The Greatness of Rush’s ‘Moving Pictures’

With last week’s passing of Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart, we revisits the band’s 1981 masterpiece.

Growing up, a significant majority of my music discovery came directly from the Guitar Hero franchise. Those hames laid the groundwork for my understanding of who some of the biggest bands in rock were, and because the songs were extremely fun to nail on Expert (yes, I was that good) it made me want to dive deeper into each band featured.

Rush was one of those bands that stuck out in particular. Playing “YYZ” over and over, learning from Wikipedia that the intro was actually Morse Code for Y-Y-Z (Toronto’s airport code), finding out that it was on the same album as the rock radio mainstay “Tom Sawyer”; each of these are fond memories of my discovery of what I believe to be Rush’s apex achievement, Moving Pictures.

Before we dive into Moving Pictures specifically, I want to acknowledge the way this trio structured their albums. Through the late ‘80s, every Rush album had eight songs or less, and clocked in under 45 minutes. Sure, every now and then they would throw a 20-minute rock opera into the mix, but they managed the overall run time of each album, and ‘2112’ is legendary, so it’s hard to critique a group who were masters of their craft and just wanted to flex their skills. The fact that Moving Pictures clocks in at seven songs and 40 minutes is just one reason it’s one of the best albums ever.

Another reason is because it opens with one of the greatest four-song sequences in rock history. “Tom Sawyer” is rock radio gold, and by the time you hear Peart’s epic drum fills, you are instantly hooked on Rush. Peart was also known for writing nearly all of the band’s lyrics, and his poetry shines through on the best song ever written about a car, “Red Barchetta.”  The aforementioned “YYZ” is a Harvard case study on the interplay between guitar, bass, and drums. Finally, “Limelight” is another rock radio treasure ( immortalized in pop culture by its inclusion in the 2009 comedy I Love You, Man) about the mystical elements of fame. 

Honestly, we could end the review there. But following “Limelight” is “The Camera Eye,” an 11-minute synthesizer-driven symphony, whose triumphant power chords grip you until the climaxing guitar solo at the end. It’s probably the longest rock song outside of “Green Grass and High Tides” by The Outlaws that I’ve ever given a damn about. 

The album ends with “Witch Hunt” and “Vital Signs,” which once again showcase Peart’s lyricism and technical mastery of the drums. Anywhere there’s an opening, Peart finds a way to add a unique fill or a wrinkle to the beat he builds and holds steady. Peart’s percussive prowess is something I’ve seldom heard elsewhere, and I’ll be hard pressed to discover it somewhere new anytime soon.

Rest in Peace, Neil. May you escape to realms beyond the night and have your dreams show you the light.

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