A Farewell to Kings by Rush

Buy A Farewell to Kings

A Farewell to Kings by RushA Farewell To Kings is the fifth studio album by Rush. It follows 2112, the band’s initial commercial breakthrough in 1976 (check out our Review of 2112). With A Farewell To Kings, the band decided to get even more complex, particularly by employing the first of a two-part concept which would be split over two albums. Although this concept would not be as coherent or as cohesive as that in 2112, it still makes for a very unique and entertaining listen. This first part of “Cygnus X-1” closes the album and speaks of space explorers whose ship is swallowed by a black hole. The theme continues on the next album, 1978’s Hemispheres, with a side long second part that is far more philosophical, speaking of the analytical versus artistic sides of the human brain in a fictional battle between Greek gods. So in essence, although their titles seem to hold nothing in common, A Farewell to Kings and Hemispheres appear to be forever linked.

The remainder of each of these two albums is downright excellent. In fact, if one were to combine the first side of …Kings with the second side of Hemispheres, the result may just be the best Rush album ever. But they are separate entities, so we will focus on A Farewell to Kings because it is a breakthrough. It is the first time Moog synthesizers, played by bassist and vocalist Geddy Lee, are included. The album was also rare in that it was the only one to be recorded off the continent, at Rockfield Studios in Wales, UK.

A Farewell to Kings would become Rush’s first US Gold-selling album, undoubtedly fueled by the success of its predecessor. The band’s songwriting and musical approach got ever more complex, led by the complex lyrics of Neil Peart and the diversity of guitar motifs by Alex Lifeson as well as the great rhythm patterns of both Lee and Peart.
 


A Farewell to Kings by Rush
Released: September 1, 1977 (A&M)
Produced by: Rush & Terry Brown
Recorded: Rockford Studios, Wales, UK, June 1977
Side One Side Two
A Farewell to Kings
Xanadu
Closer To the Heart
Cinderella Man
Madrigal
Cygnus X-1 Book 1: The Voyage
Group Musicians
Geddy Lee – Lead Vocals, Bass, Keybords, Bass Pedals
Alex Lifeson – Guitars, Bass Pedals
Neil Peart – Drums, Percussion

 
The classical guitar intro to the opening title song is excellent, offering a medieval backdrop including the sounds of actual birds chirping. The bass, electric guitar, and drums then crash in with gusto, letting you know that this is Rush and they are musically at their prime. an odd-timed bridge part starts with Lee and Peart and climaxes with a bass and guitar duel lead rudiment section, which is fantastic. Lyrically, the song is a metaphor of a crumbling Kingdom as an allegory of society as a whole. The lyrics also seem to indicate that this will be the first album where they move away from the Ayn Randian world view which was present on earlier album.

“Xanadu” is based on Kubla Khan, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s eighteenth century poem, where the narrator describes searching for a mythical place where one can find immortality. The tranquil beginning brings to mind farmers working in a field, or near a monastery in a slow intro of nearly two minutes. Then the guitar and wind effects pick up before the drums come in like a storm rolling across the fields. Since there are no words here, it seems the meaning can literally be whatever you want it to be, and this helps paint a mental picture in the listener’s mind. It then breaks into a sharp and direct riff with strong guitar, bass, and cowbell-accented drums. Lyrically, the first verse is the singer contemplating how great it would be to find Xanadu. Then the protagonist sets out on his journey to actually find this mythical place and, by the 3rd verse, the listener finds that he has spent the last thousand years trapped in it’s pleasure dome. The message here is the danger of obsession, and the real irony is that he is that even heavens can become hells if you lose your freedom.

Held within the Pleasuredome/ Decreed by Kubla Khan
To taste my bitter triumph / as a mad immortal man
Nevermore shall I return / Escape these caves of ice
For I have dined on honeydew and drunk the milk of paradise…”

The song comes full circle with a calm outtro. “Xanadu”, which marks Rush’s clear foray into program music, is renowned as one of Rush’s finest extended pieces. Live performances of the song require each member to utilize an array of instruments to replicate the studio recording.
 

 
“Closer to the Heart” is the first Rush song to have an external co-writer, Peter Talbot. It became the band’s first “hit single” during the Christmas season of 1977 and still receives a substantial amount of radio play. Lyrically, the song continues the almost anti-2112, altruistic message, making it kind of a let down after the majesty of “Xanadu”. It does have a nice bridge after the second verse, which is just enough to give it the edge of a legitimate Rush song and Lifeson’s guitar is quite memorable throughout.

