Although it is hard to fathom some forty years after the fact, in February 1976 when the three members of Rush entered Toronto Sound Studios to record their fourth album, 2112, their career literally hung in the balance.
Formed in 1968 as a power trio in a Toronto suburb, the group's early influences were blues-based British hard rock bands such as the Yardbirds, Cream, Led Zeppelin, and Jeff Beck. Not surprisingly, their eponymously titled first album, initially released in early 1974 on their own Moon Records in Canada and soon thereafter picked up by Mercury Records in the States, was a blues-based hard rock tour-de-force. The group's second album, February 1975's Fly By Night, reflected the growing influence of early British prog rock bands such as Yes, King Crimson and Genesis. Fantasy themes began to rear their head in their lyrics as did odd time signatures, angular melodies and the group's first multi-sectioned piece, "By-Tor and the Snow Dog."
Fly By Night was followed in September 1975 with the even more prog oriented Caress of Steel. Containing only five songs, including two epics, the 12-plus minute "The Necromancer" and the twenty minute side long "The Fountain of Lamneth," Caress of Steel was an abject commercial failure, selling fewer copies than Fly By Night and making the powers-that-be at Mercury question whether there was any merit in continuing to work with the group.
Reflecting back on the situation in the fall of 2016, guitarist Alex Lifeson suggested that, "It was a difficult record for a lot of people to take and maybe a difficult one for a band at our stage. For us it was really important to exercise our songwriting and arranging skills. We really felt like we were taking some chances and growing and going somewhere."
"The problem," added bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee while speaking to Team Rock a few years ago, "was that nobody really understood what the hell we were doing with that record. And I can't say we really knew what the hell we were up to either. These long songs we had - 'The Necromancer' and 'The Fountain of Lamneth' - they were very complex and dark. On 'The Fountain of Lamneth' we're talking about Didacts and Narpets. It was kind of hard for people to understand."
Alex remembers playing the album for Kiss guitarist Paul Stanley whom Rush were opening up for on tour and, although Stanley politely nodded his head and told the band it was excellent, in Alex's words, "I could see he was very confused."
Radio play proved to be very limited, at retail the album seemed still-born and Rush found themselves playing often to half-full concert halls.
"We really loved that record," laments Lifeson. "It was really painful for us to go on the road and see that there wasn't any interest."
"It was very disappointing," affirmed Lee. "At that point, we didn't possess the requisite objectivity to know how much was wrong with Caress of Steel. We didn't understand why it had failed so badly. That really shakes your confidence. We were so confused and disheartened."
In fact, things seemed so bleak that they dubbed the last few months of 1975 and the first bit of 1976 as the Down the Tubes tour. For close to six months, finances were so tight that the band could not even draw their meagre $125 a week salary. Alex vaguely recalls that they may have made some t-shirts or passes that literally read "Down the Tubes tour." Now those would be collectable!
The group had initially signed a five album deal with Mercury. Most likely it was structured so that after the first couple of albums, Mercury had the option to either require the group to deliver a third, fourth or fifth album or, conversely, to drop them.
According to manager Ray Danniels, tensions with Mercury had reached the point where he had to fly to Chicago where the company was based and plead with them to roll the dice and exercise the option for one more record. The stakes were clearly high.
In 1980 Lifeson told Guitar Player's Jim Schwartz, "Caress of Steel wasn't a very commercial album. And yet for us, it was a very successful album in terms of our own sense of creativity. We tried doing a number of things differently on the LP - longer songs, different melodic things - and it was a stepping-stone for us. Without Caress of Steel, we couldn't have done 2112."
At this point in their career, Rush was constantly on the road, opening up for a variety of bands including Kiss, Aerosmith and Blue Oyster Cult while also playing smaller venues in Canada and the American mid-West as headliners. Consequently, the material that would comprise 2112 was written mostly on the road on acoustic guitars (or on electric guitars using a small Pignose practice amp) in dressing rooms, hotel rooms and in the group's ever ready road van. Alex, in fact, recalls working on "The Temples of Syrinx" in a dressing room in Sault Ste. Marie while opening act Mendelssohn Joe listened with complete incomprehension at what Rush were trying to do. "It was time to make the new record," Alex explained to me. "I remember having these conversations about, 'What are we going to do? Are we going to try to make another mini-Led Zeppelin record or are we going to do what we are going to do and continue forward and whatever happens, happens?' That's what we honestly decided to do. We fully in-tended to go down in flames but we were prepared to do that. We just couldn't compromise what we felt was our musical integrity and who we were becoming, the identity that we were starting to develop amongst the three of us."
According to Alex, manager Ray Danniels had not heard any of the music the group was working on and when he made his pitch to the suits at Mercury, suggesting that "'You guys are going to love this next record. The guys are back on track," he was lying through his teeth because he was going to go down in flames with us if it didn't work out.
"Ray was absolutely excluded from [the writing and recording] process," continued Alex. "We never wanted him to know what we were doing or hear anything. It was better if we left it to the very end when it was finished. Then we would take it and we would play it for him and then he'd try to figure out what he had do with it."
Speaking to Team Rock for an article on 2112, Lifeson added that the compositions for the album came "from a place of defiance and anger that things were sort of going the way they were around us. So we were fighting back."
Drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, in a 1986 conversation with Nick Krewen, echoed Lifeson's comments: "We were under a tremendous amount of pressure to compromise, to make our music more commercial; to write nice little short songs, and to make them as repetitive and as commercial as possible. Against all that pressure we have prevailed - adopting the influences we wanted to adopt, and taking the course in songwriting that we wanted to take - and working with the people that we wanted to work with, on our terms. It may sound a little egocentric, but it's not. It's just dedication to the values that drew us to music when we were teenagers. We thought that music was such an honest form of self-expression."
Recorded at producer Terry Brown's Toronto Sound Studios in four weeks in February 1976, 2112 reflects a maturity in terms of composition, production and playing that forty years later is still astonishing.
