Rush’s self titled debut album could possibly be the least essential LP in the band’s catalog… or perhaps, one of the most important? Both, maybe? Neither?
OK… let’s quantify Rush somehow by taking an honest look at its very existence. We might as well get the 800-lb. emu out of the way now; stalwart drummer and primary lyricist Neil Peart does not appear on the record. Original drummer John Rutsey made his first and only appearance in the canon of Rush albums on this LP. Rutsey was a solid drummer whose style fit the material well, but he would be eventually overshadowed by Peart’s masterful talent (to be fair, 99.999% of drummers would). Additionally, all of the songs were written by bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson, who would defer the vast majority of lyrics to Peart when he joined the band. As a result, anyone expecting the “classic” Rush experience would be left utterly bemused by Rush. It feels like something recorded by an earlier incarnation of a concept that would eventually become Rush.
The album has been described as “garage band” Rush, or even “bar band” Rush. Either description wouldn’t be far off the mark. The sound is raw and scrappy, the production simple, up front, and in-your-face, and what about the music? This is the band reveling in their roots with thunderous hard/blues rock. The easiest and most frequent comparison is to Led Zeppelin, and you’d be hard-pressed to argue against that. But there’s equal parts Who, Humble Pie, Vanilla Fudge, Creem, and Hendrix, as well as a hint of prog of the Yes/ELP variety. This album even shares part of it sound with that of their contemporaries, like Black Sabbath, Montrose, Grand Funk Railroad, and Budgie.
In other words, Rush is very much a prototypical hard rock album from 1974.
But is it any good?
I think so. As a matter of fact, I think it makes for a fine companion piece to their 2004 covers album Feedback. That album covers a bunch of songs from the late 60s which influenced their sound, whereas this debut album finds them in the thick of their initial transformation from fledgling local band into recording artists. There are seeds of what the band would almost immediately become once Peart joined them on the following album Fly By Night, but anyone looking for the classic (or even nascent) Rush experience from Rush might walk away disappointed.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a solid, hard rocking, and often just FUN record from the era, you might find yourself pleasantly surprised. Album opener “Finding My Way” finds Lee in full, whooping Robert Plant mode over Lifeson’s Page-like riffs, erupting into a fast hard rocker that just cooks from start to finish. A tad derivative, but very enjoyable nonetheless. There are echoes of Zep’s “Out On The Tiles” in the album’s second track “Need Some Love”, another barnstormer that maintains the opening track’s energy. The song is fun if a tad inconsequential, but I’d be remiss if I neglected to mention the killer vibe maintained in the instrumental/solo section. “Take A Friend” starts with a prog-rock intro that transforms into Zep riffs underneath Humble Pie melodies. Lifeson’s guitar tone is infectious as hell. Good track.
The album slips with the slower, meandering “Here Again”, a wandering blues rocker that goes on for seven and a half minutes without heading anywhere particularly interesting. Too much song for not enough material, as it were. Almost immediately this is rectified by the twin-riffing thunder of “What You’re Doing”; Geddy and Alex would return to match licks many times throughout their recording career, and here you can witness it in its most rudimentary, unrestrained form. This is an album standout track, not so much because it’s a superior song (though it’s a damn good one though), but because it so perfectly exemplifies the heart and feel of Rush in 1974.
“In The Mood” is ridiculous. The lyrics are banal, the music somewhat perfunctory, and the overall cheese factor much higher than what we’d expect from Rush, and yet it became a concert staple for many years. I’ll admit it does have an groovy swing to it, but the overall song is just silly. You end up liking it in spite of its shortcomings… or maybe because of them. Sing-along choruses do have that effect, even at a quarter to eight. Eesh.
“Before And After” is probably the most Rush-like of all the tracks on the album. It starts off with some sweet acoustic guitar from Alex highlighted by some tasteful harmonics on his electric, with Geddy’s thumping bass rooting the song over Rutsey’s solid drumming. Of course, this ends rather abruptly around the 2:20 minute mark when it turns into something akin to The Kinks’s “Powerman” — which is not necessarily a bad thing, I do like the song, but I was more interested in where the tune was taking me for the first two minutes.
Which then brings us to the album closer, the classic Rush tune “Working Man”. This is the song that put the band on the map in the USA, after Cleveland DJ Donna Halper exposed the tune to her mostly blue collar listening audience, who immediately flocked to the song. This brought them attention from the States, exposure to the FM/AOR market, and an eventual tour opening for Kiss across North America. “Working Man” feels different from the rest of the album in a lot of ways; while it still is firmly rooted in the blues-rock aesthetic and features the same simple, in-your-face lyricism from Lee and Lifeson, the musicianship of the elongated instrumental midsection sends the song through the roof. It’s a strong, epic finale for an already aggressive album.
As previously mentioned, Rush may not be the album for casual or new fans looking for the quintessential Rush experience. It almost serves as a prologue or “prequel” for their more “proper” introduction with Fly By Night. But as a winning dose of mid-70s hard rock, Rush delivers.