Saturday, February 14, 2015

Celebrating a friendship and a life soundtrack: Counting down Rush from least-great to 'Moving Pictures'

Me with shockingly long hoodlum hair and a sweet Rush concert shirt, no doubt purchased from a shady guy in the Nassau Coliseum parking lot after the "Permanent Waves" show. John has cool Superman jammies.

Will emailed recently with a question and I’m fairly certain he knew the answer before he hit “send.”

He was snagging tickets for the upcoming Rush R40 tour, and wanted to know if wanted to go, too. Actually, it was closer to “I’m getting tickets to see Rush in Chicago and you’re coming.”

Will knew there’s no concert I’d rather see and no one I’d rather see it with.

Rush has been my favorite band since junior high. Outside of family, there are very few things that remain constants through must of your life. Like the Mets, Rush is one of those things, sticking with me though high school, college, marriage, new homes and new jobs. Each album takes me back to a time and place.

I’m not sure what drew me to the band at first. I remember a classmate at John P. McKenna Junior High wearing a “Rush Texas Tour” t-shirt and thinking that most bands are big enough to tour more than one state.

It’s a different kind of band. Most of the hard rockers at the time fell into two categories: British bands that sang about demons and wizards – think Black Sabbath – and American bands that sang about girls and partying, like Van Halen.

But the Canadian trio took a different approach. 

Lumped in the prog rockers, the band explored different themes. Sometimes drummer/lyricist Neil Peart dipped into literature, like “Lost Horizon” for “Xanadu,” or dystopian societies or, in lighter moments, radio.

It was always different, usually thought-provoking. I embraced it. My campaign posters for student council were based on Rush lyrics. I finished second out of three candidates. Not everyone gets Rush.

Critics always have hated on the band, which fit perfectly into my underdog-appreciating, outsider’s view of the world. Mets fans are like that.

Will and I met in 1990 when we were both working for the Flint Journal, introduced by my wife, no doubt stunned to find another baseball-loving, baseball card-collecting Rush fan. We’ve been close friends ever since. We've also attended at least three Rush concerts together before moving to other states made that more challenging.

But distance can’t be a factor for this upcoming special night. Rush is celebrating its 40th year together with the R40 tour, and members have announced that it might be their last major trip around the country.

Everyone realizes, of course, that many rock bands declare a farewell tour only to periodically unretire and hit the road again. But we’re not taking chances. We're celebrating a friendship, a band and a lifetime soundtrack.

So in honor of this momentous event, we’re going to mix in a new feature at the blog along with bad postcards and baseball rantings.

It’s time to countdown Rush’s 20 studio albums from worst to first. 

Well, we'll be counting from least-great to “Moving Pictures.” Who are we kidding? There are no bad Rush albums, and “Moving Pictures” is one of the best albums of all time.

I’m sure there will be some side trips for live albums and other things along his historical journey. A good road trip always includes some pauses.

So let’s begin. And feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.(Will, especially you.)

No. 20: Caress of Steel

Released in 1975

Highlights: “The Fountain of Lamneth,” “Lakeside Park.”

Least-great moments: “The Necromancer.”

Cool Neil Peart lyrical moment:

“Everyone would gather
On the 24th of May
Sitting in the sand
To watch the fireworks display
Dancing fires on the beach
Singing songs together
Though it’s just a memory
Some memories last forever.”
-- “Lakeside Park”

I don’t think this ranking is a shock to anyone. Rush’s third album jumps headfirst into progressive rock and long, epic songs. Things start out heavy with “Bastille Day” about the French Revolution and get heavier, with the “Necromancer,” which involves summoning spirits of the deceased to discern information about the future. I’m still not sure what is going on in the 20-minute “The Fountain of Lamneth,” though it has some fantastic parts.

Things do get a little lighter. “Lakeside Park” is a beautiful tribute to a favorite spot in St. Catharines, Ontario, where Neil grew up. This cool website -- A Rush Fan's Guide to Toronto -- has some great details.

Hindsight is easy. The band might have been trying too hard. There were even issues with the album cover, which was supposed to be printed on a foiled paper. Instead, the steel on the cover looks like copper.

Historically, "Caress" lays out the framework for what would be classic epics to come. "The Fountain of Lamneth" eventually leads to "2112" and "Hemispheres."

"Caress of Steel" was released before I had discovered the band, and I somehow acquired the eight-track tape version, which dates both me and the band. I never got around to upgrading the album on vinyl or cassette, and only picked up a used version of the CD within the last five years.  

Rush has been unearthing some lesser-known album tracks on the most recent tours. But other than a snippet of “Bastille Day” during the R30 Overture, nothing from “Caress of Steel” sees the light of day. Could that be a surprise pick for R40? We’ll see. 

And here's how we wrapped up the countdown:

No. 1 Moving Pictures (both of us)
No. 2: Hold Your Fire (Dave), Presto (Will)
No. 3: Permanent Waves (Dave), Signals (Will)
No. 4: Roll the Bones (Dave), Permanent Waves (Will)
No. 5: Power Windows (Dave), Roll the Bones (Will)
No. 6: Test for Echo (Dave), Grace Under Pressure (Will)
No. 7: Signals (Dave), A Farewell to Kings (Will)


Will said...

I hope, hope, HOPE that Lakeside Park gets dusted off and played one more time. On o' my top 1000, as every reader of this here blog knows ;-).

Other than the snippet of Bastille Day in '04, Caress of Steel is the only Rush album I've never seen the boys play a single song off in the 13--that's right 1-3--times I've seen them since 1990. My guess is they'll definitely play something or two from Caress this time.

That said, I agree whole-heartedly: This album goes to the bottom of the list. It isn't that it was too hard-edged for prog fans--anyone who likes King Crimson, Dream Theater or Tool can attest to that--it was just too ... meh. I'm guessing that hearing the boys play Necromancer now would be a somewhat different experience.

Mets Guy in Michigan said...

I love those power chords in "Fountain," but outside of "Lakeside Park," I don't hope for anything from Caress at the big show.