The album’s second side begins with “Cinderella Man”, based on Frank Capra’s 1936 film Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, which is about a man who inherits a great deal of money and then is thought mad when he starts spending it to help the poor. Musically, the song is excellent with Lee’s bass really standing out through the whole song up to and including the wild and funky bridge where he shines brightest. Lee is also the sole writer of this song, one of the latest tracks to not be a band effort with Peart’s lyrics. “Madrigal” is less inspiring, almost unfinished. On the surface it is a very simple love song, but putting it on this album with more complex and epic songs makes it look a bit pathetic musically and lyrically. There is a nice combination of acoustic and electric guitar, keys and bass but barely any real drumming by Peart and it seems to end way too soon, make it one of the oddest songs in the Rush collection.

The album concludes with “Cygnus X-1 Book 1: The Voyage”. One night I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth and this song came on and I quite literally was scared by Alex Lifeson’s vocoder intro. It freaked the hell out of me! The intro section really evokes the depth and darkness of space with its introduction and spooky synth sounds. This adventure song evokes many literary and science fiction themes, with an apparent doomy ending as the ship is sucked into the black hole (although this turns drastically in the sequel on the next album). The pounding music seems to pain the image of a force pulling faster and faster as the ship is sucked closer and closer to the black hole, while the lyric; “every nerve is torn apart” paints a really freaky ending to the protagonist’s fate. Musically, this eleven minute epic is not quite as excellent as the other pieces during the era.

In a sense, I think the altruistic A Farewell to Kings was constructed as a counterpart (not complement) to self-interest theme of 2112, with Hemispheres being the balancing act between the two. In this sense, it is important to own all three albums in order to get the full effect of late seventies Rush.

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1977 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1977 albums.

 

The Live Album

CRR Special on The Live AlbumWe pretty much cover studio albums exclusively at Classic Rock Review and will continue to do so with the exception of the few studio/live hybrids that we explore later in this article. The reason we do this is because of the generally ubiquitous nature of these live albums as well as the inconsistency in sound and the art of production. In short, we feel the only true way to hear a band live is to hear a band live and we’ll stick to that whole other entertainment art form, the studio album. However, this surely does not mean that the live album has now place in the world of classic rock. So today we will examine some of the more important live albums through time, with a special look at 1976, the current year we are reviewing with our regular features and one year that was especially rich with quality live albums.

The Classic Live Albums

Ever since Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877 there have been live recordings, starting with the the first commercially available music recordings in the 1880s. All recordings were “live”, whether in a studio or concert hall for about 70 years until the 1950s when the first multi track recordings began. But it wasn’t really until 1960s when the true distinction of a live album was made. Although rock n’ roll would be the genre most strongly tied to the live album, two of the most influential recordings came from artists tied mainly to other styles, James Brown and Johnny Cash.

Live At the Apollo by James BrownLive At the Apollo was recorded on October 24, 1962 at the famed theatre in Harlem, New York and released the following year. It was produced at Brown’s expense when his record label opposed the concept of recording an album full of live versions of songs which had already been released. To everyone’s surprise, Live At the Apollo sold rapidly and spent more than a year on the Billboard Pop Albums chart. It was so popular that many radio DJs began playing the album in its entirety, only pausing for commercials during the side break.

Live at Folsom Prison by Johnny CashJohnny Cash met much of the same resistance from his own record label when he proposed recording an album live at the prison he made famous over a decade earlier with his song “Folsom Prison Blues”. The album was recorded at the state prison in California during two shows on the morning and afternoon of January 10, 1968 and released later that year. Cash was supported in this project by his future wife June Carter, his backing band The Tennessee Three, supporting act The Statler Brothers, as well as then-California Governor Ronald Reagan, but with little investment by Columbia records. Nonetheless, the album still rocketed to number one on the Country Charts and the top twenty on the mainstream charts. Further, the album revitalized Cash’s career and lead to his producing a second prison album, At San Quentin.

Woodstock Original SoundtrackA third mega-successful live album from the recordings in the 1960s was the Woodstock soundtrack, a 6-sided triple album released on May 11, 1970. The album was unique at the time not only because of the variety of performers (18 different artists performed on the original version), but also for its “feel” as just about each track contained stage announcements and conversations among the musicians, which acted as a narrator of the overall Woodstock story. The original LP was also laid out with side one backed with side six, side two backed with side five, and side three backed with side four, to accommodate the popular record changer turntables, something which would become standard for most multi-disk live albums.

Early 1970s Live Albums
Some of the better Live Albums of the early 1970s

Starting in 1970, a prolific period of several top-notch live recordings began. That year featured many great live albums such as Live At Leeds by The Who, Absolutely Live by The Doors, Band of Gypsys by Jimi Hendrix, and Mad Dogs and Englishmen by Joe Cocker, which had sales fueled by his impressive performance on the the a fore-mentioned Woodstock soundtrack. Subsequent years saw more classic live recordings such as At Filmore East by the Allman Brothers in 1971, Made In Japan by Deep Purple in 1972, Yessongs by Yes in 1973, Alive by Kiss in 1975, along with a couple of original live recordings by the Grateful Dead.

