Vital Signs
by Rush

Album: Moving Pictures (1981)
Charted: 41
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  • Neil Peart (Guitar for the Practicing Musician, 1986): "At the end of an album it's impossible for us to judge which songs will truly be popular and which won't. We're inevitably surprised. And then there are songs like "Vital Signs" from our Moving Pictures album. At the time it was a very transitional song. Everybody had mixed feelings about it, but at the same time it expressed something essential that I wanted to say. That's a song that has a marriage of vocals and lyrics I'm very happy with. But it took our audience a long time to get it, because it was rhythmically very different for us and it demanded the audience to respond in a different rhythmic way. There was no heavy downbeat; it was al counterpoint between upbeat and downbeat, and there was some reflection of reggae influence and a reflection of the more refined areas of new wave music that we had sort of takes under our umbrella and made happen. That song took about three tours to catch on. It was kind of a baby for us. We kept playing it and wouldn't give up. We put it in our encore last tour-putting it in the most exciting part of the set possible-and just demanded that people accept it because we believed in it. I still think that song represents a culmination-the best combination of music, lyrics, rhythm. It opens up so many musical approaches, from being very simplistic and minimal to becoming very overplayed. Everything we wanted in the song is there. So that song was very special to us. But we had to wait. We had to be patient and wait for the audience to understand us." >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Mike - Mountlake Terrace, Washington
  • In the Moving Pictures tour book, Peart added: "'Vital Signs' was the ultimate result, eclectic in the extreme, it embraces a wide variety of stylistic influences, ranging from the sixties to the present. Lyrically, it derives from my response to the terminology of 'Technospeak,' the language of electronics and computers, which often seems to parallel the human machine, in the functions and interrelationships they employ. It is interesting, if irrelevant, to speculate as to whether we impose our nature on the machines that we build, or whether they are merely governed by the inscrutable laws of Nature as we. (Perhaps Murphy's Laws?) Never mind!" >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Nathan - Wichititty, KS
  • Vocalist Geddy Lee recalled to The Plain Dealer newspaper in a 2011 interview: "That was a hoot to write. We wrote it in about 5 minutes in the studio. We just put it together quickly and had a lot of fun doing it. It's still fun to play. It's the quirkier side of Rush's sound, and I think there's always a need for that, to give your sound diversity."
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Comments: 17

  • Matt from Grand Rapids, MiThis song is the atmosphere from their early years with some of their less than popular music when they stepped out a little. An ounce of perception and a pound of obscure means stepping away from the norm occasionally just to explore a little. Forget the fiction and don't get lied to. Process information at half speed and explore different avenues and way of doing things when you get in a rut. Forget about what others think. Pause, rewind, replay and reflect on what you have accomplished and what you could have done different and what you enjoyed. Take random samples from that reflection and keep the things that made you feel good. Leave out conditions that limit and go after your dreams in full.
  • Matt from Grand Rapids, MiThis is very special song for me from my favorite group. Being in my mid 40's this song has been played through all sorts of times in my life. I don't think about the reggae aspect, etc. I just know I don't always follow the norm and the masterful bass play at the end of the song is brilliant.
  • Pryce from Litchfield, NhI thought this song was about machines over powering humans. They should of really left the reggae out... However this is a pretty cool song especially the end drumming. It's really cool.
  • Spamlet from Cleveland, OhSteve,

    The song is called "The Spirit of Radio" and the line is "shatter the illusion of integrity". Otherwise, I think your analysis is pretty interesting and goes along with Neil's explanatory quotes above.
  • Steve from Chino Hills, CaAh, to shed light on this song. Sure, I'll give it the old college try. If this song was an equation, it would have many variables and many possible solutions. Thus you can have multiple interpritations, who's to say who is right?

    But, I'll approach this song from a detective's perspective. Neil Peart tends to write about themes. In the song "Limelight" he was focused on stardom as he describes living in the limelight as the universal dream. I think he means this when he says that "Everybody go to elevate from the norm." But this time I think he's talking about success more than stardom.

    The line "An ounce of perception, a pound of osbcure" is more or less the formula for this song. You can't read it line by line and make sense of it. It one of those songs that has to be appreciated on the whole.


    The first half of the song is about being on the road and being worn down and tired and how the environment effects the mind.

