As Rush's art director since 1975, Hugh Syme designed some of the prog-rock band's signature images: the glowing Red Star of the Solar Federation that adorns 2112, the visual puns of Moving Pictures, the scene of cheerful destruction on Permanent Waves.

But in retrospect, he isn't completely satisfied with his work on Caress of Steel, the first of their numerous collaborations. Mostly, he says, because the record company made some last-minute alterations to his image, which shows a wizard-like character flanked by a coiled snake and mysterious triangle.

"I was a huge [M.C. Escher] fan," Syme tells Ultimate Classic Rock. "My original drawings were in pencil: clean, monochromatic, simple homages to Escher. But when the record label got ahold of these, they thought it wasn't rock and roll enough, so they added this chromium lettering and swung the tint of the whole image over to a brown sepia tone — none of which was requested or under my purview at the time."

But there was one positive to the annoying interference: future creative control.

"When the band said, 'What happened?,' I said, 'I don't know,'" he adds. "That began the premise that they would consider most A&R people attending their sessions — and, more so, their comments — as unwelcome. Because they weren't interested. And when they realized that other people were meddling in the process when it came to my art, they said, 'Don't listen to anyone. We're talking to you directly.' That set up a feature in my life."

Looking back, Syme's supernatural image is a fitting match for Caress of the Steel, Rush's first full-blown foray into prog. The artist doesn't count it among his finest covers, but he realizes it "served its purpose."

"That album worked out well. I don't look back fondly on the outcome, but that's OK," he says. "It was more just me being indulgent — art directors are pretty selfish. We do what we want to do, and what a gift it was to work with a band like Rush. They — excuse the quote — allowed that deviation from any norms because that's what they aspired to do themselves as artists."

Mercury Records
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