Ten years ago, Rush released a never before heard live album. It featured “new” songs for many and though it didn’t reach a fever pitch, ABC 1974 did move the needle quite a bit.
Rush ABC 1974 recorded the band’s first American broadcast at the Agora Ballroom in Cleveland, OH on August 26, 1974. The 15 song live album (final three songs recorded in May 1975) featured all of Rush’s very early material from the debut album and Fly By Night, a cover song and a few originals that didn’t make the final cut. Getting your hands on a copy of those early songs time and Rush forgot felt like catching gold at the end of the rainbow.
Commence arguments and other discussions on this album’s validity. Because…
ABC 1974 first came on the scene as The Fifth Order of Angels, a bootleg Rush album also containing recordings from a Seattle show a few years later. Leftfield Music released Rush ABC 1974 on vinyl in several “collectable” colors and on CD. Today, ABC 1974 also streams on Spotify – filed under Rush – so somewhere along the line the band accepted ABC 1974 as part of the legitimate order of Rush albums (I think). Regardless, it wasn’t included for “Rush Live Albums Ranked Worst to First.”
I bought ABC 1974 on CD and twice on the limited edition colored vinyl. I have not opened the vinyl but have every indication to believe one is black and the other red. On the backside of the album cover “Back on Black Rock Classics” appears in the left hand corner in large font but also in smaller font near the right corner with electric bolts in between the “Back on Black” spacing. The bolts show as black on one, red on the other. No other identifying marks appear on the packaging tells the consumer of the vinyl’s color inside.
The vinyl cover uses a golden brown backdrop similar to Caress of Steel with a bit more creative thought using individual photos of the band while the CD cover art incorporates black & white colors in a photo collage of sorts with singer and bassist Geddy Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson in the foreground and drummer Neil Peart’s kit in the background. The CD features a picture disc of the cover that completes the same photo embedded on the inside of the back of the jewel case which itself slips into a cover case.
ABC 1974 captures Peart in his first tour as a member of Rush as well as the band’s first United States tour. The inside jacket of the CD has a short history of the band and background to the ABC 1974 recording. The final paragraph calls ABC 1974 a rare recording “…now available legitimately for the first time…”
Rush ABC 1974 Album Review
ABC 1974 is really good. Quite good actually. The audio of Rush playing sounds like a legitimate live album release, it’s only when Lee chats up the crowd – sounding a little more than a 100 or so in attendance – does it come across like someone snuck in a recording device. The sometimes speaker buzz simply conveys an early career authenticity to the album.
Very little, if any, pain points exist on this recording. Hear newcomer Peart quickly adding his flair to “Finding My Way” which opens ABC 1974 just as it does for the band’s 1974 debut album with John Rutsey behind the kit. Lee’s bass whips along and though Lifeson’s guitar sometimes gets a bit drowned by Lee’s piped up vocals and bass lines the sound board picks up his solos and lead parts resolutely.
The real gems on ABC 1974 come from those early Rush tunes in “Fancy Dancer” and “Garden Road” as well as the Larry Williams cover “Bad Boy” that failed to appear on any albums. No surprise as “Fancy Dancer” and “Garden Road” (keen ears heard this one finish off “Working Man” to end the R40 Tour concerts) excel past the lone cover song. Both show early resolve deserving a rightful spot on a studio album.
Lifeson tries the breakout solo guitar thing on “Bad Boy” with a more tedious affair reminiscent of many wannabe soloists desperate to impress, but the same effort for “Here Again” saves this rather tedious 70s rock song off the debut album. The quick paced “Fancy Dancer” (Is that a few bars of “Tom Sawyer” I hear?) actually sounds a bit like a Green Day song. Check that, Green Day sounds like very early Rush. And if you need even more proof of Rush being ahead of their time “Need Some Love” embraces an 80s punk rock riff.
The overlooked “In The End” off Fly By Night unfortunately fails to measure up to the eventual album version but a solid effort nonetheless. Lee dedicates “Working Man” to a Ms. Donna Halper and the working man jam rocks really fresh with Lifeson nailing down some serious notes that done in later years would get 20,000 strong off their feet to applause and awe. Peart melts a relatively short drum solo into the end of this one, and thanks to a bit of hindsight, showing Alex and Geddy chose well in their replacement drummer.
Despite the misnamed “The Best I Can” on the track listing (“Best I Can” appears on Fly By Night) an often tell-tale sign of a bootleg, Lee introduces the song as “The Best I Can” (perhaps the band’s name for the song at the time) and Lee refers to their eponymous album as “the album” when introducing songs.
Overall, ABC 1974 gives you raw and unfiltered early Rush for the first 12 tracks which taken on face value was probably the length of their set in those days. The “bonus tracks” of “Anthem,” “Beneath, Between & Behind,” and “Fly By Night” recorded the following year at the same venue sound more like a quality bootleg.
Grade: A- without the bonus tracks; B+ with bonus tracks
Rush ABC 1974 Track List:
- Find My Way
- The Best I Can
- Need Some Love
- In The End
- Fancy Dancer
- In the Mood
- Bad Boy
- Here Again
- Working Man
- Drum Solo
- What You’re Doing
- Garden Road
- Beneath, Between & Behind
- Fly By Night