Musically, Rush has changed its style dramatically over the years, beginning in the vein of blues-inspired heavy metal on their eponymous debut to styles encompassing hard rock, progressive rock, a period dominated by synthesizers and, more recently, modern rock. Rush's three decades of continued success under the lineup of Lee, Lifeson, and Peart have earned the band the respect of their musical peers. Rush has influenced various modern artists such as Metallica, The Smashing Pumpkins and Primus, as well as many notable progressive metal bands such as Dream Theater and Symphony X.
Rush has been awarded several Juno Awards and was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1994. Over the course of their career, the individual members of Rush have been recognized as some of the most proficient players on their respective instruments with each member winning several awards in magazine readers' polls. As a whole, Rush boasts 23 gold records and 14 platinum (3 multi-platinum) records, making them one of the best-selling rock bands in history. These statistics place Rush fifth behind The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, KISS and Aerosmith for the most consecutive gold and platinum albums by a rock band. Rush ranks 78th in U.S. album sales according to the RIAA with sales of 24.5 million units.
Rush's musical style has changed substantially over the years. Their debut album is strongly influenced by British-Blues rock: an amalgam of sounds and styles from such rock bands as Cream, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple. Over the first few albums their style remained essentially hard rock, with heavy influences from The Who and Led Zeppelin, but also became increasingly influenced by the British progressive rock movement. In the tradition of progressive rock, Rush wrote long songs with odd meters and fantasy-inspired lyrics, but they did not soften their sound. This fusion of hard and progressive rock continued until the end of the 1970s. In the 1980s, however, Rush successfully merged their trademark sound with the trends of this period, experimenting with New Wave music, reggae, and pop rock. This period included the band's most extensive use of instruments such as synthesizers, sequencers and electronic percussion. It is largely agreed that the culmination of this era of Rush was in 1987 after the release of Hold Your Fire. With the approach of the early '90s and Rush's character sound still intact, the band transformed their style once again to harmonize with the alternative rock movement. The new millennium has seen them return to a more rock-n-roll roots sound, albeit with modern production.
The original lineup formed in September 1968, consisting of Jeff Jones on bass and vocals, John Rutsey on drums, and Alex Lifeson on guitars. Within a few days of forming (and before they had even played their first gig), Jones was replaced by Geddy Lee, a schoolmate of Lifeson. After this point the band experienced rapid personnel changes and lineup reformations before finally settling on its first officially recognized incarnation in May 1971: Lee, Lifeson and Rutsey. The band was managed by local Toronto resident Ray Danniels, a frequent attendee of Rush's early shows.
After gaining stability in the lineup and honing their skills on the local bar/high school dance circuit, the band came to release their first single "Not Fade Away", a cover of the Buddy Holly song, in 1973. Side B contained an original composition, "You Can't Fight It", credited to Rutsey and Lee. The single generated little reaction and, due to record company indifference, the band formed their own independent record label, Moon Records. With the aid of Danniels and the newly enlisted Terry Brown working in an unofficial capacity, the band released their self-titled debut album in 1974, which was considered highly derivative of Led Zeppelin. Rush had limited local popularity until the album was picked up by WMMS, a radio station in Cleveland, Ohio. Donna Halper, a DJ working at the station, selected "Working Man" for her regular play list. The song's blue collar theme resonated with hard rock fans and this new found popularity led to the album being re-released by Mercury Records in the U.S.
Rush (1974)Immediately after the release of the debut album, Rutsey resigned due to his affliction with diabetes and a distaste for touring. Rush held auditions and eventually selected Peart as Rutsey's replacement. In addition to becoming the band's drummer, Peart assumed the role of principal lyricist as Lee and Lifeson had very little interest in writing, contributing to only a handful of song lyrics over the rest of the band's career. Instead, they focused primarily on the musical aspects of Rush. Fly By Night (1975), Rush's first album after recruiting Peart, saw the inclusion of the band's first mini-epic tale "By-Tor and the Snow Dog", replete with complex arrangements and multi-section format. Lyrical themes also underwent dramatic changes after the addition of Peart due to his love for fantasy and science-fiction literature. However, despite these many differences most of the music still closely mirrored the style found on Rush's debut.
