When Rush headed into Toronto Sound in February 1976 to record their fourth studio album, ultimately entitled 2112, they were at a crossroads in their career. Their previous album, the underrated Caress of Steel, had been ignored by radio, savaged by a number of critics and failed to equal the sales of their first two albums. Consequently, there was much discussion at Mercury Records' headquarters in Chicago as to whether or not to pick up the group's option and release one last Rush album. Fortunately, in Mercury A&R man Cliff Burnstein, they had an ardent fan who, along with manager Ray Danniels, pushed hard to convince the powers that be that the group still had the potential to move significant units.
No one at any of those meetings had any sense of what the three members of Rush and producer Terry Brown were busy concocting back in in Toronto. When they emerged from Toronto Sound with the album completed. 2112 featured a side long, seven-part 20 minute concept piece alongside five somewhat disparate tracks on side two. To Mercury's dismay, there was not a hit single in sight and, at twenty minutes, the "2112" suite had absolutely no chance of FM airplay. Never mind, both the suite and the album were stunning pieces of work demonstrating a maturity and artistic vision that would over time speak to millions of fans.
Given that they received very little airplay at the time and even less critical approbation, Rush's working method was to relentlessly tour. While I am not aware of any ultimate statistical archive for rock bands of the day, at 150-200 shows a year it is not hard to imagine that Rush was one of the hardest, if not the hardest, working rock bands of the era. Night after night. the group played the hinterlands of the American mid-west and their native Canada, gradually spreading further east, west and south, often opening for bands such as Kiss and Uriah Heep while, in a few markets, they headlined their own shows. Possessed of an unequaled zeal and passion onstage and a resolute belief in the value of their music, nightly they strode the boards in one city after another, converting a handful of fans at every show.
Within a month 2112 had sold 100,000 copies, initially reaching #5 in their native Canada while peaking at #61 in the United States. Within a year-and-a-half the album would be certified gold in both countries. The execs at Mercury were surprised but, needless to say, delighted. 2112, ultimately, gave Rush their freedom. It had proven that. while much of what their music represented went against the grain of major label wisdom, there was a fan base primed for a band possessed of an extraordinary work ethic, that clearly cared about their fans, could rock like demons, create compositions and arrangements that were extraordinarily complex and crafted lyrics that were rife with intellectual and philosophical ideas that their fans could reflect on for weeks, months and ultimately years.
"After 2112 I think we all felt that now we are Rush." guitarist Alex Lifeson told me last year. "This is who we are. This record is not so much about where our roots were. This is who we are and where we're going. We felt a great sense of confidence after that record came out."
Between March 1976 and June 1977, the group promoted 2112 incessantly, played a grueling 140 plus shows in the States and Canada while touring England for the first time in June 1977. A double live set, cleverly titled All the World's a Stage, was released at the end of September, the tracks taken from three shows recorded the previous June at Toronto's fabled Massey Hall.
The final show of the 2112 tour was performed June 13, 1977 in Liverpool. After a scant few weeks to recuperate from the rigors of the road, the group headed back to the United Kingdom to begin work on what would be their fifth studio album, A Farewell to Kings. The liner notes for All the World's a Stage had dramatically proclaimed that: "This album to us, signifies the end of the beginning, a milestone to mark the close of chapter one, in the annals of Rush."
A Farewell to Kings was certainly the beginning of Chapter Two. The album was a balance of the old and the new. No longer was the majority of the record dominated by the sound of a power trio. A more mature Rush now embraced a wider sound palette using synthesizers. Taurus bass pedals, classical guitar, tubular bells, temple blocks and orchestral bells to create greater contrast and color within their compositions. Yet, when desired, Rush continued to deploy the intensity, ferocity and power that they were justifiably renown for.
Prior to the sessions for the album, bassist Geddy Lee told Deb Frost for Circus magazine: "The next album will be recorded in England. It will be a natural progression, though not a major concept like 2112. We've always looked up to the English progressive bands and it's gonna be a good opportunity to go over there and try to capture the same sort of atmosphere. We're also expanding what we can play. We're getting into more instruments, there will be more texture. We would never forsake our hard rock framework though! We'll just update it. A lot of bands underestimate their audience. But if you look at the really big bands with longevity, they've grown and progressed and their audience has grown and progressed with them."
"I'm just now learning to play keyboard percussion." added drummer Neil Peart, "Which involves the whole field of tubular and orchestral bells. I've been practicing and working at them for the past few months. We don't want to stop at any particular plateau. We were faced with the choice of adding a band member or else getting really ambitious and doing it ourselves...New sounds and new textures have to be brought into our music to make it grow."
In a press release crafted to promote A Farewell to Kings, Neil wrote: "We have had a year and a half between studio albums, a very welcome creative hiatus, and a chance for the three of us to concentrate on our individual instruments, and the mastery of new ones to keep the music growing. Alex moved onto double necked guitar and the bass pedal synthesizer, Geddy also into double necked guitar and bass, and the bass pedal synthesizer, as well as the Mini Moog, while I have begun to dabble in keyboard percussion, such as tubular bells, glockenspiel and various little percussion devices here and there."
Shortly after the album's release, Neil told Tom Harrison at Vancouver's Georgia Straight: "We needed to expand our sound because we felt constricted by the end of 2112. We knew we had to do something. The live album gave us that time to make the necessary changes without adding the obvious fourth man which would have been taking the easy way out. We saw that we had to go for something really big."
Geddy aptly summarized the group's attitude many years later to Team Rock, "In a way, we've always been searching for a new us. That's been our curse and our blessing — we always think there's a better version of us to be done on the next record."
He would later joke that they were trying to become "the world's smallest symphony orchestra."
"I think we felt a lot more confident at that point," explained Alex to me in July 2017. "Things were turning around for us. A Farewell to Kings was the first album that we recorded in the U.K. It has a whole different perspective, it was a whole coming of age for us. There was a combination of acoustic guitar and a little classical guitar and 12 string guitar. I think it was sort of a natural evolution. We were really starting out with bass pedals and the Mini Moog and Ged was sort of developing his expertise at playing those instruments. It was a very exciting time because we were trying to incorporate all of those things, using them as solid instruments rather than just for flourishes or little flavors. There was a consolidated effort to really go in that direction and just flesh out our sound, style and writing."
While previous albums had been written in rehearsal studios, at sound checks and in hotel rooms, for A Farewell to Kings the group opted to rent a farm house for a few weeks in rural southern Ontario. Here they could work uninterrupted at all hours of the day and be fully immersed in the project at hand. Typically, Neil would stay in his room writing lyrics while Alex and Geddy would work together in the living room writing the basic framework for the songs on acoustic guitars. Breaking for meals, they would compare notes on what they had been working on and in the evening they would learn the songs on their electric instruments and begin to flesh out the arrangements.
Rush's first four studio albums had been recorded in Toronto. A Farewell to Kings was recorded in July 1977 over three weeks at Rockfield Studio in Monmouth, Wales and mixed during the first two weeks of August in London at Advision. The album was released on September 1st, the group already promoting it with shows starting August 17th in Davenport, Iowa.
