Real Meanings Behind The Songs On Rush’s Moving Pictures Album

Real Meanings Behind The Songs On Rush's Moving Pictures Album

Feature Photo: Blueee77 / Shutterstock.com

When Rush delivered Moving Pictures as an album in 1981, it was met with favorable reviews from both fans and music critics. At a time when rock music was heavily divided, Moving Pictures was an album that came with the core of its meaning focusing on the importance of literally focusing on the bigger picture. So inspired to do this album, Rush pitched a proposal to the band manager and producer. This resulted in the cancellation of a two-year schedule that was already put into place. That schedule was originally meant for Rush to record a live album.

From Rush’s point of view, the musical styles that began to influence the 1980s saw there were notable differences between each performer. The music industry as everyone knew it at the time was in the process of undergoing a profound change. As a trio, Geddy Lee, Neil Peart, and Alex Lifeson got to work as they put together their most ambitious album to date.

Moving Pictures was the eighth studio album that came from Rush. The material for it began in August 1980 with the focus to produce more radio-friendly songs that would sport tighter and shorter song structures compared to the band’s previous recordings. It also became the group’s most successful as it sold over five million copies in the United States alone. Certified platinum five times over, Moving Pictures also became a four-time platinum seller in Canada. The British Phonographic Industry certified it silver.

Drawing Lines

Although changes in music were nothing uncommon, what did stand out the most was the function and form that saw various brands of rock music play a significant role in certain social movements. This caused an interesting rift among fans that looked like their choice of musical preferences also meant choosing a cultural subdivision.

Those rifts also existed among recording artists. Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” served as one example as he chose his side while artists like Billy Joel couldn’t seem to care less, at least according to what he shared in “It’s Still Rock and Roll.”

When 1981 came around, it appeared as if the old-school rock bands were antithetical compared to the pop-conscious combos that came in after them. This wasn’t just heard in the music but seen as styles in the clothing and hairstyles that were sported by the performers at that time. This was something Rush could see, plain as day, while the majority of musicians stuck in their ways failed to observe the changes that were taking place before them.

Moving Forward

After the steel guitar focus of 1980’s Permanent Waves, Rush took in the new wave music brought forth by bands like The Police and XTC as a personal challenge to come up with Moving Pictures. This album served as the middle ground between the past, the present, and even the future.

As a band, Rush deliberately fused the influence of the 1970s straight into the musical material that was featured in Moving Pictures. Because of this, Rush became one of the pioneers that would knock down certain barriers that once upon a time polarised rock fans.

They didn’t do this as an “in your face” stunt. This was done as a subtle means to wake up an audience to the reality that time doesn’t stand still for anyone. As a songwriter, Neil Peart made this abundantly clear. This was evident in Moving Pictures. This formula worked as it became the top-selling album in Canada. In the United Kingdom and the United States, it was positioned as the third best-selling album after it was released on February 12, 1981.

Moving Pictures was the eighth studio album that came from Rush. The material for it began in August 1980 with the focus to produce more radio-friendly songs that would sport tighter and shorter song structures compared to the band’s previous recordings.

It became the group’s most successful album as it sold over five million copies in the United States alone. Certified platinum five times over, Moving Pictures also became a four-time platinum seller in Canada. The British Phonographic Industry certified it silver.

Meanings Behind the Songs from Rush’s Moving Pictures Album

#1 – Tom Sawyer

“Tom Sawyer” was the lead single featured in Moving Picture. It presented the new sounds of rock and roll in a manner that easily drew in hardcore rock fans. Lyricist Neil Peart collaborated with Pye Dubois of Max Webster in order to make this song a poetic masterpiece. The start of this song actually came from Dubois as he presented “Louis the Lawyer,” a poem that would become modified and expanded.

Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson worked together on the song’s musical composition. The growling synthesizer heard in the song came from Lee experimenting with his Oberheim OB-X. As a song, the goal was for the music to match the image of a free-spirited individual that was rebelling against a world that was bent on drowning the people with too many rules and regulations.

As a single, “Tom Sawyer” was the biggest hit coming from Moving Pictures. On the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, it peaked at number eight. It was a number forty-four hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. In Canada, it peaked at number twenty-four while it was a number twenty-five hit on the UK Singles Chart.

In 2010, “Tom Sawyer” was one of Rush’s five songs inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. In the United States, this is one of the most-played classic rock songs, as is the case in Canada.

