Long hair, friendship and socially aware lyrics are the defining characteristics of the infamous progressive rock group, Rush. With the complexities of their songs due to length and subject matter, Rush speaks to multiple generations of listeners.
Formed in Toronto in the summer of 1968, Alex Lifeson on guitar, John Rutsey on drums and Jeff Jones on bass were the creators of Rush. However, Jones was soon replaced by Geddy Lee, who started out with bass and keyboard, then went on to create the band’s unique vocal sound. Rutsey was also replaced in 1974, by one of the greatest drummers and lyricists of all time, Neil Peart.
Known as “the professor,” Peart joined the band after Rush released its self-titled debut album. The album was slow to pick up traction. A Cleveland-based radio station decided to play one of its now famous songs, “Working Man.” The industrial city was the perfect place to debut Rush to the United States.
During the 1970s, Canadian record labels were almost non-existent, so the band had to look for opportunities in America. Rush was then signed by Mercury Records, an American label who produced popular artists such as David Bowie, Elton John and Johnny Cash, just to name a few. Record sales started to skyrocket after 1974, and the band saw continued success.
In the following years, Rush released albums “Fly by Night” and “Caress of Steel,” but its biggest breakthrough came in 1976 in the album “2112.” Their longest song to date is the title track, which runs for 20 minutes and 33 seconds.
Rush has been known for their long songs, but Lee stated in a Guardian interview that, “the whole idea of that time in our lives was that we were trying to write original material and we didn’t want to compromise.”
Compromising they didn’t, Rush released an array of songs with various lengths and powerful messages that resonate with listeners. Its most famous song, “Tom Sawyer,” is a nod to the classic American story by Mark Twain. The song tells of an “everyday warrior” who shows an adventurous spirit. Although Rush is a Canadian band, many of its songs are influenced by American culture.
Other famous songs include “Limelight,” which was a personal tale of Peart’s. As a natural introvert, the song depicted a tale of someone who wanted to stay out of the spotlight. Ironically, the song’s popularity made it increasingly harder for Peart to stay in the shadows.
Peart’s powerful lyrics resonate with generations of Rush fans. The epic, almost sci-fi tales that Peart spins are unmatched. He was one of the world’s most worshipped drummers, creating an iconic drum kit that included up to 30 pieces, which was unheard of. Peart’s chair was even on a swivel to allow him to spin around and hit each piece with ease.
“The Spirit of Radio,” the first song from the 1980 album “Permanent Waves” shows the band’s move from the classic hard rock sound to a synth-based sound. “The Spirit of Radio” attacks the modern FM radio for turning into commercial formatting. The song also introduces a reggae sound, something that Lifeson is quoted as saying the sound experiment was “to make us smile and have a little fun.”
Rush’s most famous album, “Moving Pictures,” debuted in 1981. Following the success of the album, “Signals,” “Grace Under Pressure,” “Power Windows,” “Hold Your Fire” and “Presto” came out in the span of a decade. Lee’s synth sound and high vocals solidified Rush’s prog-rock sound of the 1980s.
In 2013, Rush was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after 14 years of eligibility. Rush was inducted by The Foo Fighters, who hilariously dressed as Lee, Lifeson and Peart. They also paid homage to the band by delivering a heartfelt speech and covering “2112: Overture.”
On the 40 anniversary of the formation of Rush, the band set out on a North American tour. The R40 tour covered 34 cities in 2015. After 40 years and 20 gold and platinum albums, Rush decided that R40 would be their farewell tour.
Peart went into retirement following the end of the tour, but on Jan. 7, 2020, he passed away due to a long battle with brain cancer. After Peart’s tragic death, Lee and Lifeson have not made any statements about the future of Rush.
Rush is Rush. There is no other band like them. They are the inspiration for many rock bands that are popular today and parents continue to pass down their love for the band to their children. Their lyrics will resonate with generations of listeners with powerful messages to not abide by the status quo and to “choose freewill,” as their popular song states.
Rush will forever be iconic, and listening life-changing.