Prime Cuts: Rush
Originally printed in Guitar World, November 1996
Time and Motion: Alex Lifeson dissects several key songs from Rush’s past.
Fly By Night (Mercury, 1975)
“We were trying to be quite individual with Fly By Night, which was the first record that Neil [Peart, drums], Geddy [Lee, bass] and I did together. That song was the signature for that album. Coincidentally, the name of our record company, which is Anthem records in Canada, came from that song. Neil was in an Ayn Rand [author of The Fountainhead] period, so he wrote the song about being very individual. We thought we were doing something that was different from everybody else.
“I was using a Gibson ES-335 then, and I had a Fender Twin and a Marshall 50-watt with a single 4x12 cabinet. An Echoplex was my only effect.”
2112 (Mercury, 1976)
“We started writing that song on the road. We wrote on the road quite often in those days. ‘The Fountain of Lamneth,’ on Caress of Steel, was really our first full concept song and 2112 was an extension of that. That was a tough period for Rush because Caress of Steel didn’t do that well commercially, even though we were really happy with it. We wanted to develop that style. Because there was so much negative feeling from the record company and our management was worried, we came back full force with 2112. There was a lot of passion and anger on that record. It was about one person standing up against everybody else.
“I used the ES-335 again, and a Strat which I borrowed for the session. I couldn’t afford one at the time. I used a Marshall 50-watt and the Fender Twin as well. I may have had a Hiwatt in the studio at that time, too, but I think it came a little later. My effects were a Maestro phase shifter and a good old Echoplex. There were a limited number of effects available back then. The Echoplex and wah-wah were staples in those days.”
“LA VILLA STRANGIATO”
Hemispheres (Polygram, 1978)
“That was all recorded in one take. Because we were writing on the road, we used our soundchecks to run through songs that we were going to record. We would come off the road, have a few days off and start recording. It was all recorded at the same time with all of us in the same room. We had baffles up around the guitar, bass and drums and we would look at each other for the cues. My solo in the middle section was overdubbed after we recorded the basic tracks. I played a solo while we did the first take and re-recorded it later. If you listen very carefully, you can hear the other solo ghosted in the background. That was a fun exercise in developing a lot of different sections in an instrumental. It gave everyone the chance to stretch out.
“By that time I had my ES-355, and my acoustics were a Gibson Dove, J-55 and a B-45 12-string. I had my Marshall in the studio. I had the Twin and two Hiwatts, which I was also using live, but the Marshall was my real workhorse. The Boss Chorus unit had just come out at that time, but I think I used a Roland JC-120 for the chorus sound here. That was the first of many ‘chorus’ albums.”
“THE SPIRIT OF RADIO”
Permanent Waves (Mercury, 1979)
“There was a radio station here in Toronto—it’s an alternative station now—and ‘the spirit of radio’ was that station’s catch phrase. That song was about the freedom of music and how commercialized radio was becoming. FM radio in the late Sixties and early Seventies was a bastion of free music where you got to hear a lot of things that you wouldn’t have heard otherwise. It was much like MTV was in the beginning, before it became another big network that feeds a large but very specific segment of the viewing audience. Radio has become a lot more commercialized since then. The station that we wrote that song about won’t play our music.