energy or love are things that are contagious, and if someone feels them, they are easily transferable to another person, or in the case of watching a meteor shower, it’s made more special if there is someone else there. ‘Reflected in another pair of eyes’ is the idea that it’s a wonderful thing already, just you and the meteor shower, but if there’s someone else there with you to share it, then it multiplies, you know, it becomes exponentially a bigger experience, so response is a theme that recurs in several of the songs and was one of my probably dominant sub-themes in the writing.” (Profiled!)—Neil in Merely Players

The Pass

“There was a lot I wanted to address in this song, and it’s probably one of the hardest ones I’ve ever written. I spent a lot of time on it, refining it, and, even more, doing research. I felt concerned about [teen suicide], but I didn’t want to take the classic position of, ‘Oh, life’s not so bad, you know. It’s worth living.’ So I really worked hard to find true stores, and among the people that I write to are people who are going to universities, to MIT, and collecting stories from them about people they had known and what they felt, and why the people had taken this desperate step, and trying rally hard fundamentally to understand something that to me is totally un-understandable. I wanted to de-mythologize it, take the nobility out of it. Let’s not pretend it’s a hero’s end. It’s not a triumph. It’s a tragedy. It’s a personal tragedy for them, but much more for the people left behind. I really started to get offended by the samurai kind of values that were attached to it, like here’s a warrior.” (Profiled!)—Neil in Merely Players

“‘The Pass’ is one of the best songs we’ve ever written. I just love that song. There’s just something about the atmosphere and the nature of the lyric. It’s some of Neil’s best writing, and I still think it holds true. I think it deals with a really difficult issue [teen suicide] in a positive way. That song has stayed with me. I love playing it. I love singing it, and I think it’s just one of those accomplishments, as a writer. You know, fans view us much differently than we do [ourselves]. They look at us as a band of players, to a large degree. But from the inside looking out, the victories that I look back on usually are when I had a breakthrough as a writer or when I was able to approach something from an arrangement point of view that was new for me. And that’s one of those songs.”—Geddy in Contents Under Pressure

War Paint

“War paint” refers to cosmetic makeup and the psychological masks of youth, but the beat has a powwow kind of tribal beat to it. ‘The mirror always lies’ is a generality and Neil has always said ‘all generalities are false, including this one.—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

The Police-like War Paint was one of only five songs from Presto that would be played on the Presto tour.—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

Scars

“I think it’s part of everyone’s experience that a certain record reflects a certain period of their life, and that’s a pleasurable scar, you know, there’s a mark left on you, a psychological fingerprint left by a very positive experience. And music is an easy one, but it translates to so many other parts of life where it’s a given that, for instance, the sense of smell is one of the strongest forces in your memory, where a given smell will suddenly conjure up a whole time of your life, and again, it triggers another scar, it triggers another psychological imprint that was left by a pleasurable thing. So it was just, again, the metaphor of scars and using it to say that, as the song does, that these are positive and negative aspects of life that have both left their mark. Trying to make it universal, it’s not autobiographical, and I took a whole autobiographical story of my own and made it one line, basically, but there are other things in there, parts of life that I’ve responded to in a sense of joy, and in a sense of compassion, and there’s the exaltation of walking down a city street and feeling like you’re above the pavement, and Christmas in New York is the perfect time to feel that, really, where you just get charged up by the whole energy and the positive feelings of it all.” (Profiled!)—Neil in Merely Players

“After 20 years of playing I’ve developed a lot of things that have proven valuable to me—even the rudiments. The pattern I play with my hands couldn’t be played without paradiddles [a drum rudiment consisting of a four-note pattern], because I have to have my hands accenting in certain places. Without knowing how to do a paradiddle, I couldn’t have done that. On ‘Scars,’ I was playing eight different pads with my hands in a pattern, while I played snare and bass drum parts with my feet. I had to organize the different sounds on the pads correctly so they would fall into the order I wanted them to. Then I had to arrange all that into a series of rhythmic patterns. It was more than a day’s work before I even played a single note. When Geddy and Alex did the demo, they put all kinds of percussion on the track, including congas, timbales, and bongos. We talked about bringing in a percussionist to play in addition to the drum pattern I might play. I wanted to bring in Alex Acuna [Peruvian-born jazz percussionist who played for Weather Report as well as Elvis Presley and Diana Ross], someone who is tremendously facile in that area, who could make the track exciting as well as interesting. I figured he could assign me the simple parts and we could do it together. But then they thought, ‘What if Neil did it all by himself using pads?’ It was very satisfying to me to come up with a part that worked by myself. There isn’t an overdub on it. When we first played the tape for our producer [Rupert Hine] he thought I overdubbed the whole thing. Most listeners will probably think that when they hear the song.” (Modern Drummer, 1989)—Neil in Merely Players

“On ‘Scars,’ I got free rein on all atmospheric guitar stuff. Some producers we worked with in the past would have said, ‘No, let’s print your guitar perfectly clean and experiment later,’ but it’s never the same. I say do it and live with it.” (Guitar Player, 1991)—Alex in Songfacts

Presto

“I had used ‘Presto’ in an ironic sense, in wishing that I had magic powers to make things right. And I really just liked the word.”—Neil in Contents Under Pressure

“The song ‘Presto’ reflects me and life as a theme, although I invented the scenario.” (Canadian Musician, 1990)—Neil in Merely Players

“It’s better to radiate light than heat” references a Confucius saying.—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“Ultimately, I think the lyrics call each person not only to be themselves and fight for what they find important . . . but to work with others for a better world for everyone.”—Chris McDonald, Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class

“We just loved playing ‘Presto’ on the Time Machine tour in 2011,” Neil says in a June 12, 2012, Rolling Stone interview,” and we played it in a way that we couldn’t when we were touring in 1989. I remember discussing it with the guys one night over dinner and just saying, ‘That song is so much better than it ever was, and it has a feel that it should have had on the record.’ Geddy said, ‘Well, we have a different clock now.’ That’s true, and such an important, fundamental observation. For me as a drummer, being responsible for that pulse . . . that change happened in the mid-Nineties when I studied with Freddie Gruber and worked really hard on my drumming, and it did give me a different clock. It gave me so much more control and understanding of time and pushing it and pulling it and creating anticipation, tension and release. It can all be done within metronomic time, but it’s not easy. It takes time and it takes understanding.”

Superconductor

“Superconductor” expands on a similar theme [as “The Spirit of Radio”], but more directly portrays the entertainment industry as deceptive. The song describes pop celebrities as “packaged” and targeted to certain segments of the market; their aim is to “orchestrate illusions” and manipulate reactions.” The chorus captures the distraction and mesmerization that mass culture putatively engenders, as we are invited to “watch [the pop star’s] every move and the pop star stares back, “hoping you’ll believe/designing to deceive.” I have found no evidence that Peart ever read [Theodor] Adorno [German-born philosopher who saw mass culture strangling individuality] (and he would not have to, since the basic points of the mass-culture critique have circulated so widely), but I found it intriguing that Rush mentions dancing as part of the deception (“A strong and simple beat/That you can dance to”), echoing Adorno’s equation of social conformity with dancing to popular songs’ repetitive rhythms.—Chris McDonald, Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class

Record companies know which buttons to push to elicit the required schoolgirl maudlin sentimentality, the same pre-teen leather-jacket, pseudo-rebellious swagger.—Carol Selby Price and Robert Price, Mystic Rhythms

This song is about pop music icons who target markets, orchestrate illusions, and manipulate reactions on and off the stage. “That’s Entertainment” refers to a film on musicals.—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Anagram

“All the words in the song are anagrams, words within a word. ‘Imagine just an “I” less game’ refers to the album theme of illusions.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“Mongo is a character in Blazing Saddles, and in one scene Sheriff Bart delivers a bomb to him, with the line, ‘Candygram for Mongo!’ Thus, ‘Anagram for Mongo’ seemed natural. As for meaning, this is really the wrong word—it is, after all, a word game. Think more of impressions, images, and an internal logic to each line, or each verse. What I was after in that is more of a resonance, so that the listener might feel something rather than think something. With some people it works, with others it doesn’t.” (Backstage Club, 1991)—Neil in Merely Players

“Sometimes you want it to be jarring and disjointed and nonsensical. I think ‘Anagram’ did work, even though it’s a game. The choruses are quite smooth and interesting, and they have a nice sound to them and they kind of mock the whole song itself.” (Profiled!)—Geddy in Merely Players

Red Tide

“A red tide occurs when oceans contain too many types of a one-celled organism that colors the water and kills fish in many numbers. The song also refers to other ecological problems like the thinning ozone layer, the greenhouse effect, pollution, and deforestation. The sun and rain will no longer be blessed, the rivers will be life-takers rather than life-givers. In Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Masque of the Red Death,’ the rich have a masked ball as the bubonic plague ravages the countryside. The “endless winter night’ lyric refers to nuclear winter and might allude to the Dylan Thomas poem, ‘Do NOt Go Gently Into That Good Night.'”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“It’s a bit of a selfish concern, really. I really love wildlife, and I spend a lot of my time in the outdoors when I’m not working, so that’s important to me. One of my main hobbies is cycling, so air quality kind of becomes of critical importance. So it is a selfish thing, and it’s something I’ve written about before, on the previous album [Hold Your Fire], the song ‘Second Nature.’ So, again, you want to say things in a way that is not only not preachy, but also not boring. So finding the images like ‘Second Nature’—I was really fond of that analogy of saying ‘we want our homes to be a second nature,’ you know. That was, again, taking a common phrase and being able to twist it to say what you want it to say. So, with ‘Red Tide’ it was a little more adamant, because I think the time is a little more critical, and I had to be firmer about it, but still there are ways of getting at it, and to me there are jokes in there, too, that probably no one in the world will ever get, but in the first verse, when I’m talking about ‘Nature’s new plague’ and then ‘Lovers pausing at the bedroom door to find an open store’ and all that, to me that was obviously referring to AIDS, but it was the irony of modern life, you know, where spontaneous love still certainly does occur, but here are two lovers who have just met in the middle of the night, and they have to go find a store before they can consummate their new relationship, you know, and to me, when I put those things down, I have a smile, but I know that it’s one that will never be shared.” (Profiled!)—Neil in Merely Players

“I wanted to get a lot of tension in that solo because the song is quite intense. There’s a kind of disturbing feeling about that solo, which I think ties it all together well. The song is angry. Neil is basically a very ecology-minded person, and he wrote this song dealing with the destruction of our environment. So I wanted the music, and especially my solo, to reflect that anger.” (Guitar World, 1990)—Alex in Songfacts

Hand Over Fist

“Hand Over Fist” is among the songs in later albums that switches Rush’s traditional reliance on individualism and self-reliance to interdependence with others.

“You must stand or fail by your own merits. This runs through all their work. However, the earlier work would emphasize that failure is either the result of your acceptance of the rule of others or of circumstances that need not be, while their latter work would emphasize that failure comes from a lack of awareness and inability to relate to, change, and adapt to your surroundings. Awareness of my surroundings may spark the wish to . . . ‘feel the strength in the hand’ of another.

“This shift in register [from self-reliance to interdependence] may reflect Peart’s advancing intellectual maturity as well as the band’s confidence following what had been more than a decade as a successful band.”—Chris McDonald, Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class

Rather than meaning [to certain songs], “think more of impressions, images, and an internal logic to each line or each verse. What I was after in . . . songs like ‘Hand Over Fist’ is more a sense of resonance, so that the listener might feel something.”—Neil in Backstage Club (1991), reproduced in Telleria, Merely Players

Available Light

The piece uses wind and light as metaphors for how we gather information about the world. The wind, in constant motion, sees everything and carries what it sees wherever it travels. If you know how to listen to it, you can hear it speak to us as it howls through the buildings in the city. The movement of light is quite different. It captures moments in time, as in a photograph or even as in a motion picture, which is just a procession of still photos that moves too quickly for our eye to detect. Both wind and light capture what’s going on in the world, but neither brings you wisdom to understand what all this information means. For wisdom, you need to understand your life and what’s happening around you. You gather wisdom by understanding what you’re seeing in the available light around you.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

“On a tune like ‘Available Light,’ where the bass just provides some simple, low-end support, I’d rather play the keyboards and sing. It’s just a question of what instrument will be rewarding to play from a player’s point of view. If the keyboard is simply playing a strict, four-chord repeating pattern, then I’d rather just program it into some MIDI pedal and have some fun playing bass.” (Guitar Player, 1990)—Geddy in Songfacts

The piece was included in a jazz covers project, called Second Season, released in 2008 by Wave Mechanics Union. The project was developed by composers Ryan Fraley and Ralph Johnson and vocalist Lydia McAdams. The album interprets classic progressive rock tracks as orchestral jazz pieces. In addition to “Available Light,” the album includes Yes’s “Heart of the Sunrise,” Led Zeppelin’s “The Rain Song,” and The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

Dreamline

“Some of the inspiration for the song came from Lifeline (retitled The Trinity Paradox in 1990) by Kevin Anderson.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“Each of us experiences a time when we feel immortal, when time is not passing and we’re never going to die. But it’s a limited-time offer. Time does pass, and soon enough the realities of life comes crowding in on us, whether were ready for them or not, and we have to get serious. This is called “facing the real world.” (Row the Boats)—Neil in Merely Players

“I love the spirit of ‘Dreamline’ and the way Neil captures that feeling of wanderlust and invulnerability that comes in a particular trying time in your life.”—Geddy in Heeb

Roll the Bones opener ‘Dreamline’ is strafed by a crouching-then-striking verse and clouds-breaking chorus. It is a track that proved to be strong enough to open the Different Stages live album seven years later and then stay tenaciously in the set for the Vapor Trails tour.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“The piece, released as a single, charted at number one on the U.S. Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and was performed on every Rush tour since the inaugural Roll the Bones tour until 2010, when it was dropped for the Time Machine tour. When played live, the band uses laser lights based on the tempo of the guitar and plays a slightly protracted version of the song, with Alex integrating an extended guitar solo.”—Wikipedia

Bravado

“We will pay the price, but we will not count the cost” is a line from John Barth’s The Tidewater Tales (he said I could use it), which echoed around inside me for a long time after I read that book. To me, it just means go for it. There are no failures of talent, only failures of character.” (Row the Boats)—Neil in Merely Players

“That’s a pretty emotional song for me. It’s one of my favorites. It stands out on Roll the Bones as being a different texture than most of the other tracks. That line to me says so much about the people that move the world. They’re not worrying about what it’s going to cost them personally down the road. They’re doing what has to be done, and they’re prepared to pay the price.” (CD Launch)—Geddy in Merely Players

“We lifted some of the guitar parts off the demo tapes we used on the finished record. The solo is a thrown-away solo that was just a one-take solo. There was really no reason to re-record it. You could never capture that innocence and emotion in it. And that’s what it really boils down to. Sound doesn’t really matter. You can get a half-decent sound on anything and enhance it and make it a little better, but at the cost of losing the emotion. It’s not worth it.” (Roll The Bones Radio Special)—Alex in Songfacts

“All three of us were especially fond of that song—it was enjoyable to play, and its blending of music and lyrics was among our best, I thought. We had played the song on almost every tour since 1991, when we wrote and recorded it for our Roll the Bones album, but no matter how many times we played that somg, I always felt it, emotionally.”—Neil in Roadshow

“I played my Telecaster through the GK preamp direct to tape. The solo has a particular character and personality that’s uncommon for me. If I’d erased that and gone with something else, then it would have been just another solo I put together in the studio, rather than something that happened at a special moment.” (Guitar Player, 1991)—Alex in Merely Players

“Neil’s parts are complex, too. Listen to the end of ‘Bravado.’ There’s an example of limb independence that rivals any drummer, anywhere. The fact that he nailed that in one take blows my mind. In only four days, Neil and I had all the drums and bass parts down. When you record that quickly, you wonder if maybe some ugliness will rear its head two weeks down the road. There were only a couple of little moments that sounded a tad unsteady over all that work.” (Guitar Player, 1991): —Geddy in Merely Players

Neil credits the song with inspiring him to produce what later became the Burning For Buddy two-CD tribute to jazz drummer Buddy Rich. He had just participated in a Buddy Rich tribute in New York. The experience hadn’t been good because of technical problems. He also wasn’t given a chance to practice with the other musicians before having to play his pieces. The John Barth line “We will pay the price, but we will not count the cost” came to him on his drive back to Toronto, and at that moment he resolved to contact Buddy Rich’s daughter with a proposal to produce a tribute album, which later became the two-CD set. “This was the first time I had ever been inspired by my own words!” he says in Traveling Music, his 2004 memoir.

