KamerTunesBlog

Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time

Forty Year Friday – RUSH “A FAREWELL TO KINGS”

Artist: RUSH
Album: A FAREWELL TO KINGS

[Welcome to Forty Year Friday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1977]

Canadian progressive rock trio Rush were on the verge of being dropped by their record label when they released the now-classic concept album 2112 in 1976. That career-saving record and its 2-LP live follow-up, All The World’s A Stage (which reached the U.S. Top 40), put them in a position to call their own shots and with 1977’s A Farewell To Kings they launched the second chapter of their discography. I distinctly recall marveling at the credits for each band member in the sleeve notes; instead of simply “bass/vocals, guitar & drums,” Geddy Lee handled “vocals, bass and twelve-string guitar, Minimoog, bass pedal synthesizers,” Alex Lifeson played “electric and acoustic six- and twelve-string guitars, classical guitar, bass pedal synthesizers” and Neil Peart (who was recently featured in Part 1 of the “You Rip, You Shred” series on my favorite drummers) formed his own percussion section with “drums, orchestra bells, wind chimes, bell tree, vibraslap, triangle, tubular bells, temple blocks.” Add in the fact that there are two 10+ minute multi-part songs and all of the things that turned off the punk generation to prog-rock are here (minus a keyboard player in a cape). For fellow musicians & others like me who relish instrumental virtuosity, however, Rush became our new heroes, taking things to a whole new level on this album.

The first epic track is “Xanadu,” one of my favorites in their entire discography. Following a peaceful 2-minute intro with sounds of nature, light percussion & subtle guitar accents, the band kicks in with an instrumental overture featuring Peart’s 16th note hi-hat rhythm and Lifeson’s power chords & ringing guitar melodies. In the 6 minutes following Lee’s first vocal appearance the song travels through several sections that showcase each player’s instrumental dexterity, as Lee memorably sings of a mystical place “within the pleasure dome, decreed by Kubla Khan,” based on a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The other extended track, album closer “Cygnus X-1 Book 1: The Voyage,” also features a moody 2-minute introduction before Lee’s bass line introduces the rhythmic melody with a 13/8 time signature (or possibly alternating bars of 6/8 & 7/8). I don’t usually get that technical but this is an aspect of Rush’s music that makes them so unique among their fans. I’ve never paid much attention to the lyrics about a black hole in space but I’ve always loved how musically adventurous it is.  By contrast, “Closer To The Heart” is as close as they’ve ever come to a pop single, with idealistic lyrics and a simple, catchy melody. It was a Top 40 hit in the U.K. and made its way into the U.S. Hot 100, but likely would have been a much bigger hit had they released it a few years later. It’s remained a highlight of most of their shows over the last four decades. Album opener “A Farewell To Kings” begins with a minute of lovely acoustic guitar before shifting to a 7/8 rhythm that alternates with Peart’s double-time snare groove (in the “Cities full of hatred, fear & lies” section), all of which is punctuated by an impressive guitar solo that allows all three players to show off their chops. The more direct “Cinderella Man,” a rare Rush song with lyrics written by Lee (normally Peart’s territory), could have fit well on Side 2 of 2112,  while the short, tranquil “Madrigal” functions as somewhat of a breather between the more substantial songs. The following year’s Hemispheres, which I prefer by a small margin, is a companion piece to this album, even including a sequel to “Cygnus X-1,” but A Farewell To Kings is every bit as essential. Thanks to impeccable performances and Terry Brown’s flawless production, it’s hard to believe such a vital recording is now 40 years old.

 

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38 comments on “Forty Year Friday – RUSH “A FAREWELL TO KINGS”

  1. Phillip Helbig
    March 17, 2017

    One of my all-time favourite albums. Only the slightly cheesy lyrics to “Cygnus X-1” keep it from being in the ten or so all-time greats. (I like science fiction, and I like prog, but the combination of the two doesn’t do it for me.)

    “Add in the fact that there are two 10+ minute multi-part songs and all of the things that turned off the punk generation to prog-rock are here (minus a keyboard player in a cape).”