Prior to recording producer Terry Brown had been dispatched to check out Rockfield. He was more than happy with what he found. "It was a dream for us." Geddy relayed to Team Rock, "To make an album in Britain. So much of the music we were influenced by when we were growing up was British blues rock and British prog rock. In 1977 we'd just done our first U.K. tour, and so with Terry Brown being a Brit living in Toronto, I said. 'Why don't we work over there?' That's how we ended up at Rockfield Studios in Wales."
Rockfield was located in the country and in a number of ways duplicated the relaxed environment in which they had written the material back in Ontario. There were no distractions, the band had access to the studio 24 hours a day and could work whenever they wanted to. It also had some quirky spaces to record in. The opening of the title track was captured out doors in a courtyard, much of "Madrigal" was recorded with Alex set up in the newly built echo chamber and part of "Closer to the Heart" was cut in a storage room filled with a ping pong table, boxes and other assorted crap. All these different spaces contributed to the luxuriant, rich sonic tapestry that comprised the final album.
A Farewell to Kings opens with the title cut, perfectly signaling the next step in Rush's sonic evolution. Alex is pretty sure that the music was written in advance of the lyrics but the actual title of the song, adopted from Ernest Hemingway's novel A Farewell to Arms, had already been bandied about as the title for the album months in advance. Hugh Syme recalls working on the cover, based on the concept embedded in the title of the album, even before the band left for their June 1977 European shows.
The finished lyrics for the song "A Farewell to Kings" were a scathing indictment of the corruption, greed, madness and misery that lyricist Neil Peart clearly felt marked contemporary society. The second verse reads: "Cities full of hatred, fear and lies/Withered hearts and cruel, tormented eyes/Scheming demons dressed in kingly guise/Beating down the multitude and scoffing at the wise." Tellingly, though, the song closes with cautious optimism: "Whoa can't we raise our eyes and make a start?/Can't we find the minds to lead us closer to the heart?" The latter line, of course. would reference the first cut on side two and Rush's first hit single in the United States and the U.K., "Closer to the Heart."
The beginning of "A Farewell to Kings" was recorded outdoors in the courtyard at Rockfield. Terry Brown simply set up two mics to capture the three members in ambient stereo. Alex is playing baroque inspired guitar for the first twenty-five seconds before he is joined by Geddy on Mini Moog and Neil on tubular bells and triangle.
It just seemed like a really cool idea," smiles Alex. "It was a really nice sunny day. Keep in mind we were getting up a little later and not finishing some days until 11 in the morning. We were completely backwards. I remember we were wearing shorts and t-shirts. We were so into the idea of doing it that way and making it very natural as if we were out in a field playing. It does feel outside and ambient in that sense which you can't replicate with any kind of reverb.
"Neil was in his little area and Geddy was in his little area playing the Mini Moog. I was walking between the mics with the classical guitar playing the opening. You can hear it on the album with me moving around in the stereo spread. I wore running shoes and I think you can hear the shuffling clicks. Towards the end I kind of tripped a little bit and just muffled a note. I remember it was awkward because I didn't have a strap for that guitar so we had to manufacture something. Playing classical guitar you want to be very stable with a foot rest and the proper height for the chair and all of that. So to walk back and forth plucking was a little bit uncomfortable. But I do remember how cool it was. I have a visual of it with the headphones on, looking at each other and kind of laughing and smiling. It's pure and honest and really, really cool."
Alex had long been a fan of Western Art Music and had studied classical guitar for about a year-and-a half in 1971 or 1972.
"I was always interested in classical guitar," he affirmed. "I always tried to practice as much as I could. I found that it was really a very valuable style of guitar playing that I benefited from in Rush. I just thought in different terms of guitar arrangement, not only on a classical guitar or on acoustic guitar but on electric guitar as well. To incorporate something that sounds baroque or of another era, it added another flavour and the thought lyrically of what the song said about another era of honour, integrity and all of that, I think it just kind of took you to that place musically. Then, of course, the band comes crashing in with something much more contemporary."
Typically, what Alex plays is somewhat complex involving a sequence of four bars consisting of three, five, three and then four beats respectively. This is repeated three times before Geddy and Neil join in with the absolutely exquisite 8-bar bridge. If one listens carefully, you can hear the sound of birds, the stereo movement of Alex's guitar as he walks between the two microphones and the wonderful sonic ambience of the courtyard itself.
Alex then repeats the opening sequence with Geddy playing in unison on the Mini Moog. At that point, just over a minute into the track, the thundering omnipotence of the power trio raises its head with a sequence of 4/4 and 3/4 bars leading into a shift of tempo and the first verse circa 1:33. There are two different vocal sections which we can call A and B. Both are 16 bars long with the B section featuring a very different groove marked by a four-on-the floor approach and a two-bar stop-time break at the end. A four bar descending guitar break leads back into the A verse before the band goes into a tour de force extended instrumental section.
Rush is a remarkable band for any number of reasons. Foremost among these is that their sense of composition and arrangement goes long beyond the standard verse/chorus/ bridge with an intro, solo and tag that marks most rock compositions. Not only does the group tend to vary repeating sections in interesting ways, they are masters at constructing extended instrumental sections. The solo section on "A Farewell to Kings" is a perfect example of this. It is constructed in three distinct parts. The first starts with Geddy and Neil laying down an incredibly funky groove in 7/4. After four bars to establish the groove, Alex comes screaming over the top using the vibrato arm on his Gibson 355. The band then kicks into a strident second section of syncopated unison block chords before relaxing the tension and shifting, via an eight bar transition, into a majestic classic rock guitar solo for eight bars. The complete three-part instrumental section takes a minute and twenty seconds and reflects an ambition and compositional sense that leaves most contemporary bands in the dust.
"With Rush, it wasn't always just a guitar solo," stresses Alex. "It was the musical middle, whatever way that developed. That's a great example where we broke it down into numerous sections. It wasn't just play something cool for the guitar solo and then getting back into the song. I remember that we spent time just trying to elaborate what we wanted to do in that middle section and each of those parts are really kind of very different from each other which are also very different from the rest of the song. The song, itself, the verse and chorus, had a particular feel to it that's not based in hard rock or progressive rock or anything like that. There's some other melodic quality about it. I'm playing high on the neck in the choruses, Ged's voice is up high, it's quite lyrical, but we get to that solo and, like you say, there's that whole funky thing that Ged and Neil play in 7. It's really driving. The solo is off the wall. It's not like a typical solo. I remember I was using a vibrato arm on the 355 which I have to tell you was a nightmare because that guitar is not particularly well set up for that thing. I remember having to retune it after every take. I hear little out of tune things in it but that's just the nature of the beast. But then coming into that second part where we are playing in unison, it's really powerful. That's hard rock. Then we get into a more Bad Company kind of feel with the open and half time just to give you a chance to catch your breath before we take it right back to that chorus. We spend a lot of attention to our middle sections. They're our favorite parts of our songs. They allow us to all stretch out. We get to be a little more instrumental and less lyrical. We get to really focus on the stuff that we really love to do which is the musical stuff.
"The solo took me a little bit of time to get wrapped around and then only three or four takes to get what I wanted to do there. And then there's the flourish at the end of that section [circa 3:40] just before the syncopated stuff which is very atypical of that time. There's a shift where I come onto the beat. It sounds like it's just racing up and then kind of comes over a cliff and lands on the [syncopated unison shots at 3:50]. The relief at the end [4:00]—say the Bad Company part—it was just a natural progression. I think once we established how we wanted to get into it at the very top of the solo with a little bit of time for the rhythm section to establish [the groove], just naturally led to everything else coming together."
