Picture the scene. Its 1976 and a struggling rock band are given an ultimatum by their record label : change your style or get dropped. The music industry was splitting in two directions : disco was hitting the dance floors and the distant screaming of punk was hurtling into the mainstream. The band was ploughing the deeply unfashionable furrow of prog rock & the public were growing tired of flabby, pompous expositions that lasted over 20 minutes.
So what to do? Change styles to gain commercial success? Or stick to the courage of your convictions? The band chose the latter, released a wonderfully pompous record (it's based on an Ayn Rand book! It featured an Overture! And side 1 was one continuous track! They wore silk kimonos!) and went on to subsequent critical and commercial success. The band was Rush and the album was 2112.
As time fades both may be relatively unknown to most music fans, but to those who know them Rush (and 2112) is a "love or hate brand". No one marginally likes Rush. They have both die hard fans and vicious detractors. In my opinion, that's to be applauded.
We can learn two things from Rush:
1. Persistence. Stick with what you know, love and are good at. Rush faced several moments in their career where they dropped out of favour. But they stuck with it. They've now made 20 albums, are still touring and have been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. What's more impressive is the band has featured the same line-up (Peart, Lifeson, Lee) since 1975. I don't know many (if any) bands that have stuck together for 40 years (and before you say Rolling Stones, Bill Wyman left in 1993).
2. Authenticity. Rush have never tried to pretend to be something they aren't (OK, so the mid-80s synth-based stuff was a slight wobble). They know what they stand for and bring that through in everything they do. Understand your core strengths and keep plugging away. Even if it's deeply unfashionable. That authenticity means a lot to their core audience - they repeatedly sell out stadiums around the world. But here's a slight twist on authenticity. When they play their older, more pompous stuff, they do so with both reverence and a slight tongue-in-cheek. They know it's a wee bit embarrassing in retrospect and deserves a wry smile. Authenticity can feature humour - that's so credible.
So 40 years on, with some persistence and authenticity, the band has sold over 40 million records, 2112 features in Rolling Stone magazine's Top 50 Prog Rock albums of all time (indeed subsequent albums "Hemispheres" and "Moving Pictures" also chart, and higher) and the album is cited are a major influence by many contemporary rock artists. So, with tongue firmly in cheek, here's Foo Fighters (& Rush) covering the 2112 Overture. A wry smile & silk kimonos in full effect: