Moving Pictures is the eighth studio album by Canadian progressive rock band Rush, released on February 12, 1981, through Anthem Records. After touring to support their previous album, Permanent Waves (1980), the band started to write and record new material in August 1980 with co-producer Terry Brown. They continued to write songs with a more radio-friendly format, featuring tighter song structures and songs of shorter length compared to their early albums.
Moving Pictures received a positive reception from current and retrospective music critics and became an instant commercial success, reaching number one in Canada and number 3 in the United States and the United Kingdom. It remains Rush's highest-selling album in the United States, with 5 million copies sold. "Limelight", "Tom Sawyer" and "Vital Signs" were released as singles across 1981, and the instrumental "YYZ" was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Rush auditioned some of the songs on a tour before recording the album (September 11 to October 1, 1980), and supported the album on tour from February to July 1981.
Background and recording
In June 1980, the band ended their ten-month tour of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom in support of their seventh studio album, Permanent Waves (1980). During the tour's stop in New York City, the band agreed to start work on a new studio album, rather than prepare a second live album from several recordings they made during the tour, partly because the ideas they were developing at sound checks were sufficiently interesting to them to put them on tape. Peart was instrumental in doing a new album, and Lee and Lifeson found themselves catching onto his enthusiasm. The trio pitched the idea to their manager and producer who had mapped out a two-year plan for them but agreed to the sudden change and cancelled the schedule.
After a short break, they regrouped at Phase One Studios in Toronto in July 1980 with members of rock band Max Webster, to record "Battlescar" for that group's album Universal Juveniles. During the sessions Max Webster's lyricist Pye Dubois suggested a song that he thought was suitable for Rush to record; this was developed into "Tom Sawyer". Rush then moved to Stony Lake, Ontario to write and prepare material for their new album. The sessions were productive, with "The Camera Eye" the first song to be worked on, followed by "Tom Sawyer", "Red Barchetta", "YYZ" and "Limelight". Following the initial writing sessions, Rush returned to Phase One Studios with their co-producer Terry Brown and prepared demos of the songs. The band worked on them further during rehearsals of their 1980–1981 tour which began in September and included "Tom Sawyer" and "Limelight" in their live set prior to recording.
With the material fully prepared, Rush recorded Moving Pictures in October and November 1980 at Le Studio in Morin-Heights, Quebec. The studio had been recently fitted out with a digital 48-track machine, which was unfamiliar to the band and necessitated them spending time familiarising themselves with the equipment. Moving Pictures is Brown's first digitally-produced album. The band made a conscious effort to preserve the quality of their recordings as much as possible by transferring finished sections onto a fresh piece of tape and placing the original copy in storage, thereby reducing the damage to it from frequent playback. During the sessions, they experimented with a pressure zone microphone, a type of boundary microphone that picks up direct sound and no reverberated signals, that was taped onto Peart's chest as he played. The audio captured from it was used to pick up the ambience in the studio room in the final mix. Peart wore the microphone for the filming of the music video to "Vital Signs". "Red Barchetta" was recorded in one take. There were problems with equipment failures and they finished the album three days behind schedule.
"Tom Sawyer" features a backbeat in a 4
4 time signature, along with instrumental and closing sections in 7
8. These 7
8 measures are symmetrically subdivided, featuring sixteenth-note groupings of 2+2+3+3+2+2. It was the first Rush recording for which Lee used his 1972 Fender Jazz Bass, which provided a punchier lower end than he had been able to obtain with his Rickenbacker 4001. This bass eventually became Lee's primary studio instrument during the recording of Counterparts in 1993. Peart described the track as "an enjoyable work" which took around a day and a half to record, "collapsing afterwards with raw, red, aching hands and feet". Its instrumental section grew from what Lee would play on his synthesiser during sound checks on tour, which initially was forgotten about until the band traded ideas on what the section should be. It became one of the best-known songs by Rush and a mainstay of subsequent live shows.