For his guitar playing on the title track and much of the record, Alex was using a chorus effect that gives his playing and the band's overall sound a notably different sensibility.
"That's the first record where I discovered a chorus," affirms Alex. "I used a Boss Jazz Chorus amp for a lot of that record and I just love that sound, that wide, moving sound that for me created a little more sonic width in the band. Ged and Neil always played quite actively so it was good to have something to kind of glue it all together and fill it in. I became kind of addicted to it. I heard from the guys about that many times over the years. But, at the time, it was really exciting to get into that whole new fresh sound for me. Jaco Pastorious used a lot of that kind of chorus on his bass sound and it was very evocative. I just dove into that and it shows up all over A Farewell to Kings and subsequent records as well."
"A Farewell to Kings" was a stunning track to open the album with. The rest of side one was taken up by one of the band's classic epic compositions, "Xanadu." The piece was the only composition to be played by the band in concert prior to entering the studio, debuting two months earlier, May 10th 1977 in Milwaukee.
In the press release for the album, Neil referred to "Xanadu" as "certainly the most complex and multi-textured piece we have ever attempted. It also contains one of Alex's most emotive and lyrical guitar solos, as well as a very dramatic vocal from Geddy."
In his book Roadshow he writes that the song was originally going to be based on the Orson Welles movie Citizen Kane, which opens with a line from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem "Kubla Khan; or, A Vision in a Dream: A Fragment" (1797). In the movie, Xanadu, meaning a paradise, refers to Kane's Florida mansion. The original Coleridge poem was written after the poet woke up from an opium-influenced dream after reading a book about Xanadu, the summer palace of the Mongol ruler and Emperor of China, Kublai Khan. Inspired by Citizen Kane, Peart began looking into background information on the Coleridge poem, ultimately becoming more interested in the poem than the movie and redirecting his lyrics accordingly. The lyric Peart wrote for "Xanadu" takes from Coleridge's poem the central theme of a protagonist seeking immortality in Xanadu.
"My original thought was Citizen Kane," Neil explained to Tom Harrison. "I really wanted to do something aligned with Citizen Kane so I had this title written around that angle. Then I came across [the Coleridge] poem and those four lines just etched like a burning image in my head. It hit me so strongly that all of a sudden the whole scope of the theme changed. It just made me freeze inside; it's so frightening. I'm not into poetry and never have been but I just happened to see that one, `Kubla Khan,' and I wanted to read it because of the Citizen Kane connection. It just grabbed me; it was so powerful."
In a March 24, 2011 interview with the Guardian, Neil lamented that the Coleridge poem ultimately overwhelmed him: "More or less against my will, I found the song being taken over by the poem, in a way that has never happened before or since. For that reason, the finished song has never been my favorite piece of work, lyrically—too derivative—but it made a good musical vehicle for one of our first 'extended works.' Also, it was portentous that I added the 'adventure travel' aspect to the song's story way back then-I scaled the frozen mountain-tops of eastern lands unknown/Time and man alone/Searching for the lost Xanadu'—before I'd ever traveled farther than the arenas and rock clubs of North America. It is also noteworthy that I portrayed the idea of immortality as a grim fate, a curse, because the first lyrics I ever wrote, at about age 17, were for a song by the band I was in, JR Flood, called 'Retribution.' When I told my mother about the song, and the title, she cracked: 'Who are you writing for—college professors?' That was rich, said to a high-school dropout wannabe drummer. In later years, having attained success with Rush, I once heard a disparaging remark: 'Rush is what happens when you let the drummer write the songs.' Pretty funny—though of course I'm not entirely to blame; I only write the lyrics. 'Retribution' was a first-person story about a soul trapped in immortality as a punishment, foreshadowing the character I made up for `Xanadu.' It is further ironic that a dominant theme in Citizen Kane is the opposite: mortality as a punishment—symbolized by Kane's dying word: 'Rosebud.' But in terms of the influence of Coleridge on my lyrics, I am much more fond of a less obvious reference, a line in our song 'Animate,' from Counterparts (1994): 'Daughter of a demon lover.' It pays homage to these powerful lines from Kubla Khan: 'As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted/By a woman wailing for her demon lover!'"
"'Xanadu' was the first song that we did for that album," recalled Geddy in conversation with Team Rock, "And we recorded it in the courtyard of Rockfield to get the natural echo. I was playing bass and also synthesizer – plugged into the studio, no amplifier. So in one sense it was completely meaningless for me to be out there with Alex and Neil. But I was wearing headphones so I could hear what I was playing, and that way we could play together, play the part live, see each other and be connected."
Terry Brown decided to place Alex's guitar amplifier in the courtyard at an angle, approximately 30 degrees to the side rather than parallel to the back wall. He then put a microphone in front of the amplifier and placed a second mic on the wall behind the amp picking up the signal of the guitar sound bouncing off the far wall. For the record, he put the microphone that was positioned in front of the amplifier on the left side and the microphone capturing the reflection off the wall on the right side.
"It made this amazing guitar sound," recalled Brown, "It was basically the same guitar sound but it was super wide with a long delay on it. It was another one of those little details that you could do with Rockfield."
The track opens with a minute and fifty seconds of nature sounds including once again the sound of birds just outside the Rockfield studio. Geddy generates wind noises with his synth while Neil adds orchestral bells and tubular bells and Alex plays exploratory, seemingly questioning, guitar lines marked by subtle volume swells over an E pedal from Geddy's Taurus bass pedals. This section is the first part of a five-part elaborated instrumental introduction, Geddy's vocal and Neil's lyrics not coming in until 4:59.
The second part of the introduction features a typical Alex arpeggiated figure in E major in 7/8 that fades in over top of the wind noises. Once the figure is established, every two bars the band hits a resounding chord suggesting big things are yet to come. Each chord is typically marked by a preceding drum flourish from Neil, each drum fill being unique in terms of rhythmic construct and timbre. After a short pause at 2:52, the band reverts to 4/4, shifts to E mixolydian and leaps into a driving call and response guitar figure which serves as part three of the introduction.
Forty seconds later (3:34) the group is back in E major for part four, Alex playing a new guitar riff in 7/8 over top of which Geddy adds a lyrical synth melody while Neil dances in and around the riff playing temple blocks. This ultimately leads to part five of the intro at 4:23 with a slight retard, and an opening up of the sound space, sounding like nothing so much as something The Who might have worked into Tommy. Neil contributes quick hi-hat rolls, tubular bells, and strong concert tom accents which are answered by temple block fills. Alex plays extended chords while Geddy underscores it all with subtle synth patches.
There are three verses and two choruses. Verse 1 sets up the protagonist's desire "To break my fast with honeydew/and drink the milk of Paradise." Verse 2 finds our hero standing within the Pleasure Dome decreed by Kubla Khan "To taste anew the fruits of life/ the last Immortal Man." Verse 3 reiterates much of verse 2 with a bitter twist: "To taste my bitter triumph/As a mad immortal man." The preceding chorus informs us that "A thousand years have come and gone but time has passed me by/Stars stopped in the sky frozen in an everlasting view/Waiting for the world to end, weary of the night/Praying for the light, prison of the lost Xanadu."
