Since the release of the band's self-titled debut album in March 1974, Rush has become known for the instrumental skills of its members, complex compositions, and eclectic lyrical motifs drawing heavily on science fiction, fantasy, and libertarian philosophy, as well as addressing humanitarian, social, emotional, and environmental concerns.
Musically, Rush's style has evolved over the years, beginning in the vein of blues-inspired heavy metal on their first albums, then encompassing hard rock, progressive rock, a period dominated by synthesizers and, more recently, modern rock. They have influenced various musical artists, including Metallica, The Smashing Pumpkins and Primus, as well as notable progressive metal bands such as Dream Theater and Symphony X.
Rush has won a number of Juno Awards, and was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1994. Over the course of their careers, the individual members of Rush have been acknowledged as being some of the most proficient players on their respective instruments, with each band member winning several awards in magazine readers' polls. As a group, Rush possesses 24 gold records and 14 platinum (3 multi-platinum) records. According to the RIAA, Rush's sales statistics place them fourth behind The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Aerosmith for the most consecutive gold or platinum albums by a rock band. Rush also ranks 78th in U.S. album sales with 25 million units. Although total worldwide album sales are not calculated by any single entity, as of 2004 several industry sources estimated Rush's total worldwide album sales at over 40 million units.
The band recently finished promoting their latest album, Snakes & Arrows with an intercontinental tour. The second leg began in San Juan, Puerto Rico on April 11, and ended on July 24, 2008 in Noblesville, Indiana.
The original line-up formed in August 1968 in the neighbourhood of Willowdale in Toronto, Ontario, by guitarist Alex Lifeson, front man Jeff Jones, and drummer John Rutsey. Within a couple weeks of forming, and before their second performance, bassist and lead vocalist Jones was replaced by Geddy Lee, a schoolmate of Lifeson. After several lineup reformations, Rush's official incarnation was formed in May 1971 consisting of Lee, Lifeson, and Rutsey. The band was managed by local Toronto resident Ray Danniels, a frequent attendee of Rush's early shows.
After gaining stability in the lineup and honing their skills on the local bar/high school dance circuit, the band came to release their first single "Not Fade Away", a cover of the Buddy Holly song, in 1973. Side B contained an original composition, "You Can't Fight It", credited to Rutsey and Lee. The single generated little reaction and, due to record company indifference, the band formed their own independent record label, Moon Records. With the aid of Danniels and the newly enlisted engineer Terry Brown, the band released their self-titled debut album in 1974, which was considered highly derivative of Led Zeppelin. Rush had limited local popularity until the album was picked up by WMMS, a radio station in Cleveland, Ohio. Donna Halper, a DJ and music director working at the station, selected "Working Man" for her regular play list. The song's blue collar theme resonated with hard rock fans and this new found popularity led to the album being re-released by Mercury Records in the U.S.
Immediately after the release of the debut album, Rutsey resigned in July 1974 due to his affliction with diabetes and a distaste for touring. Rush held auditions and eventually selected Neil Peart as Rutsey's replacement. Peart officially joined the band on 29 July 1974, two weeks before the group's first US tour. They performed their first concert together, opening for Uriah Heep and Manfred Mann with an attendance of over 11,000 people at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on August 14. In addition to becoming the band's drummer, Peart assumed the role of principal lyricist as Lee and Lifeson had very little interest in writing, contributing to only a handful of song lyrics over the rest of the band's career. Instead, they focused primarily on the musical aspects of Rush. Fly by Night (1975), Rush's first album after recruiting Peart, saw the inclusion of the band's first epic mini-tale "By-Tor and the Snow Dog", replete with complex arrangements and multi-section format. Lyrical themes also underwent dramatic changes after the addition of Peart due to his love for fantasy and science-fiction literature. However, despite these many differences some of the music and songs still closely mirrored the blues style found on Rush's debut.
Following quickly on the heels of Fly By Night, the band released 1975's Caress of Steel, a five track hard rock album featuring two extended multi-chapter songs, "The Necromancer" and "The Fountain of Lamneth." Caress of Steel was reported by some critics to be unfocused and an audacious move for the band due to the placement of two protracted numbers back-to-back, as well as a heavier reliance on atmospherics and story-telling, a large deviation from Fly by Night. Intended to be the band's first "break-through" album, Caress of Steel sold below expectations and the promotional tour consisted of small venues which led to the moniker the "Down the Tubes Tour. In light of these events, Rush's record label pressured them into molding their next album in a more commercially friendly and accessible fashion. However, the band ignored the requests and developed their next album, 2112. It was the band's first taste of commercial success and their first platinum album in Canada. The supporting tour for the album culminated in a three night stand at Massey Hall in Toronto, which the band recorded for the release of their first live album titled All the World's a Stage. Allmusic Guide critic Greg Prato summarily reminds listeners and fans of how the album demarcates the boundary between the band's early years and the next era of their music.
