Monday, February 23, 2015

Rush R40 Countdown at No. 17: Debut stories, a missing newt and Will's lost years

Our march to the Chicago R40 concert continues with Will and I listing Rush albums from least-great to “Moving Pictures.” 

Today’s post shows that we are heading toward a serious disagreement – and we learn a little bit about newts.

No. 17: Rush

Released in 1974

Highlights: “Finding My Way,” Working Man,” “In the Mood.”

Least-great moment: “Here Again”

Cool Neil Peart lyrical moment: None, as Neil famously joined the band after this album was released.  But Geddy and Alex came up with:

“I’ve been gone so long
I’ve lost count of the years
Well, I sang some sad songs
Oh yes, and cried some bad tears”

-- “Finding My Way,” and yes, it was good when Neil arrived.

I remember being so excited when I started my career, reporting from the Westport Bureau of Bridgeport Post.

One of my first assignments was covering a visit by Connecticut Education Commissioner Gerald Tirozzi to Tilford W. Miller Elementary School in Wilton.

He was reading to a kindergarten class astory about tugboats as students sat around him on the floor, and all was going well. That is, it was going well until the missing-class newt was discovered under a desk. The great escape was short-lived, as, apparently, was the newt.
A live newt. 

Pandemonium ensued, and the kids no longer cared about tugboats or the nice man in the suit.

I knew right then and there that I loved the job, which is both fun and unpredictable. I loved that story.

I also wrote a bunch of other stories that first year that weren't as memorable – and I’d love to have a chance to write again with the polish and insight that comes with experience. I’d like to think I got a lot better as I went on.

So that takes us to Rush’s self-titled debutalbum. Will’s right that this isn't the Rush that we know and love.

No disrespect intended to the late John Rutsey, who departed after the album was recorded because of health issues and some other challenges. 

But Neil Peart elevated the band from a good, heavy, blues-based hard rock band to the glorious, life-changing trio still stirring our passions 40 years later.

Here's a rare video of the band performing with original drummer John Rutsey.

This is not to say that there aren't some great songs on the album.  “Working Man,” “In the Mood,” and “Finding My Way” are still wonderful fist-in-the-air anthems.

Those songs don’t make us think like “Witch Hunt” or take us to exotic places like “Xanadu” or serve as the basis of a youth group lesson, like “Totem.” But they’re still fun, and the album sets the stage for those things to come. And, I still like it better than “Snakes & Arrows.”

Back in 2008, I received an email from then-Commissioner Tirozzi, who moved on to become a college president before President Clinton appointed him assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education at the U.S. Department of Education. He remembered that day at the school and the missing newt. 

Now, Will fesses up. And here's where we start to have divergence of opinion.

No. 17: Hold Your Fire

Released in 1987

True confession: There was a time after I discovered Rush that I didn't like Rush.

It was during their Synth period, but unlike all the right-thinking headbangers out there, it wasn't because Rush started using synthesizers, it was because they weren't using them enough.

The early- to mid-Eighties was a big time of discovering progressive rock. Genesis, Yes and ELP were dominating my record player (back before that became an ironic media).

But almost right when I found Rush, they stopped making long-form songs that helped me get into them in the first place. The result: They fell by the wayside to the point where Power Windows was the first new Rush album I didn't buy since my discovery in 1980. 

When Hold Your Fire came out, Rush had fallen so far off my radar that I remember seeing the album in a Chicago record store and thinking, "Rush still is putting out albums?" I never heard anything from them on radio or MTV any more.

Eventually I rediscovered my love for Rush (story TK) and got caught up, but unlike other albums that benefited from hindsight, Hold Your Fire STILL leaves me cold. I mean, I like "Time Stands Still" as a live anthem (and I finally saw the completely funky video for the first time just a few years ago) and "Force Ten" is one of my favorite songs of all time by anyone, but the rest of the album is so much filler.

Check out the rest of the countdown:

Agree or disagree? Tell us in the comments.

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