Once again, the sense of composition exhibited by the members of Rush is extraordinary. Each verse is followed by an instrumental passage. In the case of the second and third verse, the instrumental material was previewed in the instrumental introduction. Verse 2 is followed by the E mixolydian guitar riff leading into the chorus where the protagonist finds himself a prisoner while Verse 3 is followed by part 5 of the introduction. The choruses heard after verses 1 and 2 are both followed by a quivering, eerie Mini Moog synth bridge replete with a singular tubular bell accent.
Following the dire realization of the protagonist in verse 3, sonically dramatized by Geddy's increasingly panicked, maniacal vocal, Alex plays a wailing major key guitar solo replete with bent pitches and chromatic interjections. The band then reprises the 7/8 E major arpeggiated line from part 2 of the introduction. The last forty seconds consist of descending perfect 4ths on the guitar followed by a slowed down variation of the third part of the introduction and then what Alex refers to as the concluding "circus music."
The variated return of the different parts within "Xanadu" reflect a sense of compositional design that is perfectly integrated, emotionally satisfying and aptly underscores the meaning of Neil's lyrics. It is a superb example of superior compositional skill.
Alex explained to me a bit of the process that generated the final composition: "'Xanadu' is really actually pretty traditional in its construction. It's just that the parts are a little long and there are more of them. Plus we have a long intro which gives it even greater length and gives it another kind of mystique.
"We didn't start with the intro. We started with the song—the verses and the choruses—and then went back and said, 'Let's do a really cool, long intro to get to that first verse.' Even that little outro, that little circus music at the end, that was kind of an afterthought. I think that just came together because we thought, 'Hey you know what, Geddy's got the 12-string strapped on as well, so let's get him to play a little more guitar at the end there while I do a little guitar melody. He's got the bass pedals so no worry about the bass dropping out.'
"We had been playing it live for a while. We only put that track down twice. It was the first track we did. We ran it down once basically to get balances and sounds and then we ran it down a second time and that was the take from top to tail. I remember the engineer for the session, Pat Moran, was blown away, He said, 'Oh my God, they just played an eleven minute song from top to bottom with the solo and everything. This is going to take 3 days to record this album.' It was a great start. We had a lot of fun."
For "Xanadu," Alex played his Gibson EDS-1275 doubleneck guitar into a Roland JC-120 amplifier. For the solo he played the 1275 through a 100-watt Hiwatt amplifier. Side two also concludes with one of the group's ten-plus minute epics, "Cygnus X-1." Preceding it are three songs that make extensive use of the group's fondness for juxtaposing acoustic and electric sounds as they continued to explore the light and shade and tension and release inherent in such orchestration.
The side opens with the exquisitely crafted "Closer to the Heart." The song is a rare example where a non-member of Rush receives a writing credit on one of their albums. The title and first verse were written by a friend of Neil's from Seattle, Peter Talbot. Neil told Circus magazine: "'Closer to the Heart' is a bit different from any song we've done. It was based on somebody else's idea. It came from Peter Talbot. He's a radio and media person and a very prolific writer, so every time we get out there he gives me a big pile of stuff like this to take home. 'Closer to the Heart,' the title and the first verse, comes from him."
In the press release for the album, Neil noted that "if 'A Farewell to Kings' looks at the problems then ['Closer to the Heart'] looks at the solution . . . it has much to say to those who hear."
Neil couldn't have been more on point. The song is atypically short, consisting of only four four-line verses, each ending with the phrase "Closer to the heart." Taken together, the lyrics articulate that every single person has a role to play in creating a better world. Verse two exemplifies this: The blacksmith and the artist/Reflect it in their art/They forge their creativity/Closer to the heart."
The opening of "Closer to the Heart" is in two parts, the first consists of gorgeous acoustic guitar arpeggios, evocative of a pastoral setting, alternating bars of 6/8 and 10/8. Surprisingly, Geddy wrote the guitar part although it is played by Alex.
"You can tell," explained Alex, "Because the way Geddy plays the notes they're descending from top to bottom. That's the way he plucks. He uses just one finger, his index finger so he goes from the top string down. I would not do that. I would go the opposite way with arpeggios. It was a little different for me to learn it and to play it that way but it's interesting how the sequence of notes pop out and where the open strings ring where they would be opposite to what I would have actually done. It's cool. I like it when we've done stuff like that where he writes a part and I learn it or vice a versa."
The intro was recorded at about five or six in the morning, Alex playing a Gibson B-45 acoustic 12-string, a Gibson Dove acoustic 6-string and his electric ES-355 through a Fender Twin amplifier. He recalled that he did "the acoustic guitars at Rockfield in the storage room that had a ping pong table and boxes and all this crap. I don't know why we did it in there but we did and it had this horrible fluorescent lighting. It was so non-vibey."
It may have felt "non-vibey" but sonically it sounds full, rich and nearly gleams with the positive feeling encapsulated in the lyrics. Neil contributes orchestral bell punctuations beginning with the third iteration. After four iterations of the acoustic arpeggios, the band plays a descending progression for three 4/4 bars followed by a two bar retard leading into verse one. It is a simple but beautifully executed elaborated introduction and a perfect set up what is to follow.
The verse structure is also simple: four lyric lines over 8 bars with a two-bar extension where the words "Closer to the heart" are repeated. The band takes an additive approach. The first verse is all acoustic. The second verse brings in Geddy's electric bass. After a two bar bridge consisting of tubular bells playing in 5/4 over a bass pedal, Alex kicks off the third verse bringing in his electric Gibson 355 put simultaneously through his Fender Twin and Hiwatt amps to get a dirtier electric sound.
A 16-bar resplendent guitar solo follows verse three, Alex breaking into blocked fourth harmony. While it sounds like a harmonizer was used, he overdubbed the part instead. The compositional arc of the solo conveys a sense of majesty that perfectly captures the optimism of the words.
"Closer to the Heart" concludes with a reprise of the 6/8 and 10/8 introductory phrase, this time with drum and bass accompaniment followed by the fourth verse. The latter is extended as Geddy vocally riffs on the title and Neil plays an exciting three bar temple block fill with the engineer pulling the faders down.
The track had come together very quickly in the studio and while recording it no one in the band had a sense that it could be a hit single. That changed once the recording was completed.
"I suppose there was [a sense that this could be a single)," reflected Alex, "Once we put the song together and realized it was so short. It was a very kind of up, positive song, a very positive statement. Once we got through the lyrics and the short solo section, wow, the song was done within a few minutes! It was unusual to have a Rush song that was around that three minute mark and, of course, the record company and everybody were excited about the prospects of getting some airplay."
At 2:55 it is one of the shortest songs in the Rush catalogue, providing them with their first U.S. and U.K. hits, peaking at #77 and #36 respectively. In Canada it stormed its way to #14. Mercury Records and the band's newly formed Canadian label, Anthem, were more than happy. The song was covered by Fates Warning on the 1996 Rush tribute album, Working Man, and, in 2010, it was one of five songs written by Rush to be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame.