Roll the Bones

The piece, which looks at the elemental question of why we are here, reflects a game-show theme style and is infused with folk guitar, funk, rock, and rap—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“I decided that ‘Why are we here?’ was the wrong question. The reason why we’re here is because we’re here. The real question ought to be, ‘What can we do about it?’ There is so much tragedy in life that is just a chance occurrence.” (Albany Times)—Neil in Merely Players

“The lyrics were written very much in concert with contemporary rap music, the way the words react against each other. To a degree we are having fun with that. We couldn’t make up our minds if we wanted to be influenced by rap or satirize it, so I think that song falls between the cracks and in the end I think it came out to be neither; it came out to be something that is very much us.” (Radio Special)—Geddy in Merely Players

The internal rhymes and wordplay of rap “is meat and potatoes for a lyricist; it’s stuff you love to do but being so cute is something you can seldom get away with in a rock song. So I thought, ‘Well, I’ll give it a try,’ and I submitted ‘Roll the Bones’ without that rap section to the other guys and got them to like it, and then said, ‘Well, I have this other thing I’ve been working on, and see what you think.’ My notebook’s full of things that haven’t made it. They got excited about the idea, but then how to treat it was the other question. We did think of trying to get a real rapper in there, and we even experimented with female voices, and ultimately found that the treated version of Geddy’s voice was the most satisfying in terms of creating the persona we wanted and that was also the most satisfying to listen to.” (Radio Special)—Neil in Merely Players

The song was given a poignant interpretation by a row of handicapped fans during the band’s show at the famed Red Rocks Ampitheater outside of Denver during the 2004 R30 tour. They were laughing wildly during the part of the song that asks the question “Why are we here?” At that line, they would point to their wheelchairs and say, with the music, “Because we’re here!” “That was a strange and beautiful response to the song, and to us,” Neil says in his book Roadshow, “and an apt interpretation of those words. My smile of appreciation for their spirit was bittersweet.”

Face Up

“The song title refers to the cliche of facing up to your problems and to card games where a wild card is turned up or down, ultimately a question of freewill and responsibility for your own choices.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“Turn it up or turn that wild card down. That line started it all.” (Roll the Boats)—Neil in Merely Players

“‘Face Up’ is one of those songs that we didn’t think lived up to the potential we had for it.”—Neil in Contents Under Pressure

Where’s My Thing?

“From the Roll the Bones album, ‘Where’s My Thing?’ was their second song nominated for a Grammy, in 1991, losing to Eric Johnson’s ‘Cliffs of Dover.’ The song is much more pop-like than the rest of Rush’s work, featuring an upbeat tempo and a brass-like synthesizer line. This song was subtitled ‘Part IV (Gangster of Boats Trilogy)’ originally as a joke, since it’s the fourth part of a trilogy. There is no official continuation of the alleged trilogy, though subsequent instrumentals are similar in style and blend when played in reverse sequential order, starting with ‘The Main Monkey Business.'”—Wikipedia

“No deep meaning here. Just one of those things people say: ‘Where’s that, oh, you know, where’s my thing?’ For once, the lyrics are guaranteed politically correct! [We’ve had few instrumentals, because] as soon as Geddy and Alex would come up with a good musical part, it would fit in with some lyrics I had just written. This time I outsmarted them; I wouldn’t give them any more lyrics until an instrumental was done. It worked.” (Roll the Boats)—Neil in Merely Players

“I was really proud of our record company, that they released ‘Dreamline’ as the first track and then they put out ‘Where’s My Thing?’ for alternative stations or basically anyone who had the nerve to play it. And it made a great alternative for college or alternative radio. It was just a very creative thing for a record company to do, I thought. Not just to be worried, ‘Okay, here’s our marketing strategy,’ they would say, ‘Let’s do this because it would be fun and unusual, and the song is there.’ So I thought that was really a good thing to do. A friend of ours says that it’s just another version of ‘Telstar,’ like all instrumentals are, which is funny. And very true!” (Roll The Bones Radio Special)—Neil in Songfacts

The Big Wheel

“‘The Big Wheel’ is one of the pieces in which we see a lonely, suburban character. Other songs include ‘Circumstances,’ ‘The Analog Kid,’ and ‘Middletown Dreams.’ Music critic Bob Mack in his 1990 review of Presto says ‘Rush has been the only band that matters to lone-wolf suburban kids.’ Although this is typecasting, there is no doubt that Rush addressed such an audience directly.”—Christopher McDonald, Rush, Rock Music, and the Middle Class

“‘The Big Wheel’ seems to be autobiographical, but it’s really not. It’s where I’ve looked for a universal of that trade-off between innocence and experience, and that song certainly addresses that. Not in the circumstances of my own life so much. [Rather], I want to find universal things that others can relate to, and that’s a thing that’s part of everyone’s life, so I think that’s probably one reason why I’m drawn to it. And then so much of it is drawn from observing people around me, too, so that becomes a factor in it too; how they responded to life, and how they take to it. How they adapt to that innocence and experience thing.” (Radio Special)—Neil in Merely Players

“The allusion might be to visionary poet William Blake and his Songs of Innocence and Experience.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Heresy

Neil wrote the lyrics in response to the fall of communism, signified by the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

“The deconstruction of the Eastern Bloc made some people happy. It made me mad. It was all a mistake? A heavy price to pay for someone’s misguided ideology, it seems to me. And that waste of life must be the ultimate heresy.” (Row the Boats)—Neil in Merely Players

Neil in a June 26, 2013, update to his blog said he expects people will say the same thing about religion someday that they say today about the Cold War—that after the pointless discrimination, death, and terror that’s caused in the name of one religion or another, people will look back and lament how it was all for some people’s religious views. “It seemed—and seems—outrageous that the entire planet endured decades of anxiety, not to mention all the stunted lives in these Shadowlands, under the totalitarian boot-heel, for the sake of some misguided ideology. (Someday, I trust, the same will be said about religion.).”—Neil in “Shunpikers in the Shadowlands.”

“The song’s tone shifts from a lament for all the lives lost, stunted, and wasted (‘Who can give them back their lives, and all those wasted years?’), to outrage at the ideologues and thugs who had perpetuated such brutality, such stupidity (‘All those precious years wasted—who will pay?’). Finally the song expressed my angry disbelief over the effect on my own life: ten years old and hearing about atomic bombs that the Russians might drop on nearby Niagara Falls (‘All that crap we had to take / Bombs and basement fallout shelters / All our lives at stake’), and how for most of my life, the world had lived under the shadow of nuclear war. Now we were simply to accept that the twentieth century’s ‘noble experiment’ had been reduced to failed ideology. ‘All the fear and suffering—all a big mistake.'”—Neil in Roadshow

“It’s that horrible and wonderful moment all mixed into one when somebody realizes that they’ve, you know, had their freedom removed for so many years, and they finally get it back. It must be such a bittersweet moment. All those years, all those lives that were lost, all the struggle, all the people that were fighting, and suddenly it’s all over. And what do they do about all the people that did not survive, who were not lucky enough to be around when the wall fell down? It’s an unanswerable question, but it’s certainly one to think about.” (Radio Special)—Geddy in Songfacts

The drum rhythm in the piece comes from drumming Neil heard in Africa. “One hot night I lay under the stars on a rooftop in Togo and I heard the sound of drums from across the valley. Even on the edge of sleep the drumming moved me, the rhythm stayed in my head.” (Row the Boats)—Neil in Merely Players

The Togo village was called Assohoum, and it was in November 1989. The drum rhythm also appeared in the early 1990s as the foundation for a solo piece Neil created while practicing his marimba playing. He titled it “Momo’s Dance Party” and a version of it appears in his video A Work in Progress.

“Occasionally we do things that are slightly out just to give a particular character to the music. On ‘Heresy’ I’m playing my acoustics in the chorus—especially the second chorus—to get a 12-string, Byrds kind of sound. We wanted to create the effect of a bunch of guys sitting around playing who aren’t quite in tune. You can hear it in the acoustic, particularly the [Gibson] J-55, which has a Nashville tuning. Of course, you’re gonna get that kind of fluctuation anyway when you’re playing high up the neck, because the strings are so light.” (Guitar Player, 1991)—Alex in Merely Players

Ghost of a Chance

“I’ve always shied away from love songs and even mentioning the word in songs because it’s so much cliché, and until I thought that I’d found a new way to approach it, or a new nuance of it to express, I was not going to write one of those kind of songs. ‘Ghost of a Chance’ fit right in with my overall theme of randomness and contingency and so on, but at the same time it was a chance for me to write about love in a different way, of saying, ‘Here are all these things that we go through in life and the people we meet, it’s all by chance. And the corners we turn and the places we go and the people we meet there.’ All those things are so random and yet through all of that people do meet each other, and if they work at it they can make that encounter last. So I’m saying there’s a ghost of a chance it can happen, and the odds are pretty much against it, but at the same time that ghost of a chance sometimes does come through and people do find each other and stay together.” (Radio Special)—Neil in Merely Players

Neil calls “Ghost of a Chance” “one of our al-time good ones.” It reached number one on the U.S. rock radio chart in 1991.

Neurotica

“In this song, Neil tries to come to terms with our collective neuroses.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“Some people can’t deal with the world as it is, or themselves as they are, and feel powerless to change things—so they get all crazy. They waste away their lives in delusions, paranoia, aimless rage, and neuroses, and in the process they often make those around them miserable, too. Strained friendships, broken couples, warped children. I think they should all stop it.” (Row the Boats)—Neil in Merely Players

You Bet Your Life

“The song continues the game of chance theme of Roll the Bones. ‘If there’s a chance, you might as well take it. So what if some parts of life are a crap shoot? Get out there and shoot the crap. We can change the odds, load the dice, and roll again.'” (Row the Boats)—Neil in Merely Players

“I particularly like the lyrics in ‘You Bet Your Life.’ I wove together all the different religions and musical styles and everything. Those kinds of things are really fun and satisfying. Yeah, I like that one.”—Neil in Contents Under Pressure

“Geddy had called the piece one of the most difficult tracks to assemble on the album, specifically in the mixing stage, due to the density of the chorus.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“I did [the guitar work] originally, then Stephen [Tayler, the engineer] added a little bit more DDL [digital delay] to one of the other cleaner guitars to give it more energy. The song seemed quite tame as we went through different sections. Something was lacking. We wanted to get the first verse seesawing a little more. Edge, from U2, is a pro at that.” (Guitar Player, 1991)—Alex in Songfacts

Animate

“Originally conceived as ‘Duality,’ the song looks at the male and female counterpart in everyone (anima and animus), a concept Carl Jung introduced in modern psychology. Jung’s term ‘ancient queen’ is one of many describing groups of traits in males. Aristotle first used the term in his De Anima (The Soul). Neil offers a testimonial of praise for Tom Robbins’ book Skinny Legs and All, which is about this very subject of reversed sexual roles.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Neil in his book Roadshow says the line “Daughter of a demon-lover” derives from the line “woman wailing for her demon-lover” in Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan,” which formed the basis of Rush’s 1977 song “Xanadu.” He never made the connection between the poem and his use of the line in “Animate” until 2006, though, when he was writing his book. “The Coleridge connection hadn’t occurred to me before,” he says.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

“‘Animate’ is not about two individuals but about one man addressing his anima, his feminine side, as defined by Jung. Within that duality, what ‘a man must learn to gently dominate’ is himself, his own ‘submissive trait,’ while also learning to ‘gently dominate’ the animus—the male thing—and the hormone driven things like aggression and ambition. We dominate by not submitting, whether to brute instinct, violent rage, or ruthless greed.” (Wilderness of Mirrors)—Neil in , Merely Players

“‘Animate’ has a warm bass and arcane, mesmerizing melody that takes the listener on a straight-line journey into one of Rush’s classic tracks. ‘I love “Animate,” says Geddy unequivocally. ‘I think it’s one of the great songs we’ve done. There’s something about the bestiality of that song, the insistence of it.'”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“I used a basic R&B rhythm that I played back in my early days, coupled with that hypnotic effect that a lot of the British bands of the turn of the ’90s had, bands like Curve and Lush. The middle section of the tune is the result of the impact African music has had on me, although it wasn’t a specific African rhythm.” (Modern Drummer, 1994)—Neil in Merely Players

Stick It Out

“It’s just a play on the words, really. ‘Stick It Out’ meaning both a kind of arrogant display, ‘stick it out’, but also the endurance thing; if you have a difficult thing to endure, stick it out and you get to the end. It was the pun on both of those, really, so again the duality in the song is a bit leaning both ways. The sense of forbearance, of holding back, and also the idea of fortitude: stick it out, you know, survive. But that was more of a piece of fun. That song, I would say, both lyrically and musically, verges on parody, and that was one I think we just had fun with, and lyrically I certainly did, too. ‘Stick it out’ and ‘spit it out’ and all that was just a bit of word play.” (Radio Special)—Neil in Merely Players

“I love the riff. It’s a great riff song. I love playing it, and it’s a very bass-heavy song, which always makes me happy. Lyrically, it’s kind of so-so. I don’t know. I think the best thing about it is the vibe and that it’s stripped down to a trio, back to doing riff rock. ‘Animate’ is more of what we were after, this combination of bringing in different rhythmic attitudes while trying to add a bit more funk but still being big-bottomed and aggressive.”—Geddy in Contents Under Pressure

“How could I approach that song properly and yet give it a touch of elegance that I would want a riff-rock song to have? I don’t want it to be the same type of thing you’d hear on rock radio. So I started bringing in Latin and fusion influences. There’s a verse where I went for a Weather Report-type effect. I used some tricky turn-arounds in the ride cymbal pattern, where it goes from downbeat to upbeat accents—anything I could think of to make it my own. That song verges on parody for us, so we had to walk a careful line. We responded to the power of the riff, yet still found some ways to twist it to make it something more.” (Modern Drummer, 1994)—Neil in Songfacts

“We had gone back to working with Peter Collins, who produced Hold Your Fire. We used a much more direct approach to recording, moving back toward the essence of what Rush was about as a three-piece. In retrospect, Counterparts didn’t work as well as we’d hoped, but it led us in the right direction. We’re much more satisfied with Test for Echo, which we view as a progression from Presto. I used a Peavey 5150 and a 100-watt Marshall JCM800. I had a [Roland] JC-120 as well that I used for some clean things, but primarily everything was done on the Peavey and the Marshall. The guitar was a ’72 Les Paul Standard that I had used on certain songs in the past. I used a dropped-D tuning and ran the guitar straight into the amp with no effects.”—Alex in a 1996 Guitar World interview

“Like other songs with ‘action’ titles (‘Show Don’t Tell,’ ‘Face Up’), the song is quick witted in its wordplay.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

The music video of the song was lampooned on Beavis and ButtheadWatch here.

Cut to the Chase

“The line ‘ambition is the fire’ is subliminally heard in the second verse of the song, which recalls others from the Rush catalog. The line ‘young enough to remember the future’ recalls ‘New World Man.’ ‘Chooses an uphill climb’ recalls ‘Marathon,’ and a ‘bearing on magnetic north’ recalls ‘Prime Mover.'”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“Genius is the fire that lights itself.”—Neil in the liner notes for Burning For Buddy

Nobody’s Hero

“It’s very strong lyrically, about the death of two people, and our perception of heroic ideals. We seem to care for these people who appear to us on screen and in books, and yet we don’t know much about them apart from this fake image we idolize. Yet we live amongst people who live heroic but quieter lives, and we dont pay much attention to them until they are gone. It is a tragic song, but we try to leave it with an uplifting feeling of hope.” (Radio Special)—Neil in Merely Players

“I had a lot of reflections over the last couple of years about the nature of heroism, what a ‘role model’ is supposed to be, and the differences between the two. That thought manifested itself in the song. A role model is obviously a very positive example of what can be accomplished, and it’s what I think, with all humility and pride, Rush has been a good role model for other bands.” (Modern Drummer, 1994)—Neil in Songfacts

“If people think that discussing homosexuality is controversial, then they’ve been living under a rock. ‘Nobody’s Hero’ will probably polarize people, even though the AIDS issue is only a small part of the lyrical theme, and people will probably jump to conclusions. That’s their problem. I don’t worry about it, whether it’s brave or foolish or whatever. When things affect you, you talk about them and it comes out in your music. You let it fly. I never had the slightest idea that it could be interpreted as controversial until someone pointed it out to me after we’d finished the record. I guess I’ve always worked in the music business, which is very tolerant environment.” (Raw, 1993)—Neil in Merely Players

“The boy in this song is a old friend of Neil’s that he met while in London in 1971. He used to work with him. Then years later he heard that his friend had died.”—Songfacts

Between Sun and Moon

“The song is co-written with Max Webster lyricist Pye Dubois, who had written a poem, ‘There is a Lake Between Sun and Moon.’ Lakes are important Egyptian symbols as they represent the occult (water was considered between life and death, formal informal) and the lake always symbolizes self-revelation in its reflective qualities. Phrasing inspired by the T.S. Eliot poem ‘The Hollow Men’ and music inspired by The Who.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“‘Tom Sawyer’ of course was cowritten with Pye (Dubois), and ‘Force 10’ on Hold Your Fire was too, and I really like his style of writing. It’s inscrutable to me, sometimes, as I think it is to other people, but at the same time it has a certain power in his images and writing. And also, there was some strange symbiosis that seemed to affect the songs; when Pye was involved in ‘Tom Sawyer’ and in ‘Force 10,’ it made them somehow a little different musically, you know, his percolation through me. I would get his ideas and then I would add mine to them and structure it as a Rush song, and then pass it along to the other guys. Even through that chain of events, somehow there was some outside influence that was good, so we’ve always kind of kept the open door to Pye’s ideas. Anytime he had anything to submit he would send it along to me, usually scrawled in an exercise book. And in this case that was one that we all responded to, so, again, I went to work on it, shaped it up into the kind of structure that we like to work with, and then added some of my own images and angles on it. And so it went.” (Radio Special)—Neil in Songfacts

“Pete Townshend can make an acoustic sound so heavy and powerful. I’ve always admired that. On ‘Between Sun and Moon’ there’s a musical bridge before the solo that’s very Who-ish. I even throw Keith Richards in there. The song is really a tribute to the ’60s.” (Guitar Player, 1993)—Alex in Merely Players

Alien Shore

Alex had appeared on the album Alien Shores by Platinum Blonde eight years before. The voice in the beginning is Alex holding his nostrils closed, saying “out of my nose.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Platinum Blonde was a new wave band that was sometimes called the Duran Duran of Canada. The two <em>Alien Shores</em> tracks on which Alex plays guitar solos are “Crying Over You” and “Holy Water.” At the time of recording, 1985, new wave was at its peak. Rush’s work reflected that influence in <em>Power Windows</em>, released the same year.

