Rush’s Self-Titled Debut Album (1974)

Note: Links to previous posts on the albums of 1974 appear at the bottom of this one.

“Invisible airwaves
Crackle with life
Bright antennae bristle
With the energy
Emotional feedback
On a timeless wavelength
Bearing a gift beyond price”
— Rush, “The Spirit of Radio”

Rush’s debut is the subject of my final entry in this series of posts about the albums of 1974, the year of my birth. Whereas all the previous albums were relatively new to me, even if the artists were not, Rush has long been my favorite band, so its debut is an old friend. For that reason, I feel like this is where previous generations’ music ends and my music begins.

I first encountered Rush in 1989 when a friend made me watch the live video A Show of Hands on VHS because, as he whispered in awe, “They’re gods.” By the time the prog trio had finished performing “The Rhythm Method,” which contains Neil Peart’s ever mind-blowing drum solo, I agreed with him. I quickly acquainted myself with the group’s entire catalog, memorized the lyrics, learned to identify any song within a few seconds of pressing play — we actually tested each other on this — and later that year picked up Rush’s thirteenth studio album Presto on cassette.

Presto closed out a period of radio-friendly progressive rock — synthy, sleek and sophisticated — that would dominate Rush’s Eighties material. This sound had developed out of the longer, complicated compositions of the group’s Seventies prog and would itself develop through the Nineties with alternative rock inflections and even a rap break in “Roll the Bones.” Rush’s sound continued to evolve in the new millennium, culminating in 2012’s masterpiece, the steampunk concept album Clockwork Angels.

But Rush was a very different band in 1974.

Both musically and lyrically, the album stays well within the bounds of Seventies hard rock. “Finding My Way” and “What You’re Doing” are straight-up rockers roughly along the lines of early Led Zeppelin. “Need Some Love,” “Take a Friend” and “In the Mood” are examples of classic rock that could have come from other contemporary rockers and would never come from Rush again. “Here Again” and “Before and After” show a quieter, bluesy side of the group, and the album ends with the clear standout track, the seven-minute rocker “Working Man.”

Rush’s debut is also the group’s only album with John Rutsey on drums. By the time Rush took the plunge into prog with 1975’s Fly By Night, Neil Peart had taken over on the kit and would swiftly settle into the role of Rush’s primary lyricist, conceptualist and philosopher. I’m an atheist, but if rock has divinities, Peart is surely seated, deep in his contraption, at the heart of that pantheon. Still, it’s clear that when Rush gained one great drummer, they had lost another. Here’s a performance in 1974 with Rutsey on drums:

“Working Man” is a fan favorite that tended to fall toward the end of set lists throughout Rush’s career. On the Time Machine Tour in 2011, Rush played a version with reggae at the beginning and a dash of “Cygnus X-1” at the end. What comes in between is close to the original song, and you don’t want to miss it, because it’s a good example of why Rush is Rush:

There could be no better place to end this series of posts. In college, I once amused a professor by stating in class, apropos of what I have no idea, that Rush was the greatest rock band ever. Flat out. As if it’s a mere fact. And I have to say I still feel that way. A Rush album is always astounding in musicianship and stimulating to head and heart in a way unequaled for me by the work of any other artist.

Previous posts in this series:
John Lennon’s Walls and Bridges
E.L.O.’s Eldorado
Roxy Music’s Country Life
Sly & the Family Stone’s Small Talk
Linda Ronstadt’s Heart Like a Wheel
Ringo Starr’s Goodnight Vienna
Genesis’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Gryphon’s Red Queen to Gryphon Three
Fanny’s Rock and Roll Survivors
Billy Joel’s Streetlife Serenade
Elvis Presley’s Good Times

I write about the intersection of arts and ideas, my small contribution to the #ThinGraphiteLine between civilization and its collapse.