The lyrics for "Cinderella Man" were written by Geddy based around Frank Capra's 1936 comedy Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. In the movie, Mr. Deeds, played by Gary Cooper, is actually nicknamed "Cinderella Man." The essence of the story is Deeds, who lives in Mandrake Falls (hence the first line of the song), inherits $20 million. He is brought to New York City where numerous individuals try to take advantage of him. In the end, he is depressed at the behavior of people he thought he could trust and in a final heinous move, a number of protagonists try to prove him insane and therefore unfit to manage his money. Things take a turn when the woman who nicknamed him Cinderella Man and wrote a series of newspaper articles making fun of him, has a change of heart and reveals all to the court. Mr. Deeds, now seeing good in the woman that he thought was just using him, comes out of his depression and defends himself. Both the movie and Geddy's lyric resonate with many of Neil's larger lyric themes about good and evil in the nature of human beings.
Once again Rush chooses to open the song with an elaborated introduction featuring two 3/4 bars comprised of a wicked ascending guitar line accented by Neil on snare on beat one of each bar. This is followed by seven bars in 4/4 with the band establishing the song's key. The intro ends with two more 4/4 bars consisting of Alex playing a descending line which, in a sense, serves as a response to the opening ascending line. The verse is acoustic-based with electric fills in the first 8 bars. The second 8 bars are full on electric.
"The construction I think is really cool on that song," reflects Alex. "It is one of my favorite songs that we wrote from that period. It's got some great melodic sensibilities. I love the acoustic verses, how it drops down to that fast strumming acoustic. The solo section is really kind of cool. I really enjoyed putting that song together."
After a four bar bridge the band goes into a chorus which has a typically interesting structure. Dropping down in volume, it consists of six 4/4 bars followed by the ascending 3/4 lick heard at the beginning of the introduction and a 5/4 phrase leading into the second half. The second half of the chorus repeats the six bars in 4/4 and the 3/4 ascending lick from the intro but dispenses with the 5/4 phrase that ended the first half. In some ways it is complex and yet sounds very organic.
"That's what we've always worked towards," stressed Alex. "The real skill is to make something simple that sounds really more complicated and hard. That's the way we viewed it and worked but I have a feeling maybe we weren't quite as simple as we thought we were being. We just got used to it."
After the chorus, the second half of the introduction is repeated leading into the second verse followed by a slight pause setting up the instrumental section which is an absolute rollicking delight. Ostensibly a guitar solo that lasts twenty six bars (three 8 bar sections followed by a 2 bar extension), the section is really a three way conversation between bass, drums and guitar.
Neil commented in the album's press release that, "This one features a very unusual (for us) middle instrumental section that might even be called (shudder) funky!"
The instrumental section is funky and playful, Neil laying down a funkier-than-a-mosquito's tweeter cymbal ride pattern. As with "A Farewell to Kings," the first few bars are left for Geddy and Neil to set up the groove. Alex plays a line in bar four that dive bombs which Neil responds to with a temple block lick in bar five. In the second 8 bars, Alex squeals up high for two bars before going down in register and playing squawking lines with lots of whammy bar bends that is right out of left field. By the end of the last 8 bars he is up high again. The two bar extension creates a terrific sense of suspense before the chorus is reprised. The instrumental tag consists of two 11/4 bars (4+4+3) concluding with the 3/4 run from the beginning, three 4/4 bars and then is brought home with a driving syncopated chordal stomp section consisting of a 4/4 bar, a 3/4 bar and two more 4/4 bars with a final beat one.
The only song the group did not play live from A Farewell to Kings was "Madrigal" (named after a 16th century vocal genre probably by Neil). At 2:33, it is even shorter than "Closer to the Heart" and was the last song the group worked on at the sessions.
"They had built a brand new reverb echo chamber," recalled Alex, "Which was basically a big room which was all tiled with mics set up at different distances to capture different reverb times. I recorded some guitar stuff in there trying to create a sort of a string ensemble for 'Madrigal.' There was no light in it so we brought in one bare light bulb. It was very odd. You couldn't speak loudly in there because it was so reverberant it would drive you mental. I had my amp set up there and my volume pedal and my effects and did it right there in that room. We had most of the song done and then we added that as we would if we had brought in a string quartet or something."
Terry loved the echo chamber. "It was quite a large room," he mused, "And it had all these huge plates of glass that were hung on these rails so you could move them forward and backward and they turn through 360 degrees so you could make the room feel way, way bigger with all these reflections. It was a really stunning sound. I've never seen one like that before or since. The reverb in the room was so loud it was crazy. It was an amazing room."
"We kind of saved 'Madrigal' for last," Alex recalled, "Because we wanted to concentrate on the heavier, harder stuff. We've always liked having at least one piece on a record that was kind of out of left field and a little unusual and not really expected for what we normally do. That was this track. It was never going to be played live and we could have some fun with it. I could create that string ensemble thing with a bunch of overdubs. I think Ged played some acoustic guitar on it as well. It's not my full cup of tea but it's always fun to go through the exercise. Ged's got that streak in him. He's got that really soft, mushy, streak. He likes those sort of things. I would say that he was probably the lead on that stuff."
Neil's drums were also recorded in the echo room. The essence of the song is the movement back and forth between major and minor in the verses and the rather odd chord progression. Geddy developed a wistful, haunting Mini Moog line for the 10-bar intro and the 16-bar tag that compliments the sentiments of the lyrics perfectly.
As was the case with side 1 of A Farewell to Kings, side 2 concludes with a ten minute epic, "Cygnus X-1: Book One—The Voyage." Tellingly, at the end of the printed lyrics to the song the words "To be continued" appear, hinting at a follow up that would become the opening 18 minute track of the group's next album, Hemispheres.
Cygnus X-1 is an actual galactic X-ray source in the constellation Cygnus. Located some 6,070 light years from the Sun, it is widely accepted within the scientific community to be a black hole located adjacent to a humungous blue star labeled HDE 226868. Initially postulated in 1964, due to work in England and at the University of Toronto in 1971 by astrophysicist Tom Bolton (reported in Nature, February 1972 and in Nature Physical Science, December 1972), most scientists were convinced it was a black hole. Neil first read about it in an article in Time magazine. Researching it further in Scientific American and other journals, Neil began to think of writing a conceptual extended piece based on an astronaut who sets the controls of his spaceship, the Rocinante, towards Cygnus X-1 fascinated by what it could be and what might lie on the other side of it. Unfortunately, as he gets closer, his spaceship is drawn into the black hole by the pull of its gravity, Geddy screaming "Sound and fury/Drown my heart/Every nerve/Is torn apart."
"I was never a sci-fi nerd kid," opined Neil to Seconds in 1994, "And I didn't watch Star Trek or read science fiction but when I was in England, I was poor and couldn't afford to buy books. So, I was ransacking the closet where I lived and found a lot of sci-fi. It reintroduced me to the genre and made me realize it wasn't all about numbers and integrated circuits. It refreshed my idea of what the style was, and that led me into fantasy. It was a whole lot of reading at the time, of being young and interested in fantasy and science fiction and alternative universes. That was all in my reading, so naturally it was reflected in the lyrics."
"There's varying theories on Cygnus X-1," he explained. "My favourite one is that it's a crack in our dimension, our universe, our plane, and it leads to something different. Science fiction is just an opening to your imagination. I think that's science fiction at its best; it throws your imagination wide open. There's no limit."
Geddy explained to Team Rock, "There was a kind of continuation of '2112' in 'Cygnus X-1.' The one extends to the other. A lot of the musical themes in 'Cygnus X-1,' like that whole spacey intro, are definitely connected back to '2112,' although 'Cygnus X-1' is a bit more foreboding ... there would be no 'Cygnus X-1' without '2112."Cygnus X-1' was a real head-first dive into outer space — a whole different kind of trip."
