Released by Rush in October 1978 by Anthem Records, this four-song album, Hemispheres, was recorded at Rockfield Studios in Monmouthshire, Wales, and at Trident Studios in London, England. As the popularity of Rush grew since A Farewell to Kings, Neil Peart, Geddy Lee, and Alex Lifeson promptly got to work on their next recording with longtime engineer and arranger, Terry Brown. As a progressive rock band from Canada, they produced a recording that demonstrated why Rush was considered one of the most influential and revolutionary bands.
Hemispheres earned favorable reviews from music critics and fans. One may think with only four songs to work with that there wouldn’t be much to talk about regarding Hemispheres but that’s not true. Rush was an incredibly insightful band that knew how to bring forth more than simply entertaining rock music. The majority of the musical material the band produced gave food for thought to a fan base that had the ears willing to hear.
After completing a nine-month tour to support the band’s fifth studio album, A Farewell to Kings, Rush extended its popularity as a progressive rock band beyond the borders of North America. This album served as a breakthrough for Rush to win over a solid fan following from the United Kingdom. For Rush, the experience of recording A Farewell to Kings on a Welsh farm in Rockfield, Monmouthshire left such an impression that the three men chose to record Hemispheres there as well.
During the months of June and July 1978, Rush recorded at Rockfield Studios before the vocals were applied to the music in London’s Advision Studios. The finishing touches were done in August at Trident Studios, also in London. This ambitious three-month project saw the band members of Rush take only one day off. When the work was over, the exhausted band members took six weeks off just to relax.
The artwork featured on Hemispheres showed a human brain with two very different people standing on it as if it was a hill. One man was well-dressed while the other was nude. The division between the composed logical thinker and the flighty extrovert served as a visual illustration of how vastly different the left side of the brain is from the right. Not only did it reveal the internal struggle of every human being but how it can divide society as a whole.
Hemispheres became certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America, as well as Music Canada. It also became certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry. This commercially successful album increased Rush’s popularity even more as the fan base continued to grow on a global scale. Regarded as one of the best rock albums ever produced, Hemispheres continues to influence an audience worldwide.
The Meanings Behind Rush’s Hemispheres Songs
#1 – Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres
“Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres” was the song that started the musical genius behind the album with its eighteen-minute run of a song that came in six parts. Due to its length, it took up the entire A-side of the album while the other three songs were placed on the B-side. Originally, Geddy Lee had a different idea for what was regarded as the album’s centerpiece but changed his mind after some of the music written by the group laid out a storyline that deserved to be continued. For Peart, this was a song that was already in the works three weeks before Rush was ready to head to Rockfield Studios.
In its entirety, “Cygnus,” was a lengthy song that used mythology and symbolism while describing a conflict that erupted between the Greek gods known as Apollo and Dionysus. In it, Cygnus gets in the middle of his quest to restore a balance of heart and mind so that human beings can lead less complicated lives. He does this as the black hole referred to as Cygnus X-1.
In this song, Peart introduced the gong and timpani as part of his drum set for the first time, feeling it was needed in order to bring forth the vision in mind for Hemispheres. The inspiration behind Cygnus X-1 came from an actual x-ray discovery in the Cygnus constellation in 1964. Believed as a black hole, this was a big news story after a rocket flight made what is still regarded as one of the most studied objects in astronomy.
As for the inspiration leading to Rocinante, the spaceship’s name came from Miguel de Cervantes’s 1600s novel, Don Quixote. Rocinante was the title character’s horse. This was also the name of the camper truck belonging to John Steinback while he wrote his 1962 book Travels with Charley.
Book I: The Voyage
This was the first half of a six-part song that revolved around the entry of a black hole by the spaceship known as Rocinante. Neil Peart ended this particular story without a conclusion as it lead into the second part of the song. It was in this first section of the song the Rocinante had navigational difficulties as it drew closer to the space anomaly’s gravitational pull. In Book I, the final words spoken were “Sound and fury drown my heart, every nerve is torn apart.”
