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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Rush - "Tom Sawyer" Song Analysis

Our good friend Anonymous requested an interesting song for a song analysis. It's "Tom Sawyer" from everyone's favorite prog-rock band Rush. The song is a perennial FM radio favorite and a single from their breakout Moving Pictures album from 1981 (is it really 30 years already?). The song reached as high as #8 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart, and the album was top 10 the world over.

As with all song analysis, we'll look at the song itself, the arrangement, sound and performance.

The Song
As with everything Rush, "Tom Sawyer" is complex and doesn't follow a standard form, but that's why they're so well liked, right? The form looks something like this:

Intro/Chorus, Verse, B section, C section, Chorus, Interlude, Solo, Intro, Verse, B section, C section, Chorus, Outro

You can dispute exactly where the chorus is, but I'm thinking it's where the "Tom Sawyer" lyric is mentioned. It could very well be the C section though, and you're interpretation is as good as mine. One thing's for sure, the song's form is not conventional.

That being said, there is a lot of melody in the song that millions of people today happily sing to themselves and others.

The Arrangement
Rush's songs are fairly bare-bones in that they're meant to be played live, so there's not a lot of obvious layering. The guitars are doubled and heavily effected to make them bigger, but you can hear how they effectively use only a single less effected guitar in the first turnaround of the solo, then the 2nd has the full guitar sound to change the dynamics.

Rush also uses synthesizers very creatively, from the Moogish sound in the interlude and outro, to the big bass envelopes in the intro and outro.

Also, the lead vocal is doubled in the C section, which differentiates it from the others, although that's not needed that much in this song.

The Sound
The overall sound is about as good as it gets on a album. Neil Pert's drums are way up in front and have a nice pre-delayed medium room on them that you can only hear in the beginning when they're by themselves. The drums are compressed very well so they're punchy and in your face without seeming squashed.

Geddy Lee's vocal has a timed delay with a medium reverb wash that blends seamlessly into the track. Once again, you can only hear it during the intro. It sounds just a little squashed, but I'm cutting hairs here. His bass has that Rickenbacker treble sound yet still has a lot of bottom, despite the distortion.

Alex Lifeson's guitar is doubled and slightly chorused with a medium reverb wash for the huge sound that glues everything together.

The Performance
What can you say, they're all great. You have to be to pull it off as a power trio. I think what sticks out to me though is Pert's drumming. It's absolutely rock solid, without a beat ever feeling like it drifted even a microsecond, yet still feels organic. There are not many dudes who can do that.

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Anonymous said...

Great piece as usual-just thought you'd want to fix the spelling of Neil Peart's name before legions of distraught Rush fans try to banish you to Xanadu or something. All the best!

Barry said...

When listen to the slowed down version of Tom Sawyer you can really hear how tight these guys are.


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