    The second half of the song is about recording. I am thinking that the record company was probably putting pressure on them to record a love ballad that so many 80's rock bands did at the time.

    In the song 'Invisable Airwaves' Neil states "One likes to believe in the freedom of music, but glittering prizes and endless compromises challenge the illusion of integrity." With that in mind look at "Leave out the fiction
    The fact is, this friction
    Will only be worn by persistence
    Leave out conditions
    Courageous convictions
    Will drag the dream into existence" The "friction being worn by persistence" is about seeing the "glittering prizes" as "fiction" and forgetting about it. Staying headstrong and letting it be known the band will go the direction intended from the start will wear down the record label input to the point where they will "worn" from fighting and more or less leave the band alone to find success with their music on their terms. They could very easily forget the original mission of the band (the function and the form) and instead try to use the label's advice to stay commercially relevant.

    So, it's a man over environment band over label type of song. But its written in such a way that it's a man over environment success over failure by means of "courageous convictions" type of song. Very clever, and very much an awesome song!

    -Steve, Chino Hills, CA

  • Trevor from Santa Barbara, CaBreakfast.
    Great song, one of those that you can't stop going back to. 2012? Geez, give me a break.
  • Jeffyb from Binghamton, NyOkay here is my take on the song. It seems close to what may be encountered on Dec.21, 2012. Reverse polarity, atmospheric disturbance, circuits distorted by external interference, signals get crossed, balance distorted, which will drag this dream into existence into a new mood lifter. Just my opinion or Mercury in retrograde! Rush rocks!
  • Doc from North Arlington, NjI agree w/ Buffalo Billy's deeper analysis, but what struck me (and only a couple years ago) is that on the surface Neil could be writing about the experiences of a band in the studio - perhaps one in the middle of hashing out a mix. Some of the language is pretty specific to recording(reverse polarity, Pause Rewind Replay, random cycle...). "The balance distorted by internal incoherence" - a beautiful way to describe an unfocussed/cluttered mix... Yea, Rush. The perfect combo of nerd and kick-ass. God bless their square little Canuck heads.
  • Justin from Bethlehem, PaThis is one of my favorite songs EVER!!!!
  • Hugo from Okc, Okdang can anyone spell Breakfast in America! JEEZ!!!
  • Dave from Cardiff, WalesEd - the beat is vaguely similar to "Breakfact In America" but this difference is that "Vital Signs" was performed on a keyboard, BIA was not
  • Ed from Ottawa, CanadaTry listening to Brekfast in America by Supertramp....its got a very similar beat.
  • Greg from Oakville, CanadaFriggin' love playing bass to this song so much and almost every other rush song!
  • Wil from Milwaukee, WiFor a long time Rush would record an entire album and leave space to write ONE song in the studio to finish up the album...what a FANTASTIC song that holds up as well in 2006 as it did 25 years ago in 1981 (when I saw it performed LIVE!!).
  • Rob from Vancouver, CanadaI've noticed on a lot of Rush albums there is usually one song that hints at the direction the band is heading. This song would fit equally well on the "Signals" album.
  • Billy from Buffalo, NyHi, Everyone. I just thought I'd post my own interpretation. It happens to be one of my favorite Rush songs.

    Apparently the song deals with psychological aspects and the way that human memory works;
    We take in large amounts of information during the day - both fact and fiction. We can't hold as much when we grow tired, and behavior degrades. When we sleep, the subconscious mind separates the fact from fiction, and depending on our feedback to the dreams we experience, it will choose what amount of fiction is necessary to pass into long term memory in order to save us from mental stress; i.e. the things we can't handle.
    Deviation is different from elevation: deviant behavior usually goes against societal norms, but elevation is to resist the deviant behavior, i.e. to find a better manner to cope.
  • Dave from Cardiff, WalesA techno-esque synth loop, and a reggae-esque feel, this song was a dramatic change of direction for Rush, who up until then had always been a guitar-driven act who used keyboards for effect. From this point until their 1989 album 'Presto!', their sound became largely keyboard-dominated, with guitars hovering in the background. Unusually for a rock band, Rush also had a major influence on the Techno scene that still lay over the horizon just two decades ago when this song was recorded
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