Rush – Moving Pictures
Released February 12th, 1981 on Anthem Records
Produced by Rush & Terry Brown
Peaked at #3 US, #3 UK
“Tom Sawyer” (#44)
“Vital Signs” (#41)
Moving Pictures is the third-greatest prog rock album ever made, eclipsed only by In The Court Of The Crimson King and The Dark Side Of The Moon. That bears saying before I launch into the rest of this little spiel. Americans have it easy when it comes to Rush; they’re just one of those classic rock bands, a standard-bearer for prog beloved by the same people who sat in their basements playing Dungeons & Dragons every weekend. Even a terminal dork like Ernest Cline can tell: the slovenly, creepy nerd with the slovenly, creepy nerd-van in Fanboys has one rule and that’s “only Rush in the van.” Canadians, though, have a more complicated relationship with the band. There’s a certain goofy strain of Canadian nationalism that pins the country’s superiority on bands like Rush (and the Tragically Hip) and so it isn’t just prog for nerds in this country. Blue collar Joe Sixpacks love Rush; frat boys love Rush; hockey players love Rush; cool rock girls love Rush; drivetime commute radio listeners LOVE Rush; conservatives, liberals, dogs, cats – you get it. So it’s a bit of a problem, you might understand, when you consider the band’s unsavory fascination with Ayn Rand and the philosophy of Objectivism; it’s best to be polite in mixed company and not bring up the fact that Atlas Shrugged is as good an example of turgid, unreadable pulp as you’re ever likely to find, and that it’s more or less a philosophical excuse to be a selfish little shit. No, you have to tamp that right down and pretend everything’s hunky dory when someone tells you that Elon Musk is today’s Tom Sawyer or whatever the brain worms are selling them on that given day. You especially can’t say that stuff in Niagara, where there is an almost palpable hero-worship of the band, driven largely by Neil Peart and the song “Lakeside Park”, which actually was a nice place before soulless real estate developers tore the heart out of Port Dalhousie. You’re apt to take a knife in the ribs outside the fishbowl (people who lift LOVE Rush).
I once sold Geddy Lee a set of office phones. It came about because my starstruck general manager chickened out of doing it (well-respected Sri Lankan general managers LOVE Rush) and I was the next best person hanging around. He is both incredibly tall and incredibly soft-spoken. It was not as hilarious a moment as the time I sold Eugene Levy fax film (which followed an entirely predictable Eugene Levy-style comedy of errors narrative) but it was still a good time. The fact that Rush had probably played in the building at some point in the past (it was, once upon a time, the CBC TV studio on Yonge Street) was just icing on the cake. But Trevor I can hear you saying, didn’t you just say that the band’s love of Ayn Rand was problematic, to say the least? I did, but I also grew up in this country and as I outlined above they are nigh inescapable. Craig Finn once opined that certain songs get scratched into your soul and up here a lot of those songs tend to be Rush songs. Of course, Craig Finn also wrote “It was a blockbuster summer / Moving Pictures got us through to September” (former hardcore kids turned confessional rockers LOVE Rush).
Anyway, Moving Pictures. It was a conscious effort on the band’s part to shorten their song lengths and produce music that would get played on the radio (beyond Toronto, where they would get played regardless). The singles (as well as “Red Barchetta” and “YYZ”) would find permanent rotation on rock stations and 40 years later that has not changed. The Canadian myth-making still gets passed around in conversation: the Ontario Legislature featured prominently on the front cover; the fact that YYZ is the airport code for Pearson International Airport in Toronto; the reggae vibes on “Vital Signs” which were drawn directly from the city’s large and vibrant Caribbean community. One of the people moving those fabled pictures on the front cover is Kelly Jay, frontman for obscure Toronto band Crowbar (Oh, what a feeling….what a russhhhhhhhhhh). These are the things we talk about while Americans make jokes about casting magic missile at the darkness. It marks a definite turning point for the band; the synthesizers that featured prominently in the background of “Tom Sawyer” would take a front-facing role in subsequent albums, starting with 1982’s Signals and going forward. Moving Pictures was really the last album of the traditional prog-rock sound that Rush had developed over the Seventies, and arguably the peak.