(All Album Reviews by Rickenbacker)
Rush's sophomore outing, Fly By Night sees the trio putting one foot into the waters of more adventurous territory. Newly acquired drummer, Neil Peart makes his debut with the band on this album & they were never the same...they were better. Geddy Lee & Alex Lifeson have said they were relieved to have lyric writing duties taken over by "The Professor", as they nicknamed him from his constant reading (although many songs on this album still feature Lee/ Lifeson contributions).
"Anthem" begins the album like a sudden bucket of cold water over the head. Almost as if the band knew they were onto something with the new line-up. "...Yet it was for me not you, I came to write this song!" Pure raw energy. Though not directly connected by lyric, one can safely assume it was Peart who was responsible for the title courtesy of Ayn Rand's short novel Anthem.
"Best I Can" keeps the album rocking with defiant 'angry young man' zeal. You can clearly envision Geddy writing the lyrics from the corner of his high school cafeteria while giving the "posers" dirty looks! "...Rock'n'roll is a scream, makin' millions my dream!" Great rocking music, charmingly adolescent imagery of small town outcast kid dreaming of making it big.
"Beneath, Between & Behind" keeps you on your toes with more driving hard rock. Lyrically, it sounds like an account of the American Revolution, though knowing Neil as we do now, it could be a metaphor of something more personal. The change of pace in the song's bridge will no doubt get your attention. Neil & Alex keep the rhythm going very nicely. "The guns replace the plow.."
"By-Tor & The Snow Dog" is Rush's very 1st attempt at....prog rock!..*gasp!* The influence of Neil's readings becoming very clear from the start. This is a fun, 8½ minute mini-epic that tells the tale of two battling knights; Prince By-Tor- "Centurion of Evil/ Devil's Prince" and our hero- Snow Dog. They square off at the Gates of Hell & fight it out. Who wins?? Listen!... What struck me the 1st time I heard this was the way Geddy & Alex used their guitars to represent each character. Geddy's Rickenbacker bass (By-Tor) growling & belching like a hellish, feral black panther & Alex's guitar "fighting back" via call & response to Geddy. To any 15 year old who played enough Dungeons & Dragons (as I did!) this song is flat out fantastic....& kinda tongue-in-cheek today. Remember, this was 1975. Still, it's a great step forward for the band & a hint of things to come in future albums.
The title track is heard on rock radio fairly often. (depending on location) It's a straight-ahead, melodic rock song. Perfect as a single. Actually, the 1st time I heard this song, I swore it was Led Zeppelin! Subject matter of the lyric being your typical 'gotta leave/ get back on the road' sort. "Making Memories" is the album's 1st breather. Folky acoustic guitars are strummed at the start & we're on a trip w/ the boys while on tour during their early (& very modest) days stuffed into someone's 1970s Volkswagon bus.
"Rivendell" takes the energy down several notches more as you sit by the fire...with the elves...& Frodo...& Sam. You get the picture. No doubt, Tolkien's influence on Neil was quite strong during this period of his writing. Not prog musically, (featuring only a classical guitar & a very subtle electric) but otherwise, this could've easily been a Genesis tune.
The close of the album sees Rush pulling what became an old trick of theirs (taken from Zeppelin, actually). "In The End" lulls you into continued rest from "Rivendell" with a beautiful, tuned down 12-string acoustic guitar & Geddy crooning softly....then BLAST OFF! One last crunching tune to finish it off.
I think this was the album that sold me to Rush forever. Yes, it's very Zeppelin influenced. Yes, the lyrics are a bit "green". But Fly By Night is still a fun listen once you get by the obvious weaknesses.... And that's not difficult here at all.