Following quickly on the heels of Fly By Night, the band released Caress of Steel (1975) a five track hard/art rock album featuring two extended multi-chapter songs, "The Necromancer" and "The Fountain of Lamneth." Caress of Steel was considered an audacious move for the band due to the placement of two protracted numbers back-to-back, as well as a heavier reliance on atmospherics and story-telling, a large deviation from Fly by Night. Intended to be the band's first "break-through" album, Caress of Steel sold below expectations and the promotional tour consisted of small venues which led to the moniker the "Down the Tubes Tour." In light of these events, Rush's record label pressured them into molding their next album in a more commercially friendly and accessible fashion. However, in spite of such urges, the band ignored the requests and developed their next album, 2112. It was the band's first taste of commercial success and their first platinum album in Canada. It is widely considered to be the pinnacle of early period Rush. After the breakthrough of 2112, the band released their first U.S. Top 40 album, a double live album titled All the World's a Stage in 1976 in order to demarcate the boundary between the band's early years and the next era of music.
After the highly acclaimed and well-received 2112, Rush followed up and delivered 1977's A Farewell to Kings (which became the band's first U.S. gold-selling album) and 1978's Hemispheres. These albums saw the band pushing the prog rock envelope even further than before by expanding their use of progressive elements. Trademarks such as increased synthesizer usage, extended-length concept songs, and highly dynamic playing featuring complex time signature changes became a staple of Rush's compositions. To achieve a broader, progressive palette of sound, Alex Lifeson began to experiment with twelve- and six-string classical guitars, and Geddy Lee added bass-pedal synthesizers and Mini-Moog. Likewise, Peart's percussion became diversified in the form of triangles, glockenspiel, wood blocks, cowbells, timpani, gong and chimes. Beyond instrument additions, the band kept in stride with the progressive rock movement by continuing to compose long, conceptual songs with science fiction and fantasy overtones. However, as the new decade approached, Rush gradually began to dispose of their older styles of music in favor of shorter, and sometimes softer, arrangements. The lyrics up to this point (most of them written by Peart) were heavily influenced by classical poetry, fantasy literature, science fiction and the writings of novelist Ayn Rand, as exhibited most prominently by their 1975 song "Anthem" from Fly By Night and a specifically acknowledged derivation in 1976's 2112.
Permanent Waves (1980) shifted Rush's style of music dramatically via the introduction of reggae and new wave. Although a hard rock style was still evident, more and more synthesizers were introduced. Moreover, due to the limited airplay Rush's previous extended-length songs received, Permanent Waves included shorter, more radio-friendly songs such as "The Spirit of Radio" and "Freewill", two songs which helped Permanent Waves become Rush's first U.S. Top 5 album; both songs continue to make appearances on classic rock radio stations in Canada and the United States to this day. Meanwhile, Peart's lyrics shifted toward an expository tone with subject matter that dwelled less on fantastical or allegorical story-telling and more heavily on cerebral topics that explored humanitarian, social, emotional and metaphysical elements.
Rush's popularity reached its pinnacle with the release of Moving Pictures in 1981. Moving Pictures essentially continued where Permanent Waves left off, extending the trend of highly accessible and commercially friendly pop-progressive rock that helped thrust them into the spotlight. The lead track, "Tom Sawyer", is probably the band's best-known song, and "Limelight" also received satisfactory responses from listeners and radio stations. Moving Pictures was Rush's last album to feature an extended song, the ten-and-a-half-minute "The Camera Eye". The song also contained the band's heaviest usage of synthesizers up to that point, hinting that Rush's music was shifting direction once more. Moving Pictures reached #3 on the Billboard 200 album chart and has been certified quadruple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
Following the success of Moving Pictures (and the completion of another four studio albums) Rush released their second live recording, Exit...Stage Left, in 1981. The album delineates the apex of Rush's progressive period by featuring live material from the band's successful Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures tours. As with their first live release, Exit...Stage Left identified the margin of a new chapter of Rush's sound. The band underwent another radical stylistic transmutation with the release of Signals in 1982.
While Geddy Lee's synthesizers had been featured instruments ever since the late 70s, 1982's Signals arguably represented Rush's most drastic stylistic transformation up to that point. Keyboards were suddenly shifted from a contrapuntal background to the melodic frontlines. Traditional guitar solos also became less of a focal point as seen in "Countdown" and the lead-off track "Subdivisions", the latter track featuring a short solo using natural harmonic accents for minimalism.
Signals contained Rush's only U.S. top-40 pop hit, "New World Man", while, musically, other more experimental songs such as "Digital Man", "The Weapon", and "Chemistry" expanded the band's use of ska, reggae, and funk. More specifically, Alex Lifeson's guitar tone and playing style on Signals were very reminiscent of contemporary acts of the time who were well known for incorporating such rhythms into their music. Although the band members consciously decided to move in this overall direction, they felt dissatisfied with long-time producer Terry Brown's studio treatment of Signals and parted ways with him in 1983. These diverse styles would come into further play on their next studio album.
The style and production of Signals were patently augmented and taken to new heights on 1984's Grace Under Pressure. Although Geddy Lee's use of sequencers and synthesizers remained the band's cornerstone, his focus on new technology was complemented by Neil Peart's adaptation of electronic drums and percussion — a sonic evolutionary step similar to A Farewell to Kings. Alex Lifeson's contributions on the album were decidedly enhanced to act as an overreaction to the minimalistic role he played on Signals. Still, many of his trademark guitar textures remained intact in the form of open reggae chords and funk and new-wave rhythms; "Red Lenses", "Red Sector A" and "The Enemy Within" serving as prime examples. Grace Under Pressure also featured a popular MTV music video for the anti-nuclear anthem "Distant Early Warning."
1985's Power Windows was followed by Hold Your Fire in 1987, both of which were produced by Peter Collins. The music on these two albums gives far more emphasis and prominence to Geddy Lee's multi-layered synthesizer work. However, Power Windows still builds somewhat on the momentum from Grace Under Pressure, even as it involves more sophisticated usage of sequencers and guitar minimalism. Alex Lifeson's presence is still palpable on "The Big Money", (the album's modest-charting single) with spotlights on "Grand Designs", "Middletown Dreams" and "Marathon." Lifeson, like many guitarists in the late 1980s, experimented with processors that reduced his instrument to echoey chord colorings and razor-thin leads. Hold Your Fire represents both a modest extension of the guitar stylings found on Power Windows, and the culmination of this era of Rush. Whereas the previous five Rush albums sold platinum or better, Hold Your Fire only went gold in 1987.
A third live album and video, A Show of Hands (1989), was also released by Mercury following the Power Windows and Hold Your Fire tours, demonstrating the aspects of Rush in the 80s. A Show of Hands met with strong fan approval, but Rolling Stone critic Michael Azerrad dismissed it as "musical muscle" with 1.5 stars, claiming Rush fans viewed their favorite power trio as "the holy trinity". Nevertheless, A Show of Hands managed to surpass the gold album mark. At this point, the group changed record labels from Mercury to Atlantic. After Rush's departure in 1989, PolyGram also released a gold-selling two-volume compilation of their Rush catalog, Chronicles (1990).
Rush started to deviate from their 1980s style with the albums Presto and Roll the Bones. Produced by record engineer and musician Rupert Hine, these two albums saw Rush shedding much of their keyboard-saturated sound. Beginning with 1989's Presto, the band opted for arrangements that were notably more guitar-centric than the previous two studio albums. Although synthesizers were still used in many songs, the instrument was no longer featured as the centerpiece of Rush's compositions. Continuing this trend, 1991's Roll the Bones extended the use of the standard three-instrument approach with even less focus on synthesizers than its predecessor. While musically these albums do not deviate significantly from a general pop-rock sound, Rush stuck to their creative approach of incorporating traces of more exotic musical styles. "Roll the Bones", for instance, exhibits funk and hip hop elements, and the instrumental track "Where's My Thing?" (the band's first instrumental piece in a decade) features several jazz components. This return to three-piece instrumentation helped pave the way for future albums in the mid-90s, which would adopt a more straightforward rock formula.
Neil Peart, Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee of Rush
(Roll the Bones tour photo 1991)The transition from synthesizers to more guitar-oriented and organic instrumentation continued with the 1993 album Counterparts and its follow-up, 1996's Test for Echo. Musically, Counterparts and Test For Echo are two of Rush's most guitar-driven albums. Although the music in general did not meet the criteria for "progressive rock", some of the songs could be considered more adventurous than what one might expect from a standard modern rock band. For instance, "Time and Motion" possesses multiple time signature changes and heavy organ, while the instrumental track "Limbo", consists of several distinct and relatively complex musical passages repeated throughout the duration. Musically, Test For Echo still retained much of the hard rock/alternative stylings already charted on the previous record. Lifeson and Lee's playing remained more or less unchanged; however, a distinct modification in technique became apparent in Peart's playing due to formal Jazz and Swing training under the tutelage of jazz drummer Freddie Gruber during the interim between Counterparts and Test For Echo. In October 1996, in support of Test For Echo, the band embarked on an extensive and successful North American tour, the band's first without an opening act and dubbed "An Evening with Rush." The tour was broken up into two segments spanning October through December, 1996 and May through July, 1997 with the band taking a respite between legs.
