How Rush Found Their Sound: A short analysis and some reunion speculation for their 50th anniversary
Canadian rock trio Rush — made up of Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee and Neil Peart as of 1974 — made music known for their unique and complex compositions as well as for blending themes ranging from science-fiction to fantasy to philosophy.
Next year will mark 50 years since Rush made their debut, potentially signifying a reunion since the group's last release in 2012. How the passing of drummer Neil Peart (1952 - 2020) will affect the band moving forward is not clear, fans have nevertheless remained optimistic about a possible reunion in light of is upcoming golden anniversary. Rush — which sold an estimated 45 million albums to date — was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1994 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. Despite that, its early years were filled with lineup changes and a lack of musical identity; critics considered their 1974 self-titled debut album to be a Led Zeppelin rip off.
Things changed when drummer Neil Peart joined the band later that year. Pressured by their label to mold their sound into something more accessible, Rush naturally chose to do the opposite — opening their 2112 (1976) album with a 20-minute title track divided into seven sections. It became the band's first crack at commercial success.
So, how did Rush find their sound?
Balancing lyrics with musicality
The irregular and shifting time signatures in the band's tracks, such as "Tom Sawyer," use Peart's metronome-like drumming in the background to structure the melodies. Furthermore, the band's lyrics reveal the members to be comprehensive readers and incorporate literature, poetry, and philosophy. As a result, Rush's music is full of experimental sonic experiences and immersive storytelling.
For the iconic 20-minute title track "2112," Lifeson used the Dunlop Echoplex to get a sci-fi effect by distorting, delaying, and aging the tone of his guitars. Notably, he also used a Gibson 1968 ES-335, on tracks like "Fly By Night,” which he stuffed with cotton to tone down the vibrato, a practice he utilized with other guitars in his collection. Creatively combining methodologies such as these allowed Rush to create their sound.
Like many others, the band drew inspiration from the rock greats before them. Notably, vocalist and bassist Geddy Lee loved legendary bands, like The Who, and attended concerns when they played in Canada. Pete Townshend, The Who’s co-founder and lead guitarist, is Lee's favorite rock songwriter of all time, as such it's no surprise that Rush covered "The Seeker" in their 2004 covers album, and again when they celebrated the band's 30th anniversary.