Permanent Waves (1980) shifted Rush's style of music dramatically via the introduction of reggae and new wave. Although a hard rock style was still evident, more and more synthesizers were introduced. Moreover, due to the limited airplay Rush's previous extended-length songs received, Permanent Waves included shorter, more radio-friendly songs such as "The Spirit of Radio" and "Freewill", two songs which helped Permanent Waves become Rush's first U.S. Top 5 album; both songs continue to make appearances on classic rock radio stations in Canada and the United States to this day. Meanwhile, Peart's lyrics shifted toward an expository tone with subject matter that dwelled less on fantastical or allegorical story-telling and more heavily on cerebral topics that explored humanistic, social, emotional and metaphysical elements. Rush's popularity reached its pinnacle with the release of Moving Pictures in 1981. Moving Pictures essentially continued where Permanent Waves left off, extending the trend of highly accessible and commercially friendly pop-progressive rock that helped thrust them into the spotlight. The lead track, "Tom Sawyer", is probably the band's best-known song with "Limelight" also receiving satisfactory responses from listeners and radio stations. Moving Pictures was Rush's last album to feature an extended song, the ten-and-a-half-minute "The Camera Eye". The song also contained the band's heaviest usage of synthesizers up to that point, hinting that Rush's music was shifting direction once more. Moving Pictures reached #3 on the Billboard 200 album chart and has been certified quadruple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Following the success of Moving Pictures and the completion of another four studio albums, Rush released their second live recording, Exit...Stage Left, in 1981. The album delineates the apex of Rush's progressive period by featuring live material from the band's Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures tours. As with their first live release, Exit...Stage Left identified the margin of a new chapter of Rush's sound. The band underwent another radical stylistic transmutation with the release of Signals in 1982.
While Geddy Lee's synthesizers had been featured instruments ever since the late 70s, keyboards were suddenly shifted from the contrapuntal background to the melodic front-lines as evidenced by songs such as "Countdown" and the lead-off track "Subdivisions". Both feature nimble lead synthesizer lines with minimalistic guitar chords and solos. Other previously unused instrument additions were seen in the song "Losing It," featuring collaborator Ben Mink on electric violin. Signals also represented a drastic stylistic transformation apart from instrumental changes. The album contained Rush's only U.S. top-40 pop hit, "New World Man", while other more experimental songs such as "Digital Man", "The Weapon", and "Chemistry" expanded the band's use of ska, reggae, and funk. More specifically, Alex Lifeson's guitar tone and playing style on Signals were very reminiscent of contemporary acts of the time who were well known for incorporating such rhythms into their music. Although the band members consciously decided to move in this overall direction, they felt dissatisfied with long-time producer Terry Brown's studio treatment of Signals and parted ways with him in 1983. These diverse styles would come into further play on their next studio album.
The style and production of Signals were augmented and taken to new heights on 1984's Grace Under Pressure. It was Peart who named the album, as he borrowed the words of Ernest Hemingway to describe what the band had to go through after making the decision to leave Terry Brown. Producer Steve Lillywhite, who gleaned fame with successful productions of Simple Minds and U2, was enlisted to produce Grace Under Pressure. However, he backed out at the last moment, much to the ire of Lee, Lifeson and Peart. Lee said "Steve Lillywhite is really not a man of his word....after agreeing to do our record, he got an offer from Simple Minds, changed his mind, blew us off,..so it put us in a horrible position." Eventually Rush hired Peter Henderson to co-produce and engineer the album in his stead.
Musically, although Lee's use of sequencers and synthesizers remained the band's cornerstone, his focus on new technology was complemented by Peart's adaptation of Simmons electronic drums and percussion. Lifeson's contributions on the album were decidedly enhanced to act as an overreaction to the minimalistic role he played on Signals. Still, many of his trademark guitar textures remained intact in the form of open reggae chords and funk and new-wave rhythms; "Distant Early Warning", "Red Lenses", "Red Sector A" and "The Enemy Within" serving as prime examples.
