Vital Signs [Previously Unreleased]
Videos directed by Bruce Gowers
Entire album in Dolby 5.1 and PCM stereo
Advanced Resolution Surround Sound 96kHz/24-bit
Advanced Resolution Stereo 96kHz/24-bit
Bass guitars, Oberheim polyphonic; OB-X; Mini-Moog; and Taurus pedal Synthesizers, vocals
Six and twelve string electric and acoustic guitars, Taurus Pedals
Drums kit, timbales, gong bass drums, orchestra bells, glockenspiel, wind chimes, bell tree, crotales, cowbells, plywood
The interview was nearly over, and the album track spinning on the studio turntable at CHOM-FM, the top album-rock station in Montreal, started to fade out. The DJ desperately rifled through a pile of Rush albums at his feet, flipping past copies of 2112, A Farewell to Kings, Hemispheres and what was then the band's brand new release, Permanent Waves. Finally, he turned to his guest that late-winter afternoon in 1980, Rush's singer-bassist Geddy Lee. "Let's go out with a hit," the jock said with a helpless smile, waiting for suggestions.
"A hit?" Lee replied with honest shock. "We don't have any hits."
That is a true story - I was there. A year later, in March, 1981, I was riding shotgun in a black Mercedes with Lee in the back seat and drummer-lyricist Neil Peart at the wheel as we zoomed from one sold-out arena gig in Montreal to another in Ottawa and they talked about what it was like to finally have a real hit on their hands: Rush's eighth studio album, Moving Pictures. The record - only out for a month - was already gold, nearing platinum and had gone to Number Three in Billboard, a personal best for the Canadian trio. Older records such as Rush's 1976 breakthrough, 2112, and the live follow-up, All the World's a Stage, were going platinum as well.
But as far as Lee, Peart and guitarist Alex Lifeson were concerned, nothing was different, except the numbers. "If something has our name on it, we try to make it as good as we can," Peart said as we passed over the Quebec-Ontario border. "We always think of the ideal Rush fan. When I'm writing lyrics or when I'm playing onstage, this ideal fan is watching every move I make to see if I make a mistake or if something is not as good as it should be. You just can't escape that judgment."
Lee remembered an earlier crossroads: Rush's third album, 1975's Caress of Steel. An audacious leap beyond their progressive-blues beginnings, dominated by two extended suites, Caress of Steel was battered by negative reviews and sold so poorly the band nearly lost its record deal. "Then we realized how stupid we were," Lee said. "Because of all these people putting pressure on us, we were looking at ourselves through their eyes. From then on, we knew exactly what our direction was going to be, and we were determined to have success strictly on our own terms." The band responded with 2112 - a creative and commercial rebound that was concept-driven on one side, shorter power-trio fury on the other and, as Lifeson put it recently, "the first record where we sounded like Rush." "You'd have to be a fool to ignore constructive criticism," Lee said as the Mercedes pulled up backstage at the Ottawa Civic Centre. "We've changed things in our music that were pointed out to us some years ago, things about feel or a tendency to sometimes sound forced."
Still, Lee insisted, "We know we're doing well when we can sit back and say, 'That's a good record - the audience applauds for it, they like it.' To make records people enjoy and that we enjoy playing - that's our measure of success."
Moving Pictures is Rush's biggest album, selling four million copies in the U.S. alone. But by the band's original standards, Moving Pictures was, back in '81, already Rush's most important and beloved album. "It's a deep, deep record," Lee confirmed, talking about it again last year.
Nothing was different. But everything had changed.
When you have lethal chops and the will to wow, sometimes the most extreme thing you can do is hang fire - play it cool and straight. That is what Rush did in the first minutes of "Tom Sawyer": the wet wind of electronics blowing over Peart's stern beat, like a funk strut with metal backbone; the long growl of Lee's bass-pedal synthesizer and the low menace of his voice, a shocking U-turn from his usual alpine register. There were fireworks soon enough - Lifeson's slashes of Jeff Beck-like fusion and anguished-treble screams; Lee's high familiar aggression. But then the singer dropped down to that prayer-like pitch for the benediction: "The world is, the world is/Love and life are deep."
"Tom Sawyer" was a rare example of outside collaboration. Peart wrote the words with Canadian lyricist Pye Dubois (an associate of the band Max Webster), reimagining Mark Twain 's tearaway as a contemporary rogue with no fixed politics but a hunger for wonder. "1 added the themes of reconciling the boy and man in myself," Peart later recalled, "and the difference between what people are and what we perceive them to be - namely me, I guess."
Peart was, in effect, writing about the whole band - the difference between Rush as their fans and foes knew them and the one actually coming out of a decade of hard labor, rough learning and early victories, on the verge of a new prime. Founded by Lee (born Gary Lee Weinrib) and Lifeson (born Alex Zivojinovich) in Toronto, shortly after they met in junior high school in 1967, Rush were outsiders from the start, fighting fools and sneers in Ontario bars and Canadian record-company offices. The 1974 debut, Rush, with original drummer John Rutsey, was issued on the band's own label after every major label in the country rejected it - twice.
