The semi-intelligent guide to Rush, Part I

Two reasons I’m doing this. First, I’ve always wanted to do an “Idiot’s Guide,” Jefito-style. Second, Jefito recently took up a Rush song (Dreamline) and made me realize I had mixed feelings about the band’s 1990s output. Third (because I can’t count), I have mixed feelings about the new one. So I’ll go on some self-exploration and sort out my feelings, but instead of venting about relationships (happy) or work, I’ll riff on an often-great band.

Should be fun, right? Right? Aw, come on — would it help if I told you I think the new one sounds a little like Primus?

I’m tackling the first three here. Enjoy. And see the whole catalog at Amazon.

Rush (1974)

It’s easy to dismiss this album as a pedestrian clone of the blues rock on FM radio at the time. cranked out by a couple of Canadian 20-year-olds who happened to impress a few people on the bar-band circuit. AllMusic does exactly that, giving it a lowly two stars. It bears little resemblance to the rest of their output, simpler both lyrically and musically. It’s the only album released with original drummer John Rutsey.

And yet a couple of songs live on after all these years, which is more than you can say for, say, early Alanis Morissette releases. Finding My Way is built on a couple of terrific riffs that have lasted in Rush shows to this day, with Neil Peart expanding on Rutsey’s original drum parts. Working Man, which broke the band, shows up from time to time. For a couple of decades, the typical Rush encore included a gleeful rip through In the Mood, perhaps just for the irony of a couple of 40something parents singing about bad pick-up lines.

No, the other five songs don’t offer much. But .375 isn’t a bad batting average for a debut by a couple of guys who had just found their stage names and wouldn’t be old enough to drink in today’s America.

Fly By Night (1975)

AllMusic again gives two stars, but the review is kinder: “It showed that the young band was leaving their Zep-isms behind in favor of a more challenging and original direction.”

Neil Peart’s arrival — Rush’s only personnel change in 30-plus years — changed the band in two ways. The lyrics were more interesting — Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson would contribute a few more words over the next couple of albums but would eventually give the new guy free rein. And the sound was more ferocious.

Both traits were in full effect on the opener, Anthem. (See cheesy, badly synced, embedding-disabled YouTube clip.) Peart’s power is a firm backdrop for Lifeson and Lee’s riffs, which were already much more complex than what you heard on the debut. Lyrically, Peart was in his Ayn Rand phase — I’d love to interview him today and find out how he reconciles this one with the social consciousness of current Rush work — but it was eloquently expressed. Besides, a little libertarian streak isn’t such a bad thing, right? It’s not like he’s Ted Nugent.

The titletrack also benefits from some propulsive Peart fills, along with a classic riff that is still the first thing I play when someone hands me a guitar to check it out.

By-Tor and the Snow Dog is as silly as it sounds, but it’s a fun occasional listen and a worthwhile experiment in writing an extended suite.

Most of the songs here aren’t bad — Rivendell is a pretty change of pace and Beneath, Between & Behind is a good marriage of a clever Peart lyric and a shifty rhythm. Best I Can, with a Lee lyric, falls a little flat.

Caress of Steel (1975)

Like U2’s October, you have to figure this is one of those albums they just, forgive the pun, rushed out. It’s easily the least memorable Rush album to this day.

And yet it has one powerful song that lasted in live shows for quite a while — Bastille Day. Good riff, sound retelling of the French Revolution — not bad at all.

That’s followed by I Think I’m Going Bald. Yes, you read that correctly. Rush recorded a song called I Think I’m Going Bald. (Funny thing — Geddy Lee is nowhere near bald, 32 years later.)

Then it’s Lakeside Park, a dreary look at the supposed good times they had hanging out in the park.

And then the first two attempts at breaking the 10-minute mark — The Necromancer and The Fountain of Lamneth.

You could almost consider this an outtakes album with one gem and a couple of experiments gone awry.

But those experiments laid the groundwork for what was to come. (See, aren’t you already looking forward to Part II? If not, I’ll have other content here soon. I promise.)


2 thoughts on “The semi-intelligent guide to Rush, Part I

  1. First of all I don’t get and never have got the comparisons to Zep. Zep never did an original song in their life. If it hadn’t been done on the Mississippi delta then they had nothing to play. Secondly these guys have never stayed pat with the last album and are always going forward to a different sound in every album.

  2. Great summation thus far, although personally I would give Fly By Night more props…you didn’t even mention “In the End” which is one of the strongest cuts on the album. I can’t think of a more powerful hard rock recording from that time period. Definitely looking forward to part II.

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