Released in 1975, Rush’s Caress of Steel was the Canadian musical group’s third studio album. This was the recording that had the band shift from bluesy hard rock to progressive, a pattern that would dictate the rest of the careers of Neil Peart, Geddy Lee, and Alex Lifeson. Instead of a bunch of songs thrown together that had no relevance to each other, this new approach to using an entire album as a musical storybook had one song finish off in a manner that would allow the one behind it seemed to pick up where it left off. Because of this, each song took on a whole new meaning, at least according to this visionary trio.
On Shaky Ground
When Caress of Steel didn’t quite measure up to commercial expectations at first, Rush came dangerously close to being dropped by their label, Mercury Records. Not only was the album not as well received by the public as hoped, but the musical direction was also much darker and more fantastical than Rush’s two previous albums.
However, over time, the popularity of this recording had it sell enough copies to become certified gold with Music Canada and the Recording Industry Association of America. Even though it took about twenty years to get there, a discerning fan base saw there was more to this album than simply a cluster of random songs thrown together. Each tune had its own meaning as it played its role in the story Rush was out to tell. During this stage of Rush’s career, the lineup of Rush between Peart, Lee, and Lifeson was the first time the group had some stability as a band.
From this trio, Lifeson was the only founder left. Lee briefly replaced Jeff Jones as the bassist and frontman before he was kicked out, only to be invited to come back Peart eventually replaced original drummer John Rutsey in 1974 but also took on the role of the group’s lyricist. Up until now, Rush had been struggling to form a musical identity that would transform them from mediocrity to stardom. That came about after Fly by Night was released in 1975.
However, Caress of Steel wasn’t the album that would catapult Rush into stardom just yet. Due to low sales and poor concert attendance, it looked as if the band’s days were numbered. At the time, a disappointed Mercury Records poured the pressure on the men to produce something more commercially appealing according to the label’s standards. Thankfully, Rush didn’t listen as they continued to stay on course as a progressive rock band. 2112 came after this recording that ultimately catapulted them to the top as a globally recognized talent.
Men of Steel
There was no rest between the recording and release of Fly by Night and Caress of Steel. Fly by Night actually served as the first taste of progressive rock by Rush, thanks to Neil Peart’s vision as a lyricist. However, it wasn’t until Caress of Steel did these three men officially move forward as a progressive rock band. This was technically the start of what became the best move the men of Rush ever made as musical artists.
As a recording, there were five songs on the album that had four of them on one side while the fifth was a lengthy track that took up all of the record’s second side. Between covering the French Revolution with “Bastille Day” and a dabble into sorcery with “The Necromancer,” Rush established a story pattern that focused on the differences between two different sides of an argument or situation. Overall, the album’s focus was on how history continually repeats itself as the fight for freedom is neverending.
As an album cover, the original intent was to print it in silver in order to match the Caress of Steel theme. However, there was an error that wound up having it appear in gold instead. This was not corrected and it wound up getting sent that way. As for the artwork, that was designed by Hugh Syme. This would be the first of many album covers he would do for the band.
Caress of Steel’s Songs and Meanings
#1 – Bastille Day
“Bastille Day” was a song that focused entirely on the storming of Bastille’s fortress, which officially began the French Revolution in 1789. This struggle against a tyrannical government took ten years to resolve, which resulted in a major shift in the political and social order of France by a population of people who were fed up with authority figures they felt let them down. This was the war that had King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette executed for treason.
Every July 14th in France, Bastille Day is the equivalent of America’s Independence Day as a festive occasion. Among French Canadians, this is also a celebrated event that all three members of Rush know quite well as their home province is Ontario. Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes each have a heavy population of francophones that see Bastille Day as an opportunity to celebrate freedom. Just like Canada Day, as well as Quebec’s Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, the appreciation of the brave who stood up against abusers of authority has been met with steadfast loyalty.
In concert, “Bastille Day” served as the opening number for Rush on a consistent basis until 1981. It was replaced by its instrumental section as part of the R30 Overture Tour.
Many Rush fans, realizing this band is Canadian, assumed “Bastille Day” was a song that focused on the French-Canadian holiday, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day. The only thing these two songs have in common was the fight for freedom against abusive authority figures. As a lyricist, Neil Peart was a historian at heart. He loved digging into history on a variety of subjects that would trigger the songwriter in him to come up with something that worked well with the musical compositions Lee and Lifeson came up with.
#2 – I Think I’m Going Bald
Inspired by Kiss’s hit single “Goin’ Blind,” Rush’s “I Think I’m Going Bald” became a song that picked up where “Bastille Day” left off. This came about after Rush had frequently served as the opening act for Kiss in concert. Considered by Geddy Lee as one of the goofiest tracks Rush ever recorded, Alex Lifeson was partly the reason why Neil Peart came up with the lyrics he did behind it.
Concerned about hair loss due to the aging process, baldness found its way into the conversation which prompted Peart to exercise some humor as a lyricist. Even though the song itself wasn’t considered funny it was how it came together that told the real story.