While Alex told Martin Popoff in 2002 that he thought it was recorded on 8-track, by February 1976 Toronto Sound Studios was outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment for the day consisting of a 24-track tape Studer tape recorder and a Neve mixing console. Studio owner and producer Terry Brown had originally met the band when he was asked to remix and do some additional recording for their first album. Beginning with Fly By Night, he would co-produce with the band every Rush album through Signals in 1982.
The sound Brown was able to achieve with Rush managed to combine power and crunch with crystal clarity, warmth and a richness that is opulent in its depth. 2112, as an album, is a sonic feast. Brown would typically place two mics on the kick drum, one on the snare, two on Peart's concert toms, one on each of Peart's rack and floor toms, one on the hi-hat and two overhead to capture the ride and crash cymbals. He would then use two microphones on Alex's Marshall 50 watt amp (Alex was also using a Hiwatt Custom 100 and a Fender Twin Reverb at the time); a Shure SM57 on one speaker and then a condenser mic on the other. He could then add warmth to the sound by adding more of the condenser mic or less of the 57, depending on the desired sound on a given song. Both Terry and Alex liked to have delay in the line going into the amp which meant that there would be compression coming out of the amp which, in turn, added more energy as the delay was being processed by the tubes in the power amp rather than being added at the board.
At the time of recording 2112, Geddy was still using his Rickenbacker 4001 bass which had a stereo output. Brown would fire one half of the output into a DI (direct input on the mixing board) which would be routed through a compressor. The other half would be sent into Geddy's amplifier which would be driving a couple of smallish Electro-voice speakers. With the speakers being driven to the max, the bass sound had bite and distortion which would be picked up by a Sennheiser 421 microphone. The DI would balance the bite and distortion captured by the Sennheiser mic and give the bass a really full, warm sound despite the fact that the amp was being overdriven.
Lee's voice was an extremely unique instrument in and of itself. Due to its inherent shrillness, Brown would use an AKG 414 microphone which had a slightly warmer center to it when compared with many other vocal microphones of the day. Geddy's voice would also typically be put through a UREI 1176 compressor and a Neve pre-amp so that compression on the voice was going straight to tape, rather than being added after the fact. Brown would also typically add some delay to the voice.
The band's typical working method involved hammering out the details of the arrangement of a given piece in pre-production. They would then go into the studio with the three members recording a basic instrumental track with no intention of keeping the bass or guitar parts.
The idea would be to work on the track until they had a perfect drum take with every fill perfectly in place. To avoid any bleed through into any of the drum microphones, for these initial takes they would only use a DI for Geddy's bass and Alex's guitar amp would be put in an isolation booth.
Once the drum track was nailed down to everyone's satisfaction, Geddy would then overdub a solid, killer bass line, his original bass part being disposed of. Next up Alex would record his rhythm part(s) usually double tracking with his Gibson 335. The result would sound larger than life which, for 2112, he would then color with a Fender Stratocaster that he had borrowed from a friend for the sessions. From Terry Brown's perspective, Alex was astonishingly good at double tracking. Once the basic instrumental track was completed, solos, vocals and special effects would be added on top.
The first side of the original record was comprised of the 20:33 seven-part "2112" epic. The story was conceived by percussionist extraordinaire Neil Peart and, in a nutshell, envisions a world 136 years into the future where individualism and creativity are outlawed with the population controlled by a cabal of malevolent Priests who reside in the Temple of Syrinx. In this bleak society, music is no longer known. The narrative revolves around the discovery of a long abandoned guitar in a cave by the story's central protagonist and his consequent vision of a different way of life.
To this day, "2112" remains the longest piece in Rush's history and was significantly more powerful and focused than Caress of Steel's "The Necromancer" or "The Fountain of Lamneth." The piece relies primarily on composed, worked out material and less on the juxtaposition of significant chunks of improvised guitar solos with composed, typically unison, themes than had been the norm on their earlier material. In fact, only 2:34 of the 20:33 of "2112" (12.5%) consists of improvised guitar solos. This approach was first seen on the two extended suites on Caress of Steel but, with "2112" Rush simplified the harmonic approach while becoming much more sophisticated in overall compositional design.
"When listening back to [The Who's] Tommy, " reflects Alex, " there is so much that is connected in the whole suite and you really sense that it is one piece of work. 'The Fountain of Lamneth' was a great attempt at doing what we did with '2112,' but it does sound very disjointed. Each of those songs is more individual and not so connected through its roots. 'Necromancer' was somewhere in between. There is that sense that it is one song but it also feels a little disjointed. '2112' does feel more cohesive to me and it does feel more like a finished suite than either 'The Fountain of Lamneth' or 'Necromancer.' 'The Fountain of Lamneth' was a stepping stone for us. I don't think we would have made '2112' if we didn't make 'The Fountain of Lamneth.' I'll always be grateful for the learning period of Caress of Steel.
"With '2112,' because the whole concept was developing in the way it was, the [individual sections] didn't seem like songs to us so much, to us as they were chapters [in the story]. So we approached them differently in terms of how we musically structured them.
"We have always been film buffs and I think in a lot of our writing throughout our history we have tried to be very cinematic about the way we write our music in the sense that you can sit back and stare at the wall and visualize the story as it's being played and as you're listening to it. '2112' is a great example of how we put that together. It is an opera [and it feels like] you are sitting out in the audience and watching scene changes. It's been our starting point in all of our writing and it seemed to really make its mark with '2112.' It feels like chapters that you're reading and it is very visual. Everything has its character and when it is repeated it reminds you of what that is."
"2112" has seven sections. Two of those sections, "Overture" and "Grand Finale," are instrumental while the middle five sections all have lyrics. There is tremendous variety in the formal structure of the five sections that have lyrics while the opening and closing instrumental sections have singularly unique structures. The integration of recurring and new elements in the context of seven unique formal designs in twenty-and-a-half minutes reflects a degree of compositional growth that is truly impressive.
The entire suite is predicated on a number of binary oppositions brilliantly manifested via tempo, texture, timbre, volume, density, and melodic approach.
