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“It was a beautiful time,” says guitarist Alex Lifeson, recalling the summer of 1980, when he and his Rush mates (singer-bassist Geddy Lee and drummer-lyricist Neil Peart) rented a house in Stony Lake, Ontario and wrote their eighth album, Moving Pictures, together. “We’d spend the weeks working, and on weekends we’d drive back to Toronto. Rehearsing, figuring out arrangements – everything just flowed. Electricity was in the air.”
The past six years had been a tough slog, but by that golden summer, Rush were sailing. No longer an opening act, the group that had worn out cars and vans on a tangled path across North America, winning fans the hard way – knocking ‘em out with their stage show and a string of bold, radio-unfriendly albums that nonetheless found their way onto turntables - was now an arena headliner.
Not only that, they had an honest-to-God hit on their hands: Permanent Waves. DJs were all over the long-player, particularly its ironically titled single The Spirit Of Radio, a masterstroke that managed to cram Rush’s complex musicality into four minutes and 56 seconds while shoehorning in undeniable pop hooks with even a hint of reggae. That Rush succeeded in crashing the mainstream without losing one hardcore fan would play out big-time on Moving Pictures.
“After we felt confident of what we’d written, we started recording at Le Studio [the now-shuttered facility was located in Morin Heights, Quebec] with our co-producer, Terry Brown,” says Lifeson. “We ate well, drank well and we played really well. The whole vibe was fun. We’d gone from playing clubs and theaters and were now selling out big places. We were at that cusp of coming into our own.”
Released on 12 February 1981, Moving Pictures not only saw Permanent Waves’ radio win but raised it one better, packing the classic singles Tom Sawyer and Limelight. “We knew they were good songs,” says Lifeson. “Did we think that they’d ever be considered ‘standards’? Not at all. All we tried to do was please ourselves.”
In 2011, the whole of Moving Pictures is being celebrated by Rush on stage – they’ve been playing the album in its entirety since last year - and on a just-issued special edition Blu-ray CD+DVD package, which renders its seven wondrous cuts with a level of sound clarity that Lifeson calls “mind-blowing. Richard Chycki, who remixed the album, knew he was working with a part of history, and he did an amazing job. He didn’t change the record, just expanded on it. When I heard what he did for first time, I couldn’t believe it. It was impeccable. It was Moving Pictures in a 3-D box!”
On the following pages, Alex Lifeson walks us through Moving Pictures track-by-track. “It’s a very optimistic album,” he says. “There’s a brightness about it, which I think is why people respond to it so much. Playing it live every night is interesting – The Camera Eye, which we hadn’t performed in a long time because it’s pretty difficult, has now become one of our favorite songs. The bottom line is, we’re very proud of Moving Pictures. Thirty years later, it still feels magical.”