    Well, the kimonos weren’t far behind. 🙂

    Don’t forget Neil’s great ‘tache! Ever seen a punk with a moustache? Probably not (unless you count that bloke from Hüsker Dü, but they’re not really in the I-hate-Pink-Floyd category of hardcore punk).

    I remember reading somewhere that the engineer spent some time collecting his jaw from the floor after they nailed “Xanadu” in the studio in one take.

    I also really like the sound of this album. Another album (in the all-time-great list) is Tull’s Songs from the Wood; it has a similar sound (“soft but clear”) and was also recorded in 1977 (while other people were listening to punk, disco, etc, though of course prog and hard rock were still going strong and heavy metal was coming about).

    Like

    • Hi Phillip. Nice to know that you also love this album. How do you think it compares to Hemispheres? As I mentioned in the post, I prefer the latter by a small margin but they’re both incredible. Good point about the kimonos, but of course those were from 2112. A year later they seemed to have more acceptable wardrobes. Between Peart’s ‘stache and all of their long hair, they were as anti-punk as it got (in spite of the fact that most punks back then had long hair just a year earlier).

      I think you’re right about them recording “Xanadu” in one take. Pretty impressive, right?

      You’ll be seeing Songs From The Wood here in the not-too-distant future.

      Like

      • Phillip Helbig
        March 17, 2017

        A Farewell to Kings, Hemispheres, Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures are really the four best Rush albums. Until the end of the century, Rush consciously made four studio albums, then a live album, then a change in style. These are part of the second phase. The first was more hard-rock, more derivative. The third was too 80s. (I really like synthesizers, but not the typical 80s synthesizers.) The stuff in the fourth phase (and what came later, after albums became few and far between and the phases phased out) is better, but somehow doesn’t have the magic of the old stuff. (No, I don’t always say this. I’ve been listening to The Book of Souls by Iron Maiden and think that it is up there with the best of their classic phase. It is also a double album with an 18-minute and a 14-minute track, and otherwise actually pretty proggy as well.) I also don’t like the sound of the newer albums (this goes for almost all bands, but is more noticeable with Rush). The new stuff sounds too cluttered, even though they’re still just a trio.

        Of these four albums, it’s hard to choose a favourite. They are all immediately recognizable as part of this phase, but also sound different from one another. (Another “phase” band is Tull, also in 4-album sets, but not quite as purely as Rush.) I would say that AFTK has the best sound (that of MP, while different, is just as good, though) and the strongest side (the first). H is probably the best overall—all strong tracks, and the epitome of the concept (a long piece on side 1, shorter songs (well, relatively) on side 2). PW has a slightly harder sound, but all the songs are good and it is really as good as the other three. MP is one of the most clearly recorded albums I know—perfect sound, and some great songs. Any differences between these four albums are lost in the noise, and all are leagues beyond even the very best of what almost everyone else has ever done. There are other bands with excellent musicians, but is there another band with all at the same level? And how many drummers write the lyrics?

        Unlike most 1970s bands, where there are several connections between them (think of all the incest among Yes, ELP, Asia, King Crimson, Wishbone Ash, Uriah Heep, Colosseum, Rainbow, Deep Purple, Whitesnake, Black Sabbath, Thin Lizzy, etc), Rush stand alone. Yes, they are from Canada but not really part of any Canadian scene.

        1977 also saw Floyd’s Animals. While Floyd, along with Rush, Tull, and The Beatles, have been my four favourite bands for 30 years or so (with another dozen or so—Nightwish, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span, Iron Maiden, etc) tied for fifth place, Animals is not one of my favourite Floyd albums. All in all, though, 1977 was a wonderful year in music, but not because of punk or disco.

        Despite the phase concept, the progression within a phase is a small-scale version of that between phases. For example, the shorter songs, more prominent synthesizers, and more down-to-Earth lyrics of Moving Pictures foreshadowed the next phase, and the first album of that phase, Signals, is not as over-produced as the next three. I first saw Rush on the Signals tour: on two successive nights. I had discovered them slightly before Moving Pictures but missed that tour. I then moved to Europe around the time they stopped playing here so often. I intentionally missed a show in the early 1990s, thinking it would be over-produced synthesizer pop, but the reviews said that they played a lot of the old stuff. In the last 15 years or so have seen them on three tours (Rush 30—I can be seen on the video, just a day or so before I was in hospital for several months with lymphoma—,Snakes and Arrows, and Clockwork Angels). There are some great stories about me listening to those classic Rush albums which I’ll tell you when if we ever meet in person.