"The important thing" relayed Alex to Team Rock, "was that we'd learned more about how we were working and what kind of band we wanted to be. We were becoming better players and better songwriters. We knew what we were doing, and that's a huge advantage."
"Overture" is a masterpiece of what, in effect, is symphonic-style writing. It was the last section of the seven-part suite to be written and embodies most of the major themes presented in five of the other six sections, the exception being "Discovery," which contains wholly new material.
"We just absolutely love playing instrumental music," enthused Alex. It's very liberating for all of us. All our instrumental stuff we just dive into and we have a ball doing. I'm sure with '2112' when we started putting 'Overture' together, we knew what the sequence was, it was just a matter of going through those main themes [from the rest of the suite] and changing the arrangements in such a way that they connected to each other better, rather than having a sense that they were a little more stand alone. In 'Overture' the connection is a lot tighter, you get everything across as quickly as possible, you make slight adjustments in some of the riffs and themes to make the pacing a little quicker and more connected. I thought it really was a success. I think 'Overture' for '2112' is really a solid representation of the whole record. It distills it to this really cool opening."
Alex, of course, is correct. "Overture" is a stunning piece of music. It begins with 46 seconds of sci-fi sounds played on an ARP Odyssey synthesizer by a friend of the band and former keyboard player for Ian Thomas, Hugh Syme.
"Geddy at that point really hadn't been exposed to keyboards at all," smiled Syme. "He was on the floor holding down the bass note. That was his role. I said, 'Just hold that note down' and I started using the envelope filters creating an android seagull sort of sound."
Brown remembers Syme recording a number of ARP parts all with Echoplex delay which he and Syme then used to assemble into a collage. The ARP intro set the stage for the arresting stop-start A theme consisting of power chords played in unison in shifting meters by Lifeson and Peart. The A theme is followed by the B theme, a three bar fanfare repeated twice, which functions as a transition to a new theme (C) played at a much quicker tempo. This new C theme is 16 bars in length broken down into four 4-bar sections. Note how on the third 4-bar section acoustic guitar is added to the mix as is Geddy's voice singing a high wordless part that many listeners could easily mistake as simply being additional instrumental texture. On the fourth 4-bar section, Lee adds a second vocal part which gives way to the D theme.
Also 16 bars in length, the D theme is divided into four 4-bar sections, the third and fourth of which include a distinctive climbing bass line. After two variants of the C theme with Alex playing an ascending guitar lick the second time through, he lays down a truly majestic 16 bar solo (which is preceded by a four bar intro). "Overture" begins to come to a close with the increasingly intense F theme, the last four bars of which include a quote by Alex from Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture." The climax follows with an explosion, also referencing the "1812 Overture," a key shift and a final pastoral G theme with Geddy singing "And the meek shall inherit the earth." The latter, of course, is a reference to two Biblical passages: the Book of Psalms 37:11 and Matthew 5:5.
The section entitled "The Temples of Syrinx" was one of the first pieces to be written for the album. It contains the opening statement of the malevolent priests who control the Solar Federation. The verses are built upon a variation of the A theme heard at the beginning of "Overture." At the end of the first verse as well as at the end of the second chorus, Alex references the ascending guitar part from the C theme. The instrumental section separating the two verse-chorus pairs uses part of the F theme from "Overture" as does the penultimate four bars. "The Temples of Syrinx" ends with two bars of entirely new material played on acoustic guitar which is completely removed from anything heard in the piece thus far.
The sound of a waterfall (taken from an effects record) leads into the third section, "Discovery," where the main protagonist of the story finds an old beat up acoustic guitar in a cave. Moving the story forward, Alex acts out the role of the protagonist as he learns first to tune the guitar and then to play the instrument. While "The Temples of Syrinx" was loud, aggressive, distorted and employed Geddy's harsh, shrill upper range, "Discovery" is an acoustic piece featuring perhaps the most exquisite melody in Rush's entire canon sung by Geddy at a low volume in a radically contrasting mid-range, relaxed, open-voiced timbre that exquisitely conveys the sense of wonder the character has as he discovers the beauty and joy of creating music. It was one of the last sections of "2112" to be written. Alex has fond memories of recording it.
"Essentially, 'Discovery' [was recorded] from beginning to end without any overdubs. It was kind of a stream of consciousness arrangement, sitting in the control room in Toronto Sound with everybody around, the lights turned down low and just kind of picturing myself in the cave and I'd just discovered [this beat up guitar] and present it as it would have been."
Just before the second section of "Discovery," Lifeson seems to reference "Amazing Journey" from The Who's "rock opera" Tommy.
"Pete Townshend was such a big influence on me," admitted Alex, "And I love ['Amazing Journey.'] In our earliest days, we played the version of 'Amazing Journey' that was on Live at Leeds. Definitely on an acoustic guitar I tend to lean towards Pete Townshend and the kind of chords he plays and the way he plays. He plays in some chordal positions that a lot of other people don't. He's great at that sort of thing, taking traditional block chording and then moving it up around the neck and fiddling with it and the way he strums makes it definitely his own [sound]. I recognize that and try to do something along those lines and it takes me up [the neck but I] change things ever so slightly so they do sound a little more original."
"Discovery" consists of three themes that were not included in "Overture" and so at this point are entirely unique to the listener. In this section Lifeson, Lee and Peart brilliantly establish the dualisms of good and evil and creativity/individuality versus oppression and control upon which the entire narrative of "2112" is built. "Discovery" establishes thematic, timbral, key and textural associations that are referenced with regard to the protagonist throughout the rest of the piece. This is exactly the same technique used in Opera by composers such as Wagner as they create musical materials that in various ways become attached to key recurring characters in their stories.
"Presentation" follows which is the turning point in the story as the protagonist presents his discovery of the guitar and the concept of music to the Priests who viciously shut him down in no uncertain terms. Compositionally, the piece uses thematic material from "Discovery" (acoustic, quiet, melodic, mid-range, clean sounding) for the protagonist lines and thematic material earlier associated with the Priests (electric, loud, non-melodic, top- range, distorted) for their rebuttals. (It should be noted that while the listener hears this material as being taken from "Discovery," "Presentation" was actually written first and the material was actually adapted from "Presentation" for "Discovery.") The section closes with a ferocious up-tempo 32-bar Lifeson solo in a new key over the C theme from "Overture."