“Dualities like race or sex are not opposite but true counterparts—the same yet different—and not to be seen as some existential competition. Polarities are not to be resisted but reconciled: reaching for the alien shore.” (Wilderness of Mirrors)—Neil in Merely Players

“Not everything lives up to it’s potential [on Counterparts], but . . . I like the lyrics to ‘Alien Shore’ particularly.”—Neil in Contents Under Pressure

The Speed of Love

“Neil takes another tack [from Alien Shore] on writing a love song here, this time demythologizing the whole notion of a love song.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“‘The Speed of Love’ is kind of a mid-tempo, more sensitive rock song. That song probably took me the longest [of the pieces on Counterparts] to find just the right elements I wanted to have in the drum part. What made it a challenge is that I wanted the feel and the transitions between sections to be just right. I played that song over and over, refining it until I was satisfied. I don’t think the listener will hear all the work that went into that track.” (Modern Drummer)—Neil in Merely Players

“I just saw one of Frank Zappa’s last interviews the other day [this is in 1994], and he was talking about love songs, and the reason he would never write one is he thought they were essentially evil, and that they raise this imaginary ideal of a perfect relationship which doesn’t exist in reality. And ‘Speed of Love’ actually . . . is a song about love, about the subject of it. Again, demythologizing, debunking.” (Up Close)—Neil in Merely Players

Double Agent

“‘Double Agent’ was a complete exercise in self-indulgence, and really, it was one of the last things we wrote on the record. We’d written all these songs that were heavily structured and were crafted and meticulously worked on: this note and that note, and this is a song we just wanted to kind of get our yah-yahs out and just have a bit of a rave. And really, it’s one of the goofiest songs I think we’ve ever written, but I’m quite happy with the result. In its own way, I think it’s an interesting little piece of lunacy.” (Radio Special)—Geddy in Merely Players

“I noticed that sometimes if I had a difficult decision to make I’d be weighing up the pros and cons, and my conscious mind would be doing a lot of thinking and worrying, and then suddenly one morning I would wake up and I would know what to do. And a friend of mine was working on a book about the secret war between the CIA and the FBI and asked me to be his reader, as it were. So, in reading that, I read a whole bunch of books on background of the CIA and the KGB and all this stuff, and got totally into the world of espionage. So I thought of using the imagery of espionage, and the whole romance of cloak and dagger, and the Third Man.” (Up close) ‘Wilderness of mirrors’ is a phrase from T.S. Eliot’s poem ‘Gerontion’ and was also applied by former CIA counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton to describe the world of espionage, hence the twist on ‘Double Agent,’ reflecting the clandestine workings of dreams and the subconsciousness. (Wilderness of Mirrors)—Neil in Merely Players

“‘Double Agent’ contains joyous, muscular drumming among miscievous chords from Lifeson. It is a track where cauton is thrown to the wind, indeed, the song thrown together near the end of the Counterparts process.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

Leave That Thing Alone

“This instrumental is a kind of ‘Where’s My Thing?’ [on Roll the Bones] sequel.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“Alex and I record all our jams and many times these happy moments where we really start grooving get dissected and transformed into songs. Jamming is really a recess. I think this is the best instrumental we’ve ever written.” (Guitar School)—Geddy in Merely Players

“Geddy had this little keyboard thing for the choruses and I had this clean verse thing kicking around from the last tour. It’s a song that goes through many moods and creates nice colors. The solo was from my original Alesis ADAT version [digital recording of one of their jams]: just a solo I threw on, but it fit. It has almost a Celtic flavor.” (Guitar School)—Alex in Merely Players

“‘Leave That Thing Alone’ is built around rhythm and blues bass-drum interplay. But to make it original, I had to change up parts. In the second verse I go into a Nigerian beat, like something you’d hear on a King Sunny Ade record. Later in the song I go into a quasi-jazz pattern, and all these things are introduced for our own entertainment as well as to make the piece more interesting.” (Modern DRummer)—Neil in Merely Players

Cold Fire

“‘Cold Fire’ is quite simply an under-heralded Rush classic, with its gorgeous verse melody exploding into one of the most insistent Rush choruses in years.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“‘Cold Fire’ is one of my most satisfying songs, musically and lyrically. You love a song for small things. I had been inspired, I think, by a Paul Simon song, where I wanted to couch song lyrics in conversation—he said, she said, and all that. Simon has a song, maybe on Rhythm of the Saints, where it’s in conversation. And I thought, yeah, what a cool idea. I’d like to try something like that. And ‘Cold Fire’ achieved that. It’s a very grown-up relationship song. And relationship songs are never easy to do, convincingly anyway, as opposed to love songs. Relationship songs are by definition much more clinical, but this was one, I thought, that managed to be a grown-up one, with the mystified guy and the smart girl. I like the subtext of that. The guy is kind of dumb, and she’s really smart and cynical.”—Neil in Contents Under Pressure

“We rewrote that song quite a bit. And thankfully, I think Peter Collins’ presence really pulled that song together. He came in and he pointed out certain strengths in the previous versions of the songs that we had, and he really helped us reorganize that song. It wasn’t until he got there, I think, that we finally locked in on a feel for those verses that enabled Alex to play those great steel guitar-like lines that he’s playing, and enabled me to open up harmonically. I was having trouble with the verses, you know, it’s a tough song, when you’re dealing with this issue of male/female relationships, which is such a foreign subject for us to deal with, in a song. You want to make sure it doesn’t sound trite or hackneyed or you’re not just doing yet another song about relationships? It took us a while to get the right mood, and I was really happy with the mood we ended up with in the verses, and I think, oddly enough, as much as it was a nightmare, that song for me, when I hear the record now, I think the verses are one of the strongest parts of the album.” (Radio Special)—Geddy in Songfacts

Everyday Glory

The piece exemplifies the movement in Peart’s ethical philosophy, which goes from the individual against the regime, as in “2112,” to people pulling for one another. “Peart humanely, compassionately portrays the concrete reality of modern family life through the experience of an average little girl, not a literary figure such as Tom Sawyer or a mythological space traveler such as Cygnus. Peart also shows a sensitivity to how mundane ‘desperation drives the bored to extremes.’ We are ‘everyday people’ with everyday ‘shame’ and ‘promise,’ but there’s still hope.”—Neil Florek, Rush and Philosophy

“The role models that we really need are to be found all around us, right in our own neighborhoods. Not some remote model of perfection which exists only as a fantasy, but everyday people who actually show us, by example, a way to behave that we can see is good, and sometimes even people who can show us what it is to be excellent. I have found, in all neighborhoods of the world, that the heroes still outnumber the villains.” (A Port Boy’s Story)—Neil in Merely Players

“This song ended up being an analog-tape mix. For the last few years I’ve mixed only to digital, because I figured it was just a better tape recorder. But certain songs have a heavier midrange content, and on playback the analog recorder softens the midrange a bit, giving it a more likable sound. It’s not as efficient-sounding in terms of the top and bottom end, but it’s just nicer to listen to.” (Bass Player)—Geddy in Songfacts

Test for Echo

Lyrics for the piece were written by Neil and Pye Dubois of Max Webster.

“The lyrics give a video-view of this wacky world of ours and offers this tacit response: ‘Excuse me, does anybody else think this is weird? Am I weird?’ While the answer to those questions might be ‘Yes!’ it’s good to know that you’re not the only one, that you’re not alone.” (Canadian Musician, 1996)—Neil in Merely Players

“It’s like a view of things that are happening in our culture through the eyes of the instant media that we get and the things that we see that are not right. And yet it’s still going on, still exploited. It’s an out-of-control media thing.”—Geddy in Contents Under Pressure

“Musically, the track is a wonderful jumble of disparate parts, pop next to dervish-like windup, next to laid-back, near-cavernous and quite soulful verse, and then back again.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“I like the fact that there’s some nice melody and some confusion and a manic nature, and yet there is a lot of space.” (Canadian Musician, 1996)—Geddy in Merely Players

“I feel like we arrived with this record.There’s a particular feel that I don’t think we had before—a nice groove and a lot of really good Rush songs. I feel like we were all really together on this album. Although we strive for that all the time, it’s not always achievable. The mood was so good in the studio, and we were so unified in direction. [On this piece,] there’s a lot of different stuff. I tuned the entire guitar down a whole step to a D standard tuning. I got a new Les Paul Custom with beautiful sustain, a heavy tone and a compact, but not too small, sound. In the choruses I used a Godin Acousticaster, which has a really interesting sound that is at the same time almost acoustic but definitely electric. I used primarily Marshalls—50-watt and 100-watt JCM800 heads and two 30th Anniversary models—with four cabinets: two vintage 4x12s and two 1950 cabinets with Celestion 25-watt speakers. I used a DigiTech 2101 to knit everything together. The important thing with that is to use it through a good speaker simulator, like the Palmer. The compensated outputs on the 2101 don’t quite do it for me, but through the Palmer it has nice body and width.”—Alex in a 1996 Guitar World interview

“I was up in Yellowknife on a motorcycle trip across the country, and there’s one of those Inukashuk above the town overlooking it, and I was quite taken with it. I bought a postcard almost exactly the image you see on the cover . . . I just came back with this postcard and I thought of ‘test for echo.’ I thought, ‘That’s exactly what these men mean when you’re out in the wilderness.’ When you’ve been hiking for a few days and you come across one of these things, it’s such an affirmation that there’s life out there. Again, the same thing: it’s an echo . . . and that’s the feeling a traveler in the Arctic would get, that it was a sign of life. The same with the satellite dishes. I was kind of referring to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence and the test for echo going out that way.” (Jam! 1996)—Neil in Songfacts

Driven

The piece is a cautionary tale about drunken driving and emphasizes the theme of communication.—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“‘Driven’ is just from a bass player’s point of view. I wrote that somg with three tracks of bass. I brought it to Alex and said, ‘Here’s the song; I did three tracks of bass, but I just did that to fill in for the guitar,’ and he said, ‘Let’s keep it with the three basses.’ So, I said, ‘I love you.'” (Canadian Musician, 1996)—Geddy in Merely Players

“‘Driven” was the third of five singles released from Test For Echo and reached #3 on the U.S. Mainstream Rock chart. When played live, Geddy would often insert a short bass solo. Examples of this can be found on the official live albums Different Stages and Rush in Rio from the Test For Echo and Vapor Trails tours, respectively.”—Wikipedia

Half the World

This song title refers to the differences between the geographical hemispheres and the attitudes of their residents.—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“‘Half the World’ is one of our finest moments as songwriters as far as writing a concise song without being wimpy or syrupy. It’s got a little bit of everything: nice melody, and yet it’s still aggressive. It’s hard for us to write that kind of song, really. You’d have to go back to ‘Closer to the Heart’ to find an example of that.” (Canadian Musician)—Geddy in Merely Players

“‘Half the World’ is a hemisphere of dreamy electricity.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

The Color of Right

“The title refers to an expression used by lawyers. Alex plays a mandola in a main melody,”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

The meaning of “the color of right” as a legal term depends on the country. In the U.K. and New Zealand, it refers to a concept under which a person seeks acquittal on the grounds that he thought he had a right to do what he did. In the U.S., the term refers to public officials who use a law to unlawfully make arrests: for example, using riot laws to improperly arrest people who are peacefully and legally demonstrating. It’s also sometimes referred to as “the color of law.”

“‘The Color of Right’ . . . is politely loud.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

Time and Motion

The heavy guitar work on Test for Echo has been likened to the guitar work of alternative rock bands popular at the time.

“Geddy, always on to keep an ear to the new music, cited in the press an admiration for Soundgarden and Smashing Pumpkins. Indeed, tracks like ‘Time and Motion’ are wall-to-wall malevolent guitars.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

The ‘Between Sun and Moon’ [from Counterparts] of Test for Echo, this song recalls the mystic rhythms (“the mighty ocean dances with the moon”) and also ‘Chain Lightning.'”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Totem

“The choruses in ‘Totem’ are really interesting. I created a soundscape by using harmonics with a kind of Celtic melody over it that’s quite distant. In the song, in terms of dynamics, it’s a really beautiful shift . . . There’s this line, “angels and demons inside my head,” that was very visual to me. It’s almost angelic. You can sort of see this imagery swirling around.” (Canadian Musician, 1996)—Alex in Merely Players

“I believe that the traditional concept of God is one that I’m not comfortable with. To borrow from Woody Allen, ‘If there’s a God, he’s an underachiever at best.’ For me, spirituality is a personal belief and I think it’s up to each person to choose a road that’s comfortable for them. I think it’s really an individual viewpoint. Having grown up in a very religious home, I find the dogma and constrictions of organized religion not appropriate for my belief system. But I’m not so arrogant as to believe that I have the answers to these questions.” (Canoe)—Geddy in Merely Players

“The line ‘Sweet chariot, swing low, come to take me home,’is from a traditional gospel song.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Dog Years

“The title comes from the novel of the same name by Gunther Wilhelm Glass. People look to Sirius, the Dog Star constellation named after the hunting dog of Orion in Greek mythology. The line ‘every dog will have its day’ originated in [a 1863 children’s book] Water Babies by Charles Kingslay.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“‘Dog Years’ is not Neil at his best. No surprise, given that he was somewhat hung over when penning it. It sure does rock, though.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

“Certainly the listener is welcome to take it just as a piece of throwaway foolishness. Even the story of its writing is kind of amusing, because it was right when we got together for the first time, the three of us, after quite a long break apart. We did a little celebrating the first night and the following day I was a bit the worse for wear, and a little dull-witted, and I thought, ‘Gee, I don’t think I’m going to get much done today, but I’m a professional; I’d better try.’ So, I sat down all muzzy-headed like that and started trying to stitch words togeher—that’s what I was there for, after all. ‘Dog Years’ is what came out of that type of mentality and born out of observations over the years, too, and looking at my dog, thinking, ‘What’s going through his brain?’ and I would think, ‘Just a low-level zzzz static: food, walk. When I look at my dog that’s how I see his brainwaves moving.” (T4E Premiere)—Neil in

Virtuality

“I’ve become the Salman Rushdie of the Internet for daring to poke fun of it. I have some friends who use the Interet productively, but for the most part [this is in 1996] it’s the worldwide wank. (San Jose) . . . I love the image the verse opens up with, seeing a woman’s face through the window in the rain. That’s a really romantic image. Imagination, though, is a little bit of sense input, but the rest of it is just imagination. All I was pointing out there is, here’s a romantic little image, but let’s not pretend that it’s real. You cannot feel the voltage from her fingertips, but you can imagine it. (T4E Premiere)—Neil in Merely Players

“I think Neil is more skeptical than cynical about the rush to embrace the benefits of the Net. I can’t say I agree with him on that front. The song ‘Virtuality’ deals with that and, you know, in one sense I disagree with what the song says and, in the other, I kind of understand that point of view. So, I can do the song even though I don’t wholly agree with it. There is an aspect of the Internet that, like anything, can be abused, that can be a waste of time. But the benefits are tremendous. If you’re researching something, it’s out there.” (Bassics, 1997)—Geddy in Merely Players

“The verse ‘to see the world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour’ comes from William Blake. Alex’s guitar in the chorus tries to simulate a modem initializing online.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“‘Virtuality’ is bound to sound dated, given it’s Internet theme. But it sure does rock, though.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

Resist

“Originally called ‘Taboo’ (following ‘Totem’ as in Totem and Taboo by Sigmund Freud), the song has a simple structure like ‘Bravado’ (with piano recalling ‘War Paint’). ‘I can resist anything except temptation’ is from Oscar Wilde’s play Lady Windermere’s Fan.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“‘Resist’ is one of the best songs we’ve written. I knew from the beginning that this was a special Rush song just by the kind of energy that came from all of us when we wrote and recorded it.” (Canadian Musician, 1996)—Geddy in Merely Players

“The instrument played at the beginning of the song is a hammer dulcimer, not a guitar. Neil wanted to include that instrument on a track.”—Songfacts

“Alex and Geddy began performing the piece acoustically on the Vapor Trails tour and released the acoustic version on Rush In Rio. They repeated the acoustic version in their set for the 30th anniversary tour two years later.”—Songfacts

Limbo

“This free-form instrumental was born from out-takes that were in ‘limbo.’ ‘Whatever happened to my Transylvania twist?’ is sampled from Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett and the Crypt Keepers’ ‘Monster Mash.’ These references might have been inspired by the Frankenstein-like arrangement.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

“This song is not about a dance or a fat guy.” (T4e Tour intro)—Geddy in Merely Players

“Absolutely nothing to do with Rush Limbaugh. We wouldn’t write a song that had anything to do with him. We just thought it was fun, the play on words of ‘Rush Limbo.’ We had a lot of fun doing that as we always do with instrumentals. It was a last-minute thing, as most of our instrumentals are. Neil was already working on his drum parts for all of the other songs when we dumped it in his lap and said, ‘Here’s another one for you to learn!'” (T4E Premiere)—Alex in Merely Players

“I’d been stuck on Monster Mash and we were trying to use the Internet to get the words because I couldn’t remember them. One of the guys on the production team is an Internet preacher. So I said, ‘Here’s your chance: go get these lyrics for me.’ Well, he went onto the Internet and found the lyrics, but they were wrong! In all the jokes of that, our co-producer, Peter Collins, went out and bought a CD that had a compilation of some funny songs like that. We got to listening to it, thinking about how funny it was and decided to put some samples of it in there. That’s Igor going ‘Goo mash goo.’ We had to get special permission and pay money and everything. You think it’s so strange, when you just want to make a joke, and people want you to get permission and pay money.” (Jam! Showbiz, 1996)—Neil in Songfacts

Carve Away the Stone

It’s easy to tell people who keep making the same mistake to come to terms with their guilt (chip away the stone), but it’s another matter to take your own advice and apply it to your own repeated mistakes (if you could just move your stone, I could get working on my own).

