They Say It’s Your Birthday celebrates an artist’s special day with other people singing his or her songs. Let others do the work for a while. Happy birthday!
Geddy Lee turns 63 today. As the bassist, keyboardist, and lead vocalist for Canadian power trio Rush, he makes up one-third of one of guydom’s most beloved bands. That “Rush fans are the Trekkies of rock” factor has become a running joke of sorts, in real life and in movie life. It may have kept them out of the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame for WAY too long, but when that wrong was righted in 2013, and Jann Wenner announced, “And from Toronto…”, the explosion of cheering that followed was one of the great moments in RRHOF history. The fact remains that the band’s instrumental prowess and willingness to explore new territory has won them intense loyalty for a reason, and Geddy Lee’s wailing, both vocally and instrumentally, was a major part of that perfect puzzle.
The complexity of Rush’s songs, so attractive to fans, has proven intimidating to other musicians. “I understand why no one covers our songs,” Lee said in a 2010 interview. “They sound daunting. But… most of the songs can be stripped back to their simplest form, and find a new life.” Here are five artists who found their own new lives in the songs of Geddy, Alex, and Neil.
MP3: Cyril Neville – Working Man (Rush cover)
Rush’s first album, recorded before Neil Peart joined the band, sees the band still finding its way through its Zeppelin phase, more heavy blues than prog. It’s an album Rush would quickly leave in its dust, but in 2013 Cyril Neville brought some New Orleans funk to its closing track, “Working Man.” What a difference nearly 40 years and 1300 miles makes.
MP3: Selina Martin – The Spirit of Radio (Rush cover)
“The Spirit of Radio” saw Rush going a little outside their complex selves, testing commercial waters without selling out; they were rewarded with more radio play and a broadening of their faithful fanbase. Years later, Canadian singer-songwriter Selina Martin used to sabotage campfire singalongs by singing it, as nobody could play along. Later still, when recording her Disaster Fantasies album, she challenged herself to find a way to do it; this acoustic result shows how she met that challenge.
MP3: Montreal Guitar Trio – Tom Sawyer (Rush cover)
Arguably the best-known Rush song, “Tom Sawyer” easily has the most covers. They range from classical to metal to a band imitating Talking Heads covering it (that one, by the Gomers, is a lot of fun). One of the more impressive versions is by the Montreal Guitar Trio (a.k.a. the Montréal Guitare Trio, a.k.a. MG3). Their instrumental cover gets all the nuances, right down to Peart’s drum rolls – not an easy thing to replicate on an acoustic, you’ve got to admit.
MP3: Susanna and the Magical Orchestra – Subdivisions (Rush cover)
A look at the stifling power suburbia has on creativity, “Subdivisions” mined a rich, deep vein no other musical artist had ever thought to tap into. Susanna and the Magical Orchestra changes the song from a power sweep to a nighttime tiptoe, not so much preaching the truth as coming to realize it. She and the band convert the song into a kinder, gentler manifesto.
MP3: Violet Island – Afterimage (Rush cover)
“Afterimage” is about the death of a friend of the band, not only mourning his loss but celebrating his life. On their sole album, 2003’s One or Nothing, Violet Island get their Sarah MacLachlan on with their cover of the song. Siblings Angie and Rich Toomsen just might have created the most beautiful thing to come out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with Angie’s vocals the very definition of ethereal – that is, extremely delicate and light in a way that seems too perfect for this world.