The fifth section, "Oracle: The Dream," is dualistic in nature with the first 16 bars being set in an awakened state before, via 5 seconds of dream-like effects, the section shifts to the protagonist in a dream state. As was the case in the preceding section, the two different parts of "Oracle: The Dream" are marked via clearly delineated shifts of timbre and texture. In the second section we hear a reprise for the first time of the B fanfare theme from "Overture."
"Soliloquy" (originally titled "Soliloquy of the Soul") is the final section with words. The protagonist is back in the cave. Midway through the piece the protagonist moves from a calm state where he reflects on his dream to extreme despair. Once again, Lifeson, Lee and Peart mark the dualism of these two states by the juxtaposition of radically different themes, textures, timbres, volume, and range.
"Grand Finale," originally titled "Denouement," brings "2112" to a close, introducing a new theme which sounds like it could easily have been inspired by "Communication Breakdown" from Led Zeppelin I albeit with a different rhythm. After a brief foray once again into the frenetic F theme over which Lifeson madly solos, a final new ascending theme is heard which devolves into what seems to be a free three-way improvisation with Neil intoning "Attention all planets of the Solar Federation, we have assumed control." Who the "we" represents is somewhat ambiguous. Nonetheless, the combination of words and music feels extraordinarily climactic with the listener and band having collectively experienced a journey of epic proportions.
The complete integration of the suite's seven sections in terms of music, lyrics and philosophy is breath taking in its power and an astonishing accomplishment, especially for a band so young.
"My memory is that Neil had this idea for '2112' and that was the starting point for the whole record" explained Geddy in conversation with Team Rock. "He wrote the story for '2112' based on Anthem by Ayn Rand-an anti-totalitarian science fiction story. Neil and I had also read another of Ayn Rand's books, The Fountainhead, and that was [also] an inspiration to us. The Fountainhead is a story about an architect who was determined not to compromise his aesthetic, his vision, and he would do just about anything even radical things, to stand up for his art and his right to be an individual. That spoke volumes to us while we were making 2112. It gave us confidence, in a way. We felt we were being pressured to compromise our art."
"I felt this great sense of injustice," added Peart in the Classic Albums documentary, "that this mass was coming down on us and telling us to compromise and compromise was a word that I couldn't deal with. I grew up a child of the '60s and I was a strong individualist and believed in the sanctity of you should be able to do what you want to do without hurting anyone."
"It's difficult always to trace those lines," Peart expounded on Rockline some years later, "because so many things tend to coalesce, and in fact it ended up being quite similar to a book called Anthem by the writer Ayn Rand. But I didn't realize that while I was working on it, and then eventually, as the story came together, the parallels became obvious to me and I thought, 'Oh gee, I don't want to be a plagiarist here.' So I [gave] credit to her writings in the liner notes."
The credit Peart refers to immediately precedes the printing of the lyrics for "2112" on the inside of the record jacket and read: "With acknowledgement to the genius of Ayn Rand."
Rand was a Russian-American novelist and philosopher who was an anti-communist activist and believed strongly in individualism and free-market capitalism. She would testify as a "friendly witness" before the House Un-American Activities Committee as part of the McCarthy Communist witch hunt in the 1950s. Her right wing political views extended to referring to homosexuality as immoral and stating unequivocally that European colonists had every right to develop land taken from Native Americans. Although the members of Rush at no point ever aligned themselves with Rand's right-wing politics, Peart's acknowledgement of the inspiration of her book Anthem in his creation of the story for "2112" would be a thorn in the side of the band for many years, with some rock writers such as Miles in Britain's New Musical Express (NME) essentially calling the band fascists due to the influence of some of Rand's ideas on Peart's lyrics.
Geddy Lee was particularly distraught about such accusations, telling Team Rock, "I was hurt by what the NME said about us. With the background that I have - my parents being Holocaust survivors - I was extremely angry and upset. Ayn Rand was the inspiration for '2112.' We acknowledged that. But we had no connection to her rightwing politics. '2112' was an anti-totalitarian, anti-fascist story. And the ending of that story was purposefully ambiguous. What happens in that ending is either liberation or the invasion of another totalitarian state. It's for the listener to decide which, based on their own sense of life."
Lee would further elaborate in an interview with Prog Magazine, "The story in '2112' was very anti-authoritarian. It was all about freedom - creative freedom and individual freedom - so I was shocked when the NME called us neo-fascists. That's so far off the truth. It's crazy."
While the stigma created by Miles and a number of other writers regarding the influence of Rand's writing on the band lingered for many years, "2112" remains a stunning piece of work that forty years later still takes one's breath away and is a watershed mark in the band's artistic development specifically and rock history in general.
Ironically, the "2112" suite is such a monumental achievement that the five songs on side two are often given short shrift in discourse about the record.
"The suite '2112' was so very serious," explains Alex, "and such an intense piece of work that side two needed to be just a little lighter and a little more fun but still there's some very strong songs on that side. They tend to be just a little more varied. 'Tears' is very different from 'Lessons' as it is from 'A Passage to Bangkok' or 'The Twilight Zone.' I couldn't imagine the story of '2112' being on two sides. I think at 20 minutes on that one side it comes across as a really good concise piece of music. If the whole album was just that spread over 40 minutes I don't know if it would have worked. It might have been too much."
Alex is right on the money. The five songs that comprise side two of 2112 are quite disparate in nature from each other and, more markedly, from the "2112" suite itself, providing a very different listening experience and showcasing a number of other facets of Rush's creative abilities.
The rather humorous "A Passage to Bangkok" opens the proceedings. "We really wanted to have a little bit of fun with that," laughed Alex. "We were always fans of smoking pot right from the early days. It was an important part of our daily lives. There was no shortage of smoke in the control room when we were working in those days. 'A Passage to Bangkok' is just an homage to all the wonderful places around the world that you'd read about in High Times magazine [which had just started publishing two years earlier]. I remember you'd look at these photographs and they'd have these stories from different parts of the world where cannabis tourists would travel and write about their experiences. We wanted to do a little fun, tongue-in-cheek homage to that. I love the way that Neil developed that as this little ride around the world in search of the best."
