Thursday, March 05, 2015

Rush R40 Countdown at No. 15: 'Fly by Night' reveals challenges of transition, and Will's alternative thoughts

Our march toward the glorious R40 Rush concert in Chicago continues with No. 15 in our countdown from the least-great Rush album to Moving Pictures. 

After being in lockstep with No. 16, Will and I are headed down different paths again.

No. 15: Fly by Night

Released in 1975

Highlights: “In the End,” Fly By Night,” “Beneath, Between and Behind.”

Least great moment: “Making Memories”

Cool Neil Peart lyrical moment:

“Beneath the noble birth
Between the proudest words
Behind the beauty, cracks appear
Once with Heads held high
They sang out to the sky
Why do their shadows bow in fear?”
-- “Beneath, Between and Behind”

Transitions can be rough, and Rush was definitely in transition for its second album–the band’s first with Neil.

The band seems to still have one foot in the bluesy, Led Zep-flavored metal of the first album with hints of the deep-thinking music to come.

Despite the title track still being a staple of classic rock radio playlists, the band doesn’t seem to like it. Rolling Stone asked Geddy why he hasn’t played “Fly By Night” since 1978.

“I don’t know, man. That song scares me. It’s a high song. It’s also a time and a place. I wouldn’t say no, but it wouldn’t be my first choice.”

I learned about Fly By Night–both the song and the album–through the live albums. “Anthem,” "By-Tor and the Snow Dog,” the title song and “In the End” are all on “All the World’s a Stage” and “Beneath, Between and Behind” is on “Exit..Stage Left.” 

Some of the studio versions are on compilations, and it took until the ease of iTunes before I completed the album.

I shouldn’t have waited. They’re good songs. In fact, “In the End,” which appears to be a holdover from the pre-Neil days, is one of my all-time favorite Rush songs. I just like the warmer, deeper sounding live version better.

I’m hoping they band dusts off something from Fly by Night for the R40 tour – but I don’t want to scare Geddy, either.

Will has other thoughts:

"Animate" is one of the top tracks on Counterparts.

No. 15: Counterparts
Released in 1993

Now HERE's some difference of opinion for you. I wouldn't have expected Fly By Night to be so low on Dave's list, but then he probably felt the same way about Counterparts, although it shouldn't be too much of a surprise. I also believe there's no question that Rush will play at least something off Fly By Night--they played a bit of By-Tor and Anthem in 2004. Will it be the title track, which would blow the roof off the barn if they finally brought it back after all these years? Stay tuned.

Now as to Counterparts, here's a Rush fun fact: As probably anyone who's reading this knows, Counterparts was Rush's highest charting album, period. It reached No. 2 on the Billboard charts the week after it was released in November 1993. Although I don't know this for sure, I would bet Rush albums to Justin Bieber albums that the very reason Counterparts wasn't No. 1 was the reason it was No. 2 in the first place.

Sherman, set the wayback machine to fall 1993: At the time, this young sports copy editor was champing at the bit for the first brand-new music from a new band that he had discovered and pledged almost instant allegiance to the previous year. You might remember this band--Pearl Jam. After Ten, I couldn't wait for new music, and on the day that it arrived, I scurried to the nearest Best Buy in Flint (outside of Flint, proper, actually) to buy it.

To what did my wondering eyes did appear when I walked into the store? Hello, what's this? A new Rush album?

At the time, although Pearl Jam was my favorite band of the moment, my rekindled Rush love was at a peak, so this was quite a welcome surprise. I had absolutely NO IDEA Rush had a new album coming until I held it in my hands. (I actually had Counterparts in my hands before Vs.) I bought both and raced home as fast as possible to reveal the hidden treasures therein.

I suspect strongly that I wasn't the only Pearl Jam fan who did the same thing that day, and considering that 980,000 Pearl Jam fans bought Vs. that first week, it's probably no coincidence that Counterparts made it to No. 2. I just wonder whether those folks had the same reaction I did when they finally got around to slapping Counterparts onto their CD trays: This is it?

Counterparts is Rush's so-called alternative album. I didn't like it on first listen, and I don't like it much now. For one thing, the previous two albums were (SPOILER ALERT) among my favorite albums by any band, so a big move away from the more atmospheric sound of those two albums wasn't received warmly. If I wanted alternative, and I most certainly did, I wanted it from Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins. I wanted Rush to be Rush.

For another and more important, the songs just weren't that strong overall. Don't get me wrong, I love Cold Fire. Animate and Stick It Out are decent and I don't mind Put That Thing Down, although it's a bit redundant. I also loved the album art of all the counterparts, but the rest of the songs slid off me like Teflon, and I haven't felt compelled to revisit the album since.

Of course, my disappointment didn't prevent me from seeing Rush twice in two different states in one crazy week in March 1994. At this point, my Rush love, requenched after my disenchantment in the 1980s was unshakable.

For everyone catching up, here's the rest of the countdown so far:

No. 16: Vapor Trails (Both of us)

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