Bob and Doug McKenzie (Rick Moranis & Dave Thomas) were two dolts from the Great White North featured on SCTV. Living on a diet of back-bacon and beer, Bob and Doug constantly argued. The ultimate put down line was "Take off, you hoser." So as Bob and Doug's momentary fame expanded beyond the confines of late night TV, it was decided the McKenzie Brothers should make an album. No problem. They had plenty of comedy material. But what they needed was a hit record. Again, no problem. "Take Off" was written to exploit their most famous catch phrase. But who would play on the record. Doug could play "Silent Night" by blowing into the neck of an empty beer bottle.
For talent, that was about it. But lacking musical aptitude need not hold anyone back in the biz. They sought outside help. As the tape rolled the brothers were engaged in their usual bickering. Then Bob, in reverential tones, uttered the name of the man who would make this project a success. "Geddy Lee. From Rush." Lee was a good choice since he was a singer, songwriter and bassist and certainly possessed the talent the project demanded. More importantly, he was Canadian. "Take Off," with Lee's vocals breaking through Bob and Doug's comic altercations, hit the charts like a missile. Bob and Doug went on to make the funny movie "Strange Brew" and Lee went back to Rush, a notch more famous than before.
Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer John Rutsey formed Rush in '69 as a Hard Rock covers band (Cream, Hendrix, Led Zep, etc.). Four years later they recorded their first album and shopped it around. No one was interested so they started their own label, Moon Records. A copy of the album was sent to legendary Cleveland Rock station WMMS. A DJ, Donna Halper, brought the group to the attention of Mercury Records. Mercury re-released the "Rush" album. Along the way, Rutsey quit and was replaced by Neil Peart. Rush toured and released an average of two albums a year. The records featured extended tracks and Lee's science fiction/fantasy lyrics. They did all right but nothing spectacular.
"Permanent Waves" with "Spirit of the Radio" was the breakthrough Rush had been looking for. The following year, '81, Rush released "Moving Pictures." It had the instrumental "XYZ" and the group's signature song "Tom Sawyer."
'82 (the same year "Take Off" scored) saw the release of "Signals" and Rush's most popular single "New World Man." Rush continued to produce successful CDs through the remainder of the '80s ("Grace Under Pressure," "Power Windows" and "Hold Your Fire"). They also released "live" albums sometimes augmenting their sound with keyboards. At the end of the decade Rush left Mercury for Atlantic. Their first release for their new label was "Presto" which had a more straight-ahead, less Progressive Rock, approach. "Roll The Bones," with the rhythmic title track, was next. The "Counterparts" CD had keyboards by John Webster and string arrangements. It was not one of their stronger efforts.
After taking three years off Rush returned in '96 with "Test For Echo." The CD momentarily tied them with KISS as the group with the most U.S. gold records. The live "Different Stages" appeared in '98. The '02 studio effort "Vapor Trails" was deemed passable by critics and didn't fare any better with fans. Recorded in November of '02, "Rush In Rio" came out a year later.
Rush's 19th studio album was '07's "Snakes & Arrows." Produced by Grammy-winner Nick Raskulinecz and the group, the album, with the single, "Far Cry," was the trio's first studio effort in five years. "It's big, it's bold, and I think it's some of the best work we've done in years," said Lee. They then unfurled "Snakes & Arrows Live" in '08. The two-CD concert album was recorded the previous October in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
'09 saw the release of "Retrospective III (1989-2008)" - following "Retrospective I (1974-1980)" and "Retrospective II (1981-1987)." Like the previous compilations this one contained album cuts, previously unreleased live tracks and remixes.
Later that year, Rush appeared in the comedy I Love You, Man. "We got the pleasure of watching these comic actors do take after take," said Lee. "We were being entertained the whole time." In the same interview, Lee mentioned that the group would be open to more movie work. "I'd love to be in a Coen Brothers film."
Sure, just send the brothers some back-bacon and beer. That'll get it done. And never tell 'em to "take off."