As is the case with all of the songs on side two, the structure of "A Passage to Bangkok" is pretty straightforward. The piece is based on a wicked, ear-catching riff which at times is harmonized and somehow evokes the idea of exotic traveling. The guitar solo prior to the final articulation of the chorus mixes meters and is preceded by a synth line that sounds like someone taking a draw on a joint. Lots of fun for everyone.
"The Twilight Zone" follows and, of course, is a tribute to the creator of The Twilight Zone television show, Rod Serling. (Rush aficionados will know that Caress of Steel had been dedicated to "The memory of Mr. Rod Serling" who had passed away shortly before the album was released). The last track recorded for the album, it remains one of Alex's favorite songs.
"To me it has such a great melody," he related in September 2016, and a great vibe. I love that little snippet of a solo at the end, it's kind of dripping with restraint. You can hear the amp sizzling. There's something just being held back. Something is dangerous about it just like in every episode of The Twilight Zone there's something dangerous and unexpected. The arpeggios in the guitar arrangement [on the chorus] sound like they are reversed. It makes you feel unsettled just like that show did. When you watched any episode you always felt like something is going to happen. [At the same time] the verses have this nice kind of cool walking feel."
On the chorus Geddy's vocal is paralleled with a second track where he whispers the vocals. It's a brilliant effect that further contributes to the disorienting," otherworldly feel of the track. As was the case with "2112," this is a perfect example of what Alex referred to earlier as the band's cinematic approach to song writing.
"Lessons" and "Tears" are unique in that Alex wrote both lyrics and music for the former while Geddy wrote the lyrics and music for the latter. They are the only examples in Rush's history where either musician has written an entire song by himself. Juxtaposed one after the other, they perfectly showcase the difference in the two men's writing styles, Alex tending towards an aggressive rocking aesthetic with Geddy having a penchant for softer, more emotive melodic compositions.
"Lessons" fades in with Alex strumming a 12-string guitar and eventually builds in intensity through the chorus culminating in a guitar solo which contains the only example in Rush's history of Alex playing slide guitar. The way the guitar emerges out of Geddy's declaration that "You didn't listen again" is yet another example of a superb detail of the trio's exquisite sense of composition and arrangement.
"Tears" is a simple but poignant love song alternating between two variants on an A chord on the verse before shifting into D minor for the chorus. The song features an unusual syntactic structure in the lyrics and equally unusual phrasing by Geddy during the verses and a gorgeous Mellotron part played by Hugh Syme on the chorus, reminiscent of the kinds of Mellotron parts heard on the first King Crimson LP. It's a very moving ballad, generally overlooked by both Rush fans and critics.
"Something for Nothing" was the perfect track to close the album. In some ways the song and performance references both lyrically and musically a little bit about what the first side was all about.
"Absolutely," exclaimed Alex, "and that was the point. I think at the very end of it we believed that this was our protest record. That was the statement that we wanted to make clear. What you make is who you are and you have to stand on your principles and your own personal integrity. It maybe goes a little further. I think it shows a little bit of Neil's readings of Ayn Rand at the time. But it's really about your identity, in our case as a musician and as a person, and you need to avoid compromise and live by what you believe. That's what "2112" is all about really and that just makes it a final statement. I think it's a really representative song of what we were at that time."
2112 represented a giant step forward for the band in a multiplicity of ways. The cover, designed by Hugh Syme, would prove to be iconic, serving over time as the most endurable symbol of Rush itself. For the front of the album jacket, Syme created what Peart had thought of as the Red Star of the Federation. While it was a powerful image, the gatefold's inner art was even more arresting with Syme adding a nude male figure seemingly resisting the overwhelming power of the star.
In an interview with Modern Drummer, Peart would explain, "The red star symbolizes the autocratic society that was projected into the future, where giant computers controlled the whole society. The star was the symbol of their authority. In a way, it's an abstract symbol for authoritarian governments of any kind, whether they be democratic, dictatorial, or whatever. The man against it, of course, is the individual against this organized state, or anything that's larger than life, whether it be religion, government, or a creed of any kind that's supposed to be more important than a human life."
"What I did do with that particular cover," related Syme in an interview with Creem, "was read their lyrics, and understand that there is a good force and a bad force: the good force was music, creativity, and freedom of expression and the bad force was anything that was contrary to that. The man is the hero of the story. That he is nude is just a classic tradition... the pureness of his person and creativity without the trappings of other elements such as clothing. . . the red star is the evil red star of the Federation."
Over time Syme's image would be known to Rush fans as "Starman" and would become as iconic for the band as the Sticky Fingers tongue image is for the Rolling Stones.
Alex's perspective is interesting: "There's a perception about us about being uncompromising in doing things the way we've always believed in. That seems to be what a lot of our fans connect to - that you can do things your own way and you can stick to your guns and maybe that arm and fist up in the air is representative of that and a lot of people do connect to it."
(As a side note it is worth mentioning that for the cover of this fortieth anniversary reissue, Syme elected to use his original rough drawing for 2112 which he mapped onto a ship's hull with depth markings on the side signifying the forty years that have elapsed since 2112 was first released.)
Music and package intact, it was time to present the finished work to Mercury Records.
"We were very happy with 2112," related Geddy in his interview with Team Rock. "We felt that we'd made a good record. But we were not confident about how it would be received. Even before Caress of Steel, when we made Fly By Night some people liked it, but it was still disappointing from the record company's perspective. So we had no reason to believe that 2112 would be any different. We didn't know if we would be okay. We loved 2112, but we thought it might be too weird. We did not think it was a 'get out of jail' card by any stretch."
"Ray Danniels actually brought the record in to Mercury," recalled Mercury A&R exec and later Metallica manager Cliff Burnstein. "We all sat in the conference room and listened to it. The general feeling in the office was, 'We're in trouble. This is exactly what we don't need."'
