Rush revelled in their separation from the mainstream. Thanks to the antagonism that rock critics levelled onto them and their dedication to the prog-rock form, the Canadian power trio were almost immune from accusations of selling out or chasing hits. You don’t include an entire 20-minute suite on one of your biggest albums and expect it to be played on the radio.
Even as the band transitioned to a more synthesiser-heavy sound in the 1980s, Rush were still playing with time signatures and chord changes that were atypical of the more mainstream sounds of the time. Rush were singular, and even though songs like ‘Limelight’ or ‘Tom Sawyer’ saw some crossover success, it would have been nearly impossible to imagine Rush landing number one singles or major pop music recognition.
There was one song, however, that singer and bassist Geddy Lee found to be hovering closest to a commercial sound. That would be ‘Closer to the Heart’, the acoustic-led single from A Farewell to Kings. With its more standard arrangement and melody-heavy composition, compared to the sprawling excursions that the band were famous for, ‘Closer to the Heart’ was one of the few songs in the early Rush canon that could conceivably be played on the radio.
In the 1997 Retrospective I liner notes, Lee discused the popularity of the song. “I remember when we had to bring it back into the set for the Rio shows, as there was such a demand to hear it and we’d stopped playing it for a while,” Lee wrote. “It’s always resonated with people for some reason, and it was a hit as far as we’ve ever had a hit. It got us on the radio, the kinds of radio that would never normally associate with us, so it was as close as we ever came to a pop song, especially at that point. Over here in the UK it had that effect, and in the US too.”
When ‘Closer to the Heart’ was released as a single in the UK in early 1978, the song peaked at number 36 on the UK Singles Chart. It was Rush’s only charting single at the time, but it wouldn’t be the last. Two years late, ‘The Spirit of Radio’ ascended all the way to number 13, almost giving Rush a top ten hit in the UK. ‘Closer to the Heart’ stalled at number 69 in America, and the band would only land a single top 40 hit in America with 1982’s ‘New World Man’, which peaked at number 21.
Check out the video for ‘Closer to the Heart’ down below.