The rock band Rush has left a powerful musical mark that may indeed be timeless. But sadly, for its legion of fans, the group bowed out gracefully in 2016.
While many legendary bands continue to record and hit the road well past their prime, Rush chose a different path. This Canadian powerhouse trio called it quits after over four decades of making amazing, mind-expanding music enjoyed by many people.
Join us as we discover why they decided to ride off into the sunset while still at the top of their game.
The Story of Rush
For such a small band, Rush makes a big sound. That’s because each of the band’s three members is a tremendous overachiever.
Geddy Lee was Rush’s extraordinarily talented bassist, but that’s not all. He was also the band’s distinctive lead singer and primary keyboardist. Alex Lifeson, the group’s highly proficient guitarist, also sometimes doubled up on keyboards. And despite being virtually peerless as a drummer and percussionist, Neil Peart also wrote Rush’s imaginative and often literary lyrics.
They developed their skills in separate bands playing gigs in and around their hometown of Toronto, Ontario, in the 1960s. Lee and Lifeson first joined forces in 1968, initially playing blues-based rock and roll.
By 1972, they had the name Rush, but with John Rutsey on drums. Rush released their first album in 1974, and Peart joined them the following year after Rutsey left the band due to health issues.
Since then, 24 of their recordings have achieved gold record status, and 14 reached platinum. Rush has sold an estimated 40 million records worldwide, about 25 million of them in the U.S. Additionally, they’re members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and have a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
Why Is Rush So Popular?
With their mind-boggling musicianship, Rush helped to move the so-called “prog-rock” into the mainstream. But beyond the dazzling musical passages, you’ll find smart songcraft. Peart’s lyrics take you on thought-provoking journeys into philosophical realms, often with fantasy and science-fiction elements.
A few catchy songs on the radio and video channels like MTV and VH1 helped a lot. Increased exposure in the 1980s and 90s catapulted them into a new level of success. Their live shows, exciting sonically and visually, reinforced their reputation as a great act not to miss.
Another appealing thing about Rush is that they simply come across as good guys. The band members were close friends onstage and off and loved interacting with their fans. They could laugh at any criticism that people aimed their way and never put themselves on a pedestal.
3 of Rush’s Best Known Songs
This small sampling may not include your personal favorites, but you probably can’t deny their greatness. These three songs helped Rush reach a vast audience. Like almost all of Rush’s material, these tunes are so enduring partly because they carry a deceptively deep meaning.
Not to be confused, of course, with the Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra identically named collaboration from 1980. This musically complex epic from 1977’s A Farewell to Kings clocks in at around 11 minutes. It tells the story of a man’s quest for immortality with a “be careful what you ask for” subtext.
In live performances, it was a tour de force that allowed each band member to stretch out musically. In particular, Peart would showcase his ever-evolving array of percussion instruments.
Another one drawn from classic literature, this rock classic updated Mark Twain’s character. The unlikely hit reached #8 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart in 1981 and may be Rush’s best-known song.
Peart got outside help on the storyline from lyricist Pye Dubois of the Canadian band Max Webster. The words are compelling, but that squiggly synthesizer run secures its place as a persistent earworm.
The Spirit of Radio
From the 1980 album Permanent Waves, this one crackles with energy and insight from start to finish. It’s from the days when rock and roll battled with disco and country for space on the airwaves, so listeners could certainly relate.
And they could hardly resist a straight-ahead rocker with a reggae-tinged interlude. Reporting on music business trends, the lyrics give a cynical nod to Simon & Garfunkel’s masterpiece The Sound of Silence. Subtle changes in Rush’s song include, “the words of the profits were written on the studio wall,” and “concert hall echoes with the sounds of salesmen.”
Why Did Rush Break Up?
The members of Rush were always very close personally, so they didn’t split because of a falling out. There’s no single reason for the breakup, but health problems played a role.
They’d initially gone on hiatus after Peart’s daughter died in a car wreck, and cancer claimed his wife. The trio regrouped for a tour in 2015, celebrating their 40 years together as a band, and took another break afterward.
For Peart, in particular, the live shows required a lot of physical stamina. He increasingly found it hard to consistently give 100 percent without suffering debilitating ailments like sore shoulders, arms, and legs. They also felt they’d accomplished enough in their 41 years as a band.
Will Rush Get Back Together?
Over the years, many bands have announced they’re retiring or doing a final tour, which turns out to be false. Of course, that makes many fans skeptical when a legendary group says it’s calling it a day. But in Rush’s case, it seems very likely they’re firmly a part of our past rather than our future.
Tragically, Peart passed away in January 2020, at age 67, after a losing battle with brain cancer. His death seems to have closed the door firmly on any possibility of the band continuing. With his unparalleled talents as a drummer and lyricist, he was essential to Rush’ winning formula. And he was also the other band members’ close friend until the end.
Lee and Lifeson have indicated they may do some musical projects together, but not as Rush. They also haven’t ruled out making occasional special appearances.
A Lasting Musical Legacy
While many classic rock bands keep touring and making new music into their golden years, don’t expect the same from Rush. They decided to wind things down back in 2016 and haven’t wavered. After four decades together, they figured they had done enough and had a full legacy to be proud of.
While Neil Peart has left us, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson continue with other creative pursuits with the warm blessings of fans around the world.
What’s your favorite Rush song? Tell us in the comments!