In the year 1974 Rush released their self-titled debut album, funded both through the band members themselves and manager Ray Danniels. Shortly before beginning an arduous touring schedule across the United States opening for Uriah Heap and Manfred Mann, the band ran into some complications that needed to be resolved before moving forward.
For one, the band’s drummer, John Rutsey, was a heavy drinker and also diabetic. Since the toll that touring could take on the bands stamina and charisma would be dangerous for Rutsey, and given the fact that having such a dangerous disease and trying to maintain an ordinary life on the road would be incredibly difficult, Alex Lifeson, guitarist, and Geddy Lee, bassist, each agreed to kick Rutsey out of the band. While neither Lee and Lifeson nor Rutsey were happy with the decision, Lifeson and Lee understood it as the best direction for the continuity of the band.
After Rutsey’s departure, Lifeson and Lee auditioned five shortly before preparing to record the follow-up album that would become Fly by Night. They each ran through auditions, with Neil Peart being the fourth drummer. While they felt a little embarrassed by the arrival of the fifth drummer, by the time Neil Peart began playing it was clear that he would be their new drummer. His hard-hitting drum technique and style prompted impressive glances from Lifeson and Lee, who understood that Peart would be the best fit for the maturing rock band.
The band had jammed through several of their songs to prepare for upcoming live shows that would occur within two weeks and for studio time, including the song “Anthem”, which would be the opening track for the second record.
And that’s likely the best part about the band during the transition from being Led Zeppelin-inspired hard rock wankers to becoming an identifiable, original progressive rock band. They desperately wanted to find their own identity and make something of it, and Fly by Night provided the foundation through which they could not only expand on later albums but could also improve from a better vantage point. As Peart described his audition, “It was like a tornado came and hit my life and swept it away.”
That sounds about right in regards to what the band was aiming for judging by the album cover depicting an owl in ready-flight, the title of the album which was taken from the song “Fly by Night” about Neil Peart’s journey to London as he aspired to become a professional drummer, and the overall theme of the album, was about the freedom to do great things and be remembered. The lyrics in “Anthem” actually point out the goal of the band’s members, where as a unit they each aspire to be like the great people of the past who “sought wonders in the world”.
That’s exactly what Rush did for Fly by Night. They created high starting point through which future albums could be written and recorded. And they wouldn’t relent from there. They would go on to average over 300 shows a year during the 1970s, and during the 1980s would write such memorable albums as Moving Pictures and Signals.
Album Score: 8/10