When Rutsey (who died in 2008) quit on the eve of Rush's first U.S. tour, Lee and Lifeson took off with Peart, an Ontario native who played with the precise combined fury of Led Zeppelin's John Bonham and jazzmen Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich and wrote lyrics charged by the prophetic fiction and philosophies of Samuel L. Delaney, Ayn Rand and George Orwell, among others. Lee and Lifeson embraced a fitting complexity in their composing - "By-Tor and the Snow Dog" on 1975's Fly By Night was Rush's first recorded suite - while the band did a slow climb up America's hard-rock marquees. Lifeson once recalled a road trip which involved lying to a rental car agency about where they were taking the vehicle and for how long, then hauling ass to the States for several weeks of opening for Kiss and Aerosmith. "We brought the car back with 11,000 miles on it. It didn't have any hubcaps left, the radio was smashed, the mirror was gone." Lifeson grinned. "They were quite surprised."
"We're unfashionable, we're not trendy and we do things people think are pretentious," Lee told me with a soft satisfied laugh in 1978, after the release of Hemispheres. "There may be ways of becoming bigger than we are, but we're not complaining."
Rush planned to take a break after Permanent Waves, issuing a live album from that tour. Instead, Lee, Lifeson and Peart convened at a rented house in Stony Lake, Ontario in the late summer of 1980 - two months after coming off the road - and began to write. The chronology is murky, even to them. The first song out of the chute was either "Tom Sawyer" or "The Camera Eye," a two-part piece (relatively concise at eleven minutes) about city life, past and future - utopia, struggle and surveillance.
There were also demos at one point, done at a studio in Toronto, while the action-packed instrumental "YYZ" (named after the Toronto airport code) came out of a Lee-Peart jam during the formal sessions at Le Studio, in Morin Heights, Quebec. Rush may have started as children of Cream, but in "YYZ" they hit the gas like a fusion Batmobile, sleek and hard with a surprising armory of moving parts: that main stuttering riff (inspired by the Morse-code rhythm for YYZ); Lee's Rickenbacker-bass eruptions; the elegaic-synth bridge, like a deep sigh of '73 Genesis. "YYZ" is "always a challenge to play," Lifeson has admitted. "For that reason alone, this is a favorite of ours."
"Red Barchetta" was literally about motion, named after Peart's favorite set of wheels - the Ferrari 166 or Barchetta (pronounced with a hard "c") - and inspired by "A Nice Morning Drive" by Richard S. Foster, a short story published in Road and Track magazine in 1973. The setting was a future where velocity and escape are dangerous pleasures; cars, and the freedoms they imply, are outlawed. But this time the hero outruns authority ("I leave the giants stranded/At the riverside") with extra pictorial effect: Lifeson soloing through a delay unit, like he's burning rubber in a mountain tunnel.
In Peart's continuing examinations of free will and collective responsibility, Moving Pictures was pure Rush. "Witch Hunt," a roiling portrait of vigilante rule in barking-dog guitars and death-march rhythm, was pulled from a longer song cycle, "Fear," that the band ended up recording out of order. (The other sections later appeared on the Eighties albums Signals and Grace Under Pressure and 2002's Vapor Trails.) And in "Vital Signs," Moving Pictures' closing track, you could hear the Internet Century two decades ahead of schedule - "Signals get crossed/ And the balance distorted/By internal incoherence" - with a striking buoyance in the chrome-reggae chorus.
Permanent Waves had shown Rush to be keen listeners, turning the electronics and terse dynamics in New Wave rock to their own ends. But Moving Pictures, co-produced with old hand Terry Brown, had a concentrated urgency and black-steel sheen that sounded like Rush were charging forward and coming full circle at the same time - going back to the direct impact of their first albums, via the progressive-metal adventures on everything in-between. "The difference is in the organization of the music," Lee claimed during our 1981 car ride. "It's not just that the songs are four minutes long so they can get on the radio. It's the quality of those four minutes."
That is the meat of "Limelight," a song that is suspicious of success, on an album that delivered it in aces and spades: "Ill-equipped to act/With insufficient tact .. . I can't pretend a stranger/ Is a long awaited friend," Peart wrote, and Lee sang. But "Limelight" is also about the wisdom of stardom - that it is a privilege, not a right, and you take it for granted at your peril. One afternoon in January, 1979, Lee stood in the wings at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena while Rush's crew set up the lights, sound and pyro for a show there. "The first time we played here," he said, "we only had three feet of space from the front of the stage with no special effects. Just the basics. But those kids who saw us and liked it will come back, and when they do, they expect to see what the saw the first time.
"Only," Lee added, smiling, "we give them a little bit more."
So it goes, long after Moving Pictures. Rush have an entire history - on record, on stage, in their personal lives and friendships - since then. There's even a movie about the whole wild ride: the 2010 documentary, Rush: Beyond the Lighted Stage (note the paraphrase from "Limelight"). "Independence is the key." Peart told me only a few months before Rush started making Moving Pictures. "Everything we wanted to do in life, we're able to do."