#2 – Red Barchetta

“Red Barchetta” was a song that took the inspiration it received from Richard Forster’s 1973 futuristic story, A Nice Morning Drive. In that story, it discussed a government placing heavy regulations on how cars were built. In the name of safety through its Modern Safety Vehicles Act, the challenge was on to make more performant vehicles that could withstand high-speed impacts without causing injury to the driver.

In the lyrics, Rush mentioned several classes of vehicles that were banned by the government’s motor-based law. It also mentioned a pristine red Barchetta that was kept in its hiding place. Once a week, the narrator took it out for a drive in the countryside which eventually led to a chase by a police force. By the time the song was over, both the driver and the Barchetta made it back to the uncle’s farm, safe and sound.

#3 – YYZ

“YYZ” was a song that featured the IATA identification code that was used to label the Toronto Pearson International Airport. This song featured elements that came from King Crimson, a rhythm Alex Lifeson introduced to his bandmates as they flew into the airport. The VHF omnidirectional range system still broadcasts the “YYZ” identifier in the form of Morse Code.

If you’re looking for lyrics, you won’t find any with “YYZ.” This was purely instrumental as a song. Guitarist Alex Lifeson was at his finest as he laid out a spectacular solo that proudly displayed some musical influence of Middle East origin. What this did was turn “YYZ” into a multicultural experience. It was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.

#4 – Limelight

Through “Limelight,” Rush delivered a riff that characterized pop music as more than just some kind of come-and-go trend. It was popular enough to become a number four hit on the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, as well as number fifty-five on the US Billboard Hot 100. In Canada, it peaked as high as number eighteen.

As a song, “Limelight” was the shining gem that made Moving Pictures such a critical favorite. It was also a deliberate slap in the face against the political and social zealots who constantly want to rip the right to privacy away from the people through its microscopic scrutiny practices. This song also served as a warning of things to come.

It was also a song that revealed what daily living had become for members of Rush as the rise of their popularity came with a price. Instead of going out and about in public like a normal human being, each of them now had to deal with autograph seekers. Because of this, a motivated Neil Peart wrote “Limelight” a song that expressed appreciation and loneliness at the same time. As great as it was to have a fan base, it was equally stressful due to the intrusiveness that came with it.

#5 – The Camera Eye

Although Moving Pictures embraced the present, it didn’t forget the past, either. This was evident in “The Camera Eye,” an eleven-minute song that broke into what sounded like picturesque sections. For starters, Part I focused on New York, which came as a source of inspiration while Rush was visiting the Big Apple in 1980. In fact, this is where it all began as the fuel behind the energetic fire that triggered Moving Pictures to officially move forward. Meanwhile, Part II focused on the traffic scene that normally takes place in London, England.

This song took the aura of New York City and London, turning it into a timeless musical piece that made it easy to visualize a mix of city lore. If you’re expecting lyrics, this doesn’t happen until the song itself moves beyond the three-minute mark. The goal here is to use the sounds coming from the instruments to dictate the flow of traffic racing through the power of your own mind.

#6 – Witch Hunt

This song was followed by “Witch Hunt,” a song that hauntingly covered the issues revolving around the attitudes of some people. Instead of exercising common sense, they’d rather make hasty judgment calls without giving any regard to the consequences that come with them.

The song, “Witch Hunt” began with the sounds of a mob. In the lyrics, this gathering included people who allowed fear and hatred to overcome the better part of themselves. Unfortunately, this has been mankind’s reality since the beginning. Social issues revolving around accidental and deliberate misinformation have always been mankind’s biggest pandemic that has consistently snuffed out more lives than all of the other reasons combined. It’s been a big problem long before Neil Peart wrote about it and it’s still a big problem today.

#7 – Vital Signs

“Vital Signs” was a song that served as a lyrical warning to an audience. It brought up how individuality was threatened by the pressures of conforming, brought on by leaders who’ve grossly abused their authority. The influence of reggae was every bit as aggressive in the guitar riff as it was in the use of sequencers in this electronica-style tune. It would be that same influence that would carry into Rush’s next three albums, Signals (1982), Grace Under Pressure 1984), and Power Windows (1985). After it was released as a single, it peaked as high as number forty-one on the UK Singles Chart.

Real Meanings Behind The Songs On Rush’s Moving Pictures Album article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022

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