Progressive rock is a generic term that somehow covers everyone from King Crimson to Genesis, although In The Court of The Crimson King couldn’t sound any less different to Genesis’ Invisible Touch. But it was a strong umbrella to paper over bands that used unconventional chord structures, or off-beat rhythms, bolstered by a collection of striking instrumentals and polished pop production design.
And it was easy to throw in any band – from the yearning of XTC, to the barrelling back pedals of Soft Machine – who was testing the boundaries of rock music. Indeed, a case could be made that Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band spearheaded progressive rock.
Rush were bandied in the realm of progressive rock, which might explain why bassist Geddy Lee has spoken about prog bands in interviews. He was asked to name his favourite Pink Floyd album in an interview with The Quietus and Lee pointed to a rarely mentioned standout: Meddle.
“That was probably the last Pink Floyd album before they went into their run of classics. Before their really big records,” he said. “But… again… again… it was their show in Toronto that captivated me and fired the imagination. They opened that show with the whole of Meddle and immediately I could sense the possibilities were immense for this band.”
The album has few of the classics or trappings that critics have associated with the band, but that’s precisely why it appealed to the bassist because it’s the sound of a group in the midst of re-invention. Indeed, it’s a searching, soulful album that shows the group at their most exploratory and expressive, creating a fiery mosaic that stems from the band’s unified state of affairs. What you get with the album isn’t Syd Barrett, Roger Waters or David Gilmour – it’s Pink Floyd.
“It was really exciting because you could tell that something unique was happening,” Lee continued. “Where would they go next? Well, it was a great precursor to Dark Side of the Moon. There were genuine ‘echoes’ of that already in place. It remains my favourite because of that timing. That moment when a band really starts to hit its peak. I am aware of Syd Barrett’s Floyd but, in a musical sense, that was a different time, a different band.”
Lee has a point about the Barrett led Floyd, which might explain why John Lydon didn’t feel guilty listening to his work. Lydon found the later albums too florid and pretentious for his liking, but he enjoyed the poppier, bouncier tunes, and the singer was also responsible for inspiring Andy Partridge’s finest work with XTC.
The Apple Venus collection is a work that is strikingly English in its resolve, as the strings sweep in, and it lifts the work to a new place of interest. Such was the power of the work, Partridge claimed that Pink Floyd ended when Barrett left the band.
Partridge’s views might be controversial in some corners, but the singer is entitled to his views on Pink Floyd, much as Lee is entitled to believe what he believes about the prog giants. Rush did something that Pink Floyd didn’t even achieve, and of the many progressive rock bands that posited conceptual works about pigs, placid knights and Siddharthian passages of self-discovery in the 1980s, there were two that transitioned to 1980s stadium pop with the greatest ease.
They were Genesis and Rush, two power trios who had decided by 1980 to explore a more radio-friendly terrain on their respective celestial journeys. Between them, the two bands amassed more than one hundred album units in album sales, saving them spaces in the US Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010 and 2013 respectively.
Rush, like Genesis, was urbane and made sure to credit the efforts of Neil Peart, the band’s drummer and primary songwriter (Genesis went one further, and promoted drummer Phil Collins to the front of the stage). And somewhere within the emblems of time came a band who were as far-reaching and as soulful as Pink Floyd, regardless of the iteration they presented themselves as. Rush, like Pink Floyd and Genesis, stand in the canon of progressive giants and still boast a firm fanbase that won’t be decreasing anytime soon.