After wrapping up the tour promoting Test for Echo in 1997, the band entered a five-year hiatus mainly due to personal tragedies in Peart's life. Peart's daughter Selena died in a car accident in August 1997, followed by his wife Jacqueline's death from cancer in June 1998. Peart embarked on a self-described "healing journey" by motorcycle in which he traveled extensively across North America. He subsequently wrote about his travels in his book Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road. Rush later stated that they had nearly broken up during this period due to Peart's situation. In 1998, a triple CD live album entitled Different Stages was released. It contained two discs packed with recorded performances from the band's Counterparts and Test for Echo tours, marking the fourth officially released live album by the band.
After sufficient time to grieve and reassemble the pieces of his life, Peart married photographer Carrie Nuttall in September 2000. In early 2001 he announced to his band mates that he was ready to once again enter the studio and get back into the business of making music. The band returned in May 2002 with Vapor Trails. To herald the band's comeback, the single and lead track from the album, "One Little Victory" was designed to grab the attention of listeners due to its rapid guitar and drum tempos. While mostly heavy rock, the album displayed a fair share of musical eclecticism ranging from standard modern-riff rock and poppy numbers to songs that display a fresh smattering of progressive flavor. Vapor Trails also marked the first studio recording not to include a single synthesizer, organ or keyboard part since the early 1970s. While the album is almost completely guitar-driven, it is mostly devoid of any conventional sounding guitar solos, a conscious decision made by Alex Lifeson during the writing process. According to the band, the entire developmental process for Vapor Trails was extremely taxing and took approximately 14 months to complete, by far the longest the band had ever spent writing and recording a studio album. The album debuted to moderate praise and was supported by the band's first tour in six years, including first-ever concerts in Mexico City and Brazil, where they played to some of the largest crowds of their career.
A triple CD live album and dual DVD, Rush in Rio, was released in late October 2003. It features an entire concert performance recorded on the last night of their Vapor Trails tour, November 23, 2002, at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. To celebrate their 30th anniversary, June 2004 saw the release of Feedback, a studio EP featuring eight covers of such artists as Cream, The Who and The Yardbirds, bands which the members of Rush cite as inspiration around the time of their inception. This marks the second official studio release of the band covering the music of other artists, the first being Rush's first single, a 1973 cover of Buddy Holly's Not Fade Away. That same summer, Rush again hit the road for a very successful 30th Anniversary Tour, playing dates in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Sweden, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands. On September 24, 2004 a Frankfurt, Germany concert was recorded for DVD (titled R30: Live in Frankfurt), which was released November 22, 2005.
A new DVD box set, called Rush Replay X 3, was released on June 13, 2006. It consists of the three original home videos (Exit...Stage Left, Grace Under Pressure and A Show of Hands) completely remastered on DVD. Also included is a previously unreleased soundtrack CD to the Grace Under Pressure disc.
Snakes & Arrows (2006–present)
During promotional interviews for the R30 Live In Frankfurt DVD, the band revealed their intention to return to the studio in early 2006. However, in January, Peart confirmed that they expected writing and recording to take up most of the year and that the album would be released sometime in early 2007. An official announcement on Rush.com was made on February 14, 2007, that the title of the new album would be Snakes and Arrows and that it would be released May 1, 2007. A single entitled "Far Cry" is to be released beforehand in March, 2007. Also announced was that the band will embark on a tour, beginning in the summer.
More than 30 years of activity has provided Rush with the opportunity for musical diversity across their discography. Like many bands known for experimentation, such changes have inevitably resulted in strong dissent among critics and fans. The bulk of the band's music has always included synthetic instruments in some form or another, and this, more than anything else, is a great source of contention in the Rush camp, especially in regard to the band's heavy reliance on synthesizers and keyboards during the 1980s. Still, many saw this as nothing less than artistic growth and support for the band remained unwavering through each transitional phase.
Due to this ongoing controversy over Rush, they have yet to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The members of Rush have themselves noted that people "either love Rush or hate Rush", resulting in strong detractors and an intensely loyal fan base. Rolling Stone has often been blamed for their inability to enter the Hall. The Hall's refusal to induct Rush may also be a consequence of the band's insistence on remaining outside the mainstream of rock when it comes to self-promotion, in favor of maintaining a high degree of independence. To this day fans earnestly clamor for the band's inclusion into the Hall by citing noteworthy accomplishments including longevity, proficiency, and influence, as well as commercial sales figures and RIAA certifications. However, regardless of any official recognition from the Hall, Rush has nonetheless gained a degree of recognition in popular culture. Also, despite having completely dropped out of the public eye for five years after Test for Echo and the band being relegated almost solely to classic rock stations in the U.S., Vapor Trails reached #6 on the Billboard 200 chart in its first week of release in 2002. The subsequent Vapor Trails tour grossed over $24 million and included the largest audience ever to see a headlining Rush show — 60,000 fans in São Paulo, Brazil. Nevertheless, Vapor Trails remains the band's poorest-selling album to date. Rush in Rio (2003) was certified gold by the RIAA, marking the fourth decade in which a Rush album had been released and certified at least gold. Moreover, in 2004 Feedback cracked the top 20 on the Billboard 200 chart and received radio airplay.