There are competing interpretations of the Sisyphean myth, but the one that seems to make the most sense in the context of the song is Albert Camus’ in his book The Myth of Sisyphus. In this extended essay, Sisyphus is seen as personifying the absurdity of the human condition but is ultimately heroic because the task of carrying the stone up the hill is meaningful to Sisyphus while he’s doing it, which is about all you can ask for in life.

“The subject of idols (as in ‘Totem’) comes up in the line “make a graven image with some features of your own.’ In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a wicked king whom the gods punished by having him push a giant rock up and down a hill in Hades. Every time he’d get to the top, the rock would roll back down again.”—Robert Telleria, Merely Players

Other rock bands have tackled Sisyphus. Chicago released Stone of Sisyphus a few years ago, although the core tracks were recorded in 1993 but never released. And Pink Floyd released a four-part imstrumental called Sisyphus in its 1969 album Ummagumma.

One Little Victory

“‘One Little Victory’ was kind of a triumphant song for us, in the lyrics and the message that the song is about. There was something about that song that seemed just so darned appropriate for opening the record, and also being the first release for us in such a long time. That song started as a collection of jams that Alex had done late at night, just a collection of guitar riffs all linked together in a really kind of a typically Alex nonsensical way. I came in the next day after he’d done these things, and just kind of scratched my head but really liked a lot of it. At the same time, there were some lyrics there that Neil had written, which were one of the few lyrics that immediately I just loved, I didn’t want to touch a word, it was all great. And so I played with it for a couple of days, started using the digital equipment to manipulate the riffs and add my bass to it, and start writing some vocal melodies. And before I know it I had a song, or what seemed like a song. And then I ran it by Mr. Lerxst here, and he seemed to really dig it. So that kind of became a song and it didn’t change much after that.” (Rockline, 2002)—Geddy in 2112.net

“We fiddled with the order of the songs on Vapor Trails right up until the last minute. However, we never doubted which song would open the album, for “One Little Victory” made such an uncompromising announcement: “They’re ba-a-a-ack!”—Neil in the Vapor Trails tour book.

“I’d been working on that tune and came up with that double bass part. I thought it worked perfectly for the end of the song. But Geddy said, ‘That’s a great part. You ought to open the song with it. That would just kill.’ Frankly, I wouldn’t have done it that way. I don’t think I would have been so assertive. But Geddy suggested it and I said, ‘Okay, I’ll try it.'” (Modern Drummer, 2002—Neil in Songfacts

“Both the original version and an instrumental edit were included in the in-game soundtrack of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2.”—Songfacts

Ceiling Unlimited

Ceiling unlimited is a weather and aeronautical term referring to the height of the lowest obscuring cloud layer above the ground. Pilots flying below that cloud ceiling can operate their planes using visual flight rules. On a day where the ceiling’s unlimited, you can see the world stretched out before you. It’s an inspiring sight. But people tend to restrict their gaze to what’s immediately before them even when they have the world stretched out before them. The viciousness on the street, the slack-jawed gaze, these are just the limiting vision of what we get when we hold a mirror up to our world. We can be inspired with how great our world can be if we can just move beyond the limited world immediately before us.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

“‘Ceiling Unlimited’ offers a playful take on Oscar Wilde’s reversal of the Victorian lament, “drink is the curse of the working class.” (Behind the Fire)—Neil in 2112.net

In the remixed version of the piece, which came out in 2013, producer David Bottrill added a lead break from Alex at about the one-minute mark that was recorded but not used in the original.

Ghost Rider

The song encapsulates the cathartic role of Neil’s 55,000-mile motorcycle journey around North America and parts of Mexico in 1998 after he was struck by personal tragedy.

The piece is a “carafe splashing one of Rush’s greatest examples of passionate melody.”—Martin Popoff, Contents Under Pressure

In the line, “from the lowest low to the highest high,” Neil refers to Telescope Peak, the highest summit in Death Valley, California. His climb to the top of the peak took on new meaning after his descent; his next stop was Los Angeles, where he met his new wife.

“In October 1999, when I had been rambling aimlessly around the West for the better part of a year, trying to find some way to face the world again, I hiked to that 11,049-foot summit. The next day, I rode on to Los Angeles, where I met Carrie, and my whole life changed completely (and needless to say, positively). An irresistible metaphor seemed to arise there—that I had climbed to the highest point in Death Valley from the lowest, then descended to travel onward and find Life again. In the book Ghost Rider I had used Telescope Peak as an important symbol, and had written some lyrics called ‘Telescope Peak,’ too, around the refrain of ‘the last lonely day.’ . . . The best lines from ‘Telescope Peak’ were [used in] ‘Ghost Rider’ and ‘How It Is’ [and other songs], so nothing was lost.”—Neil in News, Weather & Sports, December 2008

During the wrting and recording of the Vapor Trails album, the band was on the verge of abandoning “Ghost Rider” until their co-producer and engineer Paul Northfield suggested changes. “He could help us judge the performances as “finished” or “not yet,” and he saw possibilities that sometimes escaped us (urging “Ghost Rider” from the verge of abandonment to its glorious realization, for example).”—Neil in the Vapor Trails tour book

Peaceable Kingdom

The ttle recalls the iconic series of “Peaceable Kingdom” paintings by Edward Hicks, the Pennsylvanian Quaker who made the images the core of his life’s work. The theme of the paintings is the message of peace in chapter 11 of Isaiah: “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” In the song, Neil talks about the West thinking it has everything under control with its rational pursuit of truth while a billion radicals elsewhere who don’t share that view are lighting sparks of terror—in other words, until these two very different approaches to truth start trying to understand one another, the peaceable kingdom is a long way off.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

“Almost all of ‘Peaceable Kingdom’ is from one jam we did. Then we made the song up from that, added a couple little embellishments, the drums of course. But basically guitar and bass are from that one time. That’s the one time it was played. I really love that idea.”—Geddy in Contents Under Pressure

“‘Peaceable Kingdom’ had a certain feel and energy to [it after we played it in that jam]. You know, you get into the studio and start playing, and you start thinking about it too much, and it becomes a little safe. When you’re not thinking and just playing, it’s coming from a different place, and it’s a beautiful reflection of where you are at that very moment . . . It’s one of my favorites because it’s a great example of all these different elements [using the guitar to play a counterpoint role to bass and drums] and to add in shifts of rhythm, texture, and melody.”—Alex in Contents Under Pressure

The Stars Look Down

The piece is about the illusions we’re under that we control our own destiny. In “Free Wills and Sweet Miracles,” one of the essays in Rush and Philosophy, Purdue University philosophy professor Neil Florek says the piece is among the bleakest Neil has ever written and is emblematic of what Florek calls Neil’s “post-tragic” ethics. “The song hammers away at our pretensions of cosmic, over-arching meaning by asking, ‘Are you under the illusion/That you’re part of the scheme?’ It also presents some deflating, unflattering analogies as humans are compared to flies and rats, being turned by unknown wheels and trapped in mazes.”

Florek goes on: “The indifferent, absurd universe will be of no help in overcoming our ignorance of the reasons why things happen, nor will it give us any solace as we struggle through life. As many of us have asked, semi-seriously, in  moments of distress, ‘What did I do to deserve this?’ Peart’s post-tragic answer . . . is that there is no answer. And the stars look down.”

Florek calls this part of Neil’s “post-tragic” ethics because it represents his writing after the deaths of his daughter and first wife. Prior to these untimely events, Neil’s ethics were fairly consistent with the classical virtues, with Rush songs celebrating aristotelean ethical ideals such as courage, justice, and moderation, among others. In his post-tragic phase, he supplements this virtue ethics with the ideals of love and hope, as expressed in other songs on Vapor Trails, like “Sweet Miracle.”–-Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

Neil in the liner notes to Snakes and Arrows says the song was one of the first to come out of a new writing process for the band, in which they would work without time constraints.

The song title, “The Stars Look Down,” comes from the title of a novel by A. J. Cronin, but Neil said at the time of the album’s release that he had yet to read the book. Rather, he was simply attracted to the title, which, he said in the Vapor Trails tour book, “seemed to express a fitting view of an uncaring universe.”

How It Is

There are days, no matter who you are or how well your life is going, that you’re a little down. It’s an existential “trap” that even the best of us are subject to once in a while. Maybe the weather even has something to do with it. Some cloudy days are more than just a weather event; they’re a reflection of how we get down in the dumps. On these days, we’re suspended between how it is and how it ought to be. It’s just a part of the human condition. But, importantly, it’s just a moment in a person’s life. Eventually, we’ll move on, and things will go well, and they’ll also go bad, but they’ll move on, up and down. Then, at some point, we’ll once again be suspended between how it is and how it ought to be.

Musically, the piece oscillates between two extremes: a verse of power riffs that recall the Stones’ Jumpin’ Jack Flash and then a soft chorus underpinned by acoustic guitar. Unlike the lyrics, which are all about suspension between two extremes, musically there is no mid-point. Rather, the verse expresses the unsettled feeling of being existentially untethered. The chorus expresses our resignation that only time will heal this wound. But it’s not just resignation; it’s resignation tinged with hope, an acknowledgement by us that we won’t always feel untethered like this.

The line “foot upon the stair, shoulder to the wheel” comes from a line in a Thomas Wolfe piece.

Vapor Trail

“Vapor Trail” is the more informal term for the artificial clouds, or contrails, left behind by the condensed water vapor from the heat of jet engines. The clouds seem so substantial when they’re fresh but they eventually fade away and leave no trace that they were once there.

Purdue University philosophy professor Neil Florek calls the piece Peart’s seminal post-tragic composition and says it’s “symbolizing the tendency for memory to fade, however brilliant or profound the object of the memory, and this is ultra-significant for conscious creatures. Memory is one way to attempt to ‘freeze the fading past,’ but if the memory is subject to gradual disintegration, then freezing either the actual moments of experience or their mental representation is doomed to failure. The ocean, stars, the songbirds, all will fade away. ‘Vapor Trail’ states this simple fact and proposes no solution, ethical or otherwise. A free spirit following Peart’s ethical vision can’t help but ask, ‘Is this the final word? Is there nothing to be done? Should I still attempt to live as if each step was the end?'”—Neil Florek, Rush and Philosophy

Neil’s brother Danny “read the poem ‘Funeral Blues’ by W. H. Auden at his daughter Selena’s funeral. The poem contains the lines “The stars are not wanted now: put out every one; Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun; Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood, For nothing now can ever come to any good.” This inspired the lines “All the stars fade from the night / The oceans drain away.”—Songfacts

Neil also pulled lines for the song from the title of Edward Abbey’s Black Sun, about a loner forest ranger who falls in love with a young woman. The ranger is heartbroken when the woman, who has no affinity for the outdoors, leaves him.

In deciding on what to call the album, Neil says the band’s previous approaches weren’t working, so they chose the song title, “Vapor Trail,” because they liked it best, and “made it plural to refer to all the songs.”—Neil in the Vapor Trails tour book

Secret Touch

Called “highly textural” by Martin Popoff in Contents Under Pressure, the piece evokes the idea that once you’re scarred by life, you become out of sync with the rhythms of the world around you, and your scar remains with you, like a secret touch on the heart, as you try to live and love again.

The line “secret touch on the heart” comes from Joseph Conrad’s Victory and “there is never love without pain” comes from Sister of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.

“I think ‘Secret Touch’ is my favorite song on Vapor Trails, and I love playing it live. It’s got a great intensity about it.”—Geddy in Contents Under Pressure

EarthShine

“Earthshine” is reflected earthlight visible on the moon’s night side, giving the portion of the moon bathed in earthshine a ghostly glow. Upon seeing earthshine, you would see a regular crescent moon, but with the rest of the moon, which is normally obscured, visible in a ghostly light. (“Its circle shows / In a ghostly glow / Of earthly luminescence.”) The idea of the pale image, rendered visible not by its own light but by the reflected light of another body, signifies how one can be visible to others but only as a pale facsimile in the same way that’s referenced in “Secret Touch,” in which you’re a part of what’s going on, but because of your experience, you’re also apart from what’s going on.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

“‘Earthshine’ was the first song we wrote for Vapor Trails but was completely rewritten. Even the lyrics were changed around. Musically, it was a completely different song from what it was, and it was a complete song in the beginning. We had all the parts, the lyrics, we worked it out. But there was something about it that just didn’t knock us out.” —Alex in Contents Under Pressure

“‘Earthshine’ was just not right in its original incarnation. The lyrics were very interesting, and very evocative, but I didn’t feel in the end—and Alex agreed—that the music really equaled what was there lyrically. We were selling the lyrics short. So we had this jam music that we really were excited about, especially this riff, this main riff, that became the verses for Earthshine, and I rebuilt the song vocally around that riff. Then we proceed to just carry on with it, and before we knew it we had a whole new song that was really exciting.” (Rockline, 2002)—Geddy in Songfacts

Sweet Miracle

The piece evokes the idea that when wonderful things happen to a regular person (I wasn’t walking on water, walking with angels, or praying for magic) it has the same force as experiencing a miracle.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

“I think ‘Sweet Miracle’ was the second song we wrote for Vapor Trails. This came from the very earliest parts of the writing sessions, and it just happened. The lyrics I felt were very moving, and the melody just came out of me.” (Rockline, 2002)—Geddy in Songfacts

Nocturne

“Nocturne was one of the later songs that we wrote for the record after the break that we had. There was a group of about five or six songs that came from a two week period of just what I would consider the best jams Alex and I have ever had. I really love this song. I love the drum pattern, especially the way it starts. It’s kind of about the questions you can subconsciously answer in your dreams without realizing it.” (Rockline, 2002)—Geddy in Songfacts

Neil says that an article in the November/December 2000 issue of Utne Reader called “What Do Dreams Want?” contributed to the ideas in the piece. In that article, originally titled “Night Eyes,” the writer talks about a series of vivid nightmares that led him to suspect something was going terribly wrong in his body. Visits to his doctor confirmed he had a cancerous tumor in his thyroid gland. Subsequent dreams, in which a voice says, “You have been living on the outer shell of your being; the way out is the way in!” helped guide him in his decision-making on what to do. After his treatment, he wrote a book called Healing Dreams on the ways our dreams communicate important information to us.

The piece is considered one of the more experimental on Vapor Trails. “Once we had a few songs finished that we liked, the newer ones started to get weirder. Daring grows out of confidence (or what the ancient Greeks called “hubris,” I guess), and from this combination came “One Little Victory,” “Ceiling Unlimited,” and “Nocturne.”—Neil in the Vapor Trails tour book

Freeze

“Freeze” looks at that moment when one chooses to fight or flee and is the fourth part of the Fear series (originally a trilogy), coming almost 20 years after the series’ introduction on Moving Pictures, with “Witch Hunt.”

