The Rush song that changed the band forever


It’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which Rush members didn’t instantly name one particular song as the one that best encapsulated their career trajectory when reflecting on it. Specifically, this song could be thought of as the Queen of “We Will Rock You” or David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” Despite four decades of radio play, the band’s fans still hail this song as one of their finest achievements.

Pushing musical boundaries and venturing into uncharted sonic territory, Rush continued their mission as the 1980s got underway. Releasing albums like Moving Pictures and Permanent Waves, they showcased an adoption of a more minimalist sound. They combined aspects of new wave and synths while maintaining their signature progressive rock roots.

Hit songs like “Tom Sawyer” and “Limelight” became radio mainstays during this period. This helped Rush to achieve mainstream success without compromising their creative integrity. Especially the former, which came into being in the most organic of ways, has gone on to become one of the band’s most beloved songs. “We were learning to make a song that was only six minutes instead of twelve or fifteen, and use the same standards of arrangement,” Neil Peart said. “That song finds us at a time of such confidence.”

Peart went on to say to CBC, “The drum is so detailed, but when we go into the middle to the odd time part. It was improvised”. Instead of giving in to disorientation, I took control and fought my way back to the one. And that spontaneous piece developed into a new one. It’s one of those essential elements that I adore. Thankfully, I didn’t fall victim to an obvious mistake.

Despite its eventual popularity, the band almost omitted the song from Moving Pictures entirely. We battled with it for a long time, and at one point, Geddy Lee observed, there was some doubt as to whether it would even go on the record. Paul Northfield devised an unusual method of miking Alex Lifeson’s amplifier, producing the extremely intriguing ambient sound.

Still, in spite of its erratic existence, it has turned into the one song that altered everything. It’s now even one of Lee’s favourite Rush songs. “How could I not [include ‘Tom Sawyer’]?” he joked as he gave his explanation. It altered our way of life. This becomes particularly meaningful when you consider its inclusion in the 2009 comedy I Love You, Man, starring Paul Rudd and Jason Segel.

“Our first reaction was to say no when [director] John Hamburg approached us about it,” recalls Lee. However, we were going through a stage where we made the decision to approach our careers like George Costanza. We made the decision to say yes to everything we had previously automatically said no to. It was very helpful to us.

It brought the song a fresh appreciation, but it also introduced the band to a new audience of music enthusiasts. The song is a true testament to the group’s ability to try new things and still write songs that work well on the radio. Though they had their doubts at first, Rush managed to pull it off flawlessly. “I never imagined it would end up being the most popular song we’ve ever written,” admitted Lee.

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