As the golden age of live albums started to wane in the late seventies and early eighties, the quality live albums were fewer and further between. In 1978 Aerosmith released the fine Live Bootleg while the newcomers Cheap Trick released At Budokan. The Eagles finished off their remarkable career with Eagles Live in 1980 while another band with a long career capitalized on their new found fame with Showtime! in 1982. The following year, U2 displayed their talents on Under a Blood Red Sky.

The great live album that never was should have been released following the plethora of great performances at Live Aid in 1985. No tradition “album” was released from these performances with a four DVD set finally coming out in 2004.

Top Live Albums from the Later Classic Rock Period
Top Live Albums from the Later Classic Rock Period

Live Albums in 1976

At this articles date of publication, the year the Classic Rock Review is examining is 1976, which also happened to be a very strong year for live recordings. In fact, the deliberation on whether to cover some these live albums with regular reviews is what initially sparked the idea for this special feature. So we’ll give a little bit of special attention to some of the great live albums from the bicentennial year.

Frampton Comes Alive by Peter FramptonFrampton Comes Alive! by Peter Frampton
Released January 6, 1976 (Double LP)

Perhaps one of the most successful commercial live albums ever, Frampton Comes Alive! was a double live that sold at a price comparable to “single” albums of the day. This marketing scheme may have incentivized fans to check out this artist whose previous four solo albums had little commercial success, but it was the quality of the material and performance that created the snowball effect making this a true breakthrough for Frampton.

Robin Trower LiveRobin Tower Live by Robin Tower
Released March 3, 1976 (Single LP)

Recorded in Sweden over a year before its release, this album by a true power trio lead by the former axeman of Procol Harum captures the group extremely loose and freewheeling. This is because the shows were recorded by the Swedish Broadcasting Company while the band was completely unaware that the show was being taped.

Live Bullet by Bob SegerLive Bullet by Bob Segar
Released April 12, 1976 (Double LP)

Live Bullet forecast the popular rise of Bob Seger by first becoming a staple on Detroit rock radio and later reaching a much further audience due to some of the timeless classics on the album. Although Seger’s success was still mainly regional, this album played a large role in him headlining before 78,000 at the Pontiac Silverdome in June 1976.

One More From the Road by Lynard SkynardOne More From the Road by Lynard Skynard
Released September 13, 1976 (Double LP)

This was Lynard Skynard’s first, and sadly last live album during the “classic” era of the band, which ended with a plane crash in 1977 that killed several members. The version of “Freebird” propelled that then-five-year-old song into FM radio super status for decades to come.

The Song Remains the Same by Led ZeppelinThe Song Remains the Same by Led Zeppelin
Released September 28, 1976 (Double LP)

Led Zeppelin was a fantastic live act, as we later found out from the various bootlegs and eventual collections released in the 1990s and 2000s. Unfortunately, the band’s only concerted effort at capturing the live magic was done during a couple of sub-par shows at the end of their 1973 tour. Producer Jimmy Page and the band spent three years overdubbing and patching in both audio and video for the dual film and soundtrack. It was great because it was Zeppelin live and it was all we had for decades. But it could have been so much greater.

All the World's a Stage by RushAll the World’s a Stage by Rush
Released September 29, 1976 (Double LP)

All the World’s a Stage was the first live album by Rush, marking the conclusion of the first four studio, one live album “phase” of the band. They would repeat this pattern several more times through their long career. The performances were recorded in June 1976 in the trio’s home city of Toronto.

Wings Over America by WingsWings Over America by Wings
Released December 10, 1976 (Triple LP)

A decade after the Beatles stopped playing live gigs, fans finally got a chance to hear Paul McCartney perform live with his new band, Wings. Although the triple album was made up mostly of songs from McCartney’s post-Beatles career, Wings Over America did offer five Beatles songs becoming the most modern recordings to date of these compositions.

Hybrid Albums

Through the years there were a select number of albums which contained a hybrid of live and recorded material. These include Cream‘s Wheels Of Fire from 1968, Pink Floyd‘s Ummagumma from 1969, Eat a Peach by the Allman Brothers and Everybody’s In Showbiz by The Kinks from 1972, and Rust Never Sleeps by Neil Young & Crazy Horse in 1979. Classic Rock Review may review these as regular albums when the time comes.

Hybrid Albums

Ironically, as more and more live albums proliferated through the 1990s their prestige seemed to wane and fewer and fewer were considered “classic” recordings. This is likely due to the relative simplicity of digital recordings and hence the less capturing of “lightning in a bottle” with live performances. Still, we’ve only just scratched the surface of all the fine live albums through the decades, so please feel free to comment on some of these omissions.