#3 – Lakeside Park
Since Caress of Steel was mainly an album that had Rush reveal bits and pieces of themselves, “Lakeside Park” remained in theme as an actual park located in Port Dalhousie, St. Catharines, Ontario. This is where drummer and lyricist Neil Peart grew up and worked during the summer as a teenager.
The history of Lakeside Park in Port Dalhousie includes the War of 1812 wreck sites of the USS Hamilton and the USS Scourge. From this location, there are two piers that have become popular tourist destinations by travelers who also happen to be history buffs. Since the early 1980s, the smaller pier has been used as a staging area for survey expeditions regarding these two ships. For Peart, who worked at this popular attraction, it was a memory of his youth before he got himself fired. Interestingly enough, after his passing, St. Catharines announced a pavilion named after him was to be set up at Lakeside Park.
#4 – The Necromancer
“The Necromancer” is a song that was broken up into three parts as it focused on the tale of a necromancer. The first leg of this twelve-minute tune began with “Into the Darkness” as the character in the story began to practice divination as he summoned up the spirits of the deceased. In actual context, the lyrics talking about three travelers meeting in Willow Dale was a direct reference to Rush as a startup band that came out of Willowdale, a suburb in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
The second part of the song was “Under the Shadow,” which was interpreted as an even further musical adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and one of its top villains, Sauron. When “The Necromancer” goes into the third and final stage of the song with “Return of the Prince,” the entire story behind this song comes full circle as the character of By-Tor from Fly by Night‘s “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” has made his way back home after experiencing his own adventure. In the song, By-Tor was a necromancer that came across as a hero, not a villain.
As a songwriter, Neil Peart was a huge fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. This wasn’t the first time, nor the last, he would venture into lyrical material that swirled around the fantastical world of sorcery and its varying practices. As musical composers, Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee excelled in their adaptation of Tolkien’s work as one of the world’s most influential novelists.
Inside the album, just below the lyrics to “The Necromancer” it reads “Terminat hora diem; terminat auctor opus.” When translated from its Latin-based dialect, it means “as the hour ends the day, the author ends his work.” This was a quote from the 1592 Doctor Faustus play, written by Christopher Marlowe.
#5 – The Fountain of Lamneth
“The Fountain of Lamneth” took up all of the B-side of Caress of Steel as a song that was about twenty minutes long. Broken into six parts, the musical story of a man searching for this mystical fountain came across as a chronicled event. It started with “Ambergris,” which is a waxy intestine substance coming from the sperm whale. This is a popular ingredient used to make perfumes.
The shouting featured in the drum solo of “Didacts and Narpets” played off the typical stance taken between two different opinionists who are determined to present their side of an argument. In this song, the ‘Didacts” were the teachers, which came from the root word “Didactic.” “Narpets” was an acronym for “Parents.” Both of them serve as people driven to teach, but not all of them share the same views of what should be taught and how. Since they don’t always agree with each other, the conflict of information fed to those whom they’re supposed to teach is enough to spark confusion. As a result, opposing opinions come about as each person will learn what’s been taught according to their own perspective.
“Panacea” was the song that focused on a cure-all to everything. Meanwhile, “Bacchus” was the Roman equivalent of Dionysus, the Greek god of wine.
When puzzling the song together, it was a dark narrative into a mythological world that served as a key source of inspiration in Rush’s musical material. As meaningful as some fans found ‘The Fountain of Lamneth” to be, this song was actually the starting point that would lead to Rush’s next album, 2112.
What a Rush
As many Rush fans look back, some consider albums like Caress of Steel somewhat prophetic. Neil Peart, as a lyricist, stood out as a uniquely gifted storyteller that knew how to apply his writing to the musical compositions put together by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson. This talented trio always seemed to be ahead of the times, which made them incredibly popular among a fan base who preferred good storytelling instead of simply following the latest trends going on in rock music.
In fact, many recording artists began to adopt Rush’s formula as some of them dabbled into progressive rock themselves. It worked for some, but not for everyone. Rush’s accomplishments as a trio of musicians, as well as visionaries, have been legendary. Moving forward, as we look back, sometimes it feels like Caress of Steel serves as a reminder that freedom is always just a breath away from extinction. Unless there’s a fight to defend it, those freedoms are replaced with a system that has no regard for the integrity of the human race whatsoever.
Speaking as a longtime fan of Rush, I simply enjoyed the music for its entertainment value. As intense as some of the songs appeared, even members of the band admitted it wasn’t about delivering some deep meaning behind the songs they performed. There was zero intent to be prophetic. The idea was to do what every other musical artist sets out to do, which is put together good music, hoping it’s enough to entertain the audience and have a loyal fan following. Since 1968, this has worked in Rush’s favor and they deserve it.
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Real Meanings Behind The Songs On Rush’s Caress of Steel Album article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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