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      • I always enjoyed their 4-studio-albums-followed-by-a-double-live-album structure and, although I don’t usually speak in absolutes, it’s hard to argue that the four albums you mentioned are their best & most definitive. I’m sure there are plenty of people who feel differently, so it could be based on when you first got into Rush, or your tolerance for ’80s productions. There are plenty of bands with musicians at equally high levels but Rush has/had a unique chemistry and Peart’s incisive lyrics. It’s been a pleasure watching them finally getting some mainstream acceptance over the last decade. Sorry you didn’t get to see the Moving Pictures tour. That was my first Rush concert and it was incredible, as you would expect.

        Clearly I agree with your assessment of 1977 as an excellent year in music, hence this series. And as you probably remember, Pink Floyd’s Animals was one of the first albums I featured. I think I like it a lot more than you do. It was such a pivotal record for me when it was released. I was only 11 at the time.

        I hope you get to share those Rush stories with me in person one day.

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      • Phillip Helbig
        March 17, 2017

        “Between Peart’s ‘stache and all of their long hair”

        Back then there was no internet. Rush weren’t mentioned much in the music press. They just came out of nowhere. No-one knew much about them at first. There was speculation that the singer was a woman. Hey, long hair, yes, but longer than that of most men, even in the 1970s. A high voice. No visible facial hair back then. Lack of muscular physique. And “Geddy” sounds like a girl’s name, right?

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      • I could understand why some people might have thought Geddy was a woman early in their career. I thought the same thing about Roger Hodgson the first time I heard a Supertramp song. They are a couple of very talented “women.” 😛

        Like

  2. 80smetalman
    March 17, 2017

    Great album, one of my favourite Rush albums of all time. Really love the title track.

    Like

  3. Alyson
    March 17, 2017

    As I said over at my place just not one of the albums of my 1977 but can see how you would have really liked them. Have just listened however and as Philip said above, with no visuals I might have thought the lead singer was female. No capes with this lot though?

    I did find it interesting that you mentioned Samuel Taylor Coleridge above as when I went to see the “shrine” outside George Michael’s house recently, we discovered that Coleridge had lived in the house next door and it had one of those blue plaques on the wall. Also the line in the Xanadu lyrics were familiar because they were also used by Frankie Goes To Hollywood in Welcome to the Pleasuredome. As I said, every day’s a school-day!

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    • And thank YOU for the schooling, Alyson. I never made a connection between FGTH’s “Pleasuredome” and the one in Rush’s “Xanadu.” I don’t know much about Coleridge but he’s obviously inspired a lot of musicians, including Iron Maiden who’s epic “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner” is based on the Coleridge poem of the same name.

      As for Rush & capes, they did wear kimonos on their previous album but I don’t think they ever went the “Full Rick Wakeman.” 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. mikeladano
    March 17, 2017

    CANCON! Hooray! Great choice for today Rich!

    It’s a hard album for beginners to penetrate, but Cygnus X-1 is so worth getting to. As for that 13/8 time signature…This is going to sound funny…but I know I love listening to weird time signatures, because I like songs like thing and it turns out it has a weird time signature.. But, I cannot:

    1. Identify a time signature like 13/8
    2. Even try to perform that on air drums
    3. Fully really even understand what it means!

    But I love what you might call Smart Guy Rock like that, it somehow registers and appeals to me.

    And Closer to the Heart. They did an acoustic version recently with Barenaked Ladies and Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys. It’s really good. It’s on one of their DVD sets I believe.

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    • I’m always happy to feature some Canadians here, Mike. Glad you can appreciate…and at least attempt to follow…weird time signatures. As a drummer who used to read sheet music and played in orchestras, I take a lot of pride in being able to decipher things like this. I’ve often used my own counting system to play along, and I’m occasionally accurate.

      I’ll check out the acoustic version this weekend. Thanks for sharing it.

