Friday, November 19, 2010

List: Top 5 Classic Rock Bands

Our friend Debbie loves to ask, "What is your Top Five ____________? Go."

My list of Top Five Classic Rock Bands has been set for years.

1. U2 - which I discuss fairly often.

2. Led Zeppelin - which I have discussed numerous times, including my Top Ten Led Zeppelin Songs of All Time list

3. Rush

4. Queen - one mention so far

5. Pink Floyd - also one mention

I thought today I would discuss Rush.

In 8th grade (1980), Rush's album Moving Pictures came out. My friend Steve brought it to school and insisted I borrow it. I did. And I was hooked for life.

The cover's double meaning (right) was lost on a 12 year old.

For years later, I wanted to be a drummer because of Neil Peart. Ironically, I never tried to play (the drum solo song) YYZ from the album. I used my drum sticks - known to my dad as his screw drivers - on my drum kit (AKA the floor and pillows of my bedroom) to perfect Tom Sawyer, Red Barchetta, Vital Signs and especially Limelight.

Here is what I wanted to be able to do as a 12 year old - done by a (then) 9 year old: Teddy Z covering, drums only, Tom Sawyer.

Hell, I'd like to play like that now.

Here is Vital Signs live in 1984.

My friend Lloyd and I would endlessly discuss the meaning of the songs Red Barchetta, Witch Hunt, Camera Eye, and all the other songs on the album.

A small footnote at the end of Red Barchetta says, "Inspired by 'A Nice Morning Drive' by Richard S. Foster." In the pre-internet world, it took me years to figure out that was a short story in the November 1973 issue of Road and Track magazine. I am still trying to hunt down a reasonably priced copy of the magazine on eBay. Those damn Rush fanatics.

Here's an article by Richard Foster describing when he finally met Neil Peart, Rush's drummer and main lyricist, in 2006.

After listening to Moving Pictures, I had to find out everything about this band.

I started at the beginning with their eponymous first album, continuing through Fly By Night and Caress of Steel. All noble efforts, but nothing that really hit me.

Then I discovered their fourth album (right) - 2112.

The first side is all one song, divided into seven parts. I remember thinking, "It's something about a world without music, but I don't get it." Then I listened to it again and again and again.

Here are parts 1 and 2, live in 2007:

Side two has some decent songs, but nothing like the fantastic side one.

Moving up the band's history, I then discovered A Farewell To Kings, Hemispheres and Permanent Waves. Without exception, every song on those three albums are fantastic and as still some of my favorites.

A Farewell to Kings has the (sort of) hit Cinderella Man, but I'm more partial to their longer songs such as Xanadu and Cygnus X-1.

I don't play an instrument, but I have been told that mastering their 10 minute instrumental La Villa Strangiato from Hemispheres is prized among musicians. Something about all the odd timing changes. My friend Kyle used to be in a bar band that covered that song - and well too.

Here is a live version of La Villa Strangiato from around 2004:

The Trees, another of the songs from Hemispheres is an allegory about, well, here are the lyrics:

There is unrest in the forest
There is trouble with the trees
For the maples want more sunlight
And the oaks ignore their pleas

The trouble with the maples
(And they're quite convinced they're right)
They say the oaks are just too lofty
And they grab up all the light
But the oaks can't help their feelings
If they like the way they're made
And they wonder why the maples
Can't be happy in their shade

There is trouble in the forest
And the creatures all have fled
As the maples scream 'Oppression!'
And the oaks just shake their heads

So the maples formed a union
And demanded equal rights
'The oaks are just too greedy
We will make them give us light'
Now there's no more oak oppression
For they passed a noble law
And the trees are all kept equal
By hatchet, axe and saw

Here is a live version of The Trees from the late 1970's.

Permanent Waves has some of their most popular songs, including The Spirit of Radio - which they opened their concerts with for many years. (Even their 2005 live 30th Anniversary CD opens with the song.)

Here is The Spirit of Radio live from 1984:

By the time Signals - their next studio album after Moving Pictures - came out, I knew every song of theirs, and ate up the new CD. I was a Sophomore in high school and my Theology class (Catholic boys school requirement) was informally called "Sex, Drugs, and Rock N Roll". All we discussed were those three subjects. In detail. For nine months. Our professor, Fr. Ed, was quite cool. (I still keep in contact with him via Facebook.)

We were encouraged to bring in our favorite albums. He would play the songs and we would discuss the lyrics. We did one Rush song, Losing It, from Signals. Here are the lyrics:

The dancer slows her frantic pace
In pain and desperation
Her aching limbs and downcast face
Aglow with perspiration

Stiff as wire, her lungs on fire
With just the briefest pause
The flooding through her memory
The echoes of old applause

And she limps across the floor
And closes her bedroom door...

The writer stares with glassy eyes
Defies the empty page
His beard is white, his face is lined

And streaked with tears of rage

Thirty years ago, how the words would flow
With passion and precision
But now his mind is dark and dulled
By sickness and indecision

And he stares out the kitchen door
Where the sun will rise no more...

Some are born to move the world
To live their fantasies
But most of us just dream about
The things we'd like to be
Sadder still to watch it die
Than never to have known it
For you, the blind who once could see
The bell tolls for thee...

I don't remember the exact discussion. All I remember is how proud I was that we were talking about MY band with the entire class for an entire hour. How very cool.

There is no video or live performance of the song by the band, but here is the studio version of the song.

Geddy Lee, the band's singer/bass player/keyboard player, introduced keyboards more and more into the bands songs - starting with Signals. I kept buying their albums for awhile - after Signals came Grace Under Pressure, then Power Windows, then Hold Your Fire. By their latest live set A Show of Hands, I had moved on to other bands (though I diligently bought every new release, and still do). But every so often, I pick up a Rush CD from my pile and listen to it.

Recommendations -

If you have never ever heard a song by Rush, start with Permanent Waves, Moving Pictures or their second live album Exit...Stage Left, which contains songs from that time period. Those are the easiest to jump into.

If you're a fan of prog rock, start with 2112 or Hemispheres.

If you're already a fan of Rush, you must see the documentary Rush: Beyond The Lighted Stage. My favorite part is watching the actual home movie of Alex Lifeson (guitars) telling his parents that he is dropping out of high school to go on the road with his band. Priceless.


Final Note -

Moving Pictures and 2112 are the two Rush albums contained in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.


Final Final Note -

Apparently the creators of South Park are Rush fans too...


jason said...

I'm afraid to admit that I used to actively hate Rush, but I'm warming to them....slowly.

Anonymous said...

I also used to hate Rush. Now I'm just indifferent. But your thoroughness is impressive as usual, Marshall.

I immediately thought of this scene from Freaks and Geeks. Awww, Nick.