Real Meanings Behind The Songs On Rush’s Grace Under Pressure Album

Real Meanings Behind The Songs On Rush's Grace Under Pressure Album

Feature Photo: Harmony Gerber /

Released on April 12, 1984, Grace Under Pressure became Rush’s tenth studio album. it was the follow-up behind the highly successful 1982 release of Signals. After the progressive rock band from Canada finished their concert tour in 1983, Neil Peart, Geddy Lee, and Alex Lifeson went back to work in the summer. Unlike previous albums, they chose not to work with their longtime producer, Terry Brown. Instead, they worked with Peter Henderson as Rush continued to explore further into the use of synthesizers the band had incorporated as part of its musical style. The eight songs featured on the album followed the same progressive pattern that’s been Rush’s trademark. Each of them had its own meaning as Grace Under Pressure‘s overall storyline unfolded along the way.

Inspirational Headlines

While Neil Peart came up with the lyrics for Grace Under Pressure, Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson worked on the musical composition. This time, they did this in a lodge located near Barry, Ontario, Canada. As for the material, Rush found the new stories told in the Toronto-based The Globe and Mail to be a good source. “Between the Wheels” was the first song Peart wrote lyrics for as that was completed the first night they were at the lodge. “Kid Gloves” and “Afterimage” were written a few days later. These, along with “Red Sector A” and “The Body Electric,” were assembled on a demo tape in three weeks’ time before Rush went to New York City to perform five nights at the Radio City Music Hall.

Rush returned to Canada, taking a collection of demos to Le Studio in Morin-Heights, Quebec so they can begin recording the next album. This took place from November 1983 until March 1984. For Rush, this was the longest amount of time they spent recording an album at that time. As for the album’s title, the inspiration came from a quotation from novelist Ernest Hemingway as the band felt “courage is grace under pressure” and made a good analysis of the ambiance felt during the recording sessions.

Graceful Transitions

Not only did the 1980s witness Rush tapping more into the sound of synthesizers as part of their musical style but were also adopting ska and reggae into their songs. This was made evident in Grace Under Pressure. However, this album also increased the role of the guitars since Signals.

The cover of Grace Under Pressure was designed and painted by Hugh Syme. Since 1975, he’s been working with Rush as their artist of choice for each of their albums. The back of the album’s cover featured a portrait of the band, which was taken by Armenian-Canadian photographer Yousuf Karsh. He was the man the band employed when they talked about ideas for the album’s sleeve during rehearsals. Lifeson made the suggestion to use a black-and-white photograph and it was met with enthusiasm by his bandmates. It was the first time Rush had anything like this on any of their previous album covers.

Grace Under Pressure was another commercial success for Rush as it became certified platinum with the Recording Industry Association of America, as well as with Music Canada. Also, it was certified gold by the British Phonographic Industry. It was also recognized as one of the albums that defined 1984, at least according to Guitar World.

Grace Under Pressure Song Meanings

#1 – Distant Early Warning

“Distant Early Warning” was based on a modern-day world that was constantly under threat by a cluster of superpowers as they continue to toy with mankind like chess pieces. Always at a distance, the reality of a peaceful life we take for granted could easily shift to a living nightmare as if without warning. However, the warning signs are always there. It’s up to each person to open up their eyes and see reality for what it is instead of assuming whatever they’re told is the gospel truth.

It also brought up how it’s so easy for people to get caught up in the human rat race, an unfortunate trend that causes rifts in relationships. Along the way, values change, as do perceptions and how we go about our daily lives. For the most part, all the warning signals of disaster are staring us down right in front of us but we never see it. Among the few who do see before it’s too late, reality hits home how easy it is to distract the human race.

#2 – Afterimage

“Afterimage” was a song that shared the tale of Robbie Whelan. He was an assistant engineer that was employed at Le Studio, the location Rush held their recording sessions while in Morin-Heights, Quebec. On his way to the studio, Whelan was killed in a car accident a year before Grace Under Pressure was released. “Afterimage” paid homage to him and the album was dedicated to his memory. While working on this album, Whelan taught Neil Peart how to ski while they were in the Laurentian Mountains, which is where Morin-Heights is located. Often, the two cross-country skied together to the studio.

