Top of the List (#1)
While not exactly on world tours for rock purposes, I do get around the world a bit (as one might guess listening to songs like “Last Flight Out” and “Take Me Home”). Unfortunately, the jet-set lifestyle occasionally has health impacts: I have had a bit of bronchitis, which has curtailed doing vocals for a little while. I will redouble my efforts to get some new music out as soon as I can sing without coughing up a lung.
So anyway, this installment comes to you as I fly into the land of the ice and snow, to the midnight sun where the hot springs blow. But, as leading as that description might seem …
#1 – Exit Stage Left (Rush, 1981)
Those who know me have likely been wondering where all the Rush is! All of Tunnel 18 over the years, including me, have been avid and unabashed Rush fanatics – the kind who argue about the meanings of lyrics, who have seen dozens of shows, who air guitar/bass/drums, who know the secret in-names for Geddy, Alex, and Neil. Each of our rooms was wallpapered with Rush posters, we could easily recite the lyrics of any Rush song up through Signals, and yes, we even read, wondered at, and then carefully set aside the writings of Ayn Rand.
But I also figured that since my own musical upbringing was pretty varied (in a “rock” sense, anyway) I should limit myself to one Rush album for this list. It would have to be #1 on the list, of course …
Rush already had eight incredible studio albums to their credit by 1981, and had spanned an incredible stylistic distance, from pseudo-Zeppelin clones to art/prog sci-fi to a new age of radio-friendly 5-6 minute songs on Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures. The band’s first live album, All The World’s a Stage in 1976, was a pretty good sample of their live act at the time. Exit Stage Left became something else. In particular, to a 13-year old not-very-good guitar (and sometimes bass) player, the album became a window into the world of the possible.
How did these three guys make all of that sound!? How did they lock together so seamlessly? How could they fill these arenas with that much color? How could they play two and sometimes three different instruments in the same song (we thought it might be overdubs until we all saw the Exit Stage Left videotape – which we wore out, trying to figure all this stuff out).
My favorite Rush song is – easily – “Red Barchetta.” The flow of the song is exquisite – from simple plucked harmonics and a bass melody to a simple story, that leads into a free-for-all full-out race through the countryside, finally culminating in a quiet return. In the right moments, it can still bring a clutch to my throat at the start, and goosebumps to my arms at the bridge.
And that’s just one of more than a dozen songs on the album. The spontaneous audience singalong of “Closer to the Heart”, the multi-instrumental gymnastics of “The Trees” resolving straight into the opening of “Xanadu”, and the incredible, flawless, live “La Villa Strangiato” … yes, perhaps a bit of excess and self-indulgence, but we loved every minute of it.
The album became an anthem (ahem) and challenge to us as musicians. Here were all of the parts of what it meant to be fully proficient at the instruments we held. Power chords, arpeggios, shifting time sequences, real-time orchestration, bass as melody, drums as integral sonic elements in addition to timekeeping – all were there for us to find and learn.
There couldn’t be a more influential tableau than that, to my thinking.
Although perhaps there could be one that had a more… proximal effect. And I’ll come to that in a few days.