Geddy Lee, 2004.Apart from prolific writing, musical influence, and instrumental prowess, Geddy Lee's high-register vocal style has always been a main signature of the band — and often a focal point for criticism, especially during the early years of Rush's career when Lee's vocals were high-pitched, with a strong likeness to British hard-rock singer Robert Plant. In fact, his voice is often described as a "wail". Nevertheless, Lee's voice has softened significantly over the years and still remains distinctive. His instrumental abilities, on the other hand, are rarely criticized. An award-winning musician, Lee's style, technique, and virtuosity on the bass guitar have proven very influential in the rock and heavy metal genres, inspiring such players as Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, John Myung of Dream Theater, Les Claypool of Primus and the late Cliff Burton of Metallica among others. He is notable for his ability to competently operate various pieces of instrumentation simultaneously. This was mostly evident during live shows when it was necessary for Lee, as the frontman, to play bass, supply lead vocals, manipulate keyboards, and trigger footpedals during the course of a performance, as in "Tom Sawyer". Obviously this restricted his movement significantly, because he was required to remain in one place during songs which contained complex instrumentation. Lifeson and Peart were, to a lesser extent, responsible for similar actions during live shows.
Alex Lifeson in concert.Instrumentally, Lifeson is regarded as a master guitarist, a pioneer of electronic effects and chord structures. During his adolescent years, he was influenced primarily by Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. For versatility, Lifeson was known to incorporate touches of Spanish and classical music into Rush's guitar-driven sound of the 1970s. Taking a backseat to Lee's keyboards in the 1980s, Lifeson's guitar returned to the forefront in the 1990s and has remained there ever since, along with his occasional duties of cuing various guitar effects and the use of bass-pedal synthesizers.
Despite his high esteem, Lifeson is often regarded as being overshadowed by his bandmates due to Lee's on-stage multi-instrumental dexterity and Peart's iconic status.
Peart is widely regarded by music fans, drummers, and fellow musicians as one of the greatest drummers in the history of rock, this high esteem continuing today as it has throughout his playing career. He is also regarded as one of the finest practitioners of the in-concert drum solo. Initially inspired by Keith Moon, Peart absorbed the influence of other rock drummers from the 1960s and 1970s such as Ginger Baker, Carmine Appice, and John Bonham. Incorporation of unusual instruments (for rock drummers of the time) such as cowbells, glockenspiel, and tubular bells, along with several standard kit elements, helped create a highly varied setup. Continually modified to this day, Peart's drumkit offers an enormous array of percussion instruments for sonic diversity. For two decades Peart honed his technique; each new Rush album introduced an expanded percussive vocabulary. In the 1990s, he surprised many fans by reinventing his style, with the help of drum coach Freddie Gruber. At this time, Peart began emulating jazz drummer Buddy Rich.
Neil Peart, due to his esteem as a multi-percussionist, a staple of Rush's concerts is a Peart drum solo. Peart's drum solos include a basic framework of routines connected by sections of improvisation, leaving each performance unique. Each successive tour sees the solo more advanced, with some routines dropped in favor of newer, more complex ones. Since the mid-1980s, Peart has used MIDI trigger pads to trigger sounds sampled from various pieces of acoustic percussion that would otherwise consume far too much stage area, such as a marimba, harp, temple blocks, triangles, glockenspiel, orchestra bells, tubular bells, and vibra-slap as well as other, more esoteric percussion. Some purely electronic, description-defying sounds are also incorporated into each drum solo.
Peart also serves as Rush's primary lyricist, attracting much attention over the years due to his eclectic style. Known for penning concept albums and songs inspired by literature, opinions of his writing have varied greatly, running the gamut from cerebral and insightful to overly pretentious and preachy. Nonetheless, his lyrical contributions provide a compelling case study. Polygram distributed a poetry packet to high schools in 1986 in conjunction with the release of Power Windows with the intent of stimulating student interest in poetry and teaching about metaphors, similes, and personifications as used within the lyrics of that album.