The deadly editorial duo of Dom Walsh and Mike Ainscoe assess the Eighties output of Rush – the holy triumvirate of Lee, Lifeson and Peart. Prepare to be rushified.
It all began at Cropredy 2019 at the canal-side record shop on a barge with Dom twisting Mike’s arm to buy a nice vinyl copy of Power Windows (£5 btw). ”The best Rush album of the Eighties,” he said. Hmmm. nailing his colours to the mast there and then. It began a bit of firm but friendly ATB banter about the best Rush album of the Eighties.
The trio produced seven albums in that period. With Permanent Waves appearing in January 1980 and Presto in December 1989, they really pushed the limits of the decade.
The end of the Seventies saw the end of their sword and sorcery period and album-length epics. 1979’s Hemispheres recorded at the legendary Rockfield Studios had tested their endurance and pushed Geddy’s piercing vocals to extremes and having drawn a line under the story of the Cygnus X1, a new decade and new direction dawned. The exercises in self-indulgence were about to be reigned in.
Several twists and turns followed at they toyed with their Eighties direction. the balance gradually skewing towards a more keyboard based sound and Alex Lifeson’s guitar hero axe work becoming a rarity. The shift headed towards shorter songs and the tendency to throw in a bit of reggae. The rap and funk didn’t appear until 1991’s Roll The Bones. However, Rush was still a band that rocked.
We’ll skip the fashion notes, suffice to say that the guys quickly ditched their Seventies kimonos and opted to follow the big hair, shoulder pads and slip-on shoes that made the Eighties so wonderful.
For me, Permanent Waves is not only the first, but the best Rush album of the Eighties. Read our ever so slightly rose-tinted review of the 40th Anniversary edition here. It’s the album we/I called one that has no weak links.
Released on 14th January 1980, The Spirit Of Radio single strangely didn’t appear until March, just alerting anyone who had the wrong impression, that Rush was possibly pretty cool.
Interestingly, if I were to have to pick a top five of Rush songs, I don’t think anything from Permanent Waves would make the list. Possibly Jacob’s Ladder. However, that’s perhaps an example of the sum of the parts or maybe ‘you had to be there at the time’ effect kicking in. An album with which you just resonate because of how it fits within your life framework.
Even the logo and the album titling appeals on this record. One of the things I always liked about Rush was how their logo was reinvented in each release. And then the monochrome images and portraits, IMHO, were probably the best they’ve looked on an album (with the 2112 kimono shot in mind). In a nutshell, it was the full package and not even a gatefold sleeve.
I didn’t see the tour when they played at Manchester Apollo or in the days when they hit Deeside Leisure Centre or Leeds Queens Hall (the regular stops before the big arenas appeared, bar the NEC and Wembley). I had to wait until 1983 and the Signals Tour in Birmingham which is possibly why that album ranks second in my Rush in the Eighties list. And that’s despite the reggae influences that had started to creep in through the middle of The Spirit Of Radio.
Bolstered by the excellent Subdivisions, the underrated Analog Kid and one of my fave Rush tracks, Losing It, it edges out the universally adored Moving Pictures. Understandably strong but spoilt for me by Vital Signs – urgh! And I’d argue that YYZ isn’t necessarily their best instrumental track.
Of the ‘keyboard’ albums, Power Windows is consistently strong – getting a ‘no duff tracks’ award – and the bottom three, whilst no slouches, suffer in comparison. Of course, each Rush album has its significant moments: Red Sector A from Grace Under Pressure and Mission on Hold Your Fire being the highlight of the Show Of Hands live album of the late Eighties period.
I’ve also ranked Presto above Grace Under Pressure as it’s major track, the wonderful The Pass, beautifully written by Neil and superbly sung by Geddy, must be one that most Rush fans would include in their top ten or five. It also saw the trio swinging back to a more guitar-based sound which was great in my book. Grace Under Pressure, I just never bonded with. And I never liked the cover.
Here’s my personal ranking of the Eighties Rush output. Not too dissimilar to what you’ll find online although Rolling Stone do seem to favour Grace Under Pressure more.
- Permanent Waves
- Moving Pictures
- Power Windows
- Hold Your Fire
- Grace Under Pressure
I only got the chance to see Rush live, once. In 2013 I witnessed the holy triumvirate in Manchester on their Clockwork Angels tour.
It felt special going to that concert that night and the band didn’t dissapoint. Being a latecomer to the band I was still delving into the catalogue. I’d heard Exit Stage Left, Moving Pictures, Hemispheres and Clockwork Angels. It was the material from Power Windows that stuck out for me that night.
They played half the album and it blew me away. Middletown Dreams has so many elements to it and bridges the gap between the electronic sound that Rush had been employing as well as nodding to the past. Alex Lifeson’s solo in Middletown Dreams is brilliant; the whole song feels emphatic and the words and the music mesh superbly.
Territories has some great harmonics at the start and you ask the question…are you sure there are only three of them? This is heavy too. The main riff blows me away every time. It’s so simple but so good. Neil Peart also drives some funky rhythms on this one. Lyrically it fits with Middletown Dreams.
Grand Designs and Big Money were the other tracks that Rush played on that night in Manchester. The day after, these were the songs I was seeking out. I bought a second copy on vinyl from Kingbee Records in Chorlton, Manchester for £4…and so my love affair with Power Windows began.
I heard Manhattan Project for the first time and was struck with the changes in tempo as it goes forward but also the fact that at one point it’s just the drums and keyboard line in the song. At such a sparse basic level it shouldn’t work but the mastery that the band have on their instruments makes it sound so incredibly full.
The always unique percussion of Neil Peart shines through Mystic Rhythms as well. Geddy Lee adds the synth over many of the songs, as well as his amazing voice. I feel that the way the band infuse the synthesised drums and the synth is something that many of today’s modern day synth artists would cite as an influence. There are high points through all of Rush’s albums in this period but Power Windows feels the most complete to me.
I prefer Rush’s 80’s output over their earlier output as it is a far cry from their beginnings and bands that aren’t afraid to take risks always appeal to me. But taking risks and making it work in this way is something to behold. Having listened an awful to the bands other releases from this period, it’s Power Windows that I always go back to.