It was never a hit like “Tom Sawyer” or “Limelight,” but one of the standout tracks on Rush’s seminal 1981 album Moving Pictures is a song that should be near and dear to any motoring fan’s heart.
“Red Barchetta” tells the story of a future when Orwellian safety-obsessed governments have passed “motor laws” banning most forms of recreational driving.
The song’s narrator/hero, however, has an uncle who owns a sports car – presumably a two-seat Ferrari “Barchetta” (Italian for “little boat”). One a sunny afternoon he hops the “turbine freight” out of town, takes the car out from its hiding place in his Uncle’s barn and spends the afternoon with the wind in his hair, enjoying the freedom of the open road. Until the authorities come after him, that is.
As the government’s “silver alloy air cars” come after him, our hero violently racks the Barchetta around and takes off for the safety of his uncle’s barn – with the future cops hot on his tail.
The song itself is a musical tour de force, highlighting the band’s lyrical and improvisational talents, with rising hard rock crescendos as the anticipation of the drive builds, flowing jazzy solos as the hero cruises down the highway with the wind whipping through his hair and power trio hard rock at its finest as the chase begins and builds to a climax.
The song was written by Rush’s drummer, Neil Peart, a car and motorcycle enthusiast, and was inspired by a short story by that appeared in the Nov. 1973 issue of Road & Track by Richard S. Foster, entitled “A Nice Morning Drive.”
(You can read the original short story that inspired the song here: A NICE MORNING DRIVE)
As the album was wrapping up, Rush made repeated attempts to contact Foster and make sure he was cool with the song. But Road & Track didn’t have updated contact info on his (this was the pre-internet Stone Age, remember). So the band settled for putting an “Inspired by” qualifier on the song/album credits.
In 2007, Peart and Foster finally met during Rush’s Snakes and Arrows tour and spent some time motorcycling through West Virginia together.
Foster posted an online story about their rides, which you can read here: THE DRUMMER, THE PRIVATE EYE AND ME
Peart, on top of being a pretty bad ass drummer and rock star, is also an accomplished rider and writer. His book “Ghost Rider” tells of a long, cross-continental motorcycle trip he took after the tragic deaths of his wife and daughter while his band mates waited patiently for him to heal. GHOST RIDER
It just goes to show that while songs about the open road aren’t limited to Willie and Skynyrd – and sometimes have some pretty interesting stories behind them.