"Cygnus X-1" is one of Rush's musically most progressive songs. As Durrell Bowman (no relation) has noted, the piece "features a substantial amount of electronically generated sounds and sound effects, frequent metrical complexities (28% in asymmetrical meters alone), a large number of tonal areas (eight), a high degree of unison playing (35%), and one of the smallest sung proportions on Rush's first five studio albums (16%)."
Neil's story consists of a seven line explanation of the black hole Cygnus X-1 by producer Terry Brown, his voice, flanged, delayed, and slowed down to the point where he sounds like Darth Vader, plus two sets of lyrics sung in the first person by Geddy as the astronaut undertaking the journey. The rest of the piece is instrumental, the three members of Rush, in effect, creating soundscapes that are cinematic that sonically convey much of the composition's narrative.
"That's what we just loved doing," stressed Alex. "We've always looked at our material as being kind of cinematic. We've always developed our songs into movies rather than short films. The fact that we love to play so much instrumentally leant itself to having long intros, long middle sections and long outros. And, it gave us a chance to stretch out and get lost in the sounds and the swirling atmospheric stuff that we so enjoyed doing that we felt was so unique at the time. There were not too many three piece hard rock bands that were doing that sort of thing." As was the case with "Xanadu" the composition has a five-part introduction with the first sung vocal line appearing at the halfway mark circa 5:01. The first part of the introduction consists of a soundscape consisting of studio created electronic effects, Brown's narration about the existence of Cygnus X-1 and some heavily echoed tubular bells conveying the sense of massive space. The group had a great time developing this section in the control MOM. "That was all of us," said Alex, "But Terry was great at getting this looping feedback in the console. He would just run a channel through another channel and create this loop and manipulate it by the fader. If he pushed the faders up, it would start to generate more feedback and then he'd pull it back and create reverb and tape loop delay. We've done that a few times. We did it on Hemispheres as well. We would smoke a joint and get into that and have a lot of fun with it 'cause it was completely creative. It didn't connect to anything really musically. It was just creating this really deep, space kind of sound. We just had a riot with that."
"I used a number of delays," added Terry. "I probably had 4 or 5 delays. They would all be able to be fed into each other separately. There would be a mish mash of all these delays and they would all be up in the audio spectrum. Once the sound got into the first delay, it could go into the fifth and then the third and then back to the fourth or the second and back to the first again. You could send some of them to reverb as well, so some delays would have a longer perspective that would just disappear into space while other ones would bounce back and then move across the stereo spectrum. It would just create this amazing backdrop of mystery and space."
The second section of the introduction opens with an ascending atmospheric bass line by Geddy that is faded in gradually. Extremely syncopated, Geddy is eventually joined by the drums and guitar and the rhythm settles into a pattern consisting of four bars: 3/4, 7/8, 3/4, 4/4. At 2:56 the third section of the introduction centers around an alternation of the notes A and C in 4/4 followed by three descending three chord chromatic sequences each punctuated by elaborate drum fills. At 3:21 there is a fast 12/8 unison passage in C# minor comprising the fourth part of the introduction, ending with relatively slow unison ascending eight semitone line. The fifth and final part of the introduction, beginning at 3:36, shifts down a half tone to C minor and alternates between 11/8 and 12/8 bars moving from C minor at the end a tritone away to F# major.
At 5:01 Geddy's vocal appears singing the first half of the verse calmly, processed with a very strange flanging effect. The next half is sung in a harsh, hard rock style with full power trio accompaniment. Here is where we learn of our protagonist's desire to find out what lies on the other side of the black hole.
The first vocal section is followed by a celebratory C major hard rock section as the protagonist sets his course for Cygnus "headed into the heart of mystery." Here we learn his spaceship's name, the Rocinante, which in Greek mythology was the name of Zeus' horse. It was also the name of Don Quixote's horse in Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra's 17th century novel and John Steinbeck's pickup truck in his 1961 tome Travels with Charley: In Search of America. At 6:28 the joy of C major shifts to C minor and a much slower tempo as we learn that the black hole's X-ray is "her siren song" and that "My ship cannot resist her long/Nearer to my deadly goal/Until the black hole/Gains control." This ominous turn of events is followed by a brief guitar solo and a repeat of the ascending semitone figure.
From 7:12 to 8:34 the band instrumentally explores the effect of the Rocinante being pulled into the black hole. At first there is a calm void and then desperate, frantic, frenzied playing. The C# minor 12/8 figure returns at 8:34. At 8:55 over the 12/8 figure Geddy sings: "Spinning, whirling/Still descending/Like a spiral sea/Unending." Twenty seconds later he proclaims the unthinkable: "Sound and fury/Drowns my heart/Every nerve/Is torn apart." Four seconds later the fury of the band fades away after which Alex plays four rather odd chords: C-, Eb-, E-(add F#), E-.
I asked him about the very odd denouement: "We talked about it and we didn't feel that ending with that crazy, maniacal ending was satisfying for us. We [added] those chords to at least [have] something that kept the listener thinking and pondering and maybe would lead to something else." A year later it would lead into the very first track on the very next album entitled, "Cygnus X-1 Book Two: Hemispheres."
In the press release for A Farewell to Kings, Neil wrote, "The music [for 'Cygnus X-1'] was almost entirely created right in the studio, and it was a very satisfying accomplishment for us all. It has to be one of the most powerful things we have done. If it doesn't give you goose bumps, you're not playing it loud enough!"
The form, composition and technical execution of the piece is masterful. As hard as it was to believe that Rush could follow 2112 with anything as powerful, intense and thought provoking, they had indeed risen to the task.
The cover of A Farewell to Kings is as powerful as the music. Artist Hugh Syme created a composite photo from a number of elements. He told Creem magazine: "The sky and the foreground are not in the same place. The buildings and the sky are from Toronto, and the foreground was a demolished warehouse in Buffalo. I would've loved a cathedral in the same condition, or something more worthy of the pathos you were intended to feel for an old building being in that state. We also began a series of puns with that album, in that the King is a puppet King. There have been a lot of criticisms of the throne over the past couple of decades as being a heritage that we really can't disregard, but certainly don't take as seriously as we used to."
In 2017 Syme reflected on the cover explaining to me; "When Neil and I discussed the 'farewell' and 'kings' aspects of his title we wanted to acknowledge the literal, as well as some broad and varied allegorical aspects, through the imagery. From a political view, the monarchy had devolved into little more than a figurehead, a front man if you will, which is where we bring the marionette into play: a puppet at the self-serving and perverse whims of big industry and the increasingly apathetic voices of the people — far from the days of absolute rule.
"We also touch on whether demolishing the familiar, and expropriating the beautifully historic from our landscape is really progress and where, in its place, we have so often 'paved paradise, and put up a parking lot.' Bidding farewell to 'kings' embodies bidding farewell to the legacy of a rich and timeless culture (including historic landmarks, architecture, nature, art, theater, language, conversation, and human decency), hastily and recklessly displaced with the banal and the prevailing narcissism and tendency towards immediate gratification that we find our world steeped in today. The smokestacks and heavy industry are used as a backdrop to the world we live in. Possibly the cover was an early foray into commenting on global annihilation (deforestation, pollution, ugly urban sprawl) all in the name of 'progress.' 'Crisis, what crisis?' comes to mind."