The mood of “Freeze” is evocative of a panic attack: “Blood running cold / Mind going down into a dark night / Of a desperate panic / Or a tempest of blind fury / Like a cornered beast.” Neil has said in Traveling Music and elsewhere that he has worked to control panic attacks ever since a boyhood incident in which some teenagers almost caused him to drown by preventing him from climbing onto a raft after he had exhausted himself swimming out to it.

On the Fear series, Neil says the idea “was suggested by an older man telling that he didn’t think life was ruled by love, or reason, or money, or the pursuit of happiness—but by fear. This smart but cynical guy’s position was that most people’s actions are motivated by fear of being hungry, fear of being hurt, fear of being alone, fear of being robbed, etc., and that people don’t make choices based on hope that something good will happen, but in fear that something bad will happen.

“I reacted to this the way all of us tend to react to generalities: ‘Well, I’m not like that!’ But then I started thinking about it more, watching the way people around me behaved, and I soon realised that there was something to this viewpoint, So I sketched out the three ‘theaters of fear,’ as I saw them: how fear works inside us (‘The Enemy Within’), how fear is used against us (‘The Weapon’), and how fear feeds the mob mentality (‘Witch Hunt’).

“As it happened, the last theme was easiest to deal with, so it was written first, and consequently appeared first on record, and the other two followed in reverse order for the same reason.”—Wikipedia

Out of the Cradle

In the Vapor Trails tour book, Neil attributes the title and one of the key lines of “Out of the Cradle” to Walt Whitman’s 1859 poem about his birth as a poet, “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking.” In the poem, the key word is death, because the poet cannot be born until the poet’s self dies. In the song, the key word appears to be love, because that’s the force that has the power to renew life endlessly: “Surge of energy, spark of inspiration / the breath of love is electricity . . . here we come out of the cradle / endlessly rocking.”—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

The song was one of the first written for the album, and during that creative process, the piece “underwent some serious surgery as time passed, and that was the kind of relaxed approach we were taking, allowing us to reexamine songs with the luxury of perspective, and repair or replace any parts that didn’t survive that test of time. Sometimes a developing song seemed to lose momentum, or our faith (the critical force), and was abandoned, but that had always been our version of “natural selection.”—Neil in Vapor Trails tour book

The piece comes last on the album, a signal to at least one music writer that the band was ready to shift back into work mode. “Rush fans hoping to see more of the band may take comfort from the album’s final song. “Out of the Cradle,” ends on a hopeful note with triumphant lyrics inspired by Walt Whitman, “Here we come out of the cradle / Endlessly rocking.”—Geneen Pipher, CNN

Summertime Blues

The piece, a teenager’s lament about having to work before getting a chance to play, was written in the late 1950s by Eddie Cochran and his manager Jerry Capehart. Originally a single B-side, it peaked at #8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1958 and #18 on the U.K. Singles Chart. Rolling Stone ranks it 73rd among all-time top rock songs. The Beach Boys picked it up in 1962, The Who in 1967, and Blue Cheer in 1968.

Neil says in the liner notes on the Feedback album that his pre-Rush band Mumblin’ Sumpthin’ played the Blue Cheer version.

Heart Full of Soul

The piece, a lament over a lost love, is a 1965 single by the The Yardbirds. It was written by Graham Gouldman, who later had a lengthy career as a member of 10cc. It charted in the United States at number nine and at number two in the United Kingdom. The song makes an early use of the fuzz box by guitarist Jeff Beck during the guitar solo. Originally, a sitar was going to be used, in keeping with the “Eastern-exotic” atmosphere of the song, but the sound was too thin, and eventually Beck produced a sitar-like effect on the guitar. An outtake exists, with the sitar part intact.—Wikipedia

Chris Isaak covered the song in 1986, Dokken in 2002, and Gouldman returned to the song in his 2000 solo album.

Neil in the liner notes to the Feedback album suggests neither he nor his bandmates covered the song in their early years, but they included it in their EP because it was among the songs they liked from the era and they thought they could cover it effectively “meaning not too many backing vocals” and have some fun with.

About a quarter of the way through the band’s 30th anniversary tour, in 1994, the song had become an audience sing-along favorite. In a journal he was keeping, Neil made a notation after a day of motorcycling through Ohio on the way to the next gig in Cuyahoga Falls. “Note how loud the background vocals [crowd] were last night for ‘Heart Full of Soul.’ Seems to be an audience-participation act that’s catching on more and more night by night.”—Neil in Roadshow

For What It’s Worth

The piece was written by Stephen Stills and released by Buffalo Springfield as a single in 1967. It peaked at number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In 2004, it was #63 on Rolling Stone’s list of all-time greatest rock songs. It has come to symbolize worldwide turbulence and confrontational feelings arising from events during the 1960s (particularly the Vietnam War), but Stills reportedly wrote the song for a narrower reason: escalating unrest between law enforcement and young club-goers related to the closing of Pandora’s Box, a club on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. The song’s title appears nowhere in the lyrics. Stills said in an interview that the name came about when he presented it to the record company executive: “I have this song here, for what it’s worth, if you want it.”—Wikipedia

Neil says in the liner notes to the Feedback album that Alex played the piece in his first band, The Projection.

The Seeker

The piece, about a tortured soul looking for answers, was written by Pete Townshend and performed by The Who in 1970. “I suppose I like this least of all the stuff,” Townshend says, but “it sounded great in the mosquito-ridden swamp I made it up in, in Florida, at three in the morning, drunk out of my brain with Tom Wright and John Wolff.” Released in the U.K. in March 1970, it reached #19 in the charts. Released in the U.S. a month later, it eventually peaked at #44.–-Wikipedia

Neil in the liner notes to the Feedback album suggests neither he nor his bandmates covered the song in their early years, but they included it in their EP because it was among the songs they liked from the era and they thought they could cover it effectively “meaning not too many backing vocals” and have some fun with.

Mr. Soul

The piece was written by Neil Young and first recorded and released by Buffalo Springfield in 1967. “A lot of songs take a long time to write,” Young said during a later live performance. “Generally they take an hour and a half, two hours to write. But this one took only five minutes.” Young subsequently recorded other versions of the song, often with marked stylistic changes. Of all of Young’s songs, “Mr. Soul” has been released the most times. The main riff of the song recalls “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones.—Wikipedia

The piece was one of the songs Alex and Geddy played as part of their set in the band’s earliest years, Neil says in the liner notes to Feedback.

Seven and Seven Is

The piece, by Arthur Lee and recorded by Love in 1966, took a great deal of work to record. Love’s drummer, Alban “Snoopy” Pfisterer, was unable to cope with its frantic demands after 30 takes and was replaced on drums by Lee. The song climaxes in an apocalyptic explosion—the supposed sound of an atom bomb— before a peaceful conclusion, in a blues form, before it fades out.

The song drew inspiration from a high school sweetheart of Lee’s who shared his birthday, the 7th of March. It also describes Lee’s frustration at teenage life. The reference to “in my lonely room I’d sit, my mind in an ice cream cone” suggests sitting in the corner, wearing a dunce’s cap. The song peaked at 33 on the Billboard Pop Singles chart and was the band’s only hit single. Described as “protopunk,” it was later covered by the Ramones and Alice Cooper before Rush. It’s thought that the song’s use of kicking a reverb unit to create the explosion sound might be one of the first, if not the first, use of this device to create a “psychedelic” sound on a recording.—Wikipedia

Neil in the liner notes to the Feedback album suggests neither he nor his bandmates covered the song in their early years, but they included it in their EP because it was among the songs they liked from the era and they thought they could cover it effectively “meaning not too many backing vocals” and have some fun with.

The song title is spelled out as “Seven & Seven Is” on the original album cover, but written as “7 and 7 Is” on the original 45.
3067.f Rush’s version of the song was included on one side of a special vinyl release, along with the original version of the song by Love, on Record Store Day 2014, which was April 19. Learn more.

Shapes of Things

The piece was written by Paul Samwell-Smith, Keith Relf, and Jim McCarty and released by The Yardbirds as a single in 1966. The title bears a striking resemblance to The Shape of Things to Come, the “future history” book by H.G. Wells which foresaw cities being destroyed by aerial bombing. The song is considered one of the first psychedelic songs and features a psychedelic-style guitar solo by Jeff Beck using his Fender Esquire guitar. Q magazine in 2005 ranked the piece number 61 in its list of the 100 greatest guitar tracks.—Wikipedia

The piece was one of the songs Alex and Geddy played as part of their set in the band’s earliest years, Neil says in the liner notes to Feedback.

Crossroads

The piece, originally titled “Cross Road Blues” and written by Delta Blues singer Robert Johnson, was released in 1937. It remained out of print after its initial release until the appearance of a Johnson compilation, The Complete Recordings, in 1990. Because of its historical significance, the piece, about the narrator’s failed attempts to hitch a ride from an intersection as night approached, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998.

Cream’s cover of the song as “Crossroads” in 1968 has become the standard, but dozens of recording artists have either recorded the piece or made it part of their live set list, including The Doors, Bob Dylan, Derek and the Dominoes, Dion, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jimi Hendrix, Journey, Ten Years After, Van Halen, Robin Trower, Steve Miller Band, Molly Hatchet, Stephen Stills, Jeff Berlin, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, John Mayer, and Phish. —Wikipedia

Neil in the liner notes to Feedback says Geddy and Alex included the song in the set list of Rush’s earliest years and that his early band, Mumblin’ Sumpthin’, played the song as well.

Far Cry

“Far Cry,” about the surprising turn the world’s taken over the years, is the first piece on Snakes & Arrows, although it was one of the later pieces written. The song emerged almost spontaneously, with the main riff coming out of a jam between Alex and Geddy shortly after their return to the studio after a break.

“‘Far Cry’ was a really good day. We had just taken a break for the summer, and we got back together in the fall, and Al and I were fired up to start writing again. So we got into the studio and had this awesome jam. We were just roasting. It was so much fun. Then Alex took his normal position on the couch and went to sleep and I just took the bits and pieces and started playing with them. And at the same time Neil had dropped off some lyrics that we just loved. They were just so right. We loved the sentiment in them. And they seemed to match perfectly with this jam we had just done. It was one of those magic songs that just came together. My friend Ben Mink [collaborator with Geddy on his solo album My Favorite Headache] has this phrase: ‘All you really need is a good six minutes,’ and that jam was an example of a good six minutes.”—Geddy in The Game of Snakes & Arrows DVD

Neil in his essay on the album describes the piece, along with a few others like “Faithless,” as having a blend of spirituality and raw sophistication.

“It was almost like we already knew the song when we wrote it. We just played it. And that was realy cool. That doesn’t happen very often. We were high-fiving and the whole thing, because it’s a relief when something like that happens, for sure.”—Alex in The Game of Snakes & Arrows

Armor and Sword

The piece talks about how faith, which we look to for comfort, gets corrupted into something we wield against others. Although Neil doesn’t say this, “Armor and Sword” takes us back to “The Weapon,” which talks about the way priests and other agents of organized religion use our fears to bring us into their fold. In “Armor and Sword,” our fears have metastasized and we’ve become like the priests and use our faith not to give us comfort but to take away the comfort of others. As the piece says, “What should have been our armor / becomes a dark and angry sword.”—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

Neil says in Roadshow that his original plan was to record without commentary the church signs he came across on his motorcycle ride across the United States, but after he saw a sign that says “Faith is a higher faculty of reason,” he decides to put in his two cents before the faith of yet more people hardens into swords. “At this point in recounting my American travels, I begin to think that even if the voice of reason is increasingly drowned out by the evangelical crowd, that is all the more reason to speak up. Spiritual yearnings are natural to many people and may give them solace or hope, but extremists of any kind are not content with faith as armor, they must forge it into a sword.”

Workin’ Them Angels

The piece is about living on the edge, pushing yourself to the limits of your ability. It’s a recurring theme in Neil’s travel memoirs, and in Traveling Music he credits the line “workin’ them angels overtime” to a woman he overhears at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Tennessee while he and his friend Brutus were riding their motorcycles across the United States during the Test for Echo tour in 1996.

“A black couple came in behind us, the woman large with a flowered dress and hat, the man small and skinny in a suit and tie. He was smiling kind of sheepishly as she harangued him with a pointing finger, presumably about his driving: ‘You workin’ them angels overtime—you workin’ them angels overtime.’

“From then on, Brutus and I often used that line on each other, to describe the way we lived, on and off the bikes, and it had continued to be a metaphor for my life. I didn’t think I was foolhardy or irresponsible, but a certain level of risk in life seemed worthwhile for the promised return—excitement and treasured experiences—and though I didn’t realy believe in ‘them angels,’ if I had them, I guessed I kept them pretty busy.”

The Larger Bowl

The piece is a meditation on fairness—the different fortunes and fates of people—and its lyrical structure is in the form of a pantoum, in which the second and fourth lines of each stanza are repeated as the first and third lines of the next. The lyrics were written years ago, not long after one of Neil’s African bike trips in the mid-1990s, and only shared with Alex and Geddy much later. It was only when they started Snakes & Arrows that that the lyrics made it into a song. “It must have been the right time, because, to my delight, Alex and Geddy responded to the challenge of ‘The Larger Bowl,’ and its unusual construction.”—Neil in the Game of Snakes & Arrows essay

Neil says in The Masked Rider, his 1997 travel memoir about riding his bike across Cameroon, and in “The Game of Snakes & Arrows, his essay about the album, that the phrase “the larger bowl” came to him in a feverish dream he had while riding his bike on an earlier trip through West Africa. “A song with that title wafted through a feverish, hallucinatory “dysentery dream.” Waking in a sweaty tangle of twisted sheets, I only remembered the title, but I knew I had to write that song. Make a dream come true, as it were.” The phrase then became a touchstone for him when he saw instances of unfairness: the heavier loads carried by the women than by the men, and the bullying of one boy by another over who had the bigger piece of candy.

Spindrift

“Spindrift,” in which the narrator shouts at waves crashing against the shore, is written in the form of a lover’s quarrel, although the quarrel isn’t between two people but between the narrator and the world.

“What am I supposed to say? / Where are the words to answer you / When you talk that way? / Words that fly against the wind and waves.”

Neil says in his essay The Game of Snakes & Arrows that he got the idea from Robert Frost’s epitaph, “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.” He used the same device in the lyrics for “Good News First.”

Musically, the piece is divided into two parts. In the first, Alex’s guitar evokes the idea that it’s coming at the quarrel from the side of the crashing waves, the uncaring world that could easily crush the lover against the rocks. In the second, his guitar shifts to the perspective of the gentle wind that carries the lover safely off the rocks: “Where is the wind that will carry me / A little closer to you?”—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

The Main Monkey Business

The piece is the first of three instrumentals on Snakes & Arrows. Geddy, Alex, and Neil played together as an ensemble during the recording to capture the feeling of a live performance. The title comes from an exchange Geddy had with his mother.

“‘The Main Monkey Business’ was certainly the most painstaking song of all [on Snakes & Arrows] to write, arrange, and record (it took me three days just to learn it). Its title comes from a conversation Geddy had with his Polish mother. Talking about a cousin of theirs, she said, ‘I have a feeling he’s up to some monkey business.’ Geddy laughed, saying, ‘What kind of monkey business?’ ‘You know,’ she said, with Old World wisdom, ‘The main monkey business.’ Everybody knows about that.”—Neil in The Game of Snakes & Arrows essay

“When we recorded the ‘Main Monkey Business,’ it was one of those examples where we all wanted to get on the floor. The song was feeling a little stiff anyway, and we thought it would be great if we just got our there and played it with Neil. It fires him up to have me standing close to him and Alex bashing away. Sometimes you forget how important the visual contact is. I can see his hands, so if he’s improvising on some little moment and he’s going to go to hit that drum at that time, I can go there with him and sometimes you get a great spontaneous boost to that part of the song.”—Geddy in the Game of Snakes & Arrows DVD

“When we decided to work at Alaire [the recording studio in New York’s Catskills Mountains], one of the reasons was we wanted to work in the room together and record some stuff off the floor. And that’s not something we typically do and haven’t for a very long time. And we ran ‘Main Monkey Business’ down I don’t know how many times until we got a take that was something we felt was quite natural and had all that feel of live performance.”—Alex in the Game of Snakes & Arrows DVD

“We saved it for the end. It was the last song that we did. It was just about getting the energy and the feel of the three of them just doing it. it was cool. It was really cool to watch. I think they had a blast doing it.”—Nick Raskulinecz in the Game of Snakes & Arrows DVD

The Way the Wind Blows

The piece compares the way our views are shaped as children to the way trees are shaped by the force of the wind over the years. If we grow up with extremist, intolerant views among our parents and others who are influential in our lives, then we can expect our views to reflect that extremism and intolerance.

