Part 1: 1974-1976
From Inception to the First Live Album
In August, 1968, top British session guitarist Jimmy Page was in something of a dilemma. For the past two years, he had been playing with the legendary Yardbirds, whose previous line-ups had boasted such worthy talents as Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck. However, after Beck quit to pursue a solo career at the end of 1968, Page had been left to carry the group through the next 18 months, until it finally crumbled under his feet.
While Jimmy was eager to start a new band, the Yardbirds were already booked on a 10-date Scandanavian tour the following month. Consequently, he began a desperate search for accompanying musicians, soon hooking up with John Paul Jones, John Bonham and Robert Plant. Over the ensuing months the group was to change its name to Led Zeppelin and go on to become Britain's most celebrated rock act.
Meanwhile, as Jimmy Page unveiled his New Yardbirds in Europe, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in the suburbs of Toronto, a young Canadian guitar player, named Alex Lifeson, was busy forming Rush. Although Page was fortunate in enjoying immediate acceptance with his outfit, it necessitated years of hard graft and extreme patience before Lifeson and his band made their mark.
After battling fiercely to break out of Canada, Rush were forced to embark on endless US road outings before garnering major recognition and acclaim. For many years, radio stations ignored their music, and, in the pre-video age, touring was the only means of gaining exposure. Despite the long wait, Rush were to end up selling more records and playing to more people than Zeppelin ever did.
Attempting to parallel the histories of Rush and Led Zeppelin would prove an impossible, and extremely futile, exercise. Yet, it's interesting to observe that each band basically encountered success under its own terms. For both, the major forte was an essential high quality of musicianship, combined with a diverse range of musical styles. Never was there any compromise in their overall approach on the road to fame and fortune.
Led Zeppelin are, of course, sadly no more. However, Rush are still going strong and continue to warrant recognition as Canada's finest hard rock export. Throughout their illustrious history, the group has released a succession of highly innovative albums and delighted concert audiences around the world. Their work has been admired for its breadth of reach, technical elegance, and for the confidence with which it has combined great boldness with artistic poise.
In the six years between the original formation of Rush and the release of their debut album, the band would go through 12 total members (they were even a quartet for a period) and a name change or two among a myriad of other "growing pains". Based in Toronto, Ontario, Rush would work tirelessly to be noticed in the U.S. market as well as in their home country of Canada. Their break came when a disc jockey in Cleveland happened upon a copy of Working Man and began playing it on the air there. The popularity of the song led to eventual notice by a record company exec from Mercury Records and the rest, as they say, is history.
July 1974: Rush
Rush's debut album followed the release of two singles, a song called Not Fade Away (a Buddy Holly cover - this single is very rare now and worth a great deal of money) in 1973 and Finding My Way prior to the release of the LP in July 1974. The lineup on this album features current members Gary Lee Weinrib, better known as Geddy Lee on bass guitar and lead vocals and Alex (Zivojinovich) Lifeson on guitar. Playing drums on the first album was the occupationally short-lived John Rutsey. Rutsey suffered from diabetes, making touring difficult, so he left the band after the Canadian leg of their first tour and was replaced on July 29, 1974 by Neil Peart. Music and lyrics were composed entirely by Lee and Lifeson on this album, which today is best known for the track Working Man, a staple of classic rock radio. Often compared to Led Zeppelin's early works, Rush was a raw, garage-esque album that was extremely listenable in its own rite but certainly, in hindsight, showed in living color the gap that the addition of Neil Peart would fill in the songwriting lineup (and clearly on the drums as well) starting with the band's sophomore release, Fly By Night.
February 1975: Fly by Night
Their first tour gave Neil Peart a little time to warm up to the band, and on their second LP which was released after the U.S. leg was completed, Rush's style begins to break from the Zeppelin-esque feel into a style more their own. Peart's influence can be noticed immediately, with more mature lyrics, more complex musical stylings, and of course in his incredible drum licks. Casual listeners will recognize the title track, still spun by classic jocks today, while more devout Rush fans will remember this album for it's epic By-Tor and the Snow Dog and the searing Beneath, Between and Behind.
October 1975: Caress of Steel
Caress of Steel is generally the least recognized of Rush's earlier works. It is another album of epic fantasies with Side 2 being completely committed to a 20 minute work, The Fountain of Lamenth. Bastille Day and Lakeside Park both produce excellent grooves with powerful songwriting. Interestingly, this album also marked the presentation of Rush's first "polished turd" in the form of Side 1, Track 2 - an unusual effort entitled I Think I'm Going Bald.
April 1976: 2112
Empirically, 2112 offered little more musically than did its preceding albums, but this album for many people is considered something of a breakout album for the band. 2112 continued with an epic format, with an entire side of the album devoted to the title track which deals in toppling a totalitarian future-world with the power of music. The album offered more individual tracks than Caress of Steel, however. A Passage to Bangkok was a great track about...well...pot. Further, you'll find Twilight Zone and Something for Nothing on this release.
September 1976: All the World's a Stage (Live)
All The World’s A Stage completes the first stage of Rush’s development, or as the band notes on the sleeve: "the end of the beginning, a milestone to mark the close of chapter one." And in time, the band’s live albums would serve as signposts through their career (Exit: Stage Left, A Show of Hands, Different Stages). All the World's a Stage is early, live Rush at its best - raw and uncut. This album features a nice cross section of all four albums that preceded it and is a must for all true Rush aficionados.
NEXT: 1978-1981 - An Arena Rock Legend is Born