By 1981, Rush were already long in receipt of continuous critical acclaim for the release of “2112” in 1976. It pushed new fans to discover their back catalogue of three previous releases.
1980’s “Permanent Waves” was a giant battering ram at a door for what was to come. “Moving Pictures” blew that door off into disintegration. Rush became fresh and new to an ever-growing group of loyal fans who flocked to the back catalogue and travelled to the concerts. The familiar “Tom Sawyer” opening this record has become a staple of Classic Rock Radio and was a standard opener for many of their live tours. “Red Barchetta” follows with a musical journey of driving a classic car through the countryside. It is a remarkable journey of interesting time signature changes and instrumentation punches. Busy drum work from Neil Peart, symphonic harmonics from Alex Lifeson and and cutting bass parts from Geddy Lee with a short mini-solo in the last few seconds of the track.
“YYZ” may be Rush’s most well-known instrumental work. This blistering rocker set in 5/4 time is based on the rhythm of the Morse code for the title, the Airport Code for Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. Every single time I am a passenger flying into YYZ, this song pops into my head. It is an instrumental masterwork featuring a great trade off of drum fills and bass and guitar leads before coming back to earth with layers of synthesizer lines setting up the track’s final bars.
“Limelight” became another radio and live staple with its’ recognizable riff and memorable words. Neil Peart offered his insights into how he viewed the success of being on stage. Of being recognized. Of being known. It really speaks to all people no matter what they do. It talks of seeking an escape without losing our identity. We act our parts, leave the stage, seek solitude in between acts.
Many fans of this record told me over the years they will often stop after listening to side one. Side two of Moving Pictures is criminally overlooked and under-appreciated by classic rock listeners and even some die-hard Rush fans. “The Camera Eye” features an almost symphonic orchestral set of keyboards and guitar chords opening the music before picking up speed with leads from Alex Lifeson doubled with a bass track from Lee. Lee carries his soaring vocals over top of a punching roll of bass.
“Witch Hunt” in my view contains one of the heaviest riffs Alex Lifeson has ever recorded. It’s dark, cloudy and takes a good photograph of images the title might provoke.
“Vital Signs” closes Moving Pictures with reggae-drenched instrumentation and an eerie sequencer part permeating throughout the piece.
40 years after it’s release, Moving Pictures continues to be one of the defining moments of Rush’s storied career. Canada’s most influential act continues to generate new fans thanks in part to the dedication of those long and loyal to the trio of progressive pioneers. Neil Peart’s passing in 2020 sent many people to the search bars of YouTube to look up some of his powerful inventive live work. He was the ultimate drummer, and a master storyteller.