20 Rush Albums in 20 Days: Fly by Night
DAY FOUR: Rush, Fly By Night, running time 37:38, released February 15, 1975
Rush hit paydirt when they recruited Neil Peart to take over drumming duties from original member John Rutsey. Not only did they inherit a drumming virtuoso, they found a new lyricist – arguably the more important contribution of the two – whose writing would match the musical exploration that was to follow. Except for a few lingering songs penned by Lee and Lifeson, lyrics would now be the responsibility of Peart, and gone would be the days of “Hey baby it’s a quarter to eight.” It was a necessary change.
I am no longer a fan of the high screeching vocal style of early Geddy Lee, and as a result it’s difficult for me to enjoy the first several Rush albums on the same level that I once did. Indeed, the best songs on Rush’s second album, Fly By Night, are those in which Geddy uses the lower register that would become so familiar in the 80s. “Making Memories” and “In the End,” in addition to being good songs, both serve as a respite from the shrieking onslaught of Geddy’s vocals.
Still, some of the other tunes are infectious with their complicated grooves and melodic phrases, and Neil’s drumming is so strong that I get the feeling Lee and Lifeson felt unhindered for the first time, able to follow whatever direction their musical imaginations might take them. “Anthem” begins the album with a vengeance, and it’s apparent with the first lick that this is not the same Rush that recorded “Working Man” just a year before. Both “Fly by Night” and “Beneath, Between, Behind” are terrifically catchy tunes with great riffs, but the band really misses the mark on three other tracks. “Best I Can,” written by Lee, is a throw-away song that sounds like a reject from Rush’s debut album. “Rivendell” is a two minute tune that does on for nearly five minutes with no forward movement. In effect, it’s a journey that goes nowhere. And then there’s “By-Tor and the Snow Dog,” a tune that many Rush fanatics love, but for me is overbearing and obnoxious. In addition to going on far too long, it overshadows Lifeson’s significant guitar work with an incessant and unpleasant “growling” effect created by Lee (and multiple effects). Yes, I know. It’s supposed to represent the growl of By-Tor. I get it. But it doesn’t make for good listening. Rush played excerpts from this song on their Vapor Trails tour, and I thought it worked well on that level, but listening to the entire tune isn’t a journey I’d like to repeat anytime soon.
Fly By Night offers glimpses of what the band would become, and while not perfect, its high points still outweigh the low ones. But better things lay head. I'm not sure where this will fall when I rank the albums 1 through 20 in another 16 days, but I would suspect somwhere in the bottom half.
Tomorrow, I’ll be listening to…drum roll, please…number 10. Back to the 80s we go with Grace Under Pressure. Let’s see if the bridge from the guitar-based Rush to the synth-based Rush holds up well. Stay tuned…