“Children brought up in a certain environment can only grow the way the wind blows. In Canada, we see along the Great Lakes and the western coast of Newfoundland trees that are just completely trained to the way the wind blows. I thought of that as a larger metaphor that all of us grow up in a certain environment where the wind’s blowing in a certain direction, and inevitably we get bent that way, so if you want to be different, and if you want to try to survive against that very militant [extremely religious] wave of wind, it’s the stone in the river: you might have to roll a little bit, you might get some rough edges. [It’s the trees in the wind:] they have to learn to bend a little bit. [It’s the] flowers in the desert: they’re in such a hostile environment they can only bloom at night, because that’s the only time it’s safe. These are the kinds of ways that, I thought, that’s how you can still be you and still not have to be hypocritical, but at the same time, still not have to stand up, a little pencil, against a whole army of swords.”—Neil in The Game of Snakes and Arrows, Snakes and Arrows (DVD)

Hope

The two-minute instrumental for 12-string guitar is by Alex and is the shortest Rush piece on any album. “In a single, inspired performance, Alex recorded his eclectic and poignant solo guitar piece, ‘Hope,’ which also [like ‘Far Cry’ and some others on the album] has qualities of spirituality, and raw sophistication. He chose the title from the line in ‘Faithless,’ ‘I still cling to hope,’ and like that song, ‘Hope’ is a kind of secular prayer.”—Neil in the Game of Snakes & Arrows essay

A live version of the piece was nominated for a Grammy Award, which appeared on the compilation disc Songs for Tibet. The song was recorded on May 25, 2008 in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.—Wikipedia

Faithless

“‘Faithless’ is a song about belief systems, about what it takes to get through the day. And it’s a personal statement from Neil in that sense. . . If you look at the chorus, which for me is the most important part of the song, it talks about life. it talks about life when you’re not a very religious person, you’re not a church goer, when you’re just a person. You can call it being an atheist, you can call it whatever you want to call it, but there are many people who don’t identify with a practice of a particular religion. There are many people who find their own road, find their own spirituality in themselves, and find things to believe in that relate to the way they live. And that’s what the song is really about. You know, believing in hope, believing in love: those are two things you can count on believing in, and there aren’t many things you can count on in this world. Others find it great comfort to find religion and get their strength from that, and that’s fine. And many people don’t. I think the song is about those that don’t.”—Geddy in The Game of Snakes and Arrows, Snakes and Arrows DVD

“The song ‘Faithless’ is one of the ones that came out of a lot of the thinking I did during the writing of Roadshow [Neil’s book about traveling the 30th anniversary tour on motorcycle] and after being exposed to so much of the evangelical Christianity of the southern and central United States, after traveling through all the back roads and the small towns of it, on my motorcycle and just trying to grapple with that and deal with it and come to some kind of terms with it, I guess you’d say. It seemed almost too overwhelming to protest against and to fight and make enemies over it, too. That was a big part of it. And I came down to grappling with what you need this for. To me there were two kinds of faith: a good kind that could be protective and help people, and a bad kind that was militant and you wanted to kill people. In the song, I wanted to express, first of all, that you don’t need that kind of faith to have a moral belief and to have, as I describe it, a moral compass and a spirit level—those were the two metaphors I looked at there. I thought, well, I have those sorts of things: I have a strong sense of right and wrong and a sense of compassion and a sense of charity, and all those weren’t contingent on being punished for them or being rewarded for them.”—Neil in The Game of Snakes and Arrows, Snakes and Arrows DVD

Bravest Face

The piece evokes the idea that, because we can never know reality beyond the surface, we need to accept the reality as we see it and put on our bravest face.

We tell stories and sing songs about the world to try to encapsulate the way we want the world to be. We like stories in which justice prevails, because we can take comfort in that. But in reality there is none of that clarity. There’s no purely sweet child. We don’t like to know it, but even in a sweet chid there’s a vicious streak. But such dualities aren’t always negative: behind the oldest eyes is a soul so young. Because the surface appearance of reality is never the full story, the best we can do is accept the way the world is (there’s no magic place), so put on your bravest face and confront reality as it’s given to you. When you are presented with something good, accept it for the precious gift that it is.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

Good News First

The piece uses a lyrical device Neil in his essay The Game of Snakes & Arrows says he got from Robert Frost in which he depicts a quarrel, but its not between two people but between the narrator and the world. Musically, Alex says the piece evolved from a largely acoustic piece to one that relies on driving electric guitars to propel it.

“In the song ‘Good News First,’ I had a device that was kind of new to me in the lyrical approach. I had the notion I wanted to write songs that weren’t really about me and one other person, but about me and a whole bunch of people. I kind of couch the lyrics in the traditional relationship song of a quarrel between two people, but, again, it’s in fact me arguing with these whole masses of people who just happen to disagree with me. And another element of that, too, is—it’s a common thing you hear—well, I have some good news and some bad news, and I always say, give me the good news first. You know, to me that’s self-evident, of course. Give me the ice cream, then give me the medicine, not the other way around. So, that was a kind of humorous twist that I wanted to get across in there, and address a certain mentality that I was quarreling with: the whole idea, in the middle eight of the song, [of people who say] they never fear a thing. First, I get kind of tired of that, because it’s such empty bravado to say you’re not afraid of anything. If you’re not, you have no imagination. That’s the way I put it. Unfortunately, you can have too much imagination and be too afraid, but there’s a line you can walk, where you’re sensibly afraid of things. So, I took it to the other extreme, and said . . . I’m afraid of enough for both me and you. There’s a sense of self-revelation in there, but it’s really a much larger sense of the individual against a mass of people, too.”—Neil in The Game of Snakes and Arrows, Snakes and Arrows DVD

“‘Good News First’ really came a long way for me. When we first wrote that song, it was probably one of—I don’t want to say ‘weaker songs’—but in terms of strength, it was sort of down at the bottom. I always thought, we’ll do something to it, bring life to it, and take it a little bit out of the ordinary place that it’s occupying at the moment. As the song progressed, we started trimming, we took a different approach. It was strongly acoustic, all the way through in the original version, and it really benefited from electric. It really needed the drive of the electric guitars. As much as you want to use your imagination, until you actually do it, you’re not really quite sure. Well, once we got into recording it, the whole verse section really started growing, and in the middle eight, there’s a beautiful change of scenery. It goes from driving electrics and a very rhythmic, kind of spooky verse section into this glorious middle eight of acoustics and beautiful melodies and a passionate vocal. And now that song is probably one of my favorites on the record. And that’s really cool. When it’s a sleeper like that, its like the runt of the litter ends up being one of the prized dogs—not that I want to call it a dog.”—Alex in The Game of Snakes & Arrows, Snakes & Arrows DVD

“To me, that song came together in different parts. A lot of the melodies I just sketched out using kind of a [vocal] structuring for that basic melody line, which remained through most of the writing process and recording process, until we got to a layer. Well, we decided to replace that vocal line with a Mellotron. What’s interesting about that song is, it was our first opportunity to bring that old beast back into the soundscape. I don’t think we used a Mellotron since, God, maybe 2112. in the song ‘Tears’ [which is on the “B” side of 2112] Hugh Syme played Mellotron. I love the idea of using a Mellotron, because it’s such an archaic and unique sounding instrument. I think it brought the song to life. I just love that element. It just gives it a kind of magical ambiance atmosphere. “—Geddy in The Game of Snakes and Arrows, Snakes and Arrows DVD

Malignant Narcissism

The instrumental, the third on Snakes & Arrows, came about as a fluke. “Toward the end of the sessions, Geddy was playing with a fretless bass between vocal takes, just riffing aimlessly, and Booujze [coproducer Nick Raskulinecz] was getting excited. He started recording some of those figures over the vocal mic, and fired us up with the idea of putting them together to create a short, quirky instrumental. This inspired the thirteenth track, for luck, ‘Malignant Narcissism’ (an apt title for an instrumental with bass and drum solos. For everyday use, that mouthful was soon abbreviated to ‘MalNar’ (cue robot voice, ‘We are from the planet Malnar”’). I had left a little four-piece drumset in the studio for Booujze to play around on, and I ended up recording ‘Malignant Narcissism’ on that. Just for fun.”—Neil in the Game of Snakes & Arrows essay

The fretless bass was a Jaco Pastorius signature on loan to him from Fender.

The piece was one of the last written for the album and was nominated for a 2008 Grammy for rock instrumental. The inspiration for the title came from a dialogue in Team America: World Police. In that film, the psychological termmalignant narcissism is used in reference to Islamic terrorists. The only voice heard in the piece is from an audio sample taken from the film, appearing at 1:08 in the song, featuring a female voice saying, “Usually a case of malignant narcissism is brought on during childhood.”—Wikipedia

We Hold On

The piece is the last on Snakes & Arrows and uses the device of a lover’s quarrel with the world to describe how we often want to make a clean break from our daily drudgery (“chafe against the repetition”) to do something entirely new but instead, because of responsibilities and commitments, we find the strength to hold on and do what’s right. The intensity of Alex’s guitar evokes the idea of jumping into your car and tearing away from the curb with a screech or kicking open the kitchen door with your foot and making a dash for freedom. But, of course, that’s exactly what we don’t do. We stay the course. But inside we feel that smoldering intensity.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

Neil in his essay The Game of Snakes & Arrows says he got the device of depicting a lover’s quarrel with the world from Robert Frost and it’s used on several other songs on the album, including “Spindrift.”

“If many of the other lyrics [depicting a lover’s quarrel] illuminate the struggles we all have to face, in love and in life, this one shows how we deal with it: We hold on.”

The line “measured out in coffee breaks” is from T.S. Eliot.

Caravan

Copper

The first single from Rush’s upcoming 2011 album, Clockwork Angels, the piece takes us back to “Middletown Dreams” on Power Windows and “The Analog Kid” on Signals in the way it evokes the narrator’s decision to hop on the caravan to the city and go where he wants to rather than where he should. The reason for action? “In a world where I feel so small / I can’t stop thinking big.” Musically, the piece starts out on an ominous note that’s characteristic of the fire-lit road on which the caravan travels.

The line “in a world lit only by fire” comes from the title of a history of medieval times by William Manchester, A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance: Portrait of an Age.

Alex says in a MusicRadar interview that the band thought about rerecording the piece for the album but decided not to. “It was nice to revisit the track and remix it for the album with fresh ears. We talked about rerecording it, but there wasn’t much point—we were happy with the performances and the sound. We did think that it could use a remix so it could connect more to what the album is now. The perspective changed a little bit. It’s funny, people say to me, ‘I hear new parts in the song. Did you rerecord it?’ The shift of the emphasis on different instruments creates that.”

The piece “was released to radio stations and saw digital release on June 1, 2010, and released on CD via mail order later that month. The B-side is an additional studio track titled “BU2B,” which stands for the lyric ‘brought up to believe.’ Both songs were recorded April 13, 2010, at Blackbird Studios in Nashville with producer Nick Raskulinecz [the co-producer of Snakes & Arrows], with mixing and engineering by Richard Chycki at the Sound Kitchen in Franklin, Tenn. Both songs are featured on Rush’s Time Machine Tour. These two new songs are the initial parts of what Neil refers to as an ‘extended album-length story.'”—Wikipedia
“A train signal, a dark and descending bass line and some ominous orchestration . . . Suddenly, blam! Rush explode into a tough, feisty rocker driven by Alex Lifeson’s gritty guitar riff. As he has done for some time, Geddy Lee sings in the middle register of his voice, and while some might yearn for the days of the banshee wail, the fact is that he has become a far more captivating and intriguing singer with age. When he sings, “In a world where I feel so small, I can’t stop thinking big,” he’s so full of wonder that the words gain a momentum of their own.
The rhythms shift dramatically. It’s not just that Peart has superb quirky timing, but that he gets everything imaginable out of his playing. Lifeson veers between gnarly riffing and dreamy top-string textures, and for a while it seems as if he’s teasing a solo, biding his time, but when he leans into it he’s biting and sassy, tearing off angular phrases before dispatching echo-driven sheets of sound that seem to take flight.”—Joe Bosso, MusicRadar

Brought Up to Believe (BU2B)

Sulphur

The second piece to be released from the 2011 Clockwork Angels, it returns to themes discussed in a number of earlier Rush songs in which religion and other early influences try to mold us into conformists. “The Way the Wind Blows” from Snakes & Arrows and “The Weapon” from Signals are two examples. As in those songs, the narrator in “Brought Up to Believe” talks about the pressure from establishment figures to accept things as they are even though we live in a world in which everyone must fail. The piece also recalls “Prime Mover” on Hold Your Fire, which talks about the idea of god as a watchmaker, who has set the world in motion but now it’s just spinning on its own. (More on this.) Musically, the piece is characterized by dissonant, angry guitar and bass that only stabilize at the choruses.

Alex says in a MusicRadar interview he likes BU2B for its heaviness. “It’s huge in the old Zep way—it’s got that big, blues-oriented riff. The chorus is very energetic, and the sentiment of the lyrics really sets it up for what’s coming. For guitars, I used a ’59 Les Paul and a Tele, and it’s one of the songs where I layered them. There’s probably six tracks of guitar. I recorded a new opening that wasn’t on the version we put out last year. For people who don’t know, mixing can be terribly tedious—it’s hurry up and wait. Ideally, you want to be out of the room and come in when the mix is ready so that you can be very objective about it. Consequently, there’s a lot of sitting around and, ‘Hmm, what am I going to do today?’ I had Logic set up in my hotel room, and I was goofing around and doing some writing. I had a few guitars—there was one of my Axcess models and a Martin I borrowed from the Guitar Center—and I got a mic. We had talked about doing this little segue, so we stuck the mic outside my balcony and recorded some background sounds: Los Angeles in the morning, cars going by, stuff like that. With the balcony doors open, I did a little guitar pass, and then Ged did his vocal thing. We messed around with a few effects and created the piece. It was all done very spontaneously in just a few minutes in my room.”

“A turgid, vaguely Metallica-ish riff kicks off this badass grinder over which Lee sings, ‘I was brought up to believe the universe has a plan / we are only human, it’s not ours to understand.’ But in typical Rush fashion, the song isn’t static, and in no time at all it zips into a brisk tempo. Lee’s bubbling bass progression suits the mood to a T. Another mean as all get-out verse follows, and then we’re tossed into a bridge of wonderfully atmospheric keyboards and guitars. Lifeson uncorks a brief zinger of a solo—piercing, sustained notes that recall the beginning of his classic “Tom Sawyer” star-turn (let’s hope it’s longer on the album version, as this is described as a “single”). The band hammers the final chorus home in dizzying form.”—Joe Bosso, MusicRadar

“Whereas the single version of BU2B that was released last year kicked down the barn door without warning, now it begins with lightly strummed acoustics. The main riff is just as smashing, however, a growling, grinding earth-mover over which Lee sings, “I was brought up to believe the universe has a plan/ we are only human, it’s not ours to understand.”

Most bands would stay right there, but Rush keep tossing the ball around—Lee and Peart lock in during the bridge at full gallop, with bass and drums pulsating and bubbling. A solemn, vaguely religious tone builds. Lee’s vocals take on a choir-like cadence, and then Lifeson uncorks a brief zinger of a solo, stabbing, thrusting notes that thrash the listener about before smacking headlong into the final chorus. A tough, forceful rocker that works its way into the thicket of your senses.”—Joe Bosso, MusicRadar

Clockwork Angels

Metallurgy

The piece is the title track of the Clockwork Angels album and it “corrals at least half a dozen different musical ideas into its seven minutes without ever sounding like it’s showing off. The fact that it’s topped off with a spring-heeled chorus shows a band with total and utter confidence in themselves.”—Dave Everley, Classic Rock

The “song began with an experimental instrumental soundscape Alex wrote using technology, resulting in some amazing textures,” Geddy says in a Bass Player interview. “When the lyrics came along, I saw a way to break down what Alex had into several sections and write some melodies over the top, and before long we had created this interesting rock/electronica song. The trick, both in recording and mixing, was to retain the spacey, mysterious sounds while keeping the song urgent and somewhat organic. Neil had that swingy, shuffly groove in mind when he first heard the demo, and when the song was finished we both couldn’t wait to tackle that feel.”

The clockwork angels are idols created by the government to comfort, entertain, and mystify the people. They float above the city and serve the same function of religious idols. As the people see them, they are reassured that the world is orderly and that everything is under control, that they’re protected from above. In other words, they’re intended to keep people entertained and reassured so there’s no need to question why things are the way they are.—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

Neil says that in early in January, 2010, he sent a bunch of lyrics to Alex and Geddy in Toronto. “They got together in Geddy’s home studio, just messing around, jamming and seeing what came out, recording everything they played. Alex put together one collection of ideas that turned out to be most of the song ‘Clockwork Angels,’ and as soon as I heard its rhythmic feel, which was so different for us, my response was, ‘I want to play to that!'”

