Moving into 1981, we see an interesting mix of older bands delivering new material as they try to stay relevant with changing tastes, and you also see many new entrants as the evolving sound of the 1980s begins to surface. The first few selections are in the first category, and we start with Canadian progressive rock band Rush, with their most successful album, “Moving Pictures”. This widely embraced album is rated #379 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Rush has an interesting dynamic, as they don’t seem to be terribly popular with many female pop and rock music fans. I know one in particular who will be rolling her eyes as she reads this (sorry Christie), but this album really is a great record, at least on side one. This release is somewhat the tale of two sides. Side one is four songs I have listened to or heard hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of times. Side two unfortunately aligns more closely with the stereotype of overtly intellectual progressive sci-fi rock that lacks the edge, hooks, and appeal of side one. So… I can hear the argument on side two, but I’m not buying it for the first half.
The record bursts open with their iconic classic, “Tom Sawyer”. Like “Back in Black” from AC/DC, this is a timeless hit that for me, just never gets old. The power, intensity, and synchronized performance of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart stands out, and it is a Hall-of-Fame air-drum masterpiece, on par with “Baba O’Riley”, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” or “Rock and Roll”. As you see on several other tracks, the tightness of this trio is pretty near the best you will find in rock music, and while I’m not always quite sure where Neil Peart is going with his sci-fi lyrics, this song is Rush at their very best.
Next comes “Red Barchetta”, another forward-looking song about cars, it is definitely not a Beach Boys ode to old-school American cars. The unusual subject aside, it has a great chord structure and has some of Geddy’s best vocals. Then comes “YYZ”, another air-guitar and air-drum classic that is fully instrumental and again features the precise timing of this three-piece band. Side one ends with “Limelight”, a lament to the ups and downs of living in the public eye. This is easily the 2nd most popular song on the album. For me, it doesn’t rock quite as hard as the first three and has been my least preferred of side one, but it is still a really good song that is as close to Rush will ever come to a Top 40-sounding tune.
Side two, as noted earlier, is a mystery to me for a reason. I rarely, if ever, listened to it when I owned this album, and listening to it again, I did not find it any more inspiring. Three tracks in total, none of which makes me want to listen to it again; it just goes too far down the path of wandering prog rock with no real hook. The second song, “Witch Hunt”, sounds as if they have channeled their inner Pink Floyd, but that isn’t enough to turn this around. I will say this about all of the songs on this album, Geddy Lee is much more effective in seamlessly inserting keyboards and synthesizers into the sound without compromising the power of the track. As such, the result is more integrated, and comes off as less dated than some of the other albums we have recently discussed.
“A modern day warrior, Mean, mean stride, Today’s Tom Sawyer, Mean, mean pride…”