Rush: Favourite Songs

It was one of those things you just don’t want to read.

I had gotten up on Saturday morning and was getting ready to go to work. I opened Facebook and the first thing I saw was, “Rush Drummer, Neil Peart, Dead at 67 from Brain Cancer”.

It was one of those things you just don’t want to believe.

I quickly went to Safari and did a quick search for “Neil Peart”. It was true. Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist for Rush had left us.

I felt the shocking news in several ways. Rush, one of the most well-known power trios, the three-way combo of Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart, three music icons, and Rush an institution. Those three guys. Three! And now one of them was gone. Then there was Neil’s wife Carrie and his daughter Olivia. In the late nineties, Neil lost his first daughter to a car accident, and ten months later his wife died. After a few years of healing and coming to terms with the course of his life, he remarried and had another daughter. Now it was his turn to leave.

Then of course, there were the music fans. Rush being one of the seminal bands of seventies progressive rock and Neil a top class drummer, the shock struck across my Facebook feed all day as musicians and music fans alike all responded in grief and heartbreak. By night, YouTube videos were already appearing – tributes, memories, and personal responses.

I think one of the things that made Neil so endearing to so many people was that he was an honest, delightful, and warm-hearted human being. Yes, he was timid and a little uncomfortable about meeting new people, especially gushing fans who were a bit too over the top with their idolization and admiration. But all the people I read or heard about who got to know him closely make the same claim: Neil was warm, caring, and welcoming. As for the rest of us, we knew him through his lyrics, his books, and his interviews. I always felt he could speak about anything in a way that seemed intimate and intellectual, honest and with a sense of humour. Neil was never the comedian that Alex is, but he always recounted his tales with a smile.

There is much to say about the kind of persona that came across, the character, the man. But in the end I think that there is a vast number of people who are all shocked by this news because not only an extremely hardworking and talented artist has left us, but also a very wonderful human being. It made me really want to listen to Rush again and listen to the lyrics as well as the music.

By chance, a week earlier, I had added the entire Rush studio catalogue back into my phone and I had added a couple of dozen songs or more to a playlist of favourite bands. So that morning, I put on my 2112 T-shirt and went off to work listening to Rush for the first time in a while. It sure was pleasing to hear those familiar songs again. When I first fell totally in love with the band’s music back in late 2010, I went and ordered all the albums I didn’t have yet (I had only five) and listened to nearly nothing but Rush for six months. I made a stack of mixed CDs putting almost every song they had on at least one disc. I bought the “Beyond the Lighted Stage” documentary and watched it over and over. So it was really a welcome feeling to hear those songs once more.

I realized though that I still had my favourites, the songs that my music appreciation lobe just revels in hearing. And on that mark, I will pick the track I like best from each album and write a little about why I love those songs so much.

Rush_self_titledRush – 1974

The debut album and the only album to include founding member, John Rutsy on drums. The band’s turn of fortune was unfortunate for John who had been the drummer ever since he and Alex first formed the band in the late sixties. Geddy joined soon after but was for a short time not a member of the band. They at last cut a record, but with a large-scale tour in North America in place, John’s health became an issue (he was diabetic). He was nudged out of the band while new recruit, Neil Peart, was brought in just ahead of the tour.

The song I keep coming back to here is “What You’re Doing”. It has such a heavy and groovy riff. The echo effect on the vocals is a little annoying, but the music hooks me with that riff. There’s also an instrumental bit that sounds like Rush are already thinking about writing songs that showcase musicianship.

Fly By Night – 1975

With a new drummer who was not only obviously very talented even at that point but also a knowledgeable person who could write good lyrics, Rush began work on their second album. They used a couple of tracks left over from before Neil’s entrance, but it was Neil who penned the majority.

I always like “Beneath, Between & Behind”. It has a Zeppelin-like feel to the guitar riff but it’s the intensity in the drumming that complements the vocal melody that I like. I should also put in word for the title track because of Alex’s incredible guitar solo. “Anthem” and “By-Tor and the Snowdog” are also great!

Caress of Steel – 1975

This was an odd album. It seemed to bear the last vestiges of the Rush that existed prior to Neil Peart joining and as well still held on to newer song writing. But then there was the whole second side which was supposed to be a side-long track but was executed like six individual tracks that could have just as easily been separate tracks that were part of a side-long theme.