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Ric Albano

2112 by Rush

Buy 2112

2112 by RushConvinced that their run at fame was all but over, the members of Rush decided to go out “in a blaze of glory”. They were all very satisfied with the previous album, 1975’s Caress of Steel and felt that the rock world just didn’t get it. Further, with sales down and exposure decreased, they resented the fact that their label, Mercury Records, seemed to be pressuring them at their most vulnerable point rather than offering the support they really needed. The label specifically did not want them to do another album with “concept” songs, such as they had with the 12-minute “The Necromancer” and the side-long epic “The Fountain of Lamneth”.

But rather than deliver some lame, commercialized album like the record company had demanded, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart decided to double down and make the album that THEY wanted to make as a band. They had all accepted the fact that this was probably their last best shot in the music industry and were willing to go back to life as civilians rather than have their creative instincts dictated from above. In fact, they had jocularly referred to their recent tour of clubs as the “Down the Tubes” tour.

On April 1, 1976, Rush released 2112, which indeed included a side-long eponymous concept song. But instead of choosing a pure prog rock album, the band blends a nice mix of heavy pop rock with the five standard length songs on the second side. With limited label support and little-to-no radio support, this platinum album would still go on to sell like hotcakes on the strength of word-of-mouth alone. Ironically, it would buy the band their creative independence from any future mingling by Mercury and subsequent labels. The band would be free to make whatever kind of music they wanted to make. As Neil Peart, the band’s primary lyricist said;

It was the skeleton key that let us open that door…”

 


2112 by Rush
Released: April 1, 1976 (Mercury)
Produced by: Terry Brown & Rush
Recorded: Toronto Sound Studios, February 1976
Side One Side Two
2112 A Passage to Bangkok
The Twilight Zone
Lessons
Tears
Something For Nothing
Group Musicians
Geddy Lee – Bass, Synths Vocals
Alex Lifeson – Guitars
Neil Peart – Drums, Vocals

 

The obvious focal point of the album is the “2112” suite that occupies the entire first side. Like he had on previous albums, Peart turned to author and philosopher Ayn Rand for inspiration, as the story closely mirrors that of her short story Anthem (ironically, the song “Anthem” off Fly By Night, while definitely inspired by Rand, was less a translation of the story by the same name). “2112” tells the dystopian story of a multi-planet society controlled the Federation of the “Red Star”, who have “no need for ancient ways” or items like the electric guitar, which is discovered by the story’s protagonist.

Rush in 1976

The seven-part suite is a cohesive and mesmerizing piece with an exciting jam, “2112 Overture”, kicking things off. Geddy Lee sings in different voices, playing the protagonist, the nemesis “priests”, and the “Oracle” – and he pulls it off fantastically, especially during the “Presentation” section of the suite. Further, the space age effects that encapsulate the whole piece give it an additional edge for appealing to the Star Wars generation of the late 1970s (even though “2112” preceded the Lucas classic by more than a year). As yet another added dimensions, there is also something a bit religious about it with the lyric “…and the meek shall inherit the earth…”, as well as the fictional society being run by “priests”. The world was ready for this type of progressive statement, that fit perfectly 1976 but yet still sounds fresh a generation and a half later.
 

 
The second side of the album is filled with standard-length, accessible pop rock songs that are each radio friendly (so, in this sense the band may have, in fact, quasi-capitulated to the record company). The side is highlighted by “A Passage to Bangkok”, a longtime fan favorite that moves from location to location on a “train” (which, at one point, mysteriously jumps the Atlantic Ocean from Bogota to Katmandu), sampling all the diverse “herb” of these native lands. “Something For Nothing”, which returns to the Randian theme on individuality, shows the band at full force to end the album on a high.

Rush Starman LogoThe album’s back cover included the “Starman Logo”, which Neil Peart describes as symbolic of the individual against the masses. The logo was designed by Hugh Syme, who first worked with Rush on their cover of Caress of Steel and would be involved with most of band’s cover art in the future. Syme also played mellotron on the 2112 song “Tears”, becoming the first outside musician to make an appearance on a Rush album. That song is unique as a love song written solely by Lee, who also plays acoustic guitar on the track. Alex Lifeson also had his own fully composed song with “Lessons”, which features and upbeat blend of acoustic and electric riffs. “The Twilight Zone” is based on two episodes of the Rod Serling television show of the same name, with the lyrics based on two specific episodes; “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?” and “Stopover in a Quiet Town” It was the first and only single to be released from 2112.

The success of this album launched the band into their most prolific and artistically intensive period of their career. Although the longevity of Rush would see them compose even finer albums over the next several decades, 2112 remains a definitive work in the band’s history.

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1976 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 40th anniversary of 1976 albums.