The Thatcher Crisis Years

1980s politics blog from TV historian Tony McMahon

The start of the 1980s coincided with my mid-teens and like all testosterone charged, angst-ridden youngsters, I was on a feverish journey of self-discovery. Having abandoned punk, I succumbed briefly to peer pressure, grew my hair long, acquired a non-existent air guitar and head banged at a load of metal and rock gigs. The high point was seeing Rush in 1980 on the band’s Permanent Waves tour.

If any band defined ‘guilty pleasure’, it was Rush. I was already a committed political left-winger drifting towards a five year love affair with Marxism-Leninism. Yet somehow, I ended up becoming – for a brief time – a devoted fan of Ayn Rand influenced Rush. Boy, was I confused!

Ayn Rand, in case you are unaware, was a libertarian, right-wing American philosopher later idolised by every pretentious 1980s yuppie investment banker. Books included The Virtue of Selfishness and Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. Think that gives you a fair enough flavour of her viewpoint.

Given the very polarised political climate of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Rush were unfairly dubbed as “fascist” by some music press scribes who used that term way too sparingly. But it was certainly unusual to have a band heroising somebody like Ayn Rand. Even though the lyrics on their concept albums that did the heroising were completely impenetrable. Bass guitarist and vocalist Geddy Lee once said he had no idea what he was singing about.

The band’s ideologue was drummer Neil Peart – now sadly deceased. Must confess that while I found most drum solos tedious beyond belief (nearly fell asleep during a Ginger Baker marathon), I was entranced by Peart’s manic performance. But his advocacy of Ayn Rand not only troubled me at the time, but you can still find Rush fans on Reddit saying that while they love the music, it’s a shame about the philosophical slant. That reached its peak with the album 2112 – which you could try and characterise as a romantic, individualist onslaught on Stalinist totalitarianism, if you wished to.

DISCOVER: What was NWOBHM?

On Permanent Waves, the anti-communist theme continues with the song Freewill – and you can figure out what it thinks about freewill versus determinism.

Rush were a hybrid metal-prog rock band in the 1970s though you could argue they began as metal and evolved into prog rock. Permanent Waves represented a break from that with shorter, crisper numbers. A development that many 70s prog rock bands went through – Yes, Genesis, etc. The track Spirit of Radio even went up the pop charts and I seem to recall a bizarre attempt by Legs & Co to marry their interpretive dance style with this fast-paced rock-pop number. One of the most toe curling things I’ve ever seen on TV. So you really ought to watch it of course!

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