While “Bastille Day” is an easy favourite, I actually prefer the mini-epic, “The Necromancer”. In three parts, we see three sides to Rush’s music. The first part, “Into the Darkness”, is introduced with a narration telling us of three travelers who are entering the Necromancer’s domain and losing all cheer and sunshine and only able to press on because of their desire to free themselves of the Necromancer’s power. The second part, “Under the Shadow”, is heavy and dark at first and then breaks into a speedy guitar solo and instrumental section. At last, “Return of the Price” tells us of how Prince By-Tor from the previous album comes to save the day. The music is melodic and the guitar riff has me wanting to sing April Wine’s “Tonite Is A Wonderful Time To Fall In Love”.

2112 2112 – 1976

“Caress of Steel” was not only disparaged by the record label but the tour was unsupported. At the time, the cry for writing more singles and more radio-friendly material was loud in their ears, but the boys in Rush went ahead with the album. It was nearly the end of the band. Once more pressure was put on them for radio-playable singles. But Neil had had enough, and together with Geddy and Alex, they created a side-long epic track of a future society where entertainment is strictly controlled by a closed circle of religious leaders. A young man discovers a guitar and brings it to the priests in hopes of promoting free musical expression. Instead he is told not to bother them.

Side two is a regular Rush album with some very good songs, but the music of the story parts on side one is truly remarkable. This is where the band’s ability to combine musical talent with a story is underscored. Though it is actually a collection of different tracks, they segue together because they are part of a continuous tale. Rush proved here that a hard rock band with progressive rock aspirations could successfully pull of at least a half album of a conceptual narrative story that grabbed fans’ attention and riveted them to the band.

More favourites to come in the next post!

My Most Listened to New Purchases

It’s time to indulge myself in a few lists of personal preference. Each year I buy a lot of music – nearly always on CD – and since 2012 I have been putting all my annual purchases into an iTunes folder for the year of the purchase. By the end of the year, I can see which songs I listened to the most.

As with any year, I had some favourite artists and groups as well as sub-genres I explored. This year my sub-genres of interest were proto-metal (specifically 1969 to 1973), 1970’s Canadian rock (not really a sub-genre but a theme), and 1960’s garage/R&B/freak beat/psychedelic.

Favourite groups included Iron Maiden, White Willow, The Music Machine, and April Wine.

Let’s look at the lists.

Most listened to purchases of 2015

The list includes the most listened to song from ten groups or artists. Some artists actually could have easily taken over the entire list, but I chose only the top song per group.

  1. Talk Talk – The Music Machine
  2. Weeping Widow – April Wine
  3. Jane “J” James – Thundermug
  4. Yalla Yae – A Foot in Cold Water
  5. Never Be the Same – Chilliwack
  6. Land of 1000 Nights – Mahogany Rush
  7. Sub Rosa Subway – Klaatu
  8. Floor 67 – White Willow
  9. Let It Ride – Bachman Turner Overdrive
  10. The Boys in the Bright White Sports Car – Trooper

A lot of bands appear here because one song of theirs was played frequently while making a playlist to burn to CD. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the songs.

Proto-metal – Early Heavy Metal 1969-1973

My interest in buying early heavy music had run its coarse last year. Or so I thought. But then I finally got a hold of Warpig’s 1970 album and shortly after Bedemon’s Child of Darkness was re-released with better mastering. The exploration began anew.

  1. Blue Ice – The Litter (1969)
  2. The Queen – Bang (1972)
  3. Wicked Truth – Bloodrock (1970)
  4. Just I was Born – Blues Creation (1971)
  5. Never in My Life – Mountain (1970)
  6. Not Yet – Sex (1970)
  7. Timothy – UFO (1970)
  8. Hard Times – Valhalla (1969)
  9. Mistress of the Salmon Salt (Quicklime Girl) – Blue Oyster Cult (1973)
  10. Satori, Pt. 1 – Flower Travelin’ Band (1971)

1970’s Canadian Rock 

My proto-metal explorations led me to several hard rock / heavy rock bands from Canada in the 1970’s. This in turn brought me to other less hard rocking but still talented groups. This list is very similar to the first list, suggesting that my Canadian rock explorations were the longest lasting.

