45 years ago… Man, where does the time go? Rush was a very important band to me growing up. I’ll never forget the day me and my Dad went to a record store when I was about 13 years old, and we saw Caress of Steel (1975) in the selection, and he immediately snatched it and claimed that it was a must-have. That was really my first true introduction to Rush, and from the minute we put it in the CD player, I was hooked. However, we’re not here to talk about that record. We’re here to talk about the record that started it all; their debut self-titled album.
While this record doesn’t really display much of their Progressive Rock tendencies that most people note Rush to be the pioneers of, it certainly shows a band that was indeed finding their way (pun was most definitely intended). Featuring original stick wielder John Rutsey, the music is very much “of the times.” A lot of critics in the press were claiming that Rush were like the Canadian Led Zeppelin. On songs like ‘Finding My Way,’ “What You’re Doing,’ and ‘Working Man,’ Geddy Lee was very much tapping into a Robert Plant influence, but still with his signature shriek that became more prominent throughout their discography in the 70s.
Admittedly, when I got into Rush, this was one of the last albums from their 70’s catalog that I visited and really sunk my teeth into. Not because I thought the music was inferior; quite the contrary. Obviously, when a lot of people think of Rush, they don’t realize that there was a Rush that existed before Neil Peart joined the group and really kicked things into overdrive. I was one of those people for a while, and then finally I got around to listening to this album, and I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, it was pretty reflective of what a lot of the hard rock groups of the day were doing, but at the same time, it had this very unique thing about it that really set it apart from the rest. The biggest distinction is Alex Lifeson’s unique guitar playing.
To this day, I have yet to find any other guitar players who sound like him. He truly defines what it means to be criminally underrated. His vibrato and his guitar tone were very distinctive. It’s easy to detect certain things in this record that would lay down the groundwork for all of the releases thereafter. What impresses me most of all, is that for a debut record, the production is pretty outstanding, especially given the time. The warm analog sound and thumping low end matched with the clarity given to the instruments and vocals really serves as an enjoyable listen.
Now, let’s get into the songs themselves. Obviously, the record starts off with ‘Finding My Way’ which begins with an intro guitar riff with the accented rhythm section of Lee and Rutsey, and builds up to a groove everyone locks into and is a great way to start off the record. This leads into the energetic ‘Need Some Love’ with a plea from Lee that he’s feeling rather lonely, dealing with the typical angst of a young boy searching for love. A fairly basic and clichéd track, but a fun listen nonetheless. Next is “Take A Friend,” which musically sounds like a spinoff of Bad Company featuring a simple bluesy call and answer interplay between the vocals and guitar; a short and sweet song very much reminiscent of the ’70s. The band finds themselves slowing things down with a bluesy number on ‘Here Again’ that also happens to be the longest song on the record. Though fairly repetitive, I find myself getting lost in the atmosphere which can make the run time seem like nothing. It also features a very soulful guitar solo from Lifeson that I consider to be one of his best performances on the album.
The band brings it back up to speed with “What You’re Doing,” featuring some clever rhyming from Geddy Lee lyrically on top of a ‘Heartbreaker’ style groove. If there’s anything on this record sounds the most like the ’70s, it’s definitely the following track “In The Mood.” It features a cowbell-driven drum intro with a guitar riff on a slight chorus effect and more clichéd lyrics reflective of the time and it all kind of reminds me of ‘I Just Wanna Make Love To You’ by Foghat. The band then goes into a soft ballad that leads into an aggressive 70’s hard rock guitar riff with “Before and After.” Closing out the record was the song that truly put Rush on the map, a slow and heavy hard rock song “Working Man” talking about simply what the title suggests. A working-class man who’s a workaholic and doesn’t slow down because he feels it’s his most important obligation to work and earn his weekly pay. This is something that just about any working class citizen could relate to. For that reason, it was requested to be played on the radio quite often and really helped launch Rush’s career. It’s still revered as a fan favorite 45 years after its initial release.
The final verdict about this record is that it’s a very nostalgic listen. Clearly Rush had not found their identity yet, as most bands when they start out typically don’t. The lyrics were mostly written by Geddy talking about rather typical hard rock song topics which they would later shed completely once Neil joined the band. It’s one of the only albums in Rush’s catalog that I find myself saying, “This reminds me of… *insert popular hard rock band of the 70’s here*” and while I find that usually brings down the value of the music, I really tend to not feel that way with this album. Rush displayed what I consider a pretty good summary of what 70’s hard rock sounds like. However, one should not mistake that as a perspective of diminishing its quality and spirit. It displays a band eager to get recognition and reach a wide audience attempting to break from the incredibly stagnant Canadian rock scene at the time with sounds that are familiar to the common hard rock fan, but with Rush’s obvious unique take due to the delivery of their performances and technique. Even at a young age and with Rutsey on drums, they certainly could prove that they were not slouches when it came to musicianship, and that musical ambition certainly carried them far once they acquired drumming virtuoso Neil Peart as Rutsey’s replacement following this record for their sophomore release Fly By Night (1975) and beyond. Rush is an album I think every fan of Rush should check out if they haven’t already, but it wouldn’t be the first album I would recommend in terms of representing what the band truly sounds like.