“The Spirit of Radio”
A few posts ago I wrote a lot about Fly By Night, the album that introduced me to Rush. In that post, I mentioned that Permanent Waves had a profound effect on me when it was released a couple of years later. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I realized that it needed its own blog post. Because this album is one that shaped me tremendously.
I remember quite distinctly when I first heard it. Our local album rock station, Zeta 7, (god rest its soul) used to play complete albums at midnight, and they’d frequently use this time slot to debut new releases. I recall staying up that night to record the broadcast onto cassette (as I did with many other similar broadcasts). The album was so different to anything Rush had done in the past, just as Farewell to Kings had been a drastic departure back in 1977. This was still progressive rock Rush, but they’d found a way to make their brand of progressive rock commercial, radio friendly, accessible. The songs were shorter; the songs were catchy. They had choruses with great hooks. But they still retained prog elements.
Also, the production was perfect. The songs sounded big and full, but every instrument could be heard individually. There was a clarity of sound that some later Rush albums were lacking.
After recording the album that night, I listened to it over and over, playing it, rewinding the tape, playing it again, and repeat. I studied that album. I was fascinated that the styles ranged from the commercial pop of “The Spirit of Radio” to the ethereal, mostly tone poem “Jacob’s Ladder” to the lengthy meandering sonic journey of “Natural Science”, to an actual, genuine, playful love song in “Entre Nous”, and yet it all sounded like one complete statement. No song sounded out of place.
It was Permanent Waves that made me a deep Rush fan. I studied Neil Peart‘s drumming and tried to incorporate some of his licks into my playing. I also studied his way of playing “non-traditional” parts to songs, doing more than just keeping time but accentuating the music, interpreting it, adding to it. From him I learned that the drums can be an integral voice in the structure of pop songs. Drums can actually be musical! I also learned that he was a very busy player, filling in spaces with clever tricks, intricate figures and ornate fills. However, he also knew when *not* to play, and that was a big lesson to me. All this was incorporated into my meager, limited playing, and how I thought about approaching drums.
My study of the material presented on Permanent Waves as well as A Farewell to Kings and Hemispheres led me to a greater understanding and appreciation of complex time signatures. I was especially fascinated at how Rush could use asymmetrical meters and make them sound and feel symmetrical. I started to notice the same trick being done in other commercially successful songs, like “Solsbury Hill” by Peter Gabriel and “Money” by Pink Floyd, both of which are in 7/4 time but lope along so casually that the listener never even notices.
I also gained a deeper appreciation for Neil’s lyric writing, and was fascinated that the drummer was the “voice” of this band. Especially “Entre Nous“, which features beautifully poetic descriptions of romantic love. Not the kind of thing you hear often in a Rush song!
Permanent Waves was huge influence on me as a music lover as well as a player, and it remains one of my favorite albums by Rush or by any band. And don’t worry … even though I did record the whole thing onto cassette from a radio broadcast, I still bought the LP as soon as it was released. 🙂