With new producer Peter Collins, the band released 1985's Power Windows and 1987's Hold Your Fire. The music on these two albums gives far more emphasis and prominence to Geddy Lee's multi-layered synthesizer work. While fans and critics took notice of Lifeson's diminished guitar work, his presence was still palpable on "The Big Money", (the album's modest-charting single) with spotlights on "Grand Designs", "Middletown Dreams" and "Marathon." Lifeson, like many guitarists in the late 1980s, experimented with processors that reduced his instrument to echoey chord bursts and razor-thin leads. Hold Your Fire represents both a modest extension of the guitar stylings found on Power Windows, and, according to Allmusic critic Ed Rivadavia, the culmination of this era of Rush. Whereas the previous five Rush albums sold platinum or better, Hold Your Fire only went gold in November 1987, although it managed to peak at number 13 on the Billboard 200.
A third live album and video, A Show of Hands (1989), was also released by Mercury following the Power Windows and Hold Your Fire tours, demonstrating the aspects of Rush in the 80s. A Show of Hands met with strong fan approval, but Rolling Stone critic Michael Azerrad dismissed it as "musical muscle" with 1.5 stars, claiming Rush fans viewed their favourite power trio as "the holy trinity". Nevertheless, A Show of Hands managed to surpass the gold album mark, reaching number 21 on the Billboard 200. At this point, the group decided to change record labels from Mercury to Atlantic. After Rush's departure in 1989, Mercury released a double platinum two-volume compilation of their Rush catalogue, Chronicles (1990).
The transition from synthesizers to more guitar-oriented and organic instrumentation continued with the 1993 album Counterparts and its follow-up, 1996's Test for Echo, again both produced in collaboration with Peter Collins. Musically, Counterparts and Test For Echo are two of Rush's most guitar-driven albums. Although the music in general did not meet the criteria for "progressive rock", some of the songs could be considered more adventurous than what one might expect from a standard modern rock band. For instance, "Time and Motion" possesses multiple time signature changes and organ usage, while the instrumental track "Limbo", consists of several relatively complex musical passages repeated throughout. Musically, Test For Echo still retained much of the hard rock/alternative style already charted on the previous record. Lifeson and Lee's playing remained more or less unchanged; however, a distinct modification in technique became apparent in Peart's playing due to formal Jazz and Swing training under the tutelage of jazz instructor Freddie Gruber during the interim between Counterparts and Test For Echo. In October 1996, in support of Test For Echo, the band embarked on an extensive and successful North American tour, the band's first without an opening act and dubbed "An Evening with Rush." The tour was broken up into two segments spanning October through December, 1996 and May through July, 1997 with the band taking a respite between legs.
A triple CD live album and dual Rush In Rio DVD was released in late October 2003 featuring an entire concert performance recorded on the last night of their Vapor Trails Tour, 23 November 2002, at Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. To celebrate their 30th anniversary, June 2004 saw the release of Feedback, a studio EP recorded in suburban Toronto featuring eight covers of such artists as Cream, The Who and The Yardbirds, bands which the members of Rush cite as inspiration around the time of their inception. Also in the summer of 2004, Rush hit the road again for the very successful 30th Anniversary Tour, playing dates in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Sweden, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands. On 24 September 2004 a Frankfurt, Germany concert was recorded at The Festhalle for DVD (titled R30: Live in Frankfurt), which was released 22 November 2005.
During promotional interviews for the R30 Live In Frankfurt DVD, the band revealed their intention to begin writing new material in early 2006. While in Toronto, Lifeson and Lee began the songwriting process in January 2006. During this time, Peart simultaneously assumed his role of lyric writing while residing in Southern California. The following September, Rush chose to hire American producer Nick Raskulinecz to co-produce the album. The band officially entered Allaire Studios, in Shokan, New York in November 2006 in order to record the bulk of the material. Taking the band five weeks, the sessions ended in December. On 14 February 2007, an announcement was made on the official Rush web site that the title of the new album would be Snakes & Arrows. The first single, entitled "Far Cry," was released to North American radio stations on 12 March 2007 and reached #2 on the Mediabase Mainstream and Radio and Records Charts.
The Rush website, newly redesigned on March 12 to support the new album, also announced that the band would embark on a tour to begin in the summer. Snakes & Arrows was released 1 May 2007 in North America, where it debuted at #3 in the Billboard 200 with approximately 93,000 units sold in its first week. To coincide with the Atlantic ocean hurricane season, "Spindrift" was released as the official second radio single on 1 June 2007, whereas "The Larger Bowl (A Pantoum)" saw single status on 25 June 2007. "The Larger Bowl" positioned within the top 20 of the Mainstream Rock and Media Base Mainstream charts, however, "Spindrift" failed to appear on any commercial chart. The planned intercontinental tour in support of Snakes & Arrows began on 13 June 2007 in Atlanta, Georgia, coming to a close on 29 October 2007 at Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, Finland.
