Rush – Moving Pictures (1981)
Welcome back to Your Dad’s Car Stereo where we’re returning to one of my favorite bands this week, Rush. Before we get into the review, stay tuned for Led Zeppelin Month in June where I’m covering Led Zeppelin I-IV back-to-back-to-back-to-back. Listen along and let me know what you think as we cover a legendary series of albums. I’m also working on a couple of specials and longform albums right now, so if you’re interested in lists of favorite and least favorite albums, tracks, then stay tuned!
Moving Pictures is the eighth album from the Canadian trio and, to this day, is the band’s best-selling album. The record solidifies a shift in the band’s sound that was first heard on their previous album, Permanent Waves, towards a more radio-friendly sound with shorter songs and fewer abstract lyrics and instruments. Along with a radio-friendly sound, the instrumentation the band used started changing on this album too; increasing their reliance on the trendy synthesizers and moving away from the three-piece they were known for before this. This marked change would continue for the next decade until the band got back to their roots on 1993’s Counterparts. With all of this, Moving Pictures is often my go-to album when introducing people to Rush before bombarding them with long-form concept albums like 2112 or the Hemispheres series. Moving Pictures features some of Rush’s most popular songs like “Tom Sawyer,” “YYZ” (Pronounced why-why-zed), and “Limelight.” This is a top-notch album from a top-notch band, and I hope you enjoy it!
Dad’s Thoughts- The Breakdown
Tom Sawyer: When someone mentions Rush, this is probably the first song that comes to mind because of its commercial success. “Tom Sawyer” really brings together everything that the band has been up to this album, a hard rocking trio, and melds it with what they’re going to become for the next decade, a more synth-driven band influenced by the New Wave movement out of England. The trio is so in-sync on this track and the instrumentation is flawless. Highlights are Neil Peart’s mega-colossal drum fill during the bridge that gets the whole crowd air drumming in concerts and Lifeson’s shredding guitar solo about halfway through the song. Dad’s Rating 10/10
Red Barchetta: A song about a sports car, yeah you might have heard it before, but have you ever heard it done this well before? “Red Barchetta” is a perfect example of how the lyrics and the music can combine to create a true experience for the listener. The idea is that the song is a story about a time where someone can only drive certain types of cars, the Red Barchetta not being one of them, and the main character racing cars that are trying to chase him. The song builds up to that race from the beginning that starts as a ballad before ending with that same soft beginning. Dad’s Rating 8/10
YYZ: “YYZ” is one of the best instrumental rock pieces ever written. I could end this track there but I’ll continue. Taken from the airport code for Rush’s hometown of Toronto, the first thing you notice is that the intro doesn’t sound normal, and that’s because it’s in an unusual time signature, 10/8. We don’t talk much about music theory on this blog, but the idea is that the top number represents how many beats are in a measure of music and the bottom number represents what type of note receives a full beat (in this case an eighth note is worth one beat, so 10 eighth notes can fill a measure, as can 5 quarter notes, 20 sixteenth notes, etc.). For reference, most songs you hear on the radio are written in 4/4 time. The reason the intro was written was like that was actually so that the notes repeat “Y-Y-Z” in Morse Code! Now for the rest of the song, it’s an absolute masterpiece of guitars, drum work, and appropriate melding of synthesizers to give the track an otherworldly feeling. Dad’s Rating 9/10
Limelight: Who would have thought that a song about the tribulations of fame would end up becoming a massive hit? The band really should have expected that considering their luck with statement pieces. For reference, “The Spirit of Radio” on their previous album was a critique of radio culture and was their biggest hit up to that point. Peart was the primary author on this song and it speaks mostly to his troubles coping with newfound fame. This track embodies everything that makes Rush, Rush. There are classic literary references in the lyrics, what I think is some of Geddy’s best vocal work, and masterful mélange between the instruments. The band is incredibly in sync on this song and I think it shines through. Dad’s Rating 8/10
The Camera Eye: Remember what I said about this album being more radio friendly and shortening the average track length? Well the band couldn’t give it up entirely and we end up with this 10:59 long piece. Much of the song is instrumental and we don’t get any lyrics until almost four minutes into the song. “The Camera Eye” isn’t my favorite Rush song and my biggest issue with it is the organization. I love the music and the instrumentation is dynamic, shifting sounds seamlessly between the verses and the solos, but I feel like this song wants to be one of the big stories in their repertoire and just never got there. If you look at a “2112”or a “Hemispheres”, those tracks tell definable stories that are enhanced by the music. “The Camera Eye” relies too much on the music to make an impact and not on its story, and I think that’s a detriment to the song. Dad’s Rating 5/10
Witch Hunt: I really like “Witch Hunt!” This is one of the songs in the back catalog that gets forgotten about a lot, mostly because it’s sandwiched between “Limelight” and “Vital Signs” on an album with more fantastic songs. This is a great deep cut though, that has an interesting mix between the old rock sound of the band and the emerging New Wave sound, starting with the former and shifting to the latter. The guitar stands out to me on this track, particularly because it sounds a lot like what the band ended up evolving into after the New Wave sound, kind of as a little teaser of what’s coming. Dad’s Rating 7/10
Vital Signs: “Vital Signs” is just a fantastic all-round rock track. The song has a poppier sound to it, not in a Top 40 way, but in a staccato way. Although it’s not the case, it almost sounds like Lee’s vocals are the cause for this during the chorus, but if you listen closely, his vocals are smooth. Credit really goes to Lifeson and Peart for altering the way we perceive the vocals. This is another one of those back-catalog songs that gets pulled out and is really good, it just never got the traction of some of the other songs on the album. Despite that, give it a listen and see what you think! Dad’s Rating 7/10
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