Geddy felt that Ray Danniels didn't even like the album, telling Mojo magazine, "Our manager didn't get it at all, and when he played it for Mercury, everyone in the room was puzzled by it."
Despite the disbelief and dismay by the business execs that Rush had to work with, 2112 would be the LP that changed everyone's lives. When the album hit the streets April 1, 1976, Rush was already working the material from it on the road. Between March 1976 and May 1977, the group played a grueling 140 plus shows which included touring England for the first time in June 1977.
All that hard work paid off in spades. 2112 would prove to be a watershed mark in Rush's career. Within a month, the album sold 100,000 copies, initially reaching #5 in their native Canada while peaking at #61 in the United States. Within a year-and-a-half the album would be certified gold in both countries. While Rush would enjoy greater chart success in the 1980s and 1990s, routinely reaching the Top Ten beginning with 1980's Permanent Waves, only 1981's Moving Pictures would outsell 2112 in the long run. As of 2016, 2112 has gone two times platinum in Canada and three times platinum in the U.S. and remains one of the quintessential rock albums of the 1970s.
In trying to explain its success, Lee reflected during an interview with Prog Magazine, "My sense is that there was a lot of passion in that record, there was a lot of ferocity in that record and it cut through... it had a sound that was really pretty different from anything else going on at that time. I think it just cut through the static of all the music that was out there, and it reached people."
Rush indeed would have the last laugh. "2112 turned out to be our ticket to independence," smiles Alex. "After that, the record company said, 'Fine, do whatever you want. You guys have proven that you know what you're doing...' So there's never been anybody from the record company in any of our sessions ever. [Manager Ray Danniels] has never been at any of our sessions. It's always a closed-door thing. We write the music, play it, whatever we feel is right, and it's up to them to work with that."
"The best thing about 2112's success," concurs Neil, "is that because the label was so against it, when it did take off, they could never tell us what to do again."
"After 2112 I think we all felt that now we are Rush," muses Alex towards the end of our conversation. "This is who we are. This record is not so much about where our roots were. This is who we are and where we're going. We felt a great sense of confidence after that record came out."
2112, in every respect, was a stylistic breakthrough for Rush that kept evolving over the next forty years of their career. It is an album truly worth celebrating.
As most hardcore fans will know, Rush never went into the studio with more songs than they planned to include on a given recording. In the writing and/or pre-production stages any composition that they had the slightest doubt about they simply dropped before entering the studio. Consequently, there are no outtakes from the 2112 sessions. Given the band's working method of building tracks instrument by instrument as explained above, there are also no alternate takes that could be dusted off and included as bonus material in this kind of reissue.
Consequently, the bonus material that is included here comes from three sources: (1) live versions of 2112 material recorded shortly after the album was released; (2) a few interesting tidbits such as Neil Peart's voiceover from the end of the "2112" suite and a radio ad that Mercury put together for the album; and (3) cover versions of some of the material from 2112 by artists such as the Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins with contributions from Nick Raskulinecz, Alice In Chains, Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson, Billy Talent and, Jacob Moon, all of whom, of course, are heavy duty Rush fans themselves.
The live version of the "2112" suite that is part of this set is from the opening show of the band's three night stand at Massey Hall in Toronto June 11-13, 1976. These are the shows from which the All the World's a Stage double live album was assembled. At this point, no one remembers why the June 11th version wasn't chosen for the original album. After mixing it for this release, Terry Brown's succinct conclusion was: "It sounds deadly!" Unfortunately, it would not be until the Test for Echo tour in 1996 that Rush would play the complete twenty minute version of the piece in concert. In the early days they omitted the "Discovery" and "Oracle: The Dream" sections. Talking about that in September 2016, Alex recalled that at the time they were always focused on the length of their shows and keeping the energy as high as possible and, consequently, often cut parts of songs out of their live performances, something he now regrets.
The live version of "Something for Nothing" included here is equally killer and comes from the same Massey Hall June 1976 show outtakes. "The Twilight Zone" live bonus track in this anniversary collection is a song the band, according to various sites, only performed twice. The live recording here is a bootleg (or as it's being labeled "contraband") and while the quality of this recording doesn't normally merit a release, the historical significance of the song only being performed twice outweighs the less-than-perfect quality of the recording.
The idea of getting contemporary artists to cover some of 2112's songs stemmed from events that occurred on the night the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013. That evening Nick Raskulinecz (who produced two recent Rush albums, Snakes and Arrows and Clockwork Angels), and Foo Fighter members guitarist Dave Grohl and drummer Taylor Hawkins dressed up in costumes and wigs replicating Rush's look back in 1976 as pictured on the back of 2112. Taking the stage with the audience not sure if they were seeing Rush or someone else, Raskulinecz, Grohl and Hawkins tore through a version of "Overture" from "2112," only to be joined by the three members of Rush at the very end with Geddy intoning "And the meek shall inherit the Earth" before Grohl and company departed and Rush played their way through Tom Sawyer" and "The Spirit of Radio." It was a transcendent evening.
"We picked 'Overture,'" explained Raskulinecz, "because nobody would have to sing. The second reason was because it was such a signature two minute piece of Rush music that we thought we could play. It was also the song that we had all played growing up as kids in all of our various bands in some point in our lives so the three of us kind of already knew how to play it. It wasn't like whipping out "La Villa Strangiato" [which would] take six months to learn and rehearse. We had to be able to do it quick."
Longtime Rush associate and executive producer of this set Andy Curran loved the performance of "Overture" that night and asked Raskulinecz what he thought of the idea of licensing it from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for this reissue. Raskulinecz quickly responded, "Forget that. Let's cut a new version in the studio." He then suggested that Alice In Chains would be a great choice to cover "Tears" and from there the concept grew with Curran reaching out to Steven Wilson, Billy Talent and Jacob Moon to cover "The Twilight Zone," "A Passage to Bangkok" and "Something for Nothing" respectively.