  1. Weeping Willow – April Wine
  2. Jane “J” James – Thundermug
  3. Yalla Yae – A Foot in Cold Water
  4. Land of 1000 Nights – Mahogany Rush
  5. Sub Rosa Subway – Klaatu
  6. The Boys in the Bright White Sports Car – Trooper
  7. Let It Ride – Bachman Turner Overdrive
  8. Can’t You See I’m a Star – Moxy
  9. Riding High – Chilliwack (this song was played about as much as Never Be the Same from the first list but it is more guitar rock and worthy of mention)
  10. Little Texas Shaker – Triumph

1960’s Garage/R&B/Freak Beat/Mod/Psychedelic 

I swore I would not start looking for early forms of hard and heavy guitar rock in the mid-sixties. But I did anyway…

  1. Talk Talk – The Music Machine
  2. Find a Hidden Door – The Misunderstood
  3. You Got a Hard Time Coming – The Remains
  4. Follow Me – The Action
  5. Pink Purple Yellow and Red – The Sorrows
  6. L.S.D. – The Pretty Things
  7. Making Time – The Creation
  8. Action Woman – The Litter
  9. Bad Little Woman – The Shadows of Knight
  10. Hey Mama (Keep Your Big Mouth Shut) – The Ugly Ducklings

Post Reunion Iron Maiden (2000 to 2015) 

I hadn’t bought an Iron Maiden album since Seventh Son of a Seventh Son but the packaging of Book of Souls looked so good that I had to see what the Beast was up to these days. I liked it enough to buy Brave New World which I liked enough to buy Dance of Death, which I liked enough to buy the remaining two albums.

  1. El Dorado – from The Final Frontier
  2. The Wickerman – from Brave New World
  3. Wildest Dreams – from Dance of Death
  4. Blood Brothers – from Brave New World
  5. The Nomad – from Brave New World
  6. Paschendale – from Dance of Death
  7. Age of Innocence – from Dance of Death
  8. Brighter than a Thousand Suns – from A Matter of Life and Death
  9. The Great Unknown – from The Book of Souls
  10. When the River Runs Deep – from The Book of Souls

The Music Machine (1966 to 1968) 

One of the most interesting bands I came across was an act from the mid-sixties which are worthy of their own post, perhaps to come in 2016. For now, here are the five songs I listened to the most.

  1. Talk Talk
  2. The Eagle Never Hunts the Fly
  3. Masculine Intuition
  4. Wrong
  5. Absolutely Positively

White Willow

I bought the debut album a year or two ago and always thought to buy another album. I bought three: Sacrament, Storm Season, and Terminal Twilight. These were my five favourites.

  1. Floor 67 – from Terminal Twilight
  2. Natasha of the Burning Woods – from Terminal Twilight
  3. Paper Moon – from Sacrament
  4. Sally Left – from Storm Season
  5. Searise – from Terminal Twilight

April Wine

A band I never had much interest in before, suddenly this year I discovered that from 1971 to 1983, the band recorded a lot of very good hard rock / arena rock. I am still missing the album Power Play.

  1. Weeping Willow – from Electric Jewels, 1973
  2. Bad Side of the Moon – from On Record, 1972
  3. I Can Hear You Callin’ – from Electric Jewels, 1973
  4. All Over Town – from The Nature of the Beast, 1981
  5. Hot on the Wheels of Love – from First Glance, 1978
  6. Listen Mister – from April Wine, 1971
  7. Work All Day – from On Record, 1972
  8. Wings of Love – from The Whole World’s Goin’ Crazy, 1976
  9. One More Time – from The Nature of the Beast, 1981
  10. Roller – from First Glance, 1978

Lastly, I’d like to mention my personal top five 2015 releases, though I didn’t buy too many as I was stuck in the 60’s and 70’s.

  1. No Pocus Without Hocus – Murky Red
  2. Perfect Beings II – Perfect Beings
  3. Unscrewed – Corvus Stone
  4. War and Peace – Pandora Snail
  5. The Book of Souls – Iron Maiden