Song of the Week

EHSDA Song of the Week: Vital Signs

With EHS Technology Week winding down, it makes perfect sense to go with a tech-oriented Song of the Week. This time around, we’re heading up north and backwards in time to 1981 for “Vital Signs” by Canadian power trio Rush.

The Toronto-based band came up playing Led Zeppelin-inspired riff rock and eventually moved into progressive rock territory, but by the time their eighth album Moving Pictures came out, they were branching out and exploring new sounds. “Vital Signs” finds them trying out some Police-esque reggae as well as some futuristic sounding sequencers.

Moving Pictures was the band’s most successful album, going to #3 in the U.S. and U.K. and #1 in Canada, naturally. Most of this was due to the single “Tom Sawyer,” which is Rush’s best-known song and is now a classic rock radio staple, but the band had built up a large and devoted following over the years.

In “Vital Signs,” Rush lyricist and drummer Neil Peart discusses how humans are interacting with technology, which admittedly was very different 43 years ago than it is today.

“Unstable condition/A symptom of life/In mental and environmental change/Atmospheric disturbance/The feverish flux/Of human interface and interchange/The impulse is pure/Sometimes our circuits get shorted/By external interference/Signals get crossed/And the balance distorted/By internal incoherence.”

In the chorus, singer Geddy Lee notes that despite the acceptance of technological advancements, it’s important to maintain your individuality.

“A tired mind become a shape shifter/Everybody need a mood lifter/Everybody need reverse polarity/Everybody got mixed feelings/About the function and the form/Everybody got to deviate/From the norm.”

“Vital Signs” is the last song on the album and it’s very different than the ones that come before it, acting as a preview of the new sounds Rush would introduce on their next album, 1982’s Signals. The band continued to release albums and tour successfully until 2015, when Peart retired. Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson have made occasional appearances since then, but the band effectively ended when Peart was done. Sadly, Peart died in 2020 after a battle with brain cancer.

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