#3 – Red Sector A

“Red Sector A” was a song that was delivered from a first-person point of view living in a prison camp. According to lyricist Neil Peart, the inspiration behind this song came from Geddy Lee’s mother as she shared her personal experience as a survivor of the Holocaust and its Nazi-run concentration camps. This was one of those few songs by Rush that had no bass guitar as Lee focused on synthesizers and vocals.

Lee’s mother, Manya (Mary) Rubenstein, was liberated from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April 1945 by British and Canadian soldiers. His father, Morris Weinrib, was liberated from the Dachau concentration camp a few weeks later. They served as sources of inspiration for Lee, as well as a bitter reality that freedom is only a breath away from extinction when taken for granted.

Set in a futuristic timeline, “Red Sector A” and Grace Under Pressure delivered a grim reality of what can happen to society at just a moment’s notice. The psychological impact of a world turned upside down once humanity takes a backseat to political power struggles is a profound one. The struggle to keep hope alive becomes very real, which Mary Rubenstein shared with her son. She believed living outside the concentration camp wasn’t possible while she was imprisoned. She was also convinced that society, as a whole, was doomed.

From Neil Peart’s perspective, he read a survivor’s story about the system of trains and work camps. For him, he was inspired by the will of the people who were so badly mistreated. The will to survive as they endured such horror inspired Peart to bring their stories to life as a songwriter.

The title “Red Sector A” came from the NASA launch area located at Kennedy Space Center. On April 12, 1981, Rush was on the base to watch the first launch of Space Shuttle Columbia.

#4 – The Enemy Within (Part I of “Fear”)

“The Enemy Within (Part I of “Fear”)” was the third song installment of a musical trilogy that began with Moving Pictures and continued with Signals. As a trilogy, the musical storylines were presented backward as the first was “Witch Hunt” and the second was “The Weapon.” “The Enemy Within,” brought the whole story behind “Fear” to full circle. As a music video, “The Enemy Within” was the first to be featured on Canada’s MuchMusic channel when it officially launched as a station in August 1984.

This particular song reflected how our own worst fears also become our worst enemies. Furthermore, not only do we harm ourselves when fear rules over us but we also take it out on all the people around us. Those closest to us are impacted the most. When left unchecked, fear causes people to engage in actions that are both destructive and self-destructive. When fear is fueled by rage, it always leads to disaster. As a lyricist, Neil Peart knew this. As composers, both Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson knew this as well.

#5 – The Body Electric

Neil Peart was a big fan of the television series, Twilight Zone. “The Body Electric” was based on the episode, I Sing the Body Electric. The story was about a family who ordered a robot named “Grandmother” to serve as a replacement after their mother died. As a song performed by Rush, it was about the struggle of a robot desiring to break free of the social structure put in place by people who failed to understand it was evolving into more than just a circuit board with moving parts.

#6 – Kid Gloves

“Kid Gloves” was a song that dealt with the reality that sometimes certain tasks have to be done the hard way. It’s really about learning a series of lessons through the eyes of a child who makes a series of mistakes before finally overcoming the obstacles to succeed. This not only applied to school-related lessons but as part of life’s experiences as well.

#7 – Red Lenses

Inspired by Toronto’s newspaper, The Globe and Mail, “Red Lenses” was a song that pointed out how paranoia can distort a person’s judgment. Fear, as always, clouds a person’s ability to make better decisions. Instead of seeing through eyes that are wide open, a fearful person will look through a distorted lens. The distortion causes the person to see whatever their mind conjures up as the imagination runs wild with all sorts of possibilities. Fear is also our own worst enemy. When left unchecked, common sense becomes a thing of the past and is replaced by twisted realities.

#8 – Between the Wheels

“Between the Wheels” was a song about pressure, which was made evident as it returned to the apocalyptic mood that defined Grace Under Pressure as an album. In the lyrics, it laid out the reality we can go from highs to lows at a moment’s notice as we race “Between the Wheels” as if our lives depend on it.

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