By Jack Sharkey, March 28, 2014 

This 1981 gem from Rush, recorded in the late summer and fall of 1980, is a seminal showcase of superior musicianship coupled with a great feel for radio-friendly, accessible rock music.

Rush Moving Pictures

Moving Pictures charted at Number 1 in Canada and Number 3 in the US and UK (album charts). 

  • • Released on Mercury Records February, 1981.
  • • Recorded at Le Studio in Quebec, Canada.
  • • Lyrics by Neil Peart. Music by Geddy Lee & Alex Lifeson.
  • • Produced by Terry Brown.
  • • Engineered by Paul Northfield.
  • • Total Length: 40:07

Moving Pictures sold four times Platinum in the US and Canada (4,000,000 units in the US; 400,000 units in Canada) 

Three singles were released from the album:

  • Limelight in February 1981 (#4 US Rock/#55 Hot 100)
  • Tom Sawyer in October 1981 (#8 US Rock/#44 Hot 100)
  • Vital Signs in March 1982 (DNC US, #41 UK)

 

 Personnel:

  • • Geddy Lee - Bass, vocals, synthesizers
  • • Alex Lifeson - Guitars, synthesizers
  • • Neal Peart - Drums and percussion
  • • Hugh Syme - Synthesizers

 

The album cover photograph was taken in front of the Ontario Legislative Building in Toronto. The cover is a sly triple-entendre of the title. On the front, men are moving pictures that are obviously emotionally moving to the assembled crowd because they are crying, while on the back a film crew makes a motion picture of the whole scene.

 

SIDE 1:

Tom Sawyer (4:37): The unmistakable sound of the 1980's, the Oberheim Polyphonic, opens the set along with Neil Peart's fabulously recorded drums. The kick drum has an excellent spaciousness, which was often missing in recordings of the period, that reminds the listener they are listening to a three dimensional drum .  

Red Barchetta (6:11): Recorded in one take (presumably with overdubs of the synths and guitar lead) this is an Alex Lifeson rhythm and lead showcase set inside Peart's adaptation of a 1973 Richard S. Foster short-story. 

YYZ (4:25): There are four fun facts you should know about this song:   

  1. • YYZ is the international airport code for Toronto Pearson Airport (I enjoyed many a flight into YYZ with this song blasting firmly throught the headphones of my Sony Walkman, try it the next time you're up that way)
  2. • The opening triangle riff that floats around between the left and right channels, and the subsequent full-band riff, is the Morse Code translation of 'Y' 'Y' 'Z' in 5/4 time.
  3. • At the 2:31 mark the sound you hear is Neil Peart "playing" a sheet of plywood. How? you ask. "Well you wear gloves so as not to get splinters, you take a piece of   1/4" plywood, and smack it down HARD on the top of a wooden stool.   Very demanding, technically - took years of practice." - Neil Peart
  4. YYZ was nominated for a Best Instrumental Grammy (the theme from Hill Street Blues won).  

Limelight (4:24): So what Peart wrote lyrics that are sort of close to whining about being rich and famous enabling one to write whining lyrics about being rich and famous? This is a perfect rock anthem. It's loud and full, but if you really listen to it Limelight is an amazingly simple recording. Lee's bass, Peart's drums, and Lifeson's guitar (the guitar is not double-tracked) make up the basic track, even though the song sounds much fuller. Some synth lines float around during the pre-chorus and guitar lead, but basically this is a straight-ahead, three-piece rock & roll song. 

 

SIDE 2:

The Camera Eye (10:59): If you'll indulge me, this is my favorite Rush song and probably in the Top 5 of my favorite songs of all time. I spent years commuting to Manhattan, and whether through my Walkman or iPod (way back before you kids had songs on your phones) this song made many a train ride more interesting and bearable – so thanks for that men who make up Rush. The drums in this song sound different than they do over the rest of the album, and there were some technical problems with the recordings which may explain the subtle differences in the drum sounds. At the 8:53 mark, you can hear what sounds like either a burp or tape being run manually over a playback head. At the 8:57 mark you can hear Lee say either "oh God" or "Mornin' guvnah." Your guess is as good as everyone else's. As the song fades you can actually hear the bells of Westminster.

Witch Hunt (4:46): Meh. But not meh enough to make me actually get up and change songs (on a CD I would certainly hit the "skip" button, thus proving my point from the introduction piece). The song opens with some interesting percussion and a mob scene. The "mob" was actually band, crew and assorted other folk standing outside the studio in the Quebec autumn making mob noises. Fun fact: The term "rhubarb" (as in a fight) comes from 1920's radio producers who would similarly record a "mob" scene by having three or four people repeat the word "rhubarb" over and over again. The next time you're with a bunch of friends, try it!

Vital Signs (4:48): Further exploring Rush's experimentation with reggae that started with the breakdown in Spirit of Radio on Permanent Waves, this is a bit of an over-looked gem. From the sequencer riff that anchors the song to the hook in the chorus, Vital Signs is a succinct summation of the time in which it was created. At the 4:11 mark, Lee sings "everybody got to evelate from the norm" which, back in the day, actually sent a friend of mine to his dictionary. So yeah, that happened.

 

* * *

Moving Pictures is best listened to: 

  • • Loudly
  • • With at least one other hard-core rock and roll fan
  • • A friend who is not afraid to look up strangely pronounced words in a dictionary
  • • A Labatts or a Molson