Alex in a MusicRadar interview says he was just messing around at home and came up with what later turned into much of what the piece would be. “Ged and I both like to work on a day. We don’t really bring stuff in, nor do we refer to soundcheck jams any more. We’re both just excited to start on something new. But I had this thing floating around, so I gave him a copy of it, and he really liked it and saw great potential in it. We rearranged it and developed some of the parts a little bit more in the verses. From there, the song just came together. I love the strumming in the verses; it’s so energetic. And the pre-verse sections are so dreamy; they take you to another place. There’s also that blues section in the middle, which comes out of nowhere, but it really emphasizes the lyric. And then it just falls back into that beautiful, climbing arpeggio. It gives me goose bumps every time. Near the end, there’s a vocal harmony that Ged does that almost sounds like a prayer. He sang it for one of the other parts, but it got flipped around. I think Nick is responsible for that. He said, ‘Hey, check this out,’ and we listened to it and figured, ‘Oh, we have got to have that in there.’ It’s really nice, especially since you don’t know where it’s from.”

Alex in a Metal Express Radio interview says the solo in the piece and in “The Garden” are among his favorites of all time, yet they were almost throwaways. “Geddy went away for a few days, so I continued working and filling things in a little bit and I threw down a couple of solos in just a few takes and that was it. The thing is that after a while they kind of grow on you and you don’t think about them when you’re doing them as they were so natural and spontaneous. So, those solos were two throwaways that I did very early on, before those songs were really fully developed. With me, when I don’t think too much about what I’m doing, that’s when I tend to do my best work.”

Producer Nick Raskulinecz in a MusicRadar interview says the “bluesy bar band section” in the middle of the piece is something that wasn’t brought out in the song originally. Rather, it “definitely happened in the mix.”

“It’s a lot to take in all at once, but what stays with you are things like Peart’s blissful dancing on the hi-hat and Lifeson’s bold Townshend-esque revelry. (Can a song have its own overture? It not, it certainly does now.) And then there’s Lee’s voice, which has never sounded so smooth and unaffected. When the band is hard charging, Peart pounds on his toms with an almost beastly force. By the 4:30 mark, the spotlight hits Lifeson, performing a solo that plays like an aria. It all builds to a playful false ending, an audio tromp l’oiel . . . which proceeds to a shattering finale.”—Joe Bosso, MusicRadar

“Now we’re getting stuck into new territory! What immediately jumps out at you about the title track is how it harkens back to the Rush of the late 70s. The various sections that make up this mini masterpiece feel slightly indulgent yet sit together comfortably. The feel, too, is very evocative of that era—lurking somewhere between ‘Xanadu’ and ‘The Trees,’ albeit far more powerful than they have ever been.”—Dominic Hemy, The Digital Fix

“The expansive, multi-layered and intricate title track is as good as anything the band has ever recorded.”—Philip Wilding, Classic Rock

The piece is “one of many with a huge swooping finale that could close an album or a show. And the remarkable picture that emerges is that of a future imagined from 120 years ago, a world lit only by fire and all that, steam, of contraptions-–-this is now graphically, sonically, aurally, representingly (!) being played out in the ragged, 21st Century schizoid music. . . . The snap of Permanent Waves is not here. This is Rush looking at mortality, carrying around Alex’s extra 15 pounds and Geddy’s deteriorating, yodel-era voice, and probably Neil’s knees any month now. In other words, there’s a worn wisdom here, and the guys turn in their most inspired music, even at and inside the improbable crucible of jammy spontaneity, and then Neil writes perfectly in line (as if we want to ascribe order when there is none), with layers of enigma, a feast for hours of reflection.”—Martin Popoff, BraveWords

The Anarchist

Winter

Neil says he took some cues from Michael Ondaatje and Joseph Conrad in writing this piece, which David Everley of Classic Rock says has “Eastern-tinged flourishes.” Ondaatje is best known for The English Patient, the story of a Hungarian cartographer whose intense affair with a married woman during World War II sets off a series of events that eventually end with him burned beyond recognition and convalescing at a remote villa in Italy, and Conrad is the literary giant whose most important work is probably Heart of Darkness, about the unfathomable depths of man’s capacity for evil.

“The Anarchist” was one of the first songs written for the record, Alex says in a MusicRadar interview. “It goes back a couple of years. So far, the response has been quite strong, which I didn’t really expect. It’s an in-your-face song, and it’s a powerful part of the whole suite. If you listen to the demo and the final version, they’re pretty close, although a couple of things are different. There’s an instrumental melody line that Nick got us to think about that really gives the song its signature. The rest of it is pretty much the same as it was on the demo. It has an Eastern influence, which is somewhere we’ve gone before; it’s something we all feel and like a lot. The way that Neil and Nick approached the drum arrangements was great. Typically, after we’ve written everything, I make copies of songs for Neil with drum programs or click tracks so that he has some reference points that he might want to use or develop. So he goes through the songs methodically, works on his drum arrangements, and he memorizes what he’s going to play. It takes a month or so, and after that we go about recording. This time around, Nick came in and said, ‘I want to record on the first day. Let’s put up a song, and you’ll learn it while playing it. We’ll do a bunch of takes and see where it goes.’ I think it was an incredibly challenging way for Neil to work, but he’s the kind of person who constantly needs new challenges in his life. And he really plays like crazy on the record—he’s very, very free. Of course, he’s got his work cut out for him because he’s got to learn everything to play live.”

The piece “was one of the more satisfying bass tracks, and it will probably be the most difficult for me to sing and play!” Geddy says in a Bass Player interview. “The bass line drives the chorus and is an integral part of the song. When I put the chorus together, it was very much writing the bass melody and then writing the vocal melody to work around that bass melody. I recorded two bass tracks: the first down low and the second doubled an octave above, to give it that 8-string-bass vibe-but recording them separately allows you to control the tone much better than actually using an 8-string bass.”

“A sprightly, snaggle-toothed guitar riff leads to a boisterous rocker in which Lee, Lifeson and Peart tumble over one another with calisthenic agility. It’s interesting how few bassists can drive the melodic center of a song without coming off as scenery chewers. Sting is one, and in his own way, Iron Maiden’s Steve Harris is another. Geddy Lee fills the room here, particularly in the chorus, and he’s supported by Lifeson and Peart, both of whom allow him to reach into himself. Not that the other guys don’t get some, too: Peart punches holes in the mix. His approach is, for the most part, free-wheeling and swinging, but every so often he whacks the snare to such a degree that his hits sound like gunshots. And Lifeson turns in a delirious, elastic solo – during one rather grand phrase he reminds one of Eric Johnson, that sweet, tubey violin tone of his. The song ends abruptly, and you’ll probably do a double take as you hear shards of metal clanging and falling, the journey powering forward.”—Joe Bosso, MusicRadar

“Already there is the sense that Clockwork Angels is different; whereas recent albums have been somewhat introvert and closed, this is anything but. Epic on a massive scale, ‘The Anarchist’ continues the trend of more upbeat, faster, and heavier tunes that is beginning to form the musical theme of this record. Here we have the sound of a band relaxed and having an enormous amount of fun. Despite being more in keeping with the modern day Rush compositions, it still fits right in alongside the more classical title track.”—Dominic Hemy, The Digital Fix

The piece is “driving, forceful and rhythmically insistent.” It has a “wonderful, eastern European melody, including an almost Kansas-like violin line, mixing comfortably with some great riff-play from Alex Lifeson, along with a guitar solo that wouldn’t sound out of place on an early Zeppelin album.”—Rob Palladino, Audio Times

“‘The Anarchist’ is aptly named, as it conjures another subtle dimension to the whole [album], and that’s post-punk, Alex and Ged angling their chords and melodies, everything more sour than sweet, Neil jamming, this one with a Vapor Trails vibe. A ringing Beatles chord ends it, which brings up another creep, that of these haunting inter-song bits, which evokes the Shining-like horror of the lone Trader Horne album.”—Martin Popoff, BraveWords

Carnies

Zinc

Neil gives some credit to Robertson Davies and Herbert Gold for this piece. Davies is known for his trilogies, probably the most well-known of which is The Deptford Trilogy, about how a simple act like throwing a snowball and missing your target sets off a series of transforming events that otherwise wouldn’t have happened. Neil says he picked up on the circus motifs in Davies’ work. Gold is a Beat- and hippie-era novelist whose best known work is Fathers, about growing up in a lower-middle class, suburban, Jewish household.

The music came together in early 2011, before the second half of the Time Machine tour, Neil says. Alex and Geddy “got together to try to get going on the writing again. Having a bit of a struggle, they seemed to spend more time drinking coffee and making stupid jokes—except for a couple of furious jams that, when reviewed later, turned out to be the foundations of ‘Carnies’ and ‘Headlong Flight.'”

“I love the opening riff with the cool harmonics,” Alex says in a MusicRadar interview. “It’s got a little bit of Hendrix or Robin Trower. The choruses are strong. The carnival-type vibe and the sounds make them quite different from the verse and bridge sections. The climbing bridge is reminiscent of something, but I don’t know what it is. A lot of moments on the album are like that: I’m reminded of something, but I couldn’t tell you what song it is or what era it’s from. That’s a great thing, though—people gravitate to that. Take Bryan Adams, for example: a lot of his writing had that quality. He used melodies from other songs, and it was very successful for him. You’d listen to his music and take comfort in the familiarity; therefore, you felt familiar with him. This song has that same thing going on. It even takes me back to The Beatles, but I can’t say that we’ve listened to a Beatles record and said, ‘Let’s do that!’ Still, there’s something in the choruses that recalls the era of the ‘60s.”

“Sweet and soul, rude and inviting—this phantasmagoric pounder is fascinating in how everything seems effortlessly, inexplicably right. It also features probably the meanest riff that Alex Lifeson has ever played—on record at least—one which dovetails seamlessly into a brutal mass of a verse. Throughout Carnies, Lifeson keeps upping his game and reaching new heights. His solo is a spiral of patterns both raging and tender. He possesses an extravagant gift for making the perfect sound at the perfect time – bell-like flourishes, scooped-out phased chords, spitfire trills – and his intuition adds to their ceaseless and bewildering beauty.”—Joe Bosso, MusicRadar

“Bang! Now this is some heavy shit! Very much the partner-in-crime of ‘BU2B’ with its deliciously crunching riff – complete with harmonics – this is a good contender for the album highlight, and will certainly be an absolute barnstormer live. Rush are continuing to strike the perfect balance between experimenting with something new yet still sounding undeniably themselves. Oh that riff, that sweet, sweet riff! “—Dominic Hemy, The Digital Fix

“’Carnies’” has some truly jaw-breaking, brutal riffing. However, Rush infuses even it’s heaviest moments with a wonderful melody amongst the drive and force.”—Rob Palladino, Audio Times

“‘Carnies’ hit me hard between the eyes, lyrically, as it immediately conjured the classic noir of William Lindsay Gresham’s Nightmare Alley. Rush is off on another ass-over-head trip into the crypt, Neil bashing away, more gobs of Magazine-like heavy post-punk, weird chords in the chorus. Bloody ‘ell, ‘Halo Effect’ perpetuates the (coincidental) connection with Nightmare Alley, making me want to read it again, and dragging further immersion into the album’s insistent, consistent, boomy, garagey, welled-up-with-wattage claustrophobia.”—Martin Popoff, BraveWords

Halo Effect

Gold

Might be another “Closer to the Heart.” It’s a ballad with acoustic guitar over a string section.

“I think we were going in a different direction with ‘Halo Effect,'” Alex says in a MusicRadar interview.”I remember we were in our little control room—we had three different rooms going at one time—and I picked up an acoustic and started playing. Geddy began mouthing the lyrics, and then something clicked: he started playing along, and we just developed the song from there. The song is really about the emotional decisions we make that don’t work out. Quite often, it’s in a relationship: you think you see something, but it’s not really there. So the song had to be sweet and it had to be heavy at the same time. We needed those two contrasts. I think we nailed it. There’s such a great acoustic sound on it, and the solo section is something that’s quite different for us. It’s frivolous and light, kind of like butterflies in your stomach, that feeling you get when you’re in love with someone you shouldn’t have fallen in love with.”

“’Halo Effect’” is the first really gentle moment on the album. It features some very pretty acoustic guitar work from Lifeson, with an almost “In the End” type of feel to the opening bars. It’s a short-lived break, however,  as one of the true highlights of the whole opus is around the corner.”—Rob Palladino, Audio Times

“Can you possibly tell that a song is destined to become a classic the first time you hear it? Possibly—and if, for some reason, ‘Halo Effect’ doesn’t make it into the pantheon of all-time Rush greats, it’ll come damn close. Over a gorgeous, double-tracked acoustic guitar figure, Geddy Lee sings richly, even-tempered and marvelously expressive. The track surges into a section of stomping power trio goodness, but the overall framework is acoustic, soon laced with elegant strings. ‘What did I do before there were words?’ Lee asks, bathed in a breathtaking glow of cellos that carry him—and us—away.”—Joe Bosso, MusicRadar

“This little three minute ditty is the first time the foot has come off the gas, but even this doesn’t quite fall into ballad region as the band hold in, but don’t disguise, the urge to let loose. ‘Halo Effect’ has third single written all over it as the uplifting chorus is tailor-made for vast stadium sing-alongs, and is guaranteed to become a fan favourite. “—Dominic Hemy, The Digital Fix

Seven Cities of Gold

Mercury

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

The Wreckers

Water

Neil gives credit for lines in the piece to British author Daphne du Maurier, arguably Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite writer. Hitchcock’s The Birds is based on her short story of the same title and she also wrote Rebecca, which Hitchcock turned into another classic film. “‘The Wreckers’ was actually from Daphne Du Maurier,” Neil says in a 2012 Classic Rock interview. “That’s been in my mind for 30 years. I guess it’s an episode in Jamaica Inn.”

“This Daphne Du Maurier novel Jamaica Inn describes these people called ‘The Wreckers’ on the coast of the Cornwall in Britain,” Neil says in a June 12, 2012, Rolling Stone interview. “They would not only plunder shipwrecks, but they would actually put up a fake light and attract the ships in a storm to crash on their shores so they could loot them. It’s just a shocking example of inhumanity, and it happens to be a true story. I wove it all of that into the story of this album.”

For the music, Neil says in the same interview, Geddy and Alex switched instruments as way to get fresh ideas. They were in a small studio at Revolution Recording in Toronto in October, 2011, just after the Time Machine tour ended. “To keep the writing fresh, one day they even tried switching instruments—Geddy on guitar and Alex on bass—and they turned out a richly melodic song called ‘The Wreckers.’ They joked that playing the ‘wrong’ instruments had turned them into the Barenaked Ladies. (I happened to run into Ed Robertson around that time, and he had a good laugh about that.) [Robertson is co-founder of and guitar player for the band.] But once we switched to recording mode, it was back to the ‘same old us.’”

Alex described the instrument-switching in a Classic Rock magazine interview this way: “Ged and I were getting these drum tracks back from Neil and were like, ‘My god, that’s amazing—he never plays like this!’ There are so many parts and so many cool things and consequently, that gets you all fired up and you try a bunch of different things—hence, Ged and I swapping instruments on ‘The Wreckers.’ We were on a break and Ged picked up one of my guitars and he started messing around, and I remember he got up and came back with some lyrics. Then he sat in the corner playing the melody for the verses and I thought, ‘Wow, this sounds great.’ He just wanted to put it down very quickly and I grabbed his bass and we ended up recording the demo with him playing guitar and me playing bass— it was great! He played on the record, but it’s my bass part, which is really cool. When we swap instruments, we sound like Barenaked Ladies, which was a surprise. We had to Rush-ify the song.”

Alex says it was a struggle to get the verses to “sit” properly with the music. “The acoustics were too sweet,” he says in a MusicRadar interview. “They didn’t feel right. There was a contrast that didn’t feel broad enough. So after a lot of hard work, we came up with the quick strumming and putting the harmonics in, and that created a beautiful moment. This is contrasted by the sound of a danger signal: Don’t accept everything at face value. Be careful. Things that might look so good could turn out to be the exact opposite. There’s a middle section where all the damage is done—I’m trying to explain it without getting into the whole story—and that came from one of our soundcheck jams. Once we got the strings and the bass pedals down, it all became such a visual moment in the song. ‘The Wreckers’ has a real pop feel. It’s not heavy, but it’s emotionally tied to a strong rock presence. The verses are some of my favorite Rush moments ever.”

The song ends with a fade-out on the solo. Alex says in a Metal Express interview that they did that for simplicity’s sake. “There’s so much going on. There’s an orchestra playing, strings and keyboards stuff going on. The solo per se is not a flashy solo, it`s more a double stringed screen that exists under there, so it’s more of a whole composition of sound rather than a straight ahead solo.”