It was interesting speaking to Hawkins, Raskulinecz, Steven Wilson, Billy Talent's Ian D'Sa and Jacob Moon about their relationship to Rush. All, except Wilson, were too young to hear 2112 when it was first released, initially got into Rush through later albums, and gradually worked their way back through the band's catalogue. Not surprisingly, all felt honored to be asked to contribute to this set, were nervous as hell about how the members of Rush would feel about their efforts and expressed at least a little concern with whether they would be taken to task by hard core Rush fans for the slight variations they made to the original recordings.
Each artist ultimately chose to stick reasonably close to the original recorded track while putting their own interesting stamp on their reinterpretation. Particularly cool is the piano solo in the bridge on Wilson's version of "The Twilight Zone," his treatment of the spoken doubled vocals on the chorus and his gorgeous guitar solo at the end of the track.
When asked why he chose that particular song to cover, Wilson offered, "It's like a mini epic in the space of three-and-a-half minutes. It moves through so many different moods and aspects in such a short time span. It's not the obvious one to do, and perhaps one of the band's more underrated songs. So I figured I'd get less abuse from the fans for messing with it!"
Jacob Moon is already known to many Rush fans for his 2007 revisioning of "Subdivisons" which became a bit of a YouTube sensation, nearing a half million hits at the time of writing.
"It's hard to take a Rush song and change it," Moon told me, "So that you get a version that is totally different and yet is redolent of the original thing because they are so uniquely themselves. They have such a distinct sound that it's very difficult. A Beatles song you can inhabit it and do it in a different way and it's actually fairly simple to do because the bones of the song are all there. Rush's music is always so well-orchestrated and thought out that the orchestration is the song itself. You can't pull it apart as easily. People don't understand that, but if you look back there are not a lot of Rush cover collections. Rush so definitively played these songs in their initial master recording that people are either scared by it or it doesn't work out when they try it."
For his reinterpretation of "Something for Nothing," Moon chose to re-harmonize the second half of the verse filling in what in Rush's recording is a power chord with a major third in the bass. "I'm trying to represent the thing guitaristically," explained Moon. "But I'm also trying to arrange something into the bass. I'm not going to play Geddy's part but I'm going to make sure the bass is moving in a melodic way because that's how he handles his bass lines. So I am always looking for a way to re-harmonize the melody that brings something fresh. I love it when people do that."
"Tears" was probably the song on 2112 that Alice In Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell was least familiar with. He chose to do a fairly straight cover adding harmony on the chorus, double-tracking the part himself, while the verses are sung solo by William DuVall. With Raskulinecz producing, they reached out to Hugh Syme to overdub Mellotron strings and flutes as he had on the original Rush recording. Syme obliged, adding virtual Vienna strings and French horns as well as the Mellotron and changing up his part ever so slightly to compliment Cantrell's guitar lines.
Billy Talent's take on "A Passage to Bangkok" turns up the heavy quotient several notches. "Every band has their own DNA in sound," laughs guitarist Ian D'Sa. "So, we definitely wanted to keep our Billy Talent sound in the track. When we all listened to it, we kind of dissected how we could put in our sound here and there in certain parts. One of the first things was the drum beat in the verses has almost like a hip hop feel or groove to it. We really kind of exaggerated that in our version. I do a lot of background harmonies along with Ben singing so I decided to come up with some background harmonies for the actual choruses. At the end they do this time signature kind of turn around where the drums flip backwards. We thought it would be cool if after the third cycle we brought it back around again to the first one because you wouldn't be expecting that. We ended up doing a lot of crash and bash because that's kind of what we do in our music and we wanted it to sound just a little bit heavier. I'm sure the guys [in Rush] didn't want to hear exactly what they recorded back in 1976."
Lastly, when Grohl, Hawkins and Raskulinecz went into the studio to record "Overture," they took the approach on the first day of trying to replicate the Rush version as closely as possible. As drummer Taylor Hawkins explains it, they then "started trying to think creatively instead of trying to reproduce something that was really unreproducible."
"We just started fucking with it," continued Hawkins. "It's live [off the floor] so it's not super polished. It's pretty much a live take. I rushed some of the fills. We kind of turn it into a 6/8 sort of waltz. It almost sounds like fucking Metallica. Dave does the harmonies like early Metallica. I feel like it starts out like Sabbath, Metallica and then we kind of go into the straighter version and then we come back out of it and do our own Foo Fightery thing and then we end it kind of like their version."
The real surprise is the left turn they throw in at the end of "Overture" where they eschew the explosion on the Rush version and instead, after a brief pause, quote the signature lick from Rush's 1981 masterpiece "YYZ." Rock and roll to the max.
So there you have it: the original album lovingly remastered, the newly excavated live versions by Rush of some of the album's material and the fascinating reinterpretations of much of the album by latter day rock artists who grew up idolizing Mssrs. Lifeson, Lee and Peart. That seems like a fitting way to celebrate one of the seminal masterpieces in the history of rock'n'roll.
Rob Bowman wishes to thank - Alex Lifeson, Terry Brown, Hugh Syme, Jacob Moon, Taylor Hawkins, Steven Wilson, Nick Raskulinecz and Jerry Cantrell for taking time to share their memories and perspectives for these liner notes.
ORIGINAL ALBUM CREDITS
Produced by Rush and Terry Brown
Engineered by Terry Brown
Arrangements by Rush and Terry Brown
Recorded and mixed at Toronto Sound Studios, Toronto, Ontario
Roadmaster-Howard (Herns) Ungerleider
Roadcrew-Major Ian Grandy, L.B.L.B., Skip (Detroit Slider) Gildersleeve
Executive Production-Moon Records
A very special thank you to Ray, Vic, Terry, Howard, Ian, Liam, Skip, and Hugh for sharing the load.