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    • I just watched that performance of “Closer To The Heart,” Mike. Thanks for sharing. I’ve never watched Trailer Park Boys so I have no reference point for Bubbles, but I like BNL and it was nice to hear Ed Robertson’s harmonies. It was also interesting to see Neil performing without the skullcap thing he’s worn for years.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        March 20, 2017

        There was a Trailer Park Boys episode where Rush were playing in town, and the boys wanted to take Bubbles to see them. But they were sold out. So they kidnapped Alex Lifeson. GREAT episode. It’s the “gateway” episode that I usually ask people to watch first. Here is a clip!

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      • My viewing time is limited but I will check out that clip at some point. Thanks, Mike.

        Liked by 1 person

      • mikeladano
        March 21, 2017

        I hope you enjoy it. It’s not for everybody — there is a lot of humour in it that only Canadians will get. But you have to give Alex Lifeson credit for being on the show, in his bathrobe, and being a great sport. He was in the movies too, as a cop. The second one required him to be in drag. So yes, if you ever wanted to see Alex Lifeson in drag, it does exist. LOL

        Liked by 1 person

  5. kevin
    March 18, 2017

    You know I love Rush, Rich. However…my love affair with them doesn’t start in earnest until Hemispheres. “Xanadu” is an absolute favorite, but I prefer the Exit Stage Left version. “Closer To The Heart” also, but I like the Show Of Hands version better. It’s been a very long time since I’ve gone back to this record.

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    • Kevin, I’m surprised your Rush love affair doesn’t include A Farewell To Kings. I bought it at the same time as Hemispheres and always considered them two sides of the same coin. I never noticed many differences between the studio & live versions, although I was always impressed at how well they pulled off even their most complicated material on stage with just the three of them. My biggest problem with Exit…Stage Left was the sound quality of the original LP, which was very muddy. I initially returned it 2-3 times thinking it was something wrong with that vinyl pressing, but I learned that I wasn’t the only one with that complaint. The remastered CD was a big improvement.

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      • kevin
        March 18, 2017

        Exit…Stage Left was the 3rd Rush album I owned (cassette, actually, and I can’t remember why I didn’t buy it on vinyl). So, I fell in live with the live version of “Zanadu” before I even heard the studio version, which probably explains my allegiance to it, as they are both so similar. I do remember the sound quality being a bit muddy, but I just chalked it up to it being a live recording (or my cheap tape recorder!).

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      • I can understand your allegiance to that live album. The muddiness was purely due to the mix and not because it was a live recording. All The World’s A Stage sounded so much better.

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      • Phillip Helbig
        March 20, 2017

        “My biggest problem with Exit…Stage Left was the sound quality of the original LP, which was very muddy.”

        Yes, I remember that. I now have the CD.

        Considering that Moving Pictures is one of the best-sounding albums of all time, in terms of recording quality, it is strange that the live album from the same tour was so badly mixed.

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      • I agree that Moving Pictures sounded so good (as did the few albums that preceded it), so someone messed up with the recording &/or mixing of that live album. Subsequent live albums sounded a lot better, although none of the surround sound mixes have been that good.

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      • kevin
        March 20, 2017

        “Considering that Moving Pictures is one of the best-sounding albums of all time…”

        I agree completely. That, Steely Dan’s Aja and Yes’ 90125 are the best sounding records I ever bought. Such sonic clarity.

        Rich, what is wrong with the surround sound mixes? I am surprised to hear you don’t like them (I haven’t heard them, but assumed they would be great).

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      • I believe 90125 was recorded on 48 tracks, and sometimes it sounds like twice that many…yet every detail is still so clear. “Hearts” and “Changes” are my two favorites on that album.

        The 5.1 mixes on most of the Rush live DVDs are a little too boom-y (if that makes any sense) and the lead vocals often get lost in the mix. There’s so much more clarity when I switch to the stereo option. I also have a few of their studio albums in surround sound and most of them are better than the live ones, but not even close to the same league as Steven Wilson’s 5.1 mixes and various others. For me, a surround sound mix shouldn’t just be gimmicky, with different sounds in each speaker. It should literally surround you with a mix that allows you to hear everything individually and collectively at the same time. Most of Wilson’s mixes do that.

