Alex Lifeson was the beating heart of Rush. As the only member to stick with the band from the very outset, Rush was initially Lifeson’s project, with the guitarist recruiting childhood friends John Rutsey and Jeffrey Jones to join him. Jones only lasted a few weeks, with Lifeson’s close friend Geddy Lee soon joining the band as their permanent bassist and vocalist. After releasing their first album in 1974, Rustey was replaced by Neil Peart, solidifying the lineup that would continue on for the next three decades and beyond.
While the trio of Lifeson, Lee, and Peart were finding their identity, the band’s musical style shifted from Led Zeppelin-indebted hard rock to a heavier and more complex take on progressive rock. The change caused Rush to become one of the first progressive metal bands, but that sound wasn’t always popular with record executives, business managers, or even audience members. While 1975’s Fly By Night built upon the popularity of the band’s debut, that same year’s Caress of Steel had the opposite effect.
The lack of success that befell Caress of Steel carried over to the supporting tour, which the band derisively referred to as the “Down the Tubes Tour”. With money running out and the band’s record label pressuring them to adopt a more mainstream-friendly sound, the members of Rush briefly considered packing it in.
“There was one time, just after Caress Of Steel and before 2112,” Lifeson told Guitar Player in 1980. “There was a lot of pressure on us from the record company, from management, because Caress Of Steel wasn’t a very commercial album. And yet, for us, it was a very successful album in terms of our own sense of creativity. We tried doing a number of things differently on the LP-longer songs, different melodic things-and it was a stepping stone for us.”
“Without Caress Of Steel, we couldn’t ever have done 2112. And the latter, for us, was like coming back with a vengeance,” he added. “It was at that time we said, ‘Okay, everybody wants us to do nice short songs like we did on the first album.’ Do we do that, or do we pack it in, or do we say, ‘Screw you! We’ll do whatever we want!’ The last is what we decided to do, and we came back punching with 2112. That album still feels like that to me when I listen to it today – I can feel the hostility hanging out.”
A decade later, Lifeson still felt as though the immediate aftermath of Caress of Steel was the closest that Rush ever came to bowing to external pressure. “There was only one brief period during Caress Of Steel, when there was any kind of problem with regards to support from the powers that be,” Lifeson told Canadian radio station CILQ in 1990. “Our management and record company were very worried with Caress Of Steel, but for us it was a very transitional record.”
“It was a very important record for us, although it certainly wasn’t a very commercial record,” Lifeson admitted. “And then of course we went on and 2112 came out after that and everything went great and everybody was happy. Since then we’ve been able to do whatever we want, so we’ve had a measure of success in those terms. If you mean does financial success change your music, then it’s always easier when your bills are paid not to have to worry about that aspect of your life.”