Sunday, March 08, 2015

Rush R40 Countdown continues at No. 14: 'A Farewell to Kings' with 8-Track issues, 'Snakes & Arrows' is better live

We're continuing with our march toward the Chicago R40 concert by counting down Rush studio albums from least-great to "Moving Pictures," and Will and I again have differing thoughts on what should come in at No. 14.

No. 14: A Farewell to Kings
Released 1977

Highlights: “Xanadu,” “Closer to the Heart,”

Least-glorious moment: “Madrigal”

Cool Neil Peart lyrical moment:

“When they turn the pages of history
When these days have passed long ago
Will they read of us with sadness?
For the seeds that we let go
We turned our gaze
From the castles in the distance
Eyes cast down
On the path of least resistance”

-- "Farewell to Kings"

To this day, when I listen to the classic “Xanadu,” I hear the extended, airy introduction, await Neil’s forceful introductory beats, the first chords – then expect the song to fade out. It would be followed by a “click,” then a fade-up to the spot where the song left off.

You see, I had “A Farewell to Kings” on an 8-Track tape. Crazy kids today will have no recollection of such a thing.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the music industry struggled with the concept of making music portable, including in the car.  By the middle to late 1960s, the idea of music being stored on something like a reel-to-reel tape player, but with all the reels contained in a portable, self-contained unit, arrived in the form of 8-Track tapes.

They were kind of big and clunky, but they would play in a loop, meaning you’d never have to get up and turn over the record.

You couldn’t rewind or fast-forward, but you could click to the next “program,” which was another portion of the album.

Ideally, songs would be contained in one of the programs. But that wasn’t always the case.

My first stereo, which I loved and played to death, had a built-in 8-Track player in addition to the AM-FM radio and phonograph.

I grew to accumulate a number of 8-Tracks to go with my vinyl. “A Farewell to Kings” was one of them. Another was Part II of “Archives,” which was a compilation of the first three Rush albums. My part had “Caress of Steel” and part of “Fly By Night.” I don’t know how I came to obtain Part II and not Part I.

On my “Farewell,” the program changed at that point in “Xanadu,” and again after the narration on “Cygnus X-1,” which has our boys getting a little bit out there.
Here's "Closer to the Heart" from the "Rush in Rio" DVD. 

I can’t hear those songs today with half-expecting those fade-outs, clicks, and fade-ins.

Overall, it’s a strong album. “Xanadu” alone is worth the price of admission. “Closer to the Heart” became a concert staple, with later tours using the ending for a chance for the guys to playfully cut loose, which is unusual for Rush.  The band also has used the opening riff from Cygnus as a tease at the end of the finale on some recent tours.

Other than those songs, we haven’t heard much from “Farewell.” It would be neat if the band surprised us with the title cut or “Cinderella Man.”

And, 8-Tracks barely made it into the 1980s, replaced by the smaller, rewindable and easier to use cassettes.  

Will jumps in with a disc that he enjoyed more than I did. 

No. 14: Snakes & Arrows
Released in 2007
I have to make one comment first: I think this selection shows that Dave's love of Rush exceeds my own. It isn't that he has A Farewell to Kings so low--obviously, I have it rated higher--but that he doesn't really have anything bad to say about it. The feelings I have about my No. 14 album, which is Dave's No. 19, aren't as enthusiastic. I've already talked about it some, so I'll keep my comments brief and hopefully not too redundant.
Like Vapor Trails--I'm not counting Feedback--S&A was a difficult first listen. The mixing problems that plagued Vapor Trails remained evident although not to that extreme. 
Also, the songs didn't grab me right away with the exception of The Main Monkey Business, which seemed to have some of the atmospheric qualities of the Post-synth Pre-hiatus Era that I loved so much.
Also, just like with Vapor Trails, it was a different--and improved--scenario hearing the songs from S&A live. I liked Working Them Angels and The Way the Wind Blows a lot, and I think the versions off S&A Live are superior in every way. Hope also is solid and Far Cry is an established Rush anthem at this point. 
The Larger Bowl should be noted simply for the return of Bob & Doug McKenzie, who taped an introduction in concert; it was beauty. Spindrift remained unlistenable, however.
Here's "The Larger Bowl" complete with Bob and Doug McKenzie!
Unlike Vapor Trails, though, this album grew on me after seeing it live, which is why I have it where it is--not among their best and clearly behind what's to come but also clearly ahead of everything else behind it.

No. 15: Fly by Night (Dave) and Counterparts (Will)
No. 16: Vapor Trails (Both of us)

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