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  6. deKE
    March 18, 2017

    I like how you replied in one of your answers that it depends when you got into Rush. Myself it was Moving Pictures and Signals at the time of it’s release. Signals is still my fav Rush album and from there it was All The Worlds A Stage as my fist venture into 70’s Rush. I tell ya Rich those first few minutes of Bastille Day blew my mind as it was playing and singing like I had never heard before!
    Great Post!

    Like

    • Thanks, Derek. I’m glad you understand my point about your answer depending on when you got into Rush. Of course, that applies to a lot of artists. There are people who probably think Steel Wheels is the best Stones album and Psycho Circus is the best Kiss album. Okay, that last example is pushing it, since you would have to know next to nothing about Kiss (or music in general) to have that opinion. 😀 I know several people who consider Signals their favorite Rush album. I’ve always loved it, but since I got into them with Permanent Waves, and Moving Pictures was my first new Rush album as an existing fan, Signals didn’t have the same impact on me. As for “Bastille Day” on the first live album…hell yeah!

      Liked by 1 person

      • deKE
        March 18, 2017

        Thats why its awesome to have these kinds of conversations Rich. Bands like
        KISS/Rush/Stones/Who that have a deep catalogue of music through different decades. Everyone can pick that starting point where it impacted them on a music level with that artist/band. …

        Like

      • I want to find the person who thinks Endless Wire is the best Who album. I’m sure there’s one out there.

        Liked by 1 person

      • deKE
        March 18, 2017

        I’m sure there is Rich! Report back with your findings!

        Liked by 1 person

    • Murphy's Law
      March 18, 2017

      I got into Rush at almost the same point you did, but my favorite is Grace Under Pressure.

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      • That’s an interesting selection for favorite Rush album and I respect that choice. I had started to lose interest in them at around that time and didn’t fully come back on board until Presto was released. I eventually went back and found a lot to enjoy on those mid-’80s albums.

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      • Murphy's Law
        March 21, 2017

        The songwriting is excellent and it has good guitar work, some really great riffs. Once it gets past Distant Early Warning into the meat of the album – Afterimage, Kid Gloves, Between the Wheels… And prog is like garlic for me, I like garlic, but I don’t want to eat a clove of garlic – I like prog as an element but I tend to mentally wonder off if there are too many “noodle-y” parts. I had a roommate in college whose 2 favorite bands were Yes and Rush so I heard both bands’ complete catalogs up to 1988 (and most of Rush’s since then) and pre-Permanent Waves Rush is not to my taste.

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      • Your explanation makes complete sense, and I really like your garlic analogy. My definition of “prog” is pretty wide-ranging but I know exactly what you mean, and I understand why Grace Under Pressure would be the perfect combination for you.

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  7. keepsmealive
    March 20, 2017

    I’m gonna say it again, 40 years? Holy crap.

    I got this record when Mike gave it to me, and I cherish it to this day.

    Vital. Perfect word for it.

    Like

    • I can’t argue with your “vital” assessment. As long as I’m holding up almost as well as most of these albums I don’t feel too old. This one in particular still sounds so fresh.

      Like

  8. ianbalentine
    March 20, 2017

    Wow, another fantastic album and a great write up! Growing up in Canada had the pretty great side affect of becoming hardwired to the wonderful sounds of Rush, and this album was my introduction to these guys, so I have a real affinity for it. CYGNUS is my favorite, but to me there is no dud here; even Madrigal has it’s place. It’s also, to me, a perfectly sequenced album, but then again I am incredibly biased.

    Lastly, I always thought the cover artwork was an homage to Led Zeppelin IV…

    Thanks again for an excellent post, Rich. Boy, 1977 was a freakin’ great year for music!

    Ian

    Like

    • Thanks, Ian. So pleased that we have another one in common (not that it’s a surprise). That’s a good point about the sequencing of this album. Had they started it with one of the epic tracks that might have scared off some listeners. For me it doesn’t get much better than “Xanadu.” As for the comparison to Led Zeppelin IV, hmmm…I’ll have to ponder that. You might be on to something here.

      ’77 was a rockin’ year for sure, and I’ve only scratched the surface.

      Like

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