Sound and vision completed, A Farewell to Kings was released September 1, 1977 and proved to be even more successful than 2112. Geoff Barton in Sounds called it a "Masterwork," adding "Just like Rush's British tour, A Farewell to Kings is a triumph. A total, out-and-out, honest-to-God, five star studded, complete, utter, unmitigated triumph."
In October, the group shot three "live simulated" videos at Seneca College of "A Farewell to Kings," "Xanadu" and "Closer to the Heart." All are included here on the Blu-ray Audio Disc as bonus material. Between Mercury's promotion and the band's non-stop touring, the album sailed to #22 in the United Kingdom and #33 in the U.S. while in Canada, Rush was awarded "Group of the Year" at the Junos (the Canadian Grammys) and producer Terry Brown won the Juno for "Producer of the Year." By November the album was certified gold in both the U.S. and Canada and would eventually go platinum.
Two weeks before the album was even issued, the group had already taken to the road promoting it, the first show occurring August 17, 1977 in Davenport, Iowa. Through January 31, 1978 they played over 90 shows in North America headlining 16,000 seat arenas in some cities and 3,000 seat theaters in others. Taking eleven days off, the group headed across the Atlantic for their second U.K. tour, opening February 12, 1978 in Birmingham. A week later, on the 19th and 20th, two shows were recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in London. Part of the February 20th gig was issued in 1998 as the third disc of the live Different Stages CD set. As part of the bonus material put together for this box set, the full concert is included on discs 2 and 3, newly remixed by producer Terry Brown. The previously unissued tracks are "Lakeside Park," "Closer to the Heart," "2112," and a nearly six-minute drum solo, constituting nearly 34 minutes of previously unreleased music. As exciting as it is to hear the previously unreleased material, the real treat is getting a full, unexpurgated concert from beginning to end with Rush at the height of their powers after playing just over 100 gigs supporting A Farewell to Kings. It is an absolutely stunning show, beginning to end.
This deluxe 40th Anniversary Box set also has a wonderful bonus feature in the 5.1 mix of the album done by surround sound wizard Steven Wilson.
Wilson mixed the record from the original master tapes, using high resolution 96kHz / 24-bit audio files in Logic Pro. He found he had some interesting challenges. "The biggest challenge with surround sound mixing a Rush album from the 70's," he explained, "Is that the band were essentially recording in the studio the same way they performed live, as a trio with relatively little overdubbing, at least when compared to the more layered records they made from the '80s onwards. Of course, there are overdubbed elements on A Farewell to Kings; synthesiser parts, acoustic guitars, percussion details, and sound design, and when these additional elements are present there were plenty of opportunities to make full use of the surround field and really envelop the listener (especially on the opening sections of 'Xanadu' and 'Cygnus X-1'). But there are also many parts of the songs where the arrangements are comparatively sparse, 'power trio' style—drums, bass, double tracked guitar, a single vocal, and an occasional guitar solo. To me it sounds a little strange to place lead vocals and solos anywhere other than in the front speakers, so that raised the question of how to create a surround sound experience for these parts of the songs. In the end, I elected to keep the double tracked guitars mainly front left and right, bass guitar anchored in the middle, and to make use of the surround by spreading the drums around the listener. Although that may not be a very purist approach, it sounds kinda fun, and after all if you see photos of Neil's kit around that time, he is surrounded by drums!
"Another challenge was recreating the pitch shifting echo effects on 'Xanadu' and 'Cygnus X-1,' where the echo stays at the same speed but the pitch gradually rises or falls (for example on the last two tubular bell strikes during the introduction of 'Xanadu'). These effects were not recorded to tape, echo and reverb being usually added during the mixing process. Eventually a close match was achieved using a tape delay and an Eventide harmoniser, avoiding the need to resort to any kind of digital manipulation."
The bonus track "Cygnus X-2 Eh" was marked "Effects Sequence" on the tape box. Geddy thought that it was an outtake from the electronic experiments conducted for the opening section of "Cygnus X-1." Curiously, it runs much longer than what was ultimately used for that sequence on the album.
Steven Wilson discovered this curio on the multi-track tape box. "My guess," mused Wilson, "Is that the plan was either to originally have a significantly longer and more abstract introduction section, or to mix it to stereo and drop in a section as long as they needed to the main track. Either way, it makes for a convincing piece of avant-garde electronic music that might have given the likes of Morton Subotnick, Tangerine Dream or the BBC Radiophonic Workshop a run for their money!"
As most of the elements on the track ran all the way through the whole four minutes, Wilson attempted to create some kind of narrative by fading parts in and out as the piece unfolded.
Alex suggested on naming this track "Sickness X-1" but ultimately "Cygnus X-2 Eh" became the agreed upon moniker.
Following a practice initiated with 2016's 40th Anniversary deluxe reissue of 2112, executive producer Andy Curran asked a handful of contemporary artists to record new cover versions of songs from A Farewell to Kings. The results are fascinating reworkings of four of the album's six songs by prog metal band Dream Theater, Alain Johannes (Eleven, Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures), and Canadian hard rock favorites Big Wreck and The Trews. All are captivating tributes by younger musicians to the creativity embodied in Rush's A Farwell to Kings, demonstrating even further how much this music has stood the test of time.
Every one of these artists recalls that magic moment when they were first turned on to Rush. Alain Johannes was in a record store in Los Angeles right across from the Whiskey A Go-Go when he first heard A Farewell to Kings. He recalls his "brain being rewired. I pretty much wore that thing out!" The Trews' Colin MacDonald, in his own words, "was late to the Rush party," being turned on to the band by Gord Sinclair, the bass player from The Tragically Hip, when Sinclair was producing The Trews' fourth album. Hearing "Limelight" for the first time was all it took! For Big Wreck's Ian Thornley, growing up in Toronto meant that Rush was a constant presence on the radio and simply part of the soundscape of his life from birth.
Dream Theater's John Petrucci grew up on Long Island. "The Trees" from 1978's Hemispheres was the first song that made him see the light. "It was like, 'Oh my God, this is the greatest music of all time.' I was a big fan of Neil's lyrics—that really had a big influence on me as a lyricist—and of course Alex was one of my biggest influences as a guitar player. I loved the passion in his playing. He plays with a lot of fire and a lot of guts and attitude. I always loved that about him from the very first album through to solos like on 'La Villa Strangiato.' That rawness, that attitude and the way that he made that three-piece [band] sound so full through his choice of chording, open strings ringing out, suspended chords and using chorus and delay just to make the guitar have this really, really big, full, orchestrated sound. It's all stuff that I still do today when I record and I write parts. I am highly, highly influenced by that."
The four different cover versions included here share a certain reverence for the original recordings. Alain Johannes chose to tackle "Madrigal," telling me: "I tried to be reverent and also have fun with it for myself. That song attracts me for its feeling of longing and bitter sweetness. The major/minor [aspect], that tension and release. It just reminded me of timeless music like some classical stuff. It was very troubadourish to me.
