One of the sad realities of growing up in a strict religious construct was the considerable limitations placed on what it was ok to listen to. For me, I had seen bizarre record burnings on TV as many Southern fundamentalist churches would routinely protest so-called “devil’s music’. The targets of such inquisitions were usually heavy metal albums from bands like Black Sabbath and AC/DC, bands that stood out to ignorant ministers for obvious reasons. At some point I saw one of these bonfires on the local news as a kid tossed 2112 from Rush on to a stack of ‘sinful’ media. My guess was that the star symbol in the cover art made it a natural for the inferno.
I eventually forgot about it and never dwelled on the issue much as I was not a big fan of heavy metal anyway. Then one day I heard ‘Limelight’ on the radio. I was drawn in by the songs neat guitar work and interesting chord changes. Then I realized it was Rush, the band whose 2112 album I’d seen get tossed into a fire for supposedly had satanic associations. I had a moment of pause.
Rush was not the first rock band who’s album cover art looked suspect to me, but it was one of the first that I was intrigued by musically – so much so that I wanted to have this forbidden fruit in my record collection. This is where my Columbia House record club membership would pay dividends. I could buy the Moving Pictures album that ‘Limelight’ was lifted from without anyone knowing that I had it. My parent already figured all my music was weird and never bothered to look through my albums anyway.
When the record arrived, its cover seemed to confirm my pre-conceived notions about the band. People moving pictures into a large building that looked like a museum. The most prominent image was one of a cross, fire and some tortured soul. In reality Moving Pictures was a pun about people moving pictures – literally. It took me years to realize that just as I came to the realization that there was nothing satanic about Rush or their music, even though they were Canadian.
Moving Pictures was a gradual progression for Rush into the world of synthesizers, a trend that many hard rock bands were following. While Moving Pictures retained the complex rhythms and time signatures of prog rock, they were made more radio friendly, a trend started with 1980’s Permanent Waves. What was new was a greater level of success in part due to the singles ‘Limelight’, ‘Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Red Barchetta’, all classic rock staples today.
As a band that teetered on the edge of progressive and hard rock, Rush had its share of long drawn out conceptual pieces. For Moving Pictures, this would go away, except for the 10 minute jam ‘YYZ’. Named for Toronto’s airport code, it would be the last remnant of Rush’s prog rock past as no songs this long were recorded afterward. While not conceptual like 2112 or Hemispheres the album was loosely based around references to literature, films and sometimes other songs on the album itself.
Like Geddy Lees high nasal voice, the lyrical content of Rush songs were not typical of most hard rock bands. Often instead of singing about the angst of love and sex all the time, Pye Dubois the band’s lyricist wrote songs about technology and its effects on society. A theme that would become increasingly typical of Rush songs over time.
Moving Pictures was a complicated transitional album for Rush. The last remnants of their late ‘70s formula fused with new technology and a wider base of sound influences (like reggae!). The band had completed the transition from a weird si-fi theme driven prog rock to a modern socially aware act. In the process of following this transition, I must stress that no devil worshiping was performed while enjoying Moving Pictures or any of its predecessors.