A Farewell to Kings was the fifth studio album that was recorded and released by Canadian rock band Rush. This came out in September 1977 as an ambitious project that served as a follow-up recording from the highly successful 2112 from 1976. For Rush, the popularity of the incredible talent of Neil Peart, Geddy Lee, and Alex Lifeson reached new heights that had them globally recognized as a world-class talent. The success of 2112 allowed Rush to enjoy a sixteen-month tour that ended in June 1977. However, instead of taking a break, the ambitious trio went straight back to work as they geared up to bring forth an album they hoped would keep the momentum of Rush’s run going.
Far From Home
The decision to record A Farewell to Kings chose Rockford Studios in Wales, which was the first time Rush opted to put together an album outside of their Toronto home base. This was also an album that had band members experiment with new musical instruments they hadn’t used before. It was also the album that recorded a mix of concise and long songs that would earn Rush additional nods of approval from critics and fans worldwide. For Rush, the success of A Farewell to Kings catapulted their popularity to headline major venues across Canada and the United Kingdom for the first time.
According to Neil Peart, the decision to pick the perfect studio to record new music didn’t come easy. When longtime Rush producer Terry Brown did the research, the studio located in Rockfield, Monmouthshire, Wales served as that ideal setting to allow the band to relax and record at the same time. The seclusion of the studio’s farm location laid out a mellow atmosphere that was a stark contrast to the bustle of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This meant the band could record outdoors, which was an opportunity they took advantage of.
It took three weeks for A Farewell to Kings to be recorded. After that, there were two weeks of mixing at London’s Advision Studios. While 2112 featured a confined sound, A Farewell to Kings had Peart, Lee, and Lifeson write musical material that allowed familiar and unfamiliar instruments to be played. For Peart, he played chimes, orchestra bells, tubular bells, and other percussion-related instruments. Lee played double-neck bass with a Rickenbacker 4080 and Minimoog. As for Lifeson, it was with new guitars and a Moog Taurus bass pedal synthesizer. The synth was an instrument Lee was also familiar with. As a group, the learning process as musicians while recording A Farewell to Kings was an important step for Rush as it continued to evolve as a rock band.
On the A side of the album, “A Farewell to Kings” starts off with almost six minutes worth of musical genius before going into the eleven-minute-long “Xanadu.” On the B side, it was the hit single, “Closer to the Heart,” then “Cinderella Man,” Madrigal,” and “Cygnus X-1 Book: The Voyage.” Fans of Rush will recognize Cygnus making an appearance again on Hemispheres. That album was recorded and released after A Farewell to Kings that began with “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres.”
A Farewell to Kings became certified platinum by Music Canada and the Recording Industry Association of America. It was certified gold by the British Phonographic Industry. The legacy of this recording not only brought Rush to new heights of success worldwide but introduced the band members to new musical sounds that would dictate the direction of the follow-up album, Hemispheres.
The cover of the album was designed by Hugh Syme. When Rush began to record A Farewell to Kings, their longtime collaborator already began to work on an idea that featured a composite photograph of a demolition site in Buffalo, New York used with the Toronto’s Harbour Castle Hotel. The hotel was in the background while the foreground depicted a puppeteered human being.
In 2021, A Tribute to Kings was a tour Primus embarked on as this funk metal band paid tribute to A Farewell to Kings. The final show was performed on June 25, 2022, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Real Meanings Behind The Songs On Rush’s A Farewell to Kings Album
#1 – A Farewell to Kings
The start of the album featured the title track, “A Farewell to Kings.” The highlight of this song came from the chirping of birds, which was recorded just outside the studio. The title of both the album and the song came to Neil Peart a year before Rush began to work on the album. As a group, this song was a personal favorite as it allowed Rush to express themselves as musicians exactly as they saw fit.
“A Farewell to Kings” dealt with hypocrisy. It also laid out a well-written song about finding your own way by first looking within yourself to figure out where you’re going. The Middle Ages-style musical imagery used in this song reflected the reality mankind has dealt with these issues for a very long period of time.
#2 – Xanadu
Prior to the recording of A Farewell to Kings, “Xanadu” was already earning playtime by Rush in concert. On the album, the birdsong opening was the same that was used for the title track. This fantasy-inspired song included Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, Kubla Khan. It was also inspired by Citizen Kane, which Neil Peart was already using as a source before coming across the poem. When Rush recorded the song, the “etched like a burning image in my head” line found its way as the song’s opener.
