Permanent Waves (1980) dramatically shifted Rush's style of music via the introduction of reggae and new wave elements. Although a hard rock style was still evident, more and more synthesizers were introduced. Moreover, because of the limited airplay Rush's previous extended-length songs received, Permanent Waves included shorter, more radio-friendly songs such as "The Spirit of Radio" and "Freewill", two songs that helped Permanent Waves become Rush's first U.S. Top 5 album; both songs continue to make appearances on classic rock radio stations in Canada and the United States to this day. Meanwhile, Peart's lyrics shifted toward an expository tone with subject matter that dwelled less on fantastical or allegorical story-telling and more heavily on topics that explored humanistic, social and emotional elements. Rush joined with fellow Toronto-based rock band Max Webster on July 28, 1980 to record "Battle Scar" for their 1980 release, Universal Juveniles. While on tour together following the release, both bands would join between sets to play "Battle Scar". The song acted as both a transition from Max Webster to Rush, as well as a warm-up for Peart. In addition, Max Webster lyricist Pye Dubois offered the band lyrics to a song he had written. The band accepted; the song went on, after reworking by Peart, to become "Tom Sawyer".
Rush's popularity reached its pinnacle with the release of Moving Pictures in 1981. Moving Pictures essentially continued where Permanent Waves left off, extending the trend of highly accessible and commercially friendly progressive rock that helped thrust them into the spotlight. The lead track, "Tom Sawyer", is probably the band's best-known song with "Limelight" also receiving satisfactory responses from listeners and radio stations. Moving Pictures was Rush's last album to feature an extended song, the eleven-minute "The Camera Eye". The song also contained the band's heaviest usage of synthesizers up to that point, hinting that Rush's music was shifting direction once more. Moving Pictures reached No.3 on the Billboard 200 album chart and has been certified quadruple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Following the success of Moving Pictures and the completion of another four studio albums, Rush released their second live recording, Exit...Stage Left, in 1981. The album delineates the apex of Rush's progressive period by featuring live material from the band's Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures tours. As with their first live release, Exit...Stage Left identified the margin of a new chapter of Rush's sound.
Synthesizer period (1982-1989)thumb The band underwent another radical stylistic transmutation with the release of Signals in 1982.
While Lee's synthesizers had been featured instruments ever since the late 70s, keyboards were suddenly shifted from the contrapuntal background to the melodic front-lines in songs like "Countdown" and the lead-off track "Subdivisions". Both feature prominent lead synthesizer lines with minimalistic guitar chords and solos. Other previously unused instrument additions were seen in the song "Losing It," featuring collaborator Ben Mink on electric violin.
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