Friday Song: “Subdivisions”

A rooftop cover of a timeless Rush synth powerhouse gives the song an entirely different feel

The lead track on Rush’s 1982 album Signals, “Subdivisions” represented a major detour into synth-soaked rock for the progressive rock band. Its release was supported by a popular music video, which ended with shots of my favorite game at the time (Atari’s Tempest) taken at an arcade outside Toronto which Queen’s Brian May frequented.

The song marked another turning point for the band, representing the first song in which lyricist Neil Peart directly explored something real, a shared human experience. Prior to this, he had been more oblique, writing lyrics around sci-fi and fantasy stories, broader concepts (“Natural Science”), or flights of fancy (“Tom Sawyer”).

While the song failed to chart except in the UK, it became a slow-burn favorite of fans, and was played at nearly every Rush show from 1982 through the band’s final tour in 2015. It was usually greeted with a roar of approval, as the experience it explores — feeling cast out of the cliques in high school — is and was one widely shared, especially acutely perhaps by Rush fans.

“Subdivisions” was one of five Rush songs inducted into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010. The band was touring at the time of the ceremony, so asked Jacob Moon to perform his version of the song at the gala in their absence.

This is the version of the song I’m including today.

Performed live on the rooftop of the Staircase Theatre in Hamilton, ON, in 2008, Moon recorded this version in a single take using looping pedals and a voice recorder to generate the various effects needed to pull off the song solo.

After the band heard the song, they met Moon, and Peart — whose voice was used for the repeated word “subdivisions” in the original — recorded himself again into Moon’s recorder, so that Moon would have an actual representative from the band present in a way for each subsequent performance, including the 2010 appearance at the awards ceremony.