“Xanadu” has often been referenced as some special place, thanks to the popularity it received from Kubla Khan and the mythical place it made reference to, the Mongol Empire’s Shangdu. According to Neil Peart’s lyrics, “Xanadu” was a place that was supposed to grant immortality. Although the song suggested the desired immortality was granted, it turned him into a mental state after living for a thousand years in such a troubled world. At that point, he found himself simply waiting for it to come to an end.
“Xanadu” was also the first song Rush heavily used synthesizers. Still heavy with guitar, this song had each member use a collection of instruments in order to heighten its performance level.
#3 – Closer To The Heart
“Closer to the Heart” was the first song that was developed for A Farewell to Kings. Originally, this was the album’s title before Peart switched it. According to Peart, “A Farewell to Kings” dealt with problems while “Closer to the Heart” offered solutions to those problems. The song’s title was based on a verse by Peter Talbot, a friend of the band that also had a niche for writing and media works. It was the first time in the band’s history someone outside their roster serve as a songwriter.
“Closer to the Heart” became a hit single for Rush after it was released during the fall of 1977 that would later be inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010. The single became a number thirty-six hit on the UK Singles Chart, as well as a number forty-five hit on the Canadian Top Singles chart, and a number seventy-six hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. The live performance from 1981 had the song chart on the US Billboard Hot 100 again, this time at number sixty-nine. It also peaked at number twenty-one on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart.
This became one of Rush’s most popular songs that became a cult classic among a global fan base.
#4 – Cinderella Man
Geddy Lee was the man behind the lyrics of “Cinderella Man.” For him, 1936’s Mr. Deeds Goes to Town was the source of his inspiration as he regarded this romantic comedy as an influential favorite. Going with the tale of a man moving from a small town to a big city, thanks to an inheritance, it was loosely based on the movie which starred Gary Cooper.
“Cinderella Man” was also one of the few songs that had Lee as the songwriter as this role usually belonged to Neil Peart. It was simply a song that behaved like a reaction of someone going from rags to riches.
#5 – Madrigal
The drums featured in “Madrigal” came from Neil Peart’s performance in an echo room. This was a love ballad that had its musical score borrowed from the era of the Middle Ages as the theme of A Farewell to Kings continued from its title track to this one. What made Rush stand out as a progressive rock band was the ability to bring the imagery of music to life as if it was a motion picture.
According to Britannica, “Madrigal” is a form of vocal chamber music that originated in northern Italy during the fourteenth century before going into obscurity during the fifteenth century. It flourished again in the sixteenth century. One of the greatest madrigal composers from the fourteenth century was Francesco Landini. He, along with the contemporary madrigalists of the time, are found in the Squarcialupi Codex Illuminated Manuscript.
The fourteenth-century “Madrigal” differed from what came about in the sixteenth century. The new style demanded a different poetic form that demanded a higher quality of literary characteristics. This brought in other poetic forms, including what we commonly refer to today as ballads. The favorite madrigalists from that era included Giovanni Boccaccio, Petrarch, and Torquato Tasso.
When listening to “Madrigal,” it’s easy to be taken to a timeline where the king’s court featured a talent pool of madrigalists as they entertained an audience of nobles and royals. This was during a time when the Middle Ages were shifting into the age of the Renaissance. The Renaissance technically began in the fifteenth century when the Italians were influenced by the poetry and music coming in from nations such as France. This brought about a new breed of madrigalists that played their role as founders of a whole new musical era that eventually paved the way for the various music styles we know today.
#6 – Cygnus X-1 Book 1: The Voyage
“Cygnus X-1 Book 1: The Voyage” was a science fiction style musical that featured just over ten minutes of music that was designed with four distinct sections. The story behind this song focused on a black hole that was called Cygnus X-1. The inspiration behind this song came after Neil Peart read a Time magazine article about black holes. He then proceeded to research further about the subject. From there, “Cygnus X-1 Book 1: The Voyage” took the form of a four-part song that featured a spaceship named Rocinante.
What “Cygnus X-1 Book 1: The Voyage” did was allow all three band members from Rush to experiment with new instruments to develop new sounds as a rock group. This served as a catalyst that would lead to Hemispheres and the genius musical material that came from it. In the tour book for A Farewell to Kings, Peart wrote that Rush already picked how they were going to conclude the story of Cygnus X-1 and the spaceship Rocinante.
The reason why “Cygnus X-1” was chosen as Rush’s song title came from Peart’s discovery of an actual black hole discovery that was made in 1964. The rocket flight that made this discovery still remains one of the strongest x-ray sources detectable from Earth. Named Cygnus X-1, this black hole has become one of the most studied astronomical objects in its class.
Real Meanings Behind The Songs On Rush’s A Farewell to Kings Album article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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