The 2008 portion of the tour started on 11 April 2008 in San Juan, Puerto Rico at José Miguel Agrelot Coliseum and culminated on 24 July 2008 in Noblesville, Indiana at the Verizon Wireless Music Center. On April 15, the band released Snakes & Arrows Live, a double live album documenting the first leg of the tour. According to the latest Rush electronic newsletter and Peart's official website, it has been confirmed that performances filmed at the Ahoy arena in Rotterdam, Netherlands on October 16 and 17 of 2007 will be released on November 25 as a live concert DVD and Blu-Ray. In addition, the next-to-last performance on the 2008 tour, at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Atlanta, GA was also filmed, and four songs from the Atlanta show will be included on the Snakes & Arrows Live video set.
As the band neared the conclusion of their Snakes & Arrows tour, they announced their first appearance on American television in over 30 years. Rush was interviewed by Stephen Colbert and they performed "Tom Sawyer" on The Colbert Report on 16 July 2008.
Rush's musical style has changed substantially over the years. Their debut album is strongly influenced by British-Blues rock: an amalgam of sounds and styles from such rock bands as Cream, Led Zeppelin, and Deep Purple. Over the first few albums their style remained essentially hard rock, with heavy influences from The Who and Led Zeppelin, but also became increasingly influenced by the British progressive rock movement. In the tradition of progressive rock, Rush wrote protracted songs with irregular and multiple time signatures combined with fantasy/science fiction-inspired lyrics; however, they did not soften their sound. This fusion of hard and progressive rock continued until the end of the 1970s. In the 1980s, however, Rush successfully merged their sound with the trends of this period, experimenting with New Wave, reggae and pop rock. This period included the band's most extensive use of instruments such as synthesizers, sequencers and electronic percussion. It is largely agreed that the culmination of this era of Rush was in 1987 after the release of Hold Your Fire. With the approach of the early '90s and Rush's character sound still intact, the band transformed their style once again to harmonize with the alternative rock movement. The new millennium has seen them return to a more rock and roll roots sound, albeit with modern production.
More than 30 years of activity has provided Rush with the opportunity for musical diversity across their discography. As with many bands known for experimentation, such changes have inevitably resulted in dissent among critics and fans. The bulk of the band's music has always included synthetic instruments in some form or another, and this is a great source of contention in the Rush camp, especially the band's heavy reliance on synthesizers and keyboards during the 1980s, particularly on albums Grace Under Pressure, Power Windows, and Hold your Fire. Still, most fans saw this as nothing less than artistic growth and support for the band remained unwavering through each transitional phase.
The members of Rush have themselves noted that people "either love Rush or hate Rush", resulting in strong detractors and an intensely loyal fan base. To the chagrin of fans, the band has not been nominated for entry into the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since their year of eligibility in 1998. The Hall's refusal to induct Rush may be a consequence of the band's insistence on remaining outside the mainstream of rock when it comes to self-promotion, in favor of maintaining a high degree of independence. To this day fans earnestly clamor for the band's inclusion into the Hall by citing noteworthy accomplishments including longevity, proficiency, and influence, as well as commercial sales figures and RIAA certifications. However, Lifeson has expressed his indifference toward the perceived slight saying "I couldn't care less, look who's up for induction, it's a joke". Rush has gained a degree of recognition in popular culture despite any official recognition from the Hall.
As a band, Rush has been nominated for and received various awards throughout its career. Likewise, the individual members have received coverage in various modern music magazines with specific technocratic recognition for instrumental ability. See List of Rush awards for more details on this topic.
Geddy Lee's high-register vocal style has always been a main signature of the band — and sometimes, a focal point for criticism, especially during the early years of Rush's career when Lee's vocals were high-pitched, with a strong likeness to other singers like Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. In fact, his voice is often described as a "wail". However, his voice has softened significantly over the years. His instrumental abilities, on the other hand, are rarely criticized. An award-winning musician, Lee's style, technique, and ability on the bass guitar have proven influential in the rock and heavy metal genres, inspiring such players as Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, John Myung of Dream Theater, Les Claypool of Primus and Cliff Burton of Metallica among others. Lee is notable for his ability to operate various pieces of instrumentation simultaneously. This is mostly evident during live shows when Lee must play bass, supply lead vocals, manipulate keyboards, and trigger foot pedals during the course of a performance, as in the song "Tom Sawyer". Because of this he is required to remain in one place during songs containing complex instrumentation. Lifeson and Peart are, to a lesser extent, responsible for similar actions during live shows.
