First things first, let’s talk about what Progressive Rock actually is. Progressive Rock is a subgenre of rock and roll which originated in the UK in the late 60’s and had a critical, commercial, and creative “golden age” which most Prog fans recognize as being from 1969 until 1975. Now we all know what rock and roll is, but in terms of structure and composition rock and roll music tends to build itself into pop structure and draw from the genre’s musical roots in blues. Progressive Rock turns away from pop and blues and instead draws influence from classical and jazz compositions. Crazy stuff here, folks.
Rush is an interesting group to me for a variety of reasons. Made up of 2 nerds who were best friends in their Canadian middle school growing up, and a quiet guy who read a lot of books and drummed with near mechanical precision, Rush is a group that is hard to box into 1 genre, but their early careers can most accurately be called Progressive Rock. Part of what is awesome about Rush is that their first album came out in 1976, a year after the so called death of Prog (with notable exceptions such as the great Pink Floyd, King Crimson, and David Bowie) and they only got more progressive from there. Moving Pictures however is the group’s first step back in an effort to make something slightly more radio friendly than the likes of their prior albums without sacrificing their style and habits. The result is, in my opinion, a near perfect introductory Progressive Rock record, and I will tell you why.
Prog as a genre is beloved by many but is very difficult to get into initially. The classical and jazz influences result in infamously long instrumental solos, huge advanced concepts and messages, and, at times, over-indulgent songwriting which can be a slog to make it through for the uninitiated. Rush is no stranger to any of these things. Just look at the opening track of their Progressive Rock masterpiece 2112 which is a 20 minute long medley about a dystopian future where music is illegal, or something. In 1981 the group had just come off an all time run of Prog records which included 2112, A Farewell to Kings, and Hemispheres all of which you should listen to if you enjoy today’s record. Having had their fun with that, they decided to try for a more radio friendly record. The result contains social and societal commentary, dystopian storytelling, grand, expressive instrumentals, towering solos, an average track length around 5:40, and a song totally without words whose composition was inspired by Morse code. That album is today’s pick, Moving Pictures.
The reason that this record works so well as an introduction to Prog is that they do tone down a lot of the aspects of the genre that turn first timers away. There aren’t any songs with runtimes in the double digits, the grand storytelling tracks are sparse, they don’t play with silence like some groups, and it certainly sounds more like rock and roll than jazz or classical. This power trio fills every song to the brim with lush and vibrant instrumentals and somehow make 3 guys sound like 10. They fit those big concepts and themes into an easy to listen to and fun package. Most of all every track is fresh, original, and dripping with energy in a way that makes the 40 minute runtime fly by. They perfectly mix an easy to listen to and friendly sound with elements of Progressive rock resulting in a delightfully unique record.
Now I’ve made it clear on podcasts before that Rush is one of my favorite bands and this album, their most commercially and critically renowned, is one of my favorites, so there’s plenty more that I could say about this album. But I won’t. I’ve gotten out everything that I felt necessary to write about this album and now, for the first time in MTP history, I’m handing the reins over to somebody else. A very dear friend of mine, Jacob “Sloan” Lee really loves this album too. We’ve bonded over it and listened to many of its wonderful songs on car rides together. This album means a lot to him and, honestly, to our friendship, so I reached out to him asking of he could write a little something something about the album and he delivered. The following is by Jake Lee.
You know an album is truly special when each of your family members has a different personal favorite track from a band and yet they’re all off of the same album! What I’m talking about is the album Moving Pictures by Rush, a very accessible ‘radio friendly’ album from the progressive rock band. The album kicks off with “Tom Sawyer”, my father’s favorite song. “Tom Sawyer” which is musically and lyrically powerful in every sense of the word. It encompasses the band’s societal and economic philosophies in only 4 and a half minutes. It’s hard to find a band that makes you think deeply about society and how it should be run but that’s what Rush does, they make you think critically about our place in the world and how we shouldn’t be bystanders to the changing landscape around us. They are incredible storytellers, a skill that becomes apparent in the second track “Red Barchetta”. My personal favorite Rush song, the band takes us to a dystopian future where there is a so called ‘motor law’ outlawing motor vehicles as we know them. However the main character takes his Uncle’s Ferrari for a joyride across the countryside and is chased by flying air cars that are two lanes wide. Eventually the main character escapes the chase, races back to the barn and drinks with his uncle at the fireside. The third track is “YYZ”, a song that has no lyrics but simply tells a story with instruments and you can’t help but imagine a movie going on in your head as the guitar, drums and bass take you along a journey with countless twists and turns. After that, we have my mothers favorite track “Limelight” which really threw Rush into the mainstream. If you had been living under a rock and hadn’t heard of the band until this point, this is the song that will make you remember them. The self-awareness of the band’s lifestyle is off the charts with this song as they explain in the opening line ‘Living on a lighted stage approaches the unreal.’ The first four tracks alone paint a beautiful story that you can’t help but feel invested in as you dive deeper into their discography. Give the album a listen if you never heard of the band before and fall instantly in love with Neil Peart’s creative storytelling and compelling lyricism.
And there you have it. Moving Pictures. Give it a listen.
Though my mind is not for rent, don’t put me down as arrogant. I’m just Benny the Jet, riding my red barchetta into tomorrow’s album, a Soul album.