Rush – Why Moving Pictures is one of Rock’s Greatest Albums

Drums Rush Neil Peart

Neil Peart: “Like Animal from the Muppets after six espressos…”

Moving Pictures is Rush’s finest album.

With the Beyond The Lighted Stage documentary fresh in our minds and a great (it really is – their best since Hold Your Fire to my ears) new album, Chocolate Orange Clockwork Angels just released, there has never been a better time to delve into Rush’s past. There’s certainly plenty of it.

For new Rush listeners however, a nineteen strong (studio) back catalogue might be a little indigestible. In the nicest possible way, listening to twenty hours of Rush is probably not on most people’s list of Things To Do For Fun Today.

Indeed, there are rumours (that I have started) that soldiers began to use it as an interrogation technique along with water-boarding, but that it was deemed too cruel.

So how to decide? Chronological order? Alphabetical order? iPod shuffle? Google? Ouija board?

You can’t really base your decision on something random such as what the album covers look like. They are, um, quirky. I’d hate to think what having a naked man on the cover of the excellent Hemispheres did for album sales in the late seventies for example. Not as big an effect as a naked picture of Gene Simmons would do on a Kiss record nowadays I suspect. Only for a band like One Direction are such tactics going to have a positive effect.

Apologies for putting that disturbing Gene Simmons image into your mind, by the way. Wrong of me. Thankfully, Rush similarly decided against Geddy Lee posing for their Hemispheres picture. That’d make even the kimono pictures look pleasant.

* For those who are interested, see the bottom of this post for a cut-out-and-keep guide to How To Buy Rush.

For the casual listener, Rush’s best album is 1980’s Moving Pictures. It deserves its place on my Beginner’s Guide to Hard Rock page.

Cover of

Cover of Moving Pictures via Amazon

Although the album cover is unpromising – people literally moving pictures into a museum (oh how we laughed at the clever pun. Not.), it is an extraordinary record – not least because of its extraordinary musicianship.

I have no idea what opening track Tom Sawyer‘s about. I’m not especially interested. I just love that opening synth-and-guitar power chord though. Listen to the track now on the Spotify link below, and check what you are doing with your hands about two and a half minutes in. If you’re not air-drumming, see a doctor: you may not have a pulse. Rush remain the only band where there are more “air drummers” than “air guitarists” thanks to Neil Peart‘s spectacular gifts.

He’s almost as good as Animal from The Muppets. Almost. Actually, scratch that. He’s better. Imagine Animal after six espressos and you’re starting to get near how good he is.

I watched a Rush live video many years ago: During Tom Sawyer the camera panned around to reveal the first three rows of the crowd all air drumming in unison. It’s not cool. In fact it’s as geeky as a Star Trek fan and a World of Warcraft fan fighting over a Dungeons and Dragons comic. But resistance is futile.

Limelight’s lyrics on the other hand are as great a shrugging of the shoulders of fame as ever articulated in a song.

YYZ is more limited on the lyric front, having the benefit for non-believers of being an instrumental, and thus free of those helium-filled tones of Geddy Lee (see previous post).

I saw Rush live on the Hold Your Fire and Roll The Bones tours at Wembley Arena. The lights! The back projections! They can actually play all those twiddly bits live! Amazing! It was the most impressive “wow – he can really play” moment since I saw Andrew Ridgley play the guitar solo in Wham’s Edge of Heaven video. (seriously – I just thought he was there to make George look manly: I nearly fell off my chair seeing him a) hold the guitar the right way up and b) actually appear to play the thing, no matter how bad it was…).

Detractors say that Rush is what you get if you let the drummer write the songs, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

* Rush Buyers Guide:

So here’s my suggestion. Rush broadly followed a pattern for their first fifteen albums. Four studio records, each better than the last, followed by a live album. Then they would take a step back, but change direction a bit, produce four new albums, each one better than the last, then a live album, change of direction, four studio records, each better than the last, then a live album. That’s the most succinct Rush buyers guide you’ll ever find, and it takes you all the way up to Hold Your Fire….which will keep you busy enough for some time…

Record #57: Rush – Tom Sawyer

Categories: Hard Rock

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

44 replies

  1. Rush was my first real concert. It was Permanent Waves tour. 1980?
    They opened with side one of 2112.


  2. “I’d hate to think what having a naked man on the cover of the excellent Hemispheres did for album sales in the late seventies for example.”

    Actually, it might have improved sales. It was the 70s, after all. (The cover does have something to do with the title track.)


  3. “For the casual listener, Rush’s best album is 1980′s Moving Pictures.”

    I agree. Peart wrote that when this album was new, the number of fans doubled, then soon went back to what it had been before.


  4. Great post. Not only accurate, but also very funny (as is usually the case with your posts). I probably like several Rush albums as much as Moving Pictures, but none of them are better, and it’s the perfect introduction for the uninitiated.

    Not sure if you realized the multiple puns on the album cover. Not only are the men moving the pictures, but the people crying indicate that the pictures had moved them (to tears), and the film crew is making a “moving picture” of the proceedings. Those Canadian boys had quite the sense of humor. After all, they’re the same guys who subtitled a song “Part IV, Gangster Of Boats Trilogy” (four parts to a trilogy? Ohhh, I get it now).

    I was one of the geeks playing air drums at Madison Square Garden on the Moving Pictures tour, but since I was only 15 at the time I should be forgiven. When I saw them in the ’90s, I believe I refrained from air drumming, even though I’m actually a drummer.

    Anyway, I love your blog. Keep up the fine work.



    • Thanks Rich. I hadn’t spotted the multiple puns, although I’m not convinced having more bad puns makes them funnier…
      I hope your retirement from air drumming was not caused by some sort of air-drumming related injuries (or a bizarre air-gardening accident)…?