Peart's lyrics to "Red Barchetta" were inspired by the short story "A Nice Morning Drive" by Richard S. Foster, originally written in the November 1973 edition of the American car magazine Road & Track. Lee described the tale as "Orwellian in nature" which deals with an individual taking their Barchetta on a fast ride despite the banning of high speeds and is chased after by hovering patrol cars for breaking the rule. Instead of an MGB roadster as featured in the original story, Peart reported the Ferrari 166 MM Barchetta was the car that inspired the song's title. In 2007, Foster and Peart met for the first time and shared their mutual interest of BMW motorcycles, which was documented in an article titled "The Drummer, The Private Eye, and Me".
"YYZ" is an instrumental titled after the IATA airport code for Toronto Pearson International Airport; its rhythm is that of the letters "YYZ" in Morse code (▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄▄). It stemmed from the band's enjoyment of recording "La Villa Strangiato", a nine-minute instrumental on Hemispheres (1978), which they wanted to do again for Moving Pictures only shorter. The code was adapted into the song's rhythm of a 5
4 time signature, where the dashes (-) are played using eighth notes and the dots (.) use sixteenth notes.
The lyrics to "Limelight" are autobiographical and based on Peart's own dissatisfaction with fame and its intrusion into one's personal life. The song contains two self-references: the first, the line "living in a fish-eye lens, caught in the camera eye" references the album's following track, "The Camera Eye", while the line "all the world's indeed a stage, and we are merely players", references the title of the band's first live album All the World's a Stage (1976), itself taken from William Shakespeare's comedy play As You Like It.
"The Camera Eye" is a two-part track with sections unofficially titled "New York" and "London". Peart wrote the lyrics after taking walks in both cities, recalling observations and the rhythms he felt during them. It remains the band's last song with a duration over 10 minutes, a frequent occurrence in their earlier albums. Its title refers to short pieces of the same name in the U.S.A. trilogy of novels written by American writer John Dos Passos, one of Dos Passos's works that Peart admired. In the beginning of the track, an audio clip from Richard Donner's 1978 film Superman is heard featuring the sounds of a bustling New York city and a man saying "This is it Mac." "How about a tomato?" and "Fresh fruit".
"Witch Hunt" opens with faint voices, which Lifeson explained were recorded outside Le Studio in sub-zero temperatures with the band and others shouting in a humorous way, and sound effects produced by a synthesizer, before transitioning into the song proper. The main riff was written by cover designer Hugh Syme on a synthesizer and double-tracked drums in one verse. "Witch Hunt" would become a part of the Fear series of songs, which includes "The Weapon" from Signals (1982), "The Enemy Within" from Grace Under Pressure, and "Freeze" from Vapor Trails.
"Vital Signs" features a sequencer part produced by an Oberheim OB-X synthesizer, and shows a distinct reggae flavour. Reggae influences in Rush's music were first heard on Permanent Waves, and would later be heard more extensively on their next two albums.
The Ontario Legislature in Queen's Park, Toronto, pictured on the album's front cover
The cover was designed by Hugh Syme who estimated the artwork cost $9,500 to produce. Anthem Records refused to cover the entire bill, leaving the band to pay for the rest. It is a triple entendre; the front depicts movers who are carrying pictures. On the side, people are shown crying because the pictures passing by are emotionally "moving". Finally, the back cover has a film crew making a motion picture of the whole scene. It was photographed outside the Ontario Legislative Building at Queen's Park, Toronto. The pictures that are being moved are the band's Starman logo featured on the reverse cover of 2112 (1976), one of the Dogs Playing Poker paintings entitled A Friend in Need, and a painting that shows Joan of Arc being burned at the stake. The film crew on the back cover actually shot the scene, from which a single frame was used for the cover. This was revealed to Rush concertgoers several years later when the still image was shown on the stage projector which suddenly came to life as a film sequence.
Mike Dixon, one of the movers on the cover of Moving Pictures and the band's next album, Exit...Stage Left (1981), discussed the various people on the Moving Pictures cover. The first, Bobby King, seen furthest to the left, was a member of Syme's design team and is credited for assisting Syme on A Farewell to Kings, Hemispheres, and Archives. Dixon explained that King is not only one of the movers, but also the Starman logo and the man in the hat on the Hemispheres cover. The mover holding the Starman painting is Kelly Jay, singer of the Toronto band Crowbar who performed a show with Rush in 1973. Photographer Deborah Samuel is the Joan of Arc character, and her relatives are the family on the right. However, this conflicts with information provided in the Rush biography Chemistry, which states: "Hugh borrowed friends, neighbours and even his hairdresser's parents".
