Like Grand Funk Railroad and KISS before them, Rush, a band fond of lengthy musical suites and bruising hard rock, endured and grew despite a critical shellacking. The band’s offbeat time signatures and outlandish solos branded it as one of the defining acts of the '70s progressive rock era.
When Rush formed, original members Geddy Lee (born July 29, 1953) and guitarist Alex Lifeson (born Aug. 27, 1953) were just junior high school kids from Toronto. After almost six years as a self-described "garage band," Rush cut an album on its Moon Records label; heavy import demand, especially in Cleveland, won the band an American contract.
Soon after that album, drummer and chief lyricist Neil Peart (born Sept. 12, 1952) joined. But even at the start, Rush was under attack. "Everywhere we took that first album," Lee told The Times in 1980, "people would say, 'No way — it's too hard, too raw and that guy's got a weird voice." A Times critic, in fact, once compared Lee's trademark upper-register voice to a "dentist's drill."
"And when we got a record company," Lee told The Times, "with every album we’d have people coming up to us saying, 'It's a good album, but if it only had this ...' "
The turning point was in 1976 with "2112," a hard-rock concept album loosely based on Ayn Rand's novel "Anthem." The record's individualistic political stance branded the band as right-wing for a while, but the record also sold well enough to bail out a sagging career and convince the group to do things its own way.
"That record was our way of saying, 'Go away, leave us alone, we know we're doing,' " said Lee. "Things had been going too well for us, so we just put it out and stopped expecting our albums to do anything. At that point, we decided to be happy making records and not worry about how they sell."
The 1980 album "Permanent Waves" took everyone, including the band, by surprise. It was more commercial than some past works and leapt into the Top 10 after only a month on the charts. The album spawned the hit "The Spirit of Radio," which opened with a breakneck guitar riff.
Rush, inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1994, is ranked among the Top 100 selling bands of all time, according to shipping data from the Recording Industry Assn. of America.
Rush has continued to record and tour with new material, becoming the rare classic rock band to pursue new music. Lee's voice has tamed in the band's later years, but the band's tours are rarely a nostalgic trip and always based heavily on new material. That's not to say the band has avoided gimmicks, as live shows have included fire, explosions, intriguing film projections and, perhaps most spectacular of all, a giant mock-up of a hunter shooting a giant mock-up of a rabbit.
In 2007, the group's first full-length studio album in five years, "Snakes and Arrows," sold 93,000 copies in its first week, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It was a staggering achievement, considering 2008 marked the band's 40th anniversary. Though critics have never taken to Rush, the band came under reevaluation in the 2000s. Younger acts such as the Mars Volta and Coheed and Cambria bore a distinct Rush influence, and the band performed its prog anthem "Tom Sawyer" on Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report" in 2008 and featured prominently in the 2009 comedy "I Love You, Man."