By Adam Waldman
On April 1, 1976, Rush released the audio version of a cinematic experience with their fourth studio album – 2112. Concept albums aren’t rare, especially in the realm of progressive rock, but Rush’s approach with 2112 was a bit different. The title track (which comprises the entire first side of the record) is broken up into seven parts, telling the story of a dystopian society set in the year 2112.
Back in 1976, when major labels were a force in rock music, they wielded a lot of power over most artists, especially those that hadn’t yet achieved meaningful commercial success. Coming off of the heels of Caress Of Steel, an album that failed to yield commercial success, Mercury Records put pressure on the band not to release another album with concept songs. Caress Of Steel featured two multi-part epic songs in “The Necromancer” and “The Fountain Of Lamneth.”
Thankfully, Rush chose to ignore the advice of their label when creating 2112, a decision that proved to be a wise one given the commercial success that the album achieved, not to mention its place in rock history as one of the greatest albums of all-time. 2112 peaked at #67 on the Billboard 200 chart. By November of 1977, the album was certified gold, and in February of 1981, it was certified platinum (shortly after the release of their best-selling album, Moving Pictures).
The concept of 2112 would seem to fall under the category of science fiction. However, over four decades later, the current state of civilization makes the storyline seem more plausible. The concept of the story also caused some controversy that had the potential to pit members of the band against each other.
Neil Peart credits “the genius of Ayn Rand” in the liner notes. The storyline of 2112 bears a striking similarity to that of Rand’s novella, Anthem. Peart actually added the credit to avoid any potential legal issues. However, the credit ended up creating negative publicity, saddling the band with labels like “right-wing extremists.” One publication went so far as to use the word “Nazi.” Needless to say that, with Geddy Lee’s parents being Holocaust survivors, the label was particularly disturbing.
Though Peart is the primary lyricist of the band, Lee and Alex Lifeson each contributed lyrics on the album. Lifeson wrote the lyrics for “Lessons” and Lee for “Tears” (the first Rush song to feature an outside musician, keyboardist Hugh Syme).
2112 is an all-time classic because of the concept portion of the album, but the song that had the biggest radio impact is “A Passage To Bangkok.” Peart has stated the song lyrics are meant to describe a tongue-in-cheek reference to drug use in the ‘70s, and that it was meant to be light in tone. While no actual drugs are ever mentioned in the song, it doesn’t take an expert to crack the code that the song is about marijuana use around the world.
Inspiration comes from many places for Peart. Interestingly, the closing track of 2112 (“Something For Nothing”) was inspired by graffiti that he saw while driving to a show in Los Angeles that read “freedom isn’t free.” “The Twilight Zone” was inspired by the television show of the same name.
Aside from the musical significance of 2112, it is also the album that introduced the Starman emblem that would become part of Rush’s illustrious history. It has appeared on seven other album covers and as the backdrop behind Peart’s drumkit on All The World’s A Stage. When asked to describe Starman, Peart stated…“All (the naked man) means is the abstract man against the masses. The red star symbolizes any collectivist mentality.”
Hugh Syme (who has designed many Rush album covers in addition to his musical contributions) shared his thoughts about the Starman emblem…
“The man is the hero of the story. That he is nude is just a classic tradition…the pureness of his person and creativity without the trappings of other elements such as clothing. The red star is the evil red star of the Federation, which was one of Peart’s symbols. We basically based that cover around the red star and that hero.”
With the exception of Moving Pictures, 2112 is the album that has left the most lasting impact on the rock world.
Listen to the entire first side of 2112 below…