Release and reception
Moving Pictures was played in its entirety during Lee's visit to Rick Ringer's radio show on CHUM-FM in Toronto, on February 11, 1981. The album was released on the following day.
Kerrang! magazine listed the album at No. 43 among the "100 Greatest Heavy Metal Albums of All Time". Rolling Stone has listed Moving Pictures at No. 10 on the 2012 readers poll 'Your Favorite Prog Rock Albums of All Time', at No. 3 on the 2015 list '50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time' (behind Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon at #1 and King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King at #2), and at No. 379 on the 2020 edition of its 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.   In 2014, readers of the Rhythm voted Moving Pictures the greatest drumming album in the history of progressive rock. Moving Pictures and 2112 (1976) are the two Rush albums listed in 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.
Moving Pictures was played live in its entirety for the first time to open the second set during each show of Rush's 2010–11 Time Machine Tour.
In a knockout-style Facebook poll conducted in 2021, the album was unexpectedly voted the best album of the 1980s, narrowly beating out Depeche Mode's 1986 album Black Celebration to take the win with 52% of the vote. More than 22,100 votes were cast in the final round alone.
The album was released on compact disc in 1984 by Mercury Records. Initial pressings were missing the first beat of "Tom Sawyer" by mistake but were corrected in subsequent releases. In 1997, Mercury Records released a digitally remastered version. The disc tray has a logo of three fingerprints with "The Rush Remasters" printed, a feature of all remastered albums from Moving Pictures through A Show of Hands, originally found on the cover of Retrospective II. The remaster restores all of the original artwork and lyrics found on the vinyl release (including the picture of Peart that had been left off of the original CD issue).
Moving Pictures was remastered twice in 2011. The first, by Andy VanDette, was for the "Sector" box sets which re-released all of Rush's Mercury-era albums. It is included in the Sector 2 box set. The second reissue was in April 2011, as a two-disc 30th-anniversary set. The first disc contains the standard stereo mix and the second, available as a DVD-Audio or Blu-ray disc, contains the album in a stereo and 5.1 surround sound mix with music videos as the three singles as bonus features.
In 2015, Moving Pictures was remastered for vinyl as part of the "12 Months of Rush" promotion. The mastering was also made available in a 24-bit/48 kHz digital format on various high-resolution online music stores. These remasters have less dynamic range compression than the 1997 and 2011 versions. Sean Magee remastered the album from an analogue copy of the original digital master tape using a 192 kHz sample rate. However, as Moving Pictures was originally mixed on digital equipment at 16-bit/44.1 kHz, no audio above 22 kHz exists in the original master or any of the remasters, which explains why many digital music stores only sell the album with 48 kHz as the maximum available rate.
All lyrics are written by Neil Peart except "Tom Sawyer", by Peart and Pye Dubois; all music is composed by Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee, except "YYZ", by Lee and Peart.
|5.||"The Camera Eye
- "I." (a.k.a "New York")
- "II." (a.k.a "London")"
|6.||"Witch Hunt" (Part III of "Fear")||4:46|
Credits are adapted from the album's 1981 liner note.
- Geddy Lee – bass guitars, keyboards, bass pedals, vocals
- Alex Lifeson – 6- and 12-string electric and acoustic guitars, Moog Taurus pedals
- Neil Peart – drums, timbales, gong, orchestra bells, glockenspiel, wind chimes, bell tree, crotales, cowbell, plywood
- Rush – production, arrangements
- Terry Brown – production, arrangements
- Paul Northfield – engineering
- Robbie Whelan – assistant engineering
- Albert, Huey, Dewey, Louie – computerized companions
- Peter Jensen – digital mastering, editing
- Bob Ludwig – mastering and remastering
- Hugh Syme – art direction, graphics, cover concept
- Deborah Samuel – photography
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