First formed in 1968, Rush has enjoyed a prolific career that spans four decades and has, in those years, borne some pretty substantial fruit: 24 gold records; 14 platinum (three multi-platinum) records; 79th place in U.S. album sales with 25 million units; total worldwide album sales estimated at over 40 million units; and, according to the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), sales statistics that place them fourth behind The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Aerosmith for the most consecutive gold or platinum albums by a rock band.
Rush has been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame (1994), honoured with numerous Junos, is the first rock troupe to be made Officers of the Order of Canada as a “group” (May 9, 1996), and hailed by countless rock bands, from Metallica and Smashing Pumpkins to Dream Theatre and Primus, as their foremost musical influence.
Rush is one of the most uncompromising, unique and enduring bands that Canada has ever produced. And to say their fan following is strong would be putting it mildly. They began modestly and from the ground up, playing cover songs at local bars and high school events. In 1973, they released their first single, Not Fade Away, a Buddy Holly cover, and included a track they had penned themselves on side B, entitled You Can’t Fight It. The single barely made any waves and was not championed by any record labels. At this point the band decided to start their own record label, which they named Moon Records (later renamed Anthem Records).
They released their self-titled debut album on their label in 1974. Donna Halper, a DJ and musical director working at radio station WMMS in Cleveland, Ohio, picked up the single Working Man for regular rotation. The popularity of the single prompted Mercury Records to re-release the entire album in the U.S. that same year. Just after the release of the debut album and two weeks before their first U.S. tour, Neil Peart replaced Rutsey as drummer, and the band arrived at the form it holds to this day.
The group quickly found their natural niches within the band. Peart, for example, took over the role of main lyricist from Lee, who was more interested in composing music, as Lifeson also was. Peart’s love of fantasy, science fiction and individualist literature showed itself in his songwriting and in the band’s second album, “Fly By Night” (1975). Their third album, “Caress of Steel” (1975), was released soon after and built upon the epic song structure that had been introduced to fans in “Fly By Night.” “Caress of Steel,” however, emphasized storytelling and complex arrangements in the five hard-rock tracks that made up the album, two of those being “multi-chapter” tracks.
As is usually the case when artists deviate from the norm and others’ expectations, Rush was immediately blasted by critics for releasing an “unfocused” album. Executives from their record label urged the band to work on a more commercially friendly release to follow “Caress of Steel.” The band did not succumb to the pressure of convention, however, and released “2112” in 1976. The album included a title track that covered the entire side A of the record. “2112” went platinum in Canada and brought the band its first taste of commercial success. Rush released their first live album shortly after. “All The World’s A Stage” (1976) featuring recordings from their three-night billing at Massey Hall in Toronto during their 2112 tour.
Rush became renowned for daring to experiment and evolve their musical style, especially with the release of “A Farewell to Kings” (1977) and “Hemispheres” (1978). They produced both albums in Rockfield Studios in Wales. It was a time of major experimentation for the band, extensively developing their trademark style of concept songs, synthesizer use, and intricate time signature changes. Peart drew upon classical, fantasy and science fiction literature in his lyrics, and included triangles, glockenspiel, wood blocks, cowbells, timpani, gong and chimes in his percussion. Lifeson expanded his guitar-playing with twelve-string and classical instruments, and Lee experimented with bass-pedal synthesizers and Minimoog.
Their 1980s album, “Permanent Waves,” reached number 5 on the U.S. album charts, and showcased country and “new wave” punk influences. It included the hits The Spirit of Radio and Freewill, the former one of the group’s best-known songs. A year later, Rush produced an album that would take them to new heights of fame. “Moving Pictures” (1981) highlighted the band’s progressive style while also maintaining an accessible and radio-friendly sound. It featured the hit track Tom Sawyer, co-written with fellow Canadian Pye Dubois of Max Webster. “Moving Pictures” reached number 3 on the Billboard 200 Album chart and was certified quadruple platinum.
Though they had attained a desirable level of popularity and recognition, Rush was enthusiastic about continuing to experiment and develop musically. Hard at work throughout the remainder of the ’80s, Rush released the albums “Exit…Stage Left” (Live, 1981), “Signals” (1982), “Grace Under Pressure” (1984), “Power Windows” (1985), “Hold Your Fire” (1987), “A Show of Hands” (Live, 1989), and “Presto” (1989). Rush consistently topped the charts during these years and enjoyed impressive record sales. In 1989, they changed labels from Mercury to Atlantic.
Rush shed its heavy use of synthesizers and electronic sounds and moved towards more of a guitar-focused, barebones traditional rock sound during the ’90s. “Roll the Bones” (1991), “Counterparts” (1993), and “Test for Echo” (1996) all reached number 1 on Canadian album charts and reached 3, 2, and 5 on the U.S. album charts respectively.
The band took a time out when Peart’s personal life was hit by tragedy in August 1997. His daughter, Selena, was killed in an automobile accident. His wife, Jacqueline, died ten months later of cancer. In 1998, “Different Stages” was released, a three-disc compilation of live recordings from the “Counterparts,” “Test for Echo,” and “A Farewell to Kings” tours, dedicated to Selena and Jacqueline. Peart took a few years away from the band to mourn. He rode across North America on his motorcycle and penned the memoir Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road (2002) while on his journey. In 2001, he announced to his bandmates that he was ready to make music again. Rush went back to work in a Toronto studio, and spent fourteen months developing their first album since their hiatus, entitled “Vapor Trails” (2002), and hit the tour circuit after more than six years away. “Rush in Rio” (Live, 2003), a triple CD and an accompanying DVD of the same name was recorded on the last night of the Vapor Trails tour and hit Diamond sales status in Canada.
In 2004, Rush released the album “Feedback” to celebrate their 30th anniversary. It featured eight cover tracks paying homage to the artists that influenced the band during their start three decades earlier. The band then began a top-selling worldwide 30th Anniversary Tour and released a DVD of their Frankfurt, Germany, show in 2005, entitled “R30: Live in Germany.”
In 2006, the band began writing for their 2007 album release, “Snakes and Arrows.” The first single, Far City, reached number 2 in the U.S. and the album debuted at number 3 on Billboard Top 200 albums chart. Rush then commenced another immensely popular worldwide tour and released the “Snakes and Arrows Live” album in 2008.
On November 17, 2009, Rush released “Working Men,” a “best-of” live compilation album and DVD. Ultimately, their impact cannot be expressed merely through chart positions, distribution, airplay or awards. “Rush” is a sub culture. They are the epitome of progressive, enduring rock ‘n’ roll, influencing some of the leading musical artists of our time and amassing a loyal fan following.