Real Meanings Behind The Songs On Rush’s Signals Album

Real Meanings Behind The Songs On Rush's Signals Album

Feature Photo: Dana Nalbandian /

Released on September 9, 1982, was Rush’s ninth studio album, Signals. This was produced after Rush’s highly successful Moving Pictures, using the same heavy usage of synthesizers, sequencers, and other electronic instruments. This also became the final album that would be produced by Terry Brown, an associate that was working closely with the band since 1974. After Signals was released, Rush went on tour from April 1982 until May 1983. The album peaked at number one on Canada’s album charts, at number three in the U.K., and at number ten on the US Billboard 200. The album featured eight songs, along with three hit singles that played their part in yet another certified platinum achievement with Music Canada and the Recording Industry Association of America. It was also certified silver by the British Phonographic Industry.

Positive Signals

When Rush ended their Moving Pictures tour in July 1981, they quickly went to work with Signals. Although Moving Pictures remains the most commercially successful album credited to Rush, Signals continued to keep the progressive rock band from Canada on top as one of the most popular acts in the music industry. Between the conclusion of the tour and the start of putting together Signals, Rush took a three-month break. It was during this time they oversaw the production of their second live album, Exit… Stage Left. This was done in Moron-Heights, Quebec, Canada at the Le Studio. It was while at the studio that Rush’s drummer and lyricist, Neil Peart started working on the lyrics of “Subdivisions,” which became the lead track for Signals.

From October to December, Rush toured Europe and North America with a set list of new materials that included “Chemistry” and “Subdivisions.” The synthesizer was still heavily used in the songs, using less emphasis on guitar riffs that were a signature sound for Rush throughout the 1970s.

As far as guitarist Alex Lifeson was concerned, Signals marked the beginning of a new era for Rush as a band. One observation made by Lifeson, it was a considerably difficult album to make as it took longer than usual for the musicians to achieve the sound they were looking for in each song. He, along with frontman Geddy Lee, handed over musical material that was intended for potential solo albums in order to put Signals together.

While at Le Studio, Rush began to record Signals in April 1982. By July, the task was complete, a month later than the band had planned. Come September, the album was released and was an instant success. Among the majority of the music critics, this was yet another highly praised album that earned its place as an all-time classic.

Picture This

The album cover featured on Signals was designed by Hugh Syme, along with the photographic talent of Deborah Samuel. For Syme, the final concept came about after several failed ideas. The picture of a Dalmation sniffing a red fire hydrant on a green lawn was a picture Samuel took on the rooftop of her studio. The lawn was made from AstroTurf and the fire hydrant was a rental that was repainted red. In order for the Dalmation to sniff on command, there were dog treats placed underneath the fire hydrant.

The fictionalized blueprint of a neighborhood depicted the realm of subdivisions that detailed a fictional secondary school that was named after a Canadian baseball player. Warren Cromartie played for Major League Baseball’s Montreal Expos.

Real Meanings Behind Rush’s Signals Songs

#1 – Subdivisions

“Subdivisions” was a heavily synthesized song that used various divisions among people according to lifestyle choices and social classes. Often, social stratification comes about due to peer pressure laid upon each individual as they’re expected to behave a certain way if they don’t want to be considered an outcast. The lyrics made it clear subdivisions happen in school, at work, at the mall, and at social gatherings. It also pointed out how easily a person can become judgmental and narrow-minded as soon as they’re characterized into a specific category.

On the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, “Subdivisions” peaked as high as number five. In Canada, it was a number thirty-six hit. The UK Singles Chart peaked this song at number fifty-three. Although the music charts may not suggest it, “Subdivisions” became a cult classic among a fan base that seemed to agree with Classic Rock, Rolling Stone, and Ultimate Classic Rock that this was one of Rush’s best songs as a recording artist.

For Neil Peart, “Subdivisions” was the first song that focused purely on reality. Up until now, his lyrics revolved around fantasy, using fictional characters and storylines to dictate the layout of a song.


#2 – The Analog Kid

The inspiration behind “The Analog Kid” came while Rush was staying at Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands in January 1982. This up-tempo rocker was originally designed to serve as a companion piece to “Digital Man” but by the time all the kinks were worked out, it wound up doing the opposite.

For Neil Peart, “The Analog Kid” was his first attempt at non-fiction as a songwriter. Before this, he often stepped into character mode. The story included a real-life experience of Peart’s fondness for a girl he met while camping in Canton, Ohio with his family during the summer of 1967. He spent that summer writing letters to her.

In the song, the full-grown man returns to his old childhood home and finds it a much busier place. The commercial development gave him cause too long for how things used to be. From a musical point of view, the guitar-heavy band from the 1970s adopted synth-heavy sounds into their songs as the 1980s brought about changes that are somewhat parallel. Even in music, the pace witnessed in the 1980s seemed busier than it was in the 1950s, 1960s, and even 1970s.


