. . .
After Moving Pictures, Rush sought to cap their highly successful run of albums by recording their second live album, Exit… Stage Left in late 1981. It was a record that I was actively looking forward too: I’d seen and enjoyed the Moving Pictures tour, and if you look at the track listing for Exit… Stage Left, it’s pretty much impeccable. So I was surprised at how much I disliked it.
Part of that was that I was changing: my favorite 1981 albums were by X, The Psychedelic Furs, Tom Verlaine, The Rolling Stones, The Jam, U2, Tom Petty & The Go-Gos, but it was also the year I went deep on Sandinista!, the Stones back catalog and traded all of my Doors albums for early Kinks albums. So it was a period of transition and discovery, and the problem with Exit… Stage Left was that all of the songs sounded exactly like the studio versions. Exactly! Only not nearly as well-recorded. In the end, the best thing was the album cover, which depicted the various characters on their album covers waiting for their turn on stage.
However, because this was in the period before KFSR went on the air, I was still basically stuck with listening to KKDJ, which is where I got blown away one last time by a new Rush song on the radio, “New World Man,” the lead single from 1982’s Signals.
“New World Man” was the last song written for Signals, and because they were under a deadline, it was quickly written and recorded, making it somewhat of an outlier on Signals, which they purposely decided was going to go in another direction than Moving Pictures, which is absolutely admirable, even if that direction was most “massive walls of synthesizer” and/or reggae.
Luckily, “New World Man” was more of the latter than the former, as Rush basically wrote their version of a Police song. Luckily, it was a fucking great Police song.
Rush had dabbled in reggae before, of course — the breakdown at the end of “The Spirit of Radio,” much of “Vital Signs” and of course earlier on Signals, with “Digital Man,” but it says here that the verses of “New World Man” rank with the best of the Police and the Clash. OK, the Police anyways.
He’s a rebel and a runner
He’s a signal turning green
He’s a restless young romantic
Wants to run the big machine
He’s got a problem with his poisons
But you know he’ll find a cure
He’s cleaning up his systems
To keep his nature pure
The thing about “New World Man” was that it was written and recorded in two days, an incredibly short period of time for a Rush time, so the song structure is pretty simple: reggae on the verses and even more reggae on the pre-chorus.
Learning to match the beat of the Old World Man
Learning to catch the heat of the Third World Man
But had “New World Man” been simply reggae, it would have been fine, but the reason it’s one of my very favorite Rush songs is the chorus, where they all rave up — Neal Peart amps up the backbeat and keeps the rolls to a minimum; Lifeson plays a powerful corkscrew riff that’s mixed maybe just a tad too low and Geddy Lee . . . well, we’ll get Geddy in a second.
He’s got to make his own mistakes
And learn to mend the mess he makes
He’s old enough to know what’s right
But young enough not to choose it
He’s noble enough to win the world
But weak enough to lose it
He’s a New World Man
At the end of the choruses of “New World Man” Geddy Lee does two remarkable things in succession. First, he elongates the word of the last line: “Heeeeees a newwwwwwwwwwwww worrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrld mannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn” making it probably the biggest, most immediate hook they ever wrote — and check out Peart’s cymbal crashes accenting each word — and then he follows it up with a short, amazing bass solo, which to me at least is an even bigger hook.
And honestly, that’s it. There’s no guitar solo in “New World Man,” and while they switch up the lyrics on the chorus and pre-chorus — at one point there’s a direct lift from “Digital Man” — and a call back to “Tom Sawyer” when Geddy sings “he knows constant change is here to stay” and on the last pre-chorus, they play a rock-reggae hybrid, but honestly “New World Man” is a potential answer to a hilarious tweet Superchunk & Bob Mould drummer (and long-time radio comedian) Jon Wurster posted shortly after we all found out that Peart died.
I can’t help thinking he’s chuckling somewhere knowing hundreds of bands with gigs tonight are trying to figure out “an easy Rush song.”
— Jon Wurster (@jonwurster) January 10, 2020
I mean, if you can play reggae, of course.
But here’s the thing: I wasn’t the only person who loved the chorus of “New World Man:” it turned out to be their biggest hit in both the U.S. and Canada, barely missing the top 20 on the Billboard singles charts, and it was the only Rush single to fully top the Canadian charts — none of their other singles cracked the top 10. So it’s hybrid of reggae and hard rock definitely struck a nerve that no Rush song before or since really has.
“New World Man”
“New World Man” Live in Toronto, 1984
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