Rush Records & the R&R HoF

In the high school halls
In the bathroom stalls

According to Billboard, their only top 40 hit was “New World Man” from Signals (1982), yet Rush has sold tens of millions of records worldwide.

Rush has been together for almost 40 years now, and that should be appreciated. [1]
Few bands last that long, much less have their success– commercially and/or artistically.
A large reason for Rush’s sustained existence is their talent as virtuosos & artists, along with their professional approach.

Rush Records

All the World’s a Stage (1976) proved Rush could play live as a tight band and as expert instrumentalists.
By the 1980’s Rush abandoned this approach and eventually limited their touring.
Rush would eventually evolve into mostly a studio project.

Rush always provided the lyrics (with Peart) and made attempts at interesting album artwork.
This was important & valuable in the record album era– when the sound got scratchy, the listener could go the the album jacket for clues to the music.
Rush wanted you to know everything going on, down to infinite details in their liner notes.
Rush is best experienced on vinyl.

Rush is:

Geddy Lee as their utility infielder on bass, vocals & eventually synths.
In baseball terms, think Robin Yount (or Ben Zobrist) value.

Alex Lifeson, the guitar master of all styles including: rock, classical, jazz, ska, reggae. His fluid soloing, clean harmonics & arpeggios, heavy riffing, and everything in between fill in a lot of space with thoughtful sounds.
Choosing a favorite band member in Rush goes like this: if you are a drummer it’s Neil Peart.
If not, most choose Geddy Lee.
For me, Alex Lifeson’s subtle and intuitive sense of riff & melody, as well as his technical mastery is what has always been most interesting about Rush; live and in the studio.

Neil Peart replaced John Rutsy (in order to save him from himself; died in 2008) shortly after their first record was released in 1974.
Fly by Night (1975) introduced a powerful & technically brilliant percussionist; with many percussively melodic ideas.
As a bonus he wrote poems & stories, so Peart immediately became Rush’s chief lyricist.
Peart’s artistic ideas were heavily influenced by mysticism and the writings of Ayn Rand.
Rand was an American author whose Objectist philosophy was “rationalized self-interest” & support of laissez-faire capitalism.
Peart’s ability to rhyme words & create a narrative has always been flawed by this reactionary perspective and it limits Rush, artistically.

Despite this shortcoming, Rush is qualitatively better with Neil Peart.
By their fourth record 2112 (1976), Rush had achieved a commercial breakthrough.
2112 is a concept album whose side one is filled with oracles & mythical heroes of a future world.
Tempos shift & drift with machine-like precision as Geddy Lee wails through the 20-minute tale.  He really can sing.
Hardcore fans often insist this Rush’s best record.
As a rule: I never argue with hardcore Rush fans.

My personal favorite Rush record is A Farewell to Kings (1977).
“Closer to the Heart” is maybe their best single.
The rest of the album hangs together, with concepts that (mostly) don’t stretch too long.
“Cinderella Man” is one of Geddy Lee’s best self-penned songs.

Hemispheres‘(1978) last track is sub-titled “An Exercise in Self-Indulgence”, an instrumental jam that works– thanks largely to Lifeson & Peart’s wizardry.
This tongue-in-cheek nod to their own pretentiousness– which often led to long set pieces that sound silly, processed and impersonal– is a great finish to one of their best album sides.

How much of it you the listener are willing to put up with is a measure of your fanhood.

Rush made rock operas in the era of Queen & Black Sabbath, and there is always a certain Spinal Tap quality to that genre.

Rush of that era, fit in perfectly with the early video & role-playing games.

Moving Pictures (1981) is often hailed as the zenith of their commercial & artistic success.
At least three of their best songs: “Tom Sawyer”, “Red Barchetta” & “Limelight” are on side one, so it’s hard to disagree.
Side two is experimental or filler, depending on perspective.

What changed mostly at that time was the industry landscape.
MTV was launched on August 1, 1981 to huge commercial success.
Ageing arena-rock acts like Rush didn’t fit in with the new model.
Nothing in Rush’s music ever resembled dancability, plus they had little crossover appeal to women.

This new media form favoured young celebrities, who looked sexy & energetic such as: Duran Duran, INXS & Madonna.
Technically precise instrumentalists over 30-years old, didn’t fit the new mold.
By 1984, Van Halen & Def Leppard defined mainstream rock.
Grace Under Pressure (1984) with “Distant Early Warning” & “The Enemy Within” is a sensible jumping-off point, marking the end of Rush’s classic period.

Rush continued to get distribution and AOR promotion with diminishing returns, until grunge forever banished them to dinosaur status in the 1990’s.

Not all bands can be the Beatles, and what that means is: appreciating something that isn’t obvious has its own rewards.
Rush gets backhanded by everyone from classic-rock critics to post-punk purists.
Their historic value is the standard they set for musicianship, which is still hard to match.
Describing their sound evokes comparisons to Led Zeppelin, Yes, and King Crimson.
Among the great rock-era trios, Rush holds their place with Cream & Green Day; in that tier just below the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Police, the Minutemen, Husker Du & Nirvana, for me.

You can argue their success, but you can’t deny that they took their craft seriously.
For some reason that doesn’t get respect with certain people.
Rush was eligible for the R&R HoF in 1999 and finally inducted in 2013.

Does Rush belong in the R&R HoF?
Sure, but what about Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band, Cheap Trick, Devo, Pere Ubu, Wire, Husker Du, Sonic Youth, Bikini Kill…and the rest?!


The R&R HoF is a moribund institution, erected in the image of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone magazine.
Bands like Rush have to patiently wait their turn, and when it’s convenient, they are admitted.
Meanwhile, punk and 1980’s underground is condescended to, and ignored.
Even 25+ years later, that rock music is a still too out of control for the R&R HoF.