Book II: Hemispheres
The second half of the song tapped into one of the ancient gods that were made famous, thanks to Greek and Roman folklore. According to this part of the story, the explorer manning the Rocinante finds himself in Olympus. While there, the struggle between Apollo and Dionysus are struggling against each other. Before his arrival, Apollo led the logical thinkers while Dionysus led the people who were fueled by emotion.
Through Apollo, people learned how to build cities and expand their knowledge through science. Meanwhile, Dionysus lured many of these people into the wild to pursue love instead. However, they did so without preparing enough food to survive the upcoming winter season. Because of this, conflict erupts between Apollo and his followers and Dionysus and his followers.
From the perspective of the explorer in the story, he is troubled by what he sees as a lack of balance. Although his scream was silent, it was still felt by the fighters involved. This gave them cause to reconsider their actions, choosing to meet in the middle as one instead of staying on their own side of an argument. This process resulted in Apollo and Dionysus naming the explorer Cygnus, God of Balance.
#2 – Circumstances
The first song on the B-side of Hemispheres was “Circumstances.” This song was unlike the progressive formula that became Rush’s trademark sound as a band. It would also be the same formula that would be used in their later albums as a group.
In the lyrics, Neil Peart used his personal experiences while living in England as a musical autobiography. It revealed the disillusionment he felt as a struggling musician after realizing the London music scene had no interest in him as a drummer. In order to make ends meet, he worked in a tourist gift shop for a year and a half before moving back to Canada.
This was also one of the few Rush songs produced that featured French lyrics. In the chorus, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” was Rush’s observance of how the more things seem to change, the more it seems to stay the same.
#3 – The Trees
Part of the inspiration behind “The Trees” came from the Welsh countryside as Rush took in the experience of recording at a farm that served as the home of Rockfield Studios. The song’s story focused on the forest that was populated by oak and maple trees. Because the mighty oaks were outgrowing the maples, therefore taking all the sunlight, the smaller of these tree species formed a union in an attempt to have their rivals cut down to size.
For Neil Peart, his main source of inspiration behind the lyrics came as a flash. It came after he viewed a cartoon pic of trees acting like idiots. At the time, he wrote out this song with the imagery of trees acting like people in what was a comic-style adaptation of his own. Among the fans and music critics, “The Trees” remains one of the all-time Rush favorites as a song.
At one point, a suggestion had it “The Trees” was a musical political statement as the Canadian flag features the maple leaf while the mighty Americans were noted for tall oak trees. However, politics had nothing to do with it. For Peart, it was a lighthearted song that merely acted on a simple comic strip.
#4 – La Villa Strangiato
For nine minutes, “La Villa Strangiato” served as the final track had twelve distinct sections, and was subtitled “An Exercise in Self-Indulgence.” The storyline behind this song was based on the different nightmares Alex Lifeson had while he was on tour. This was what initially sparked a new musical direction for the band. At first, Rush had difficulties recording this as the band considered putting this song down as a single live performance. However, after forty takes in the studio to come up with the perfect production, Rush was finally able to overcome this musical hurdle.
According to Peart, it was an exhausting run of four days and four nights as this song was played repeatedly just so that the band could get the sound right. Despite the pain and fatigue, not one member of Rush was ready to settle for anything less than perfect until they realized they had no choice but to put this recording together from a few different takes.
“La Villa Strangiato” was recorded as a twelve-part instrumental song. Fans may notice the segments of “Monsters!” and “Monsters! (Reprise)” were adaptations of a 1937 Raymond Scott jazz instrumental, “Powerhouse.”
By translation, “La Villa Strangiato” means “Strange City,” which perfectly described the bizarre dreams Lifeson had. When those were shared with his bandmates, they often joked about it to the point where it was realized there was enough material to work with as a cartoonish musical. The big band sound was an experimental approach for Rush at the time that later became an integral part of their musical act.
Among fans and music critics, “La Villa Strangiato” remains one of the major Rush favorites.
Real Meanings Behind The Songs On Rush’s Hemispheres Album article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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