By: Hunter Julius
The Early ‘80s were an interesting time for progressive rock bands. Prominent progressive rock bands from the ‘70s, like Genesis, Jethro Tull, Yes, and Emerson Lake and Palmer, were quickly losing steam. They strayed far away from their roots in progressive rock and classical music, shifting to a more synthesized and pop sound. Though acts like King Crimson were still making masterpieces like Discipline, the fact was that progressive rock was getting more radio friendly.
Case in point, the band Rush.
A progressive rock band that rose to prominence in the mid-‘70s, Rush released some progressive rock classics like Hemispheres,
A Farewell to Kings, and the brilliant concept album, 2112. The difference with Rush, however, is that unlike Genesis or Yes, they weren’t losing any core members and their sound remained rather consistent. Permanent Waves, for example, had some fantastic progressive rock tracks, especially the commonly known, “The Spirit of Radio.” By the time Permanent Waves was released, Rush was popular in the United Kingdom and their native Canada. However, in 1981, their fame skyrocketed.
Enter Moving Pictures. Released in 1981, it caused them to shoot to the top of charts. Although hitting 2x platinum with their 1976 release of 2112 and receiving platinum certifications on A Farewell To Kings (1977), Hemispheres (1978) and Permanent Waves (1980), it wasn’t until Moving Pictures that Rush began to see mass fame. In many ways, this LP represented a commercial peak for the band.
The Moving Pictures album features these songs:
1) “Tom Sawyer”
2) “Red Rarchetta”
5) “The Camera Eye”
6) “Witch Hunt”
7) “Vital Signs”
Kicking this album off is probably one of the most known Rush songs of all time, “Tom Sawyer.” Sawyer tells a tale that portrays the (then) modern day rebel, a free-spirited individual striding through a world wide-eyed and with a purpose. Filled with bass, synthesizers and great guitar playing by Alex Lifeson, it is one of the staples of classic rock and remains a staple on many radio stations today.
Next on deck, is a song about a red barchetta. “Red Barchetta” is one of those songs that you have to play in your car, with the top down. It’s full of life and energy that makes you want to feel the thrill and excitement of driving your car fast, feeling the wind in your hair, and the joy of adventure. Through the song, we hear of a tale about a future where certain vehicles have been prohibited by the “Motor Law.” The narrator’s uncle has kept one of these illegal vehicles in new condition for some “50-odd years” and keeps it hidden at his secret country home, previously a farm before this motor law was enacted. Every Sunday, the narrator sneaks out to this locatio
n and goes for a drive in the countryside.
The plot bears somewhat of a resemblance to the plot of 2112, in which music was forbidden by The Federation and the Priests of the Temple of Syrinx, and the protagonist, who is anonymous, finds a guitar and discovers the joy of music. Although a tad longer than most songs on this album, and most songs released nowadays, this six minute masterpiece is worth every second.
One of the most well executed instrumentals by Rush, or any rock band of their time, “YYZ” surely takes first place for the great use of guitar, bass and drum segments and solos, making this one of those songs where you have to crank the dial all the way to 11 and just enjoy the show.
One of my all-time favorite songs by Rush is “Limelight,” a song that tells the moment when you’ve made it big, in the limelight and coming to grips with the fame and autograph seekers along with the sudden lack of privacy. This song also features one of my favorite solos by Lifeson. Lifeson’s gloomy guitar, backed by synthesizers and Geddy Lee’s bass, creates an atmosphere that’s very sad and lonely, like being on a stage all alone, it feels like being isolated amidst the chaos and adulation.
Hey Rush, Farewell To Kings called, they want their 11-minute track back. Well, that’s what you get from “The Camera Eye.” This would be one of the last times Rush would release a track at this length. Although a bit lengthy, it’s still a good song to listen to. It’s a song about what the world is like through the eye of a camera’s ‘eye,’ or its lenses. Even though I’m a fan of these longer songs, it’s more commercially appealing for bands like Rush to make more radio-friendly singles lasting less than four minutes.
And now to the home stretch of Moving Pictures with “Witch Hunt” and “Vital Signs.” “Witch Hunt” (at least to my interpretation) is about distrust or even acts of aggressions towards things and people they might not truly understand; whether it be religion, culture or just society as a whole. “Vital Signs” is an odd song written by drummer Neil Pert, as he is doing a very introspective examination of how humans communicate and, perhaps more importantly, their miscommunication.
Not Rush’s strongest record by any means, but still a joy to listen to. Overall, I give this album a 4 out of 5.