On the very first day of a brand new decade, January 1, 1980, Rush released their seventh studio album, Permanent Waves. Now in their late twenties, the band members began to examine the balance between career and family and tried to put it all in perspective. This latest project would be developed and completed close to home starting in the summer of 1979 when they rehearsed in a cabin on Georgian Bay, north of Toronto to the actual recording at Le Studio in Western Quebec. Permanent Waves also contained other elements that gave it a distinctly Canadian feel, from the natural outdoor effects they used on the songs “Different Strings” and “Natural Science” to “The Spirit of Radio” which got its title from a slogan used by a Toronto radio station.
Many have considered this to be the band’s move away from the extended piece to the shorter, more accessible rock song, but this is not entirely true. The album does include the sound-scape laden “Jacob’s Ladder” as well as the three-part suite “Natural Science”, which was built from the ruins of another concept piece called “The Green Knight” that Peart had begun to develop but couldn’t quite pull together.
Along with “The Spirit of Radio”, “Freewill” is the real gem on this album, containing a thrilling and smooth motion like no other, with a lyric that scoffs at the notion of over-thinking and planned victim-hood. Another fine song is “Entre Nous” (French for “Between Us”), a song that held the dual potential of being a huge pop hit or a classic rock anthem, but unfortunately would become neither in the mainstream rock world.
As usual, Terry Brown’s production is pristine and the band’s performance is nearly flawless. But more than anyone else, Alex Lifeson really shines on Permanent Waves, from the signature fingerboard effect that starts the album to the perfected riffs of “Freewill” to the crisp, top guitar on “Jacob’s Ladder” to the electric-acoustic variations on “Entre Nous” to the frantic, ripping riffs on “Natural Science”.
The album would be Rush’s highest charting to date, reaching number 4 in the United States and would serve to clear the way for the band’s masterpiece that would follow. The band had now strung together six consecutive quality studio albums since Neil Peart’s arrival and were primed and ready to deliver a tour-De-force of the classic Rush sound which would become the most popular album they would ever release.
In 1980 they followed the same template that they had established a year earlier, writing and rehearsing in a remote location in Ontario during the summer and recording and mixing at Le Studio late in the year for a release early the following year. On February 12, 1981, Moving Pictures went on sale, representing a crossroads for the band – at once showcasing many elements of the sound that they had forged through the late 1970s while also previewing, ever so slightly their new wave sound of the early 1980s. In this sense it may well be the most diverse album that Rush ever produced. Each and every song features Geddy Lee playing some keyboards as well as bass while Alex Lifeson’s guitar style and sound is practically different on every song. As the premiere rock drummer, Neil Peart had always experimented with different styles and time signatures as he does on Moving Pictures, later stating that he “never gets tired of playing “Tom Sawyer” because it is never easy to play correctly”.
Lyricist Pye Dubois had written the lyrics to a song about a ‘modern day rebel”, which Peart adapted to the Mark Twain character “Tom Sawyer”. The song, with its moderate pace and easy riffs, would become one of the most popular Rush songs ever, receiving the heaviest airplay of anything they ever released. “Red Barchetta” was another adaptation, taken from a short story that Peart had read by Richard Foster in a 1973 issue of Road and Track magazine. This song contains virtually everything excellent about the classic era Rush – an innovative guitar chime to begin that gradually builds heavier and more intense, diverse, precise, and rhythmic drums, and most especially a masterful bass performance by Geddy Lee – all beneath the vivid and dynamic lyrics and vocals that give the listener the unmistakable desire to drive fast.
“YYZ” is a short but intense instrumental that cleverly begins by playing out the Y-Y-Z in Morse code before breaking into a more complex jam that features separate sections for each musician to highlight their talents. “Limelight” concludes the fantastic first side of Moving Pictures, as a melodic and entertaining anthem that explores the upside and downside of the band’s rapidly expanding fame. The song was one of the most personal for Peart who had a tough time coming to grips with the lack of privacy which accompanies fame.
The second side of Moving Pictures is far less heralded, yet nearly as excellent as the first. Similar to what the band did over A Farewell to Kings / Hemispheres, they would once again spread a single concept over multiple albums, but this time it would be done in three parts and in reverse. “Fear” was a three part concept that Peart had been working on at the time of Moving Pictures but he felt that only the third part was ready to be developed, so the album included the haunting “Witch Hunt” (Part III of “Fear”). “Vital Signs” is a mainly new wave song that finishes the album and previews the sound that will be prominent on their next album, Signals.
“The Camera Eye” is an eleven minute Goliath built of several synth parts that would mark a landmark in Rush’s career. On each of their first eight studio albums, including Moving Pictures, the band included at least one song that was greater than seven minutes in length. However, on none of the subsequent studio albums (ten and counting) has any song that reaches the seven minute threshold. This would be the first of many radical changes in the Rush sound and approach that would cascade through the 1980s.
Moving Pictures went on to become, by far, the band’s best-selling album and by 1995 it was certified quintuple-platinum (5x platinum). Neil Peart has stated that he believes “Rush was born with Moving Pictures“. The band was suddenly on regular rotation on the radio and a bona fide headlining arena act. It was the ideal time to release another live album (also following the pattern of a new live album following four studio albums), this time in conjunction with the band’s first VHS video release.
The title Exit…Stage Left was borrowed from the cartoon character Snagglepuss, whom they wanted to use as part of the cover but were denied due to legal haggling. Instead the band used a montage that included characters and symbols from each of their eight studio albums, all on the left side of the backstage area. The album, which mainly consisted of selections from the era ranging from 2112 through Moving Pictures, would go on to be considered by many as one of the finest live albums ever.
Next- Part 5: Losing It