When Mercury Records demanded a better mix for the big label re-release of the debut album Rush, Ray Daniels scrapped together $9000 to hire engineer Terry Brown to perform the task. The band was so impressed with the finished product, that Brown would be used to produce or co-produce each of their next ten releases right up to and including Signals in 1982. The rich, full, tight, and precise sound that Brown would hone would offer the sonic ear candy for the countless moments of rock majesty during Rush’s classic period.
Perhaps the best of these efforts was the very first Brown-produced album. Fly By Night is the first Rush masterpiece, where all the prime elements made their initial convergence, most especially those elements contributed by Neil Peart. Armed by Peart’s phenomenal talent for keeping perfect time while injecting elaborate drum fills, the whole band’s performance was instantly elevated to include unique, dynamic, and exciting rudimentary riffs and passages.
Further, the learned and avid reader Peart was armed with lyrical ideas that added a whole new dimension to this new sound, sparking the imagination of listeners towards worlds not commonly explored by traditional rock n roll.
So it was, during the waning months of 1974, as the band constantly traveled, skipping from circuit to circuit as an opening act for major rock bands, when the true distinction that is Rush was forged. The new lyrical element would separate Rush from any contemporary hard rock band while the ability to play such hard rock would separate them from the predominant progressive rock bands of the day.
They would record Fly By Night in bits and pieces between these various tours with each note, beat, bend, slide, skip, and stop is captured pristinely by Brown and mixed and mastered so that nothing ever gets muddled or lost. The result is perhaps the ultimate album for the 19 or 20-year old – just released from the school yard and ready to take the world by shear will alone.
This is evident right from the start with perhaps the greatest opening song ever, simply called “Anthem”. Influenced by the individualism found in works by author Ayn Rand, the song exudes self-confidence and motion throughout with an unbelievable bass line accompanying Peart’s frantic drum beat. The pace continues fully through the first ¾ of the album, including “Beneath, Between, & Behind”, a great song about America’s great beginnings and mid-1970s malaise, and
“By Tor and the Snow Dog”, the band’s first foray into extended science fiction and fantasy pieces, something that would recur constantly on subsequent albums.
Released on February 15, 1975, Fly By Night was a success on all fronts, selling well and vastly increasing the band’s fan base. Throughout early 1975, they continued their pace, touring major acts like Kiss and writing and recording material for another new album. This next album would ultimately be a bit of a shift in the band’s musical direction as well as their momentum towards fame.
Caress of Steel is like the ingredients of a fine gourmet meal, left unmixed an under-cooked. It has some legitimate sparks of brilliance, but these tend to get lost in the muddle of an overall theme-album that doesn’t quite jive together. The album includes the band’s initial side-long attempt at a “concept song” called “The Fountain of Lamneth”, which follows a three-part extended piece called “The Necromancer”. However, the various pieces of these songs don’t really
flow together very well, leaving the listener in a state of confusion.
That being said, Caress of Steel continues to forward the brilliant sound forged by Brown and does contain a few unforgettable moments. “Lakeside Park” is a masterpiece of a song on the nostalgia of childhood and fun, inspired by an actual place where Neil Peart worked as a teenager. “Didacts and Narpets” (which may have or may have not been included as part of “The Fountain of Lamneth” depending if you bought the LP or the cassette) is a one minute art piece which is all Peart – a drum solo accented by musical hits with embedded, contradictory terms and phrases –
“Stay! Go! Work! No! Learn! Live! Earn! Give! Stay or fight? What’s right? Listen!”
With the passing of a mere 14 months between Peart’s arrival in the band and the release of their second fully written and produced album with Peart’s input, it may have been understandable that the band slightly missed the mark. But Mercury was not so forgiving when Caress of Steel sold weaker than its predecessor. Soon the band was pulled from opening up arena acts and back to playing clubs with audiences one tenth the size. The band was offered an ultimatum as the label demanded that any subsequent Rush album move away from the prog-rock trend and contain more radio-friendly tunes. The band had a monumental decision to make on the course of their career – capitulate or rebel.