  5. “Although the album cover is unpromising – people literally moving pictures into a museum (oh how we laughed at the clever pun.”

    Give them more credit: It is a triple pun. Yes, there are the people moving the pictures. Then there is a team filming a moving picture of the scene. Then there are people crying—because the pictures are moving. (Wait a minute, then let it hit you.)


  6. “I have no idea what opening track Tom Sawyer‘s about. I’m not especially interested. I just love that opening synth-and-guitar power chord though.”

    The riff (not the opening chord) was originally just what Geddy played when testing his synthesizers. dada dada dada DA DA DA dada–7/4 time, no less (not uncommon with Rush; uncommon in rock music in general, the best example being Pink Floyd’s “Money”).


  7. “YYZ is more limited on the lyric front, having the benefit for non-believers of being an instrumental, and thus free of those helium-filled tones of Geddy Lee (see previous post).”

    On the Rush in Rio video, the crowd sing along to this instrumental. Really.

    Most bands’ instrumentals are not among their better tracks (The Beatles’ “Flying”, anyone?), though there are exceptions (much of Floyd comes to mind). On Snakes and Arrows, there are three instrumentals.

    “YYZ” is not only a great instrumental but a great song all around. The opening riff is Morse code for “YYZ”, which is the code for the Toronto airport. Thematically, the song is about flying: waiting, take off, cruising, landing, layover while changing planes, repeat.

    I just have to add some YouTube links. Not all are Rush, but all are YYZ. Enjoy!

    The girl from the second link also has this excellent piece for fans of Kansas:


  8. “Moving Pictures” is my favourite Rush album of all time and I don’t really care about the lyrics of Tom Sawyer, it’s a great song. “Red Barchetta” is about an old car and that doesn’t lessen my liking for that song either. Cool take of a classic great album.


  9. I’m not a Rush fan (which I know is pure blasphemy considering I’m Canadian and all) but even I own a well-played copy of Moving Pictures.


  10. “Four studio records, each better than the last”

    Not sure about this. First phase: yes, musically, though I think 2112 is a step down lyrically. Second phase? They are all so good that it is a very, very close call. Certainly the first side of A Farewell to Kings is up there with Moving Pictures. Third phase? It seems to me they get worse with time, which is why Power Windows was the last album I bought until Counterparts. Fourth phase? Can’t say, since I have only Counterparts. After the fourth phase, the phase concept died out, at least with respect to the frequency of live albums. (By the way, the fourth live album is called Phases and, in contrast to the others, features concepts from several phases, not just the one prior to the live album as do the others.)


  11. I first started liking Rush ever since i heard Spirit of Radio back in the 80’s


  12. I just bought this album while on vacation (it was a road trip and I’d run out of things to listen to). I’m a novice Rush fan and this was the one everyone said I should start with. I really liked it, however I found that I’d already heard most of the album’s tracks (at one point or another).

    So…what should my second Rush album be?

    ALSO: I think the owl on FLY BY NIGHT is bitchin’.


  13. I have absolutely nothing to add to what you have said so well. Have you heard this in 5.1? Unbelievable.


  14. I would say so if you have a 5.1 system. The new deluxe edition comes with a CD and a DVD (or blu ray) of the album in 5.1, and I think 4 music videos. I bought the blu version and when the wife lets me have the TV (hah!) this is my go-to music!


  15. the pun of the cover is actually much larger. there’s the people “moving pictures” into the museum, then there’s spectators getting emotional over the paintings being moved (thus, they are “moving pictures”), as well as the whole scene being projected on a movie screen, thus making it a “moving picture.” so now you can NOT laugh 3 times at the clever puns! 🙂


  16. Classic statements…”Rush has more air drummers than guitarist”…they might be the only group Ive seen live that I watch the drummer more than the guitarist. “Synchronized Drumming” is exactly like Trekkies” Keep em coming!!


  17. “He’s almost as good as Animal from The Muppets.” Priceless! Being raised near Toronto Rush were the soundtrack to my youth, and I lost track after Signals, I’m afraid to admit. After the wonderful roc-doc Beyong the Lighted Stage I picked back up with Snakes and Arrows, and loved that album. This new one, in my opinion, is amazing, the best they’ve done since Moving Pictures. Great to see other Rush fans out there.


  18. I wasn’t into Rush until I saw “I love you man” – now I’m a believer! In Jian Ghomeshi’s book, 1982, Rush make an appearance as well – it was good to hear/read that in addition to being supremely talented, they’re also nice guys.


  19. This album, and in particular Neil Peart’s drumming, was the reason I picked up a pair of drumsticks, and started playing. Completely agree that this is one of rock’s greatest albums. Rush are constantly overlooked, or at least have been until recently, and it’s great to see them get such praise!


  20. You are wrong about them moving pictures into a museum. The building on the cover is Queens Park in Toronto, where the Ontario Government sits


  21. Hi

    I just stumbled on your site. Moving Pictures is most definitely required listening. Like millions of other folks, I’ve owned the album for some time now. I never looked hard enough at the cover to realize that Queens Park IS the building in the background. Perhaps I should turn in my Canadian citizenship for missing that!

    I don’t think we’ll ever hear another song based on Morse code.

    My father started my Rush education with Hemispheres. I didn’t get it, though I was just a young 80s kid at the time. I started paying attention to the band when Grace Under Pressure was released. I’ll never forget the Distant Early Warning video, and noting how strange it was seeing a kid ride a missile!

    Years later, Rush provided me with tons of gift ideas. Rush tickets and albums were always an easy gift to get for my dad.

    I’m now looking at the album covers in the margins, to see which ones I need. By the way, I love seeing pictures of Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots everywhere. Great album!

    Liked by 1 person

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