Dispatches, thoughts, and miscellanea from writer Jon Konrath

Rush – Fly By Night (1975)

Following a self-titled debut of Led Zeppelin-clone originals and immediately before a tour, John Rutsey, the drummer of this Canadian three-piece walked away from the band, citing health reasons and/or a lack of interest in touring. This could have been the end of the struggling band, but a dude selling tractor parts with his dad showed up with a carful of drums, and became a key component in this band’s huge future.

Neil Peart, fresh off an 18-month stint of starvation, dead-end musical attempts, and a demeaning job of selling trinkets to tourists in London, joined Rush two weeks before their first US tour. In addition to adding his manic drum stylings to the band, he also became their chief lyricist. Both skills are obvious from the get-go on this eight-track LP, with the first song, “Anthem.” Even in the first sixty seconds, we hear Neil Peart’s drumming can drive more complex rhythms than the simple 4/4 Cream/Deep Purple rip-off beats of his predecessor. And the song’s about the Ayn Rand book of the same title, showcasing Neil’s bookworm-dom which would become apparent over the next few albums.

If you compare Fly by Night with the band’s first effort, there are many similarities. Although production is more consistent and solid, it still has the mid-70s echoey sound, as opposed to the cleaner recording on later albums. This was also recorded at Toronto Sound Studios, but instead of a one-inch 8-track, they used two-inch 16-track tape on a Studer deck with a Neve console, which gave it a warm sound and let them be more flexible with overdubs. And behind that Neve console was Terry Brown, the band’s long-time fourth member, who would produce this and the band’s next eight albums.

This album is split almost down the middle into two types of songs: “Life is rough on the road being a rock star,” and “I bet it would be smart to market ourselves to nerdy 15-year-olds who play a lot of D&D.” Case in point on the latter is “By-Tor and the Snow Dog,” a near-nine-minute literary epic that introduces the band’s use of concept in their album-oriented music. It’s a prototypical rock music battle, much like “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” except it was never featured in a John Travolta album, and the lyrics are more suited for the kind of guy who tries to make his own chain-mail out of soda can tabs and wear it to high school for yearbook picture day. Musically, it’s pretty impressive stuff; Peart is all over the place on the drum kit, and Alex Lifeson contributes a lot of shrieking guitar, including a very bluesy solo towards the end.

The band also showcases their love of J.R.R. Tolkien in the song “Rivendell,” which features some of the stupidest lyrics possible in a song. “Lying in the warm grass / feel the sun upon your…. face.” Ugh. And I should clarify for those of you born in the 1980s that back in 1975, it was not cool in any way to like Tolkein. This was long before the films made it cool, and you were looking at a serious ass-beating if you sat in study hall and perfected your Elven calligraphy between readings of The Two Towers. Taking metal music, the art form of Satan and Ozzy himself, and taking a sudden turn into dreamy poetry about Elves was prime grounds for your parents to whisk you away to some kind of backwater evangelical reprogramming camp, where the ex-con counselors could beat the living shit out of you until they were certain you were heterosexual and would never roll a 2d12 again.

This album’s not all bad. The title track, with lyrics penned by Peart to describe his exit from Canada to London, is a bit foppish but has some decent soloing in it. “Beneath, Between, & Behind” has some cool drumming, including probably what’s the first double-bass on a Rush album. “In the End” has a great sound to it, especially the more-electric second half of the song. Aside from “Rivendell” and “By-Tor,” most of the album is only a slight progression from their first LP’s extremely straightforward hard rock sensibilities. But it’s a good progression, and the birth of what later became a very unique formula.

There are a couple of oddities on this album, so I’ll put them in a nice bulleted list for you:

  • “Beneath, Between, & Behind” was the first song that Peart worked on, and the only Rush song that Geddy Lee did not work on writing-wise in any way.
  • “Making Memories” is the only Rush song featuring slide guitar.
  • “Rivendell” is the only Rush song that does not include drums.

This is a short one, clocking in at a mere 37:18. But if you can overlook the dorkiness, it’s a decent $8 investment for a listen at the first shot of this band’s golden lineup.

Rating: 7.5