Nothing is different. Everything changes. And that DJ can now go out with a hit.
Here's seven of 'em.
PRODUCED BY RUSH AND TERRY BROWN
Arrangements by Rush and Terry Brown
Recorded and original stereo mixes mixed at Le Studio, Morin Heights, Quebec, during October and November of 1980
Engineered by Paul Northfield
Assisted by Robbie Whelan, and our computerized companions: Albert, Huey, Dewey, and Louie
Digital mastering engineered by Peter Jensen
Hugh Syme is the featured guest performer once again, playing synthesizers on 'Witch Hunt'
Art direction, graphics and cover concept by Hugh Syme
Photography by Deborah Samuel
Management: Ray Danniels, and Vic Wilson, SRO Productions, Toronto
Executive Production: Moon Records
Road Manager and Lighting Director: Howard Ungerleider
Concert Sound Engineer: Ian Grandy
Stage Manager: Michael Hirsh
Stage Right Technician, and Crew Cheif: Liam Birt
Stage Left Technician: Skip Gildersleeve
Centre Stage Technician: Larry Allen
Guitar and synthesizer Technician: Tony Geranios
Stage Monitor Mixer: Greg Connolly.
Projectionist: Lee Tenner
Personal Shreve and Factotum: Kevin Flewitt.
Concert Sound by National Sound
All-Stars: Tom Linthicum, Fuzzy Frazer, Dave Berman
Concert Lighting by See Factor International
Easy Co.: Nick Kotos, George Guido, Bob Kniffen, Bob Cross
Concert Rigging: the daring Bill Collins
Transportation expertly guided by Tom Whittaker, Billy Barlow, Kim Varney, Arthur MacLear, Pat Lines, Bill Fuquay, Mike and Linda Burnham
Fabulous Persons: at Le Studio: André, Yaël, Pam, Paul, Robbie, Roger, Harry, Claude & Gisele, André et Le Bouffe en Broche, Ted (Theo) McDonald, Irv Zuckerman & Associates (The Beords), Brain (Vings) Lski, George Vis, Ted Veneman, Max Lobstors, Saga & crew, 38 Special & crew (27-24), Drexel, Gerry, Griffin & Family, Terri at the Hawkins farm, Asteroids, volleyball (the Retardos & the Frantics 21-8!), the Greenie (you must be drinking!), Bill Ward, Loveman, Lovewoman & the Lovemachine, Scar & The Ignorant Wildfire Game, Top Secret, the Montreal Canadiens, Steven Shutt, Screvato, Robin & Phase One, Bill Elson, Cliff Burnstein, Jim Sotet, Sherry Levy, and the Oak Manorians.
Special British Supplement: Wild Horses; Jimmy & Sophie, Brian & Dee, Clive, Dirk (no relation), Mr. & Mrs. Robinson. Fin Costello, Bill Churchman, Alan Philips, Barry Murfet, Tex Yodell, Lofty & Stage Crew, Steve Tuck, Robbie Gilchrist
Dept. of Above-And-Beyond: Ray, Rhonda, L.B., Dear Olde Broon (a great mind thinks alike), Happy Birthday Ms. Broon (wrong again, eh, Hovis!)
Featuring Daisy as 'Ski Bane'
Our continuing appreciation to the people and products of Tama, Avedis Zildjian, and Rickenbacker
Coolidge Dog Painting from the Archives of Brown & Bigelow, St. Paul, Minnesota
5.1 Surround Sound mixed by Richard Chycki at Mixland, Ontario
Mastered by Andy VanDette at Masterdisk, New York.
Reissue Supervised by Jeff Fura and Pegi Cecconi
Blu-Ray Production Facility: The Post Group
Menu Design: David Lange
Authoring: Marcus Ionis
Audio Resync: Chris Holden at Music2Film
Art Direction and Design: Hugh Syme
Photo Coordination: Ryan Null and Jo Almeida
Photos: Finn Costello, Phillip Kamen, Yael Brandeis Perry and Deborah Samuel
Production Manager: Shannon Steckloff and Monique McGuffin
Legal Clearances: Andrew Labarrere
Product Manager: Rob Jacobs
© 2011 The Island Def Jam Music Group
"Ok, so the word is out. I've been in the studio for last month remixing the original Moving Pictures CD in 5.1 surround. I finished tweaks on Red Barchetta yesterday. It really was an amazing experience to spread the original tracks of such a classic CD into the 3D word of surround. (The car speeds off, goes behind and banks a sharp right in rear BTW). The listening experience is drastically enveloping and coupled with songs and performances that epitomize this band, it's definitely a great time to re-discover Rush. After discussion with the band, the goal here was to pay serious homage to the production of the era so a considerable amount of time was spent researching and working through effects etc. that matched the original but would fare well in the 5.1 world. And of course, placement was also a critical issue. I'm pleased with the results and Alex Lifeson was pretty blown away when he came in to listen to the finals." - Richard Chycki, richardchycki.com, February 4, 2011