Forty years ago, on the 14th January 1980, Rush released their seventh album ‘Permanent Waves’.
It was a departure from their previous albums; shorter songs (mostly), a more varied stylistic palette, and a generally more positive, uplifting sound. The epic songs about flying space ships through black holes, and totalitarian regimes banning music were replaced with tighter, more concise material about Canadian radio stations, freedom, relationships, the weather and evolution. There was a definite nod to the reggae influences of The Police, and even smatterings of unexpected instrumentation such as steel drums (Erwig Chaupchuaduah – where are you?). The album set the scene for the next few releases – Moving Pictures (1981) and Signals (1982) – before Geddy’s keyboards began to dominate the sound of the band.
My first exposure to Rush was via the album’s hit single ‘The Spirit of Radio’.
When I heard it on the BBC Radio 1 Top 40 show on Sunday 16th March 1980, I was still only 13, and at the time I was really into New Wave bands like The Police, Blondie and Squeeze. I had very little knowledge of the ‘progressive rock’ bands like Yes or Genesis who had become rather passé during the punk era, and the songs I liked were mostly simple, easy to follow and catchy. When I heard the opening guitar riff of ‘Spirit of Radio’ bursting from the tiny speaker on my ancient radiogram that Sunday evening, I was immediately hooked, and by the end of the intro I was a fan. The song was so different to anything I was into, and the twists and turns of the song, and the amazing instrumental skill of the band left me stunned. I soon went out and bought ‘Permanent Waves’ and rushed home to play it. And I played it. And played it. I think I listened to it every day for the next ten years.
Gradually I bought all their other albums (although by the late 90s I started to buy them on CD rather than LP), and listened to them avidly.
When I turned 18, I went out and bought a bass, and set out to learn all the Rush songs I could. Geddy Lee became my template, and although I struggled to play the songs, I learned a lot from them, and my style is partly due to learning those complex lines. I joined a band, and luckily, the guitarist was a fan as well, so of course we tried to play ‘The Spirit of Radio’…but we could never quite get it right. Later I went to music college and annoyed the tutors by choosing Rush songs as performance pieces throughout the course!
I still listen to ‘Permanent Waves’ occasionally, and it is a great album.
I still get a huge thrill hearing those opening bars of ‘Spirit of Radio’. Sadly, with Neil’s passing, there is no possibility of the band recording again, but with such a superb back-catalogue, we can revisit their brilliance and relive those moments that made us fans in the first place.