#3 – Chemistry

“Chemistry” came about while Rush was doing soundchecks during the Moving Pictures tour in 1981. One particular occasion had each band member check their instruments separately which suddenly burst into a creative jam session. Before the three men realized it, they just put together a song. “Chemistry” actually became the first song that had the lyrics put together by all three members of the band. For Peart, Lifeson, and Lee, this was the easiest song put together for Signals.

The bottom line, “Chemistry” was literally a song about chemistry as a subject that takes place between two different people. Just like atoms and molecules, what the end result will be after two compounds meet depends entirely on what each one is made of. Sometimes, the chemistry works while sometimes it can be a recipe for disaster. When it comes to lifestyle choices and views revolving around politics, religion, and social issues, this is especially evident. That’s why there are so many divisions among people. The bigger the gap is between the two sides, the less likely they’re willing to meet in the middle to reach a common ground.


#4 – Digital Man

The ska-influenced bridge featured in “Digital Man” was a song that Rush began working on in late 1981. This, along with “The Analog Kid,” served as key sources of inspiration for Troy Hickman’s 2004 comic book, Common Grounds. “The Analog Kid” and “Digital Man” were the heroes featured in its storyline.

As for the inspiration behind “Digital Man,” it was the reality Rush experienced that their recordings were now done digitally. With the overall theme of Signals revolving around society’s current state and direction, “Digital Man” was an easy enough fit for a group that’s known for having songs play off each other in order to stick to the album’s theme. Rush is not known for releasing solo songs that have nothing to do with each other within an album, even if it’s a spontaneous number like “New World Man.”


#5 – The Weapon (Part II of Fear)

Rush’s “Fear” was a three-song series that started with “Witch Hunt” in Moving Pictures. “The Weapon (Part II of Fear)” began during a writing session in 1981 when Geddy Lee and his friend puzzled together what Neil Peart regarded as the foundation of a mysteriously bizarre drum pattern with his drum machine. Peart learned how to play the part on his own drum kit, adjusting his technique in order to match the sound. For him, it was an enjoyable challenge that broadened his abilities as a drummer.

In subject matter, “The Weapon” was about the cold war nuclear arms race, plain and simple. The line, “Thy kingdoms will be done” was a slight twist from The Lord’s Prayer, which is found in Matthew 6:9-13 of the Holy Bible’s New Testament. This song was the second of the “Fear” trilogy that began in reversed order, starting with “Part 3: Witch Hunt” from Moving Pictures. “Part 1: The Enemy Within” was recorded on Rush’s tenth studio album, Grace Under Pressure.


#6 – New World Man

“New World Man” became a number twenty-one hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. On the US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and the Canada Top Singles chart, it peaked at number one. Put together in May 1982, this song featured a straightforward set of lyrics that used the fast and loose approach to describe a man’s lifestyle in a world that was becoming increasingly dependent on technology. In the U.K., it was a number forty-two hit. There was also a remixed version that was released in 1983, which peaked even higher at number thirty-six.

“New World Man” came about when Rushrealized they were now recording music digitally instead of how albums were put together in the 70s. The change in musical direction was not only out of necessity for Peart, Lee, and Lifeson. It was also an opportunity to explore new musical horizons. This was done by choosing to be more spontaneous instead of ironing out material like a fine-toothed comb. “New World Man” took Rush about a day to write out and record, a feat they were proud to achieve. Among the fan base, we were blessed to hear such an awesome tune.

Interestingly enough, “New World Man” was originally titled “Project 3:57” as this was the amount of time left to fill up Signals as a full album recording. It was the final song put together as the other seven were already done.


#7 – Losing It

Alex Lifeson originally designed “Losing It” as a theme which he used in subsequent rehearsal sessions, producing a demo with keyboards and drums. In June 1982, Rush revisited this song in the studio and brought in FM’s Ben Mink to play the electric violin. His jazzy solo section was one of the highlights of a tune that made reference to Ernest Hemingway and his latter years, which included his novels, The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls.

The dancer mentioned in the song was a loose reference to Shirley Maclaine and her 1977 movie, The Turning Point.


#8 – Countdown

In “Countdown,” the desire to escape from one reality to another is achieved. The inspiration for this song came when Rush attended the launch of the STS-1 Columbia space shuttle in April 1981. They were invited to watch the launch from a VIP area at the Cape Kennedy, Florida air base. “Countdown” featured samples of radio communications that were recorded before and during the space shuttle flight.

“Countdown” was actually used as a wake-up song for the astronauts during STS-109’s flight, which was Space Shuttle Columbia’s final successful mission. This song was also used for Mike Fincke during his STS-134 flight with the Space Shuttle Endeavor before his retirement. On the UK Singles Chart, “Countdown” peaked at number thirty-six.

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