"I thought it would lend itself to the Ebo fretless guitar to potentially get the longing feeling, the kind of ghostly singing vocals [of Geddy's]. The Ebo can be very vocal as it is fretless. It's very sine wavy. It's a pretty pure looking wave and the fact that I'm multi tracking you get the oscillations between the oscillators that are inherent [to that process]. I tried to not sing it like Geddy but it was mostly in the fretless Ebo arrangement that I added my own thing."
Johannes also extended the song a little bit, adding an extra forty seconds onto the end.
The Trews turned in a version of "Cinderella Man" that, especially, towards the end, was a little crunchier and a little less tender than Rush's original take on the song.
Trews leader singer Colin MacDonald stressed that, "One influence we noticed in that particular song was a real Who vibe and we kind of brought that side of the song out a little bit more. Some of the chord changes are a little [reminiscent] of The Who. Maybe that is what led to the heavier, crunchier delivery. There's a freedom to that particular song. It sounds a bit chaotic. The Who were always masters of controlled chaos."
Big Wreck was a little nervous going in as they had never covered anything as well known as "Closer to the Heart" but once they started working on it, they had lots of fun. Lead singer and guitarist Ian Thornley explained, "I had an instant picture sonically of what we could do with it. The arrangement that they did, there's not much else you can do. That intro is lightning in a bottle. There's something so magical about that little arpeggiated guitar thing. It's also a nice thing to revisit in the middle of a song." Big Wreck slowed the song down a bit, Thornley turning up the raunch, adding a heavy handed riff to the third and fourth verses, and turning in a wild guitar solo that continued into the beginning of the final verse. Note the cigar box guitar sounding a bit like a mandolin during the first and second verses. Alain Johannes turned Thornley onto the cigar box guitar a couple of years ago and he has been in love with it ever since.
"There's a little more contrast sonically in the version that we did," stresses Thornley. "The guitars are a little more bombastic and rough and ready. I've taken some liberties with some of the turnarounds. I just added some twists and turns but nothing drastic. For the guitar solo, I just went hog wild and just had a blast. I didn't want to quote Alex's playing. It's an odd choice of chords to put together for a solo section. It was like, 'Okay well this is different, how am I going to approach this?' Everything's major chords, so it was, 'Oh, each chord is gonna be a vignette.' That kind of reminds me of a Steve Morse/Dixie Dregs take on this where every chord will have its own phrase almost."
Big Wreck's version of "Closer to the Heart" is the most dramatically different of all four covers from Rush's original.
For Dream Theater's lead guitarist, John Petrucci, covering "Xanadu" was a, "No brainer! I remember as a teenager in the different garage bands that I was in growing up on Long Island in New York, everybody was a Rush fan. We would cover so many Rush songs. We were so into it and if you could play 'Xanadu,' you were the bomb! Even in Dream Theater, I would be improvising and I would sneak in the 'Xanadu' motive and the guys would join in. It was just kind of like this was a song that was part of my history and the band's history growing up. Not that the other songs weren't, but there was something really special about 'Xanadu.' And, it's such an epic. That kind of song writing style was very influential on Dream Theater, the dramatic opening, going through different sections, not being afraid to have things that maybe don't sound so rock, that Mini Moog and all that percussion. It's very creative. It kind of evokes a landscape in your mind. That song has just resonated so much."
The version of "Xanadu" that Dream Theater turned in for this set was recorded while they were on the road. The first decision the band made was to be absolutely faithful to the structure, tempo, key and meter shifts that constitute the piece.
"When you are covering Rush," reasoned Petrucci, "There is a sacredness to the music. The music is challenging. If you are going to tackle it, you want to play it true to Rush, true to the performance and the original intent of the music.
"But, we didn't want to try to emulate any retro sounds, play those types of guitars or try to go for those kind of amp sounds or recording techniques. We just said, 'We will play it like the current Dream Theater that we are with our sound.' My guitar probably sounds a little more metal than Alex's. That was the mindset. We'll keep it true to the structure, true to the parts and the performances but we will not try to emulate the recording as far as the sound. We'll make it sound like modern day Dream Theater in our approach.
"It was so much fun. While I was playing the parts, I was reminded of how much an influence that music was and how much of an influence Alex's playing was on me. Even doing the guitar solo, it just felt like second nature, so natural. It made me remember learning those songs as a teenager—even just things like vibrato style, bending and attitude. It just kind of brought me back to that place."
From the Ebo-dominated Alain Johannes version of "Madrigal" to Dream Theater's near note-perfect take on "Xanadu," the evident respect and admiration that all four artists have for Rush is palpable in their respective covers. Collectively, they speak volumes about the influence that Rush has had on so many contemporary musicians and the veneration in which they continue to be held by their peers.
Pegi Cecconi, Francois Lamoureux (the vault-meister), Hugh Syme, Robert Ott, Andy Hawke, Serena Ragogna, Tracey Singer, Adrian Battiston, Jason Klein, Terry Brown, Steven Wilson, Richard Chycki, Jason "Metal" Donkersgoed, Meghan Symsyk, Ray Wawrzyniak, Rob Bowman, Frank McDonough, Kristen Clark, Larry Wanagas, Darren Gilmore, Rick Baker, Frank Solomon, Ivar Hamilton, Andrew Daw, Faye Fanneran, Blanca Flores, John Virant, Adam Jones, Eric Ratz, Daryn Barry @ The Orange Lounge, David Calcano & Fantoons, Brad Mindich, Sean Magee, Lucy Launder & all of the amazing musicians who contributed so much to this 40th anniversary collection.
PRODUCER'S NOTE: With disc four you are now able to hear at home what we hear in the studio. This Blu-ray disc contains all 6 tracks from A FAREWELL TO KINGS in high resolution 96kHz 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround sound along with the 96kHz 24-bit remastered original stereo mix. It is primarily an audio-only disc with basic navigation and song information displayed on-screen along with three bonus videos. The 96kHz 24-bit audio on this disc has 256 times more resolution than a CD, providing greater detail and reproducing the music's full dynamic range, from the softest to the loudest sounds.
"Xanadu" stereo mix was completed in 1977 at a slightly different pitch (+40cents) when compared to the original multi-track recording. Upon review, the band has requested the 5.1 surround mix remain at the original recording pitch they recorded to tape and keep the stereo mix as its been heard for the past 40 years. If you try to switch the 5.1 and stereo audio streams during mid-playback "Xanadu" will not remain in sync.
Please ensure your Blu-ray player firmware is up to date or certain aspects of this Blu-ray disc may not playback properly. Please consult your Blu-ray player manual and/or manufacturer for firmware update options and process.
Rush - An International Happening - RPM Weekly Magazine, September 1977 Rush: Canada's Most Successful (and Least Recognized) Rock Band - Georgia Straight Magazine, September 1977 Rush - Performance Newspaper, October 1977 To Hell With Bob Dylan. Meet Rush. They're In It For The Money - Maclean's Magazine, January 1978 Black Holes: Close Encounters With RUSH - Sounds Magazine, February 1978 Is The Canadian Rush On? - Music Week Magazine, March 1978 The Rush Tapes, Part 1: Neil Peart Sizes Up 'Farewell to Kings,' the Latest Canadian Rock Opus - Circus Magazine, October 1977 Rush Scores Gold Albums Without Top 40 Radio Play - Winnipeg Free Press, October 1977 Power Pop? 'What's That' Say the Rush Fans - Record Mirror Magazine, March 1978
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