“A big, brash British power chord opening, evoking so many things Who and Kinks, lights up this one-of-a-kind winner. There’s so much that’s good about ‘The Wreckers’ that it’s hard to know where to begin: the way Lifeson flamenco strums his guitar and how Peart catches and accents his every move; how Lee sings huskily and wistfully, revealing previously untapped emotions; and the gleeful way the band bodysurfs giant waves of sound, crashing against one another and stirring up their own kind of current. This is the kind of song that engages you on so many levels—you like it because it sounds great, because it’s being played by Rush and you’re thrilled that they can push all the right buttons, but mostly because it renews your faith in the idea that rock music still has crazy and beautiful places to go.”—Joe Bosso, MusicRadar

“The mid-nineties indie rock bounce of ‘The Wreckers’ bucks the heavy trend, and is one the poppiest points on the album.”—Rob Palladino, Audio Times

“This one has an old pop rock feel to it, characterised by jangly and melodious guitars. Along with ‘Halo Effect’, these two show Rush can still write these great radio-friendly hits, and do it far better than most. Not one of the stronger songs on the record, it is still a very pleasant number that adds yet more dynamism to this enthralling show as the orchestra swells to a crescendo, and even has a massive guitar line bursting out to take us to the fade.”—Dominic Hemy, The Digital Fix

Headlong Flight

Oil essences

The piece is a nostalgic look back on a fantastic journey by an adventurer who is now facing his twilight years. It’s the third single from Rush’s 2012 Clockwork Angels album and, along wirh the other two singles, “Caravan” and “Brought Up to Believe,” is part of a multi-part concept about a young man’s quest to follow his dreams.

The young man is “caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos. He travels across a lavish and colorful world of steampunk and alchemy, with lost cities, pirates, anarchists, exotic carnivals, and a rigid Watchmaker who imposes precision on every aspect of daily life.” The quote is from Kevin J. Anderson, a science fiction writer and friend of Neil’s who is writing a novel based on the story.

“Headlong Flight” is told from the perspective of the boy, now older and looking back at his journey. Although some days were dark and the journey didn’t always feel like an adventure, he longs to relive that past excitement. “To what I felt back then / I wish that I could live it all again.”

Neil said in material accompanying the release of the Clockwork Angels tour dates that the boy’s nostalgia for the past is based on his friend and drum-tutor the late Freddie Gruber:

“Towards the end of his long and adventurous 84 years, [Freddie Gruber] was reminiscing among friends and former students. Often he would shake his head and say, ‘I had quite a ride. I wish I could do it all again.’ That is not a feeling I have ever shared about the past. I remain glad that I don’t have to do it all again. While working on the lyrics for ‘Headlong Flight,’ the last song written for Clockwork Angels, I tried to summarize my character’s life and adventures. My own ambivalence colored the verses, while Freddie’s words inspired the chorus ‘I wish that I could live it all again.'”—Neil in an April 19 press release announcing Clockwork Angels tour dates.

Musically, the piece channels “Bastille Day,” and that was deliberate, says Neil. He told Classic Rock magazine in a 2012 interview, “What was it that Oscar Wilde said: self-plagiarism is style? We certainly do a few tongue-in-cheek nods to ‘Bastille Day’ in ‘Headlong Flight.’ That’s deliberate.”

“We started riffing and got into a really great, long jam,” Alex says in a MusicRadar interview. “It must have been hours. There were a million little parts flying around, all in the same key: E, standard tuning. Afterward, we cut it up into pieces, took out the things we liked and moved them over to someplace else, and when we listened to it we were like, ‘Oh my God, we’ve got something really cool happening here! Should we make it an instrumental?’ But we decided that on this record, for the first time in a very, very long time, we weren’t going to have an instrumental. I think the music marries extremely well with the lyrics. There’s so many parts that are extremely dynamic. Most of all, we got to play like crazy. We wanted a song where we could stretch out like we do live with ‘Working Man.’ We did shrink the middle section quite a bit. Originally, it had more of a jam thing going on, but we thought it was a little over the top, so we pulled it back. But there’s certainly more than enough there.”

‘Headlong Flight’ was the last piece recorded for the album and on this piece and others, Neil took a more spontaneous approach to his drumming. On previous albums, he says, he would spend days by himself memorizing the odd numbers of beats, bars, and measures in each song. This time around, rather than commit the arrangements to memory, he only played through the pieces a few times, then he brought in producer Nick Raskulinecz (Booujzhe) to act as his guide. More on this.

On this and other pieces on the album, the band used fewer overdubs than on Snakes and Arrows so that the “guitar, bass and drum sounds are big and loud and clear.”—Geddy in a Billboard interview.

“Calling any one song a tour de force on an album this bountiful is difficult, but this seven-minute monster oozes with virtuosic zeal and stirring lyricism. Lee kicks it all off with a spacey bass figure, which morphs into a full-throttle, all-hands-on-deck assault that builds in intensity. ‘I learned to fight, I learned to love, I learned to feel/ oh! I wish that I could live it all again,’ Lee sings in the chorus, and it’s here that he becomes a bravura vocalist, no longer an acquired taste or an artful stylist, but a true conveyer of poetic heat. A roller-coaster ride of unison guitar and bass almost runs off the tracks, but Peart is guiding it, battering and rolling. He breaks free for a brief, razzmatazz solo, but the pleasure in the gesture is that it really matters. By now, one expects big climatic solos from Lifeson, and the kicker is how he taps the mother lode time after time. His wah set piece is all over the place, a huge and gleaming star turn, reckless and daring, as chaotic as surreal comedy and as outrageous as a man chasing a roomful of cats. Bask in the divine madness.”—Joe Bosso, MusicRadar

“‘Headlong Flight’ is the album’s true advance single, the way it was done in the old days, and it opens with a ‘Bastille Day’ drum quote and proceeds eventually to a White Album-style chorus, so passion-filled but still, in total, weirdly dark and detached, or perhaps bitter about how life all necessarily plays out at the second, minute, and hour hands of Chronos.”—Martin Popoff, BraveWords
The song received a rousing reception in early 2012 when it was previewed to music journalists and others prior to release. Some of the responses:

“Holy Fucking Shit!!!!! 7 and a half minutes of pure genius!!!!!!”

“I haven’t had goosebumps like this in years. This is Rush at their finest. Seriously. Fuck this is amazing.”

“New Rush song sounds like updated “By-Tor.” Epic, cool guitar break downs. “I stoke the fires of the big steel wheels. . . “—Dominic Nardella – Sirius XM

” . . . losing control of my bladder during the massive Alex Lifeson solo.”—Mike Hsu – WAAF in Boston

“Old school RUSH fans rejoice! It ROCKS 74-77 era! Just awesome!!”—Grover Collins – WUBE/WYGY in Cincinnati

“It’s awesome. #ByTorIsASnowDog.”—Lou Brutus, Sirius XM

BU2B2

Quicklime

“Almost reminiscent in feel and effect of ‘Eleanor Rigby.'”—Rob Palladino, Audio Times

“Not an actual song per se, but a haunting segue built on cellos and acoustic guitars, with Lee’s minimalist vocal evoking a moonlit gospel meeting.”—Joe Bosso, MusicRadar

A short little interlude, this is more akin to an orchestral remix of its bigger brother. A rather strange piece in the context of the album, yet it’s not entirely out of place. At a little over 90 seconds though, it has gone before you’ve had time to ponder the question.
“—Dominic Hemy, The Digital Fix

“This is a moment that’s integral to the story for Neil,” Alex says in a MusicRadar interview. “He really wanted to have it in there. The problem was, we didn’t know how to approach it musically. Ged had done a vocal with some other stuff that we’d written, but he wasn’t happy with it, and neither was I. I decided to stay late one night, and I pulled out all the music and just kept the vocal. I listened to it a bunch of times, and then I created something more rhythmic––it was less musical but added a lot of tension. By the time that we got to developing it, the acoustic guitars that I originally had on it were replaced by strings. We put on some bass pedals and stuff like that, but overall we kept it all quite simple. It’s like a short chapter.”

“‘BU2B2’ is the first or clearest indication of what is probably the most uneasy use of string arrangements on a hard rock record, which will play out further come closer ‘The Garden.’ Real 16-piece (I think) section, at the hands of David Campbell. No drums, Eno/Glass-like, haunting, which contrasts jarringly to the album’s party rocker, ‘Wish Them Well,’ which aggravated Neil to no end in the bread-making. Odd, ‘cos this one rocks most forthrightly, despite a Byrdsy tinge to the chorus. Calling ‘Stick It Out’ the heaviest Rush song becomes hard lifting under the weight of much of this album.”—Martin Popoff, BraveWords

Wish Them Well

Lead

Neil calls this song the “trouble child” of the Clockwork Angels album.

“Out of all the seemingly more complicated songs, the music for ‘Wish Them Well’ was written and scrapped twice, and the song was almost abandoned. But Geddy liked the lyrics enough to keep trying (thank you!), and the third version pleased everyone. The song also put Booujzhe [producer Nick Raskulinecz] and me to a lot of trouble over the drum part, much more than any other song except ‘Headlong Flight’—that one for its perverse complexity, rather than the exacting simplicity of ‘Wish Them Well.’ Booujzhe and I spent many hours trying out different basic patterns, and juggling their arrangement. (The guys always laugh when I come out of the studio grumbling, ‘I hate that stupid ignorant song!’ [Add expletives to taste.] They laugh because they are the ones who made it that way.) ‘Wish Them Well’ was equally elusive vocally—or at least lyrically. The day Geddy and Booujzhe recorded that vocal in Toronto, I happened to be at home in California, and all day we exchanged texts and emails over the tiniest of alterations, line by line, sometimes word by word. Ultimately it turned out very well, but I admit I still have a bit of a grudge against that song.”

“We always loved the lyrics, but this was a tough song to figure out,” Alex says in a MusicRadar interview. “The first version that we had was so far away from this one. It was a little more ethereal, with delays that were a la The Edge––too much so. We scrapped it and started working on something else that was quite different. And then we scrapped that, too––it just wasn’t right. It happens like that sometimes: you know when you’re forcing it. After the first two versions, we took a whole new approach, with the straight fours and a very traditional chordal progression. It really suited the lyrics. It was defiant, it was a strong statement, and it had enough interest in it to be interesting. Yet it was still very basic in its delivery, which I think is good on a record like this because of all its complexity. I love the way the guitar sounds. It’s huge and classic . . . a sick Marshall sound. Rich [Chycki] is such a terrific engineer.”

Alex talks a bit more about the song’s different iterations in a Metal Express interview. “We got a set of lyrics from Neil that we really liked and we tried to develop some musical ideas but it didn`t seem to be working. With the first version we had parts of it that we really liked but the longer we spent on it the less we liked it. We went ahead with a couple of the other songs and did the [Time Machine] tour [in 2011] and then when we returned to it we decided to scrap the music. We felt the lyrics were strong and were important for the story. The music just was not happening, so we developed a completely different thing and lived with that for a little while, and that was still not getting us off. Finally we went with the approach that you can hear now, which is much more strident . . . . The thing about ‘Wish Them Well’ is that the approach we settled on is a very classic, traditional sounding rock song. The drums are really strident and marching along and the nature of the chords and the chord progressions makes for a classic rock sound.”

Dave Everley of Classic Rock says there’s a “tangible warmth” to the piece that provides for the album’s most uplifting moment.

“A blissed-out romp that starts with a fake-out: Are those white-hot guitars or a cranked-up Hammond organ over Peart’s ramrod drums? Hard to tell, but it’s a magical combo. One of the consistent pleasures of any terrific Rush song – just pick one – is taking in the sheer spectacle of their efficiency, the almost freakish way in which the team always pulls together but everybody gets to be a starter. Here it’s Peart, whose feverish and inventive playing creates its own kind of orbit. But even when the other players are spinning into the far reaches of space (Lifeson’s solo is particularly cosmic), he never leaves them stranded. Lifeson’s guitar takes on a shimmering quality for the ride-out, an unforced jam that moves with the ease of a victory lap.”—Joe Bosso, MusicRadar

Easily the most straight forward number on Clockwork Angels, and possible in the entirety of the Rush back catalogue, ‘Wish Them Well’ is a bit punky, very poppy, and not at all as memorable as it pretends to be. Something of a throwaway tune, it is the one track here that elicits complete indifference, and wouldn’t be missed were it to magically disappear.
“—Dominic Hemy, The Digital Fix

“’Wish Them Well’” would sit quite comfortably on either one of the Roll the Bones or Counterparts releases, with it’s accessible, gentle pop twist. It also has a ‘Bacchus Plateau’ (from Caress of Steel) feel to it.”—Rob Palladino, Audio Times

The Garden

Earth

“The Garden” comes at “11 o’clock” on the Clockwork Angels clock, and relates to the hieroglyphic rune for earth.

Neil says the piece moved everyone in the studio to tears when the classical orchestration was recorded. “One very special aspect of this project is the lush and exotic string arrangements, by David Campbell. One January afternoon at Ocean Way Studios in Hollywood, I stood in the control room listening while the strings were being recorded. It occurred to me that all songwriters should experience the sensual delight of hearing their songs performed by an accomplished string section. For example, when these virtuoso artists on violin, viola, cello, and double-bass executed David’s plangent orchestration for ‘The Garden,’ there was not a dry eye in the studio.”

“For me, ‘The Garden’ was a major step forward as a songwriter and as a singer. I’ve always wanted to do that kind of song where the melody was the thing that made it conect with you, that gave it resonance, where the voice kind of comes out of the soundscape and delivers the story to you in a heartfelt way. To achieve that without it being schmaltzy or feeling forced, and with the music around the voice to be very relaxed, I think can only come from years of playing and from confidence. It’s a confidence that maybe we  did not have 10 years ago, but certainly that confidence comes through as the song goes trough its various changes, which are many, but yet they come at you easily. To me it’s one of my proudest moments as a songwriter in my entire career.”—Geddy in Classic Rock video interview included in Clocwork Angels fanpack promotion

Alex in a Metal Express Radio interview calls the final note in the piece a poignant end to the story. “We put down keyboard, sample strings, and we really liked the piece. But we thought, rather than use sampled strings we’d bring in a real orchestra and Geddy and I were the catalysts for that. He`s a real sucker for those sorts of things. We decided to bring the strings in and David Campbell did a great job on the arrangement. That really tugs at your heart. I think there’s something that’s really classic about that arrangement and really heartfelt. The song works really well as a closer, the final chapter of the story. That single cello note at the very end is very poignant.”

In the same interview, Alex says the solo in the piece and in “Clockwork Angels” are among his favorites of all time, yet they were almost throwaways. “Geddy went away for a few days, so I continued working and filling things in a little bit and I threw down a couple of solos in just a few takes and that was it. The thing is that after a while they kind of grow on you and you don’t think about them when you’re doing them as they were so natural and spontaneous. So, those solos were two throwaways that I did very early on, before those songs were really fully developed. With me, when I don’t think too much about what I’m doing, that’s when I tend to do my best work.”

Dave Everley of Classic Rock calls the ringing chords of the piece “a suitably stately finale to the whole show.”

“A pastoral delight that comes over you like a daydream. Graceful and buoyant acoustics, tasteful orchestration, and Lee singing in a simple, unaffected style make up the bedrock of The Garden. Peart joins in on a second verse, laying down a soft shuffle, and even when he appears to be doing very little, his sense of composition and movement has a profound impact. His patterns are so natural that it’s almost as if the sticks breezed into his hands and started playing him. After a spellbindingly romantic piano interlude, Lifeson reaches in and pulls out a multi-dimensional guitar solo, one which recalls the mysterious epiphanies from Limelight. There’s a certain melancholy quality to his phrasing, as is he’s pausing briefly to look behind his shoulder. By the end, he’s rejoined his bandmates and the three march off intrepidly together. They don’t dwell in the moment – there’s no needlessly showy flourishes or building the crescendo up as “epic” – but the further away they get the more it becomes apparent that the spell they’ve cast and the resonance of Clockwork Angels will linger on.”—Joe Bosso, MusicRadar

And so to the finale, and with ‘The Garden’ we are thankfully back to classic Rush as the acoustic guitar re-emerges for some of that stonking pop-prog they defined so many years ago. The song builds into this glorious mesh of pleasing guitars and a giant wall of those strings that have littered the album, quietly propping up the background but now taking centre stage for themselves in one last hurrah. “—Dominic Hemy, The Digital Fix

“‘The Garden’ closes the journey, with another almost laughably epic flourish (although the epic surge is undermined by sorta like the hangover of the epic, in the final strained strains). It’s a chilling finale, supposed to give hope, but more about how the (aforementioned) idea of Candide’s garden . . . in the final analysis what else have you got? It’s all very Zen-like as is the musical accompaniment which oscillates between operating room anesthesia drone and heavy metal drone.”—Martin Popoff, BraveWords

“The final song on the album is the masterpiece of the entire thing. ‘The Garden’ is a 24 carat epic. The gentle, acoustic opening—which reminded me of ‘The Sphere,’ the final part of ‘Hemispheres’—is only the beginning of a song that builds into a string-driven thing of sumptuous beauty. A piano echoes a loneliness and maybe hints at a sad end to the journey but, in any case, this is a moving and majestic way to end what is bound to become a Rush classic.”—Rob Palladino, Audio Times

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