While waiting for the Coen Brothers to call, Rush, a group with more live albums than most people can count, went to the well again for the release of "Working Men." The compilation featured tracks from "Snakes & Arrows Live," '05's "R30" and "Rush In Rio" but the songs were from various periods in the band's lengthy career.
Speaking of the in-concert environment, Rush topped Billboard's "Hot Tours" chart, based on ticket sales from the band's North American "Time Machine Tour." Over three months (August - October) in '10 they sold more than 270,000 tickets, with a gross of $18,989,834.
With live albums, retrospectives and tours behind them (for now) Rush set about recording new material. However, the first report that they had completed work on "Clockwork Angels" didn't come from the group, their label or even management but from the album's engineer. "2 months at Revolution Studio in Toronto. Thanks for the hospitality guys! #wrapped," tweeted Rich Chycki in December, '11.
Work began in Nashville and yielded a couple songs. The group then headed out on their Time Machine Tour. When that was completed, a year had passed. Rush didn't return to the studio until the fall of '11. And now they were at Toronto's Revolution Recording.
A press release stated that the album "chronicles a young man's quest across a lavish and colorful world of steampunk and alchemy as he attempts to follow his dreams. The story features lost cities, pirates, anarchists, an exotic carnival, and a rigid Watchmaker who imposes precision on every aspect of daily life." A typical Rush sci-fi narrative. "Headlong Flight," was the lead single.
But before the album dropped, Rush received the 2012 Governor General's Performing Arts Award, a recognition of lifetime artistic achievement. The award, presented in Ottawa, included $25,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts and a commemorative medallion struck by the Royal Canadian Mint.
Another honor came Rush's way the following year. And many fans thought it was long overdue.
The group was inducted into the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame. "We've been saying for a long time, years, that this wasn't a big deal. Turns out, it kind of is," said Peart of the '13 ceremony. On the same day, Canada Post unveiled a Rush commemorative stamp. There was more. Just weeks later, Rush received their ninth Juno Award (the Canadian Grammys) when "Clockwork Angels" was named Rock Album of the Year.
1975 Fly By Night
1975 Caress Of Steel
1977 A Farewell To Kings
1980 Permanent Waves
1981 Moving Pictures
1984 Grace Under Pressure
1985 Power Windows
1987 Hold Your Fire
1991 Roll The Bones
1996 Test For Echo
2002 Vapor Trails
2004 Feedback (EP)
2007 Snakes & Arrows
2012 Clockwork Angels
Most Popular Live Albums:
1976 All The World's A Stage
1981 Exit...Stage Left
Most Popular Compilations:
2003 The Spirit Of Radio: Greatest Hits 1974-1987
The best way to capture Rush's essence is with "Chronicles" (their first "best of" package) or "Spirit Of Radio: 1974-1987" or Retrospective I: 1974-1980" and II: 1981-87." The premier studio album is "Moving Pictures" with the irrepressible "Tom Sawyer." "Permanent Waves" and "Presto" are close behind. Rush has produced numerous live albums. Not surprising, the first one, "All The World's A Stage" has the most going for it.
After more than 30 years, Rush still has something in the tank. "Snakes & Arrows" is definitely a Rush album, with Lee's urgent falsetto being the most recognizable trait. Even so, Lifeson gets ample opportunity to demonstrate his acoustic six and twelve string talents. There's always a tendency to go overboard, which is exactly what they do on "Spindrift." But if they didn't do that, would it be a Rush album?
First single, "Far Cry," with its critical view of society, is a far cry better than anything else on the album but "Faithless," "Good News First" and "We Hold On" are in there too. They are straight-forward, direct songs that serve them well. direct approach serves them well. "The Larger Bowl" is the best of the acoustic songs while "The Way The Wind Blows" seems to channel late career Led Zeppelin. It also gives Lee a chance to discuss "big issues" regarding religious zealots of all stripes. "From the Middle East to the Middle West, it's a world of superstition."
Rush roll through "Clockwork Angels" with a precise abandon (still the group's most prominent trait) - which fascinates some and bores others - just like always. Lee's vocals are a bit restrained, whether by time or intent, yet he has no trouble conveying the crucial urgency.