Special thanks to... (insert your name here)
Special guest Hugh Syme - keyboards on 'Tears'
40th ANNIVERSARY CREDITS
OVERTURE - Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins and Nick Raskulinecz
Recorded by Nick Raskulinecz and John Lousteau
Recorded at Studio 606, Northridge, CA
Assisted by Nathan Yarborough
Mixed by Nick Raskulinecz
Mixed at Rock Falcon, Franklin, TN
Performed by Dave Grohl (guitars), Nick Raskulinecz (bass), Taylor Hawkins (drums)
℗ 2016 ole Media Management L.P.
A PASSAGE TO BANGKOK - Billy Talent
Produced by Ian D'Sa and Eric Ratz
Recorded at Vespa Music Group and Dudebox Studio, Toronto, Canada
Mixed by Chris Lord-Alge
Engineered by Eric Ratz and Kenny Luong
Assistant Engineers: Ryan Jones, Justin "Flash" Madill
Assistant Engineer at Mix LA: Nik Karpen
Mixed at Mix LA, Tarzana, CA
Performed by Ian D'Sa (guitars), Jonathan Gallant (bass), Ben Kowalewicz (vocals), Jordan Hastings (drums)
Special thanks to: Aaron Solowoniuk
Billy Talent appears courtesy of Warner Music Canada
℗ 2016 ole Media Management L.P.
THE TWILIGHT ZONE - Steven Wilson
Produced and mixed by Steven Wilson
Recorded at soundcheck in Linz, Austria, April 2016
Vocal, guitar overdubs and final mix at No Man's Land, Hertfordshire, England, May 2016
Performed by Steven Wilson (vocals, acoustic guitar, mellotron), Dave Kilminster (electric guitar), Adam Holzman (hammond organ, electric piano), Nick Beggs (bass guitar), Craig Blundell (drums)
℗ 2016 ole Media Management L.P.
TEARS - Alice In Chains
Recorded by Nick Raskulinecz and David Bianco
Recorded at Henson Studios, Hollywood, CA
Assisted by Kyle Stevens
Mixed by Nick Raskulinecz
Mixed at Rock Falcon, Franklin, TN
Assisted by Nathan Yarborough
Drum tech: Jon Nicholson
Performed by Jerry Cantrell (lead guitar, vocals), William Duvall (vocals, guitar), Mike Inez (bass), Sean Kinney (drums), Hugh Syme (keyboards)
℗ 2016 ole Media Management L.P.
SOMETHING FOR NOTHING - Jacob Moon
Recorded by Michael Chambers at Catherine North Studio and by Paul Jarrett at the Woodshed, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Mixed by Greg Reely
Arrangement, guitars and vocals by Jacob Moon
Performed by Jacob Moon (arrangement, guitars, vocals), Mark McIntyre (bass), Rob "Beatdown" Brown (drums), Richard Bonura (tambourine and percussion)
℗ 2016 ole Media Management L.P.
"2112" - Live from Massey Hall 1976 Outtake
Produced by Rush and Terry Brown
Recorded at Massey Hall, Toronto, Canada, June 11, 1976
Engineered by Terry Brown
Recorded by the Fedco Mobile Unit
Mixed by Terry Brown at Vis-a-Via Recorders
SOMETHING FOR NOTHING
Recorded at Massey Hall, Toronto, Canada, June 13, 1976
Engineered by Terry Brown
Recorded by the Fedco Mobile Unit
Mixed by Terry Brown at Vis-a-Via Recorders
THE TWILIGHT ZONE
Live 1977 Contraband
Recorded live at Lisner Auditorium, Washington, D.C., April 17, 1977
Given that we unearthed this rare live performance from the Temples of Syrinx, the sound quality has been traded for its historical significance. - The Priests
2112 1976 RADIO AD
Live at Capitol Theatre, Passaic, NJ, December 10, 1976
FLY BY NIGHT
IN THE MOOD
Digital Video Restoration by Pogo Labs
Audio Restoration by James Clarke at Abbey Road Studios
Bonus Music Videos
OVERTURE - Dave Grohl, Taylor Hawkins and Nick Raskulinecz
Filmed by Nick Raskulinecz
Edited by Adam Jones
© 2016 ole Media Management L.P.
A PASSAGE TO BANGKOK
Behind The Scenes with Billy Talent
Filmed by Bowman 2016
Edited by Bowman 2016
© 2016 ole Media Management L.P.
2112 - 40 YEARS CLOSER
A Q&A with Alex Lifeson & Terry Brown
Shot and edited by Gary Kuiper for The Laundry Design Works
© 2016 ole Media Management L.P.
Executive Producer: Andy Curran
UMe Supervisor: Jeff Fura
Mastered by Sean Magee at Abbey Road Studios
DVD Production Studio: Craigman Digital
Menu Design: Craig Anderson
Authoring: Craig Anderson and David Dieckmann
Art Direction, Illustration and Design: Hugh Syme
Photos: Bruce Cole (Live), Gerard Gentil (Portrait), Rush Archives
Marketing Manager: Tyler Tasson
UMe Production Manager: Michele Horie
UMe Product Manager: Liuba Shapiro Ruiz
Management: Ray Danniels at SRO Management, Inc., Toronto
A very special thank you to:
Nick Raskulinecz (the ring leader), Pegi Cecconi, Francois Lamourenx (the vaultmeister), Hugh Syme, Robert Ott, Adrian Battiston, Jason Klein, Terry Brown, Meghan Symsyk, Ray Wawrzyniak, Skip Daly, Eric Hansen, Frank McDonough, John Cutcliffe, Mark Wakefield, Jordan Berliant, lvar Hamilton, Andrew Daw, Eric Ratz, Deane Cameron @ Massey Hall, Darya Barry @ The Orange Lounge, Sean Magee & all of the amazing musicians who contributed so much to this 40th anniversary collection.
Sound Recording/Video/Artwork: ℗© 2016 ole Media Management L.P. All Rights Reserved
Rush: Speeding Ahead - RPM Weekly Magazine, April 1976 Rush Goes Into Future Shock - Music Will Not Exist in 2112 - Circus Magazine, April 1976 Rush's Concept is Rock and Roll - Scene Magazine, June 1976 Rush to Judgement - Creem Magazine, June 1977 We Have Assumed Control - Sounds Magazine, June 1977
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