Instrumentally, Lifeson is regarded as a guitarist whose strengths and notability rely primarily on signature riffing, electronic effects and processing, unorthodox chord structures, and a copious arsenal of equipment used over the years. Despite his esteem, however, Lifeson is often regarded as being overshadowed by his bandmates due to Lee's on-stage multi-instrumental dexterity and Peart's status as a drummer. During his adolescent years, he was influenced primarily by Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townshend, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. For versatility, Lifeson was known to incorporate touches of Spanish and classical music into Rush's guitar-driven sound during the 1970s. Taking a backseat to Lee's keyboards in the 1980s, Lifeson's guitar returned to the forefront in the 1990s, and especially on 2002's Vapor Trails. During live performances, he is still responsible for cuing various guitar effects, the use of bass-pedal synthesizers and backing vocals.
Despite having completely dropped out of the public eye for five years after the gold-selling Test for Echo (which peaked at number 5 on the Billboard 200) and the band being relegated almost solely to classic rock stations in the U.S., Vapor Trails reached #6 on the Billboard 200 chart in its first week of release in 2002 with 108,000 albums sold. It has sold approximately 343,000 units to date. The subsequent Vapor Trails tour grossed over $24 million and included the largest audience ever to see a headlining Rush show — 60,000 fans in São Paulo, Brazil. Nevertheless, Vapor Trails remains their first album not to achieve at least gold status.
However, Rush's triple CD live album, 2003's Rush in Rio, was certified gold by the RIAA, marking the fourth decade in which a Rush album had been released and certified at least gold. Moreover, in 2004 Feedback cracked the top 20 on the Billboard 200 chart and received radio airplay. The band's most recent album, Snakes & Arrows, debuted at #3 (just one position shy of Rush's highest peaking album, 1993's Counterparts, which debuted at #2) on the Billboard 200 selling approximately 93,000 copies in its first week of release. This marks the 13th studio album to appear in the Top 20 and the band's 27th album to appear on the chart regardless of position over the course of their career. The album also debuted at #1 on the Billboard's Top Rock Albums chart, as well as peaking at #1 on the Top Internet Albums chart when the album was released on the MVI format a month later. Still, Snakes & Arrows has yet to accumulate sales that approach or eclipse Vapor Trails or Rush in Rio.
The two consecutive tours in support of Snakes & Arrows in 2007 and 2008 accrued $21 million and $18.3 million, respectively, earning Rush the number 6 and 8 spots among the top ten summer rock concerts.
In live performances, the band members share duties throughout most songs, with each member triggering certain sounds with his available limbs, while playing his primary instrument(s). Each band member has one or more MIDI controllers that enables him to use his free hands or feet to trigger sounds that have been loaded into the samplers for a particular song. It is with this technology that the group is able to present their arrangements in a live setting with the level of complexity and fidelity that fans have come to expect, and without the need to resort to the use of backing tracks or employing an additional band member.
The band members' coordinated use of foot-pedal keyboards and other electronic triggers to "play" sampled instruments and audio events is subtly visible in their live performances, especially so on R30: 30th Anniversary World Tour, their 2005 concert DVD.
A staple of Rush's concerts is a Peart drum solo. Peart's drum solos include a basic framework of routines connected by sections of improvisation, making each performance unique. Each successive tour sees the solo more advanced, with some routines dropped in favor of newer, more complex ones. Since the mid-1980s, Peart has used MIDI trigger pads to trigger sounds sampled from various pieces of acoustic percussion that would otherwise consume far too much stage area, such as a marimba, harp, temple blocks, triangles, glockenspiel, orchestra bells, tubular bells, and vibra-slap as well as other, more esoteric percussion.
The individual members of Rush have also been a part of philanthropic causes. Hughes & Kettner zenTeras and TriAmps have been endorsed and used by Lifeson for many years. A custom signature amplifier was engineered by Lifeson and released in April 2005 with the stipulation that UNICEF will receive a donation in the amount of $50 for every Alex Lifeson Signature TriAmp sold. Lee, a longtime fan of baseball, donated 200 baseballs signed by famous Negro League players, including Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Josh Gibson, to the Negro Leagues Museum in June 2008.
The band is featured on the music album Songs for Tibet, appearing with a number of other celebrities as an initiative to support Tibet and the current Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso. The album was made downloadable on August 5 via iTunes and was released commercially August 12.