All 180 Rush Songs, Ranked
Forty-five years ago, a mighty rock triumvirate roared in from the north, armed with furious grooves, instrumental complexity, crafty lyrics, and an important question to ask of the legions of fans they'd win over: Do you want to air-guitar, air-bass or air-drum right now?
On August 14, 1974, when singer-bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and drummer-lyricist Neil Peart -- brought in just three weeks earlier to replace ailing founding member John Rutsey -- performed live together for the first time at Pittsburgh's Civic Auditorium in support of Uriah Heep and Manfred Mann, few attendees could have predicted that Rush had embarked on an inimitable four-decade journey. But within a few years, as the Canadian power trio set aside its Led Zeppelin and Cream fixation, it became clear that Rush had discovered an addictive formula: Geddy Lee, the frontman with vocals that soared high like an eagle on poppers and in-your-face bass that rode low; Alex Lifeson, purveyor of searing, shearing guitar, zipping up and down scales one moment and glistening simple soundscapes the next; and Neil Peart, one of the busiest drummers in rockdom, packing each fill with as much vigor as a simple measure could handle.
The band's unparalleled musical intricacy is often framed with a mathematician's logic. Sonically, there isn't that much philosophical difference between Rush and Iron Maiden but, back in the day, their fan bases couldn't have been farther apart. Rush's records appealed to freaks and burnouts, sure, but also to eggheads and early computer programmers. Peart's lyrics had a lot to do with that. They were often epic in scope (multiple concept albums! a song that stretches out over two albums!), rich in sci-fi and fantasy adventure, and contained clever couplets that rallied around a particular heavy theme. Circling tricky subjects like individualism, freedom, and triumph, the songs still retain a brightness that was often reflected in the musical structure. (Note: There's also a subset of Rush fans who love the music but abhor the words. They're wrong, but why argue?)
Rush fans are among the most dedicated in rock. How many pets out there have been named By-Tor? How many people struggled through Atlas Shrugged based on the band's implicit recommendation? How many kids played Space Invaders to "Tom Sawyer," or was that just on Futurama? How many kimonos were sold as a direct result of Rush's fascination with them in the 1970s? The band is retired now and won't be coming back, so it's time to salute these geniuses by ranking every single song they ever did.
I have girded myself for potential resentment concerning this list.
First, the rules:
- While Rush is Geddy Lee (née Gary Weinrib), Alex "Lerxst" Lifeson and Neil "The Professor" Peart, we will give the late John Rutsey his due. He was not a bad drummer, he just wasn't the right drummer. Rutsey-era Rush is represented in this ranking. However, the gang's solo work and side projects are not and, sadly, this means no "Take Off," Geddy's 1981 team-up with Bob & Doug McKenzie (aka his pals Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas), which clearly would have been ranked #1 if it counted. Beauty, eh?
- Rush released 19 studio albums and a few stray singles, and all of those songs are ranked here. But I am using Spotify as my guide: If it's a single track on Spotify, then that's the song. For example, "By-Tor and the Snow Dog" is one song even if, on the album, it is listed as having four subsections, the third of which has four subsections of its own. This will work to the benefit of some songs due to their epic epicness, but detract from others where some sequences within the whole don't quite work as well as others (I'm looking at you "Fountains of Lamneth"). Additionally, Caress of Steel has a different track listing depending on when you bought the album and on what format. But going by Spotify rules, "Didacts and Narpets" is now part of "Fountains of Lamneth," regardless of what your old cassette tape said. These are important notes.
- I will not be including live versions of pre-recorded Rush songs or live covers, but I will be including a few originals and improvisational instrumentals that debuted or were recorded live.
- Alas, I can find no excuse for ranking the appearance of fellow Canadian Joe Flaherty's pre-recorded salute as Count Floyd at the beginning of the "The Weapon" on the Grace Under Pressure Tour album, so I am mentioning it here. I can't really justify including "Intro" from the same album and 1989's A Show of Hands either, but it's another good example of Rush not taking themselves too seriously. For a so-called power trio to open their shows with the Three Stooges theme (pre-recorded) says something. (Also a good time to mention that later concerts included a clip from South Park before they'd blast into their biggest hit, "Tom Sawyer.")
Lastly, there is no bad Rush. The first chunk of songs on this ranking get roasted pretty hard, but it's done with love. Rush rules. Anyone who disagrees can meet me during recess.
180. "Virtuality," Test for Echo (1996)
This is completely unfair. On a strictly musical level, "Virtuality" is not Rush's worst song. The thumping bass is good and the dissonant clang of the guitar kinda kicks ass. But these lyrics. THESE LYRICS! Test for Echo is all about communication, and 1996 was the year many of us got our first email addresses. The refrain: "Net boy, net girl/Send your impulse 'round the world/Put your message in a modem/And throw it in the Cyber sea!" Holy shit, guys, this is humiliating. For years I would sing this song aloud every time I got online and went to a bulletin board. I demand recompense for emotional damages.
179. "Roll the Bones," Roll the Bones (1991)
Shoot me. It's the canned synth-horns straight out of Yes' "Owner of a Lonely Heart" paired with a groove that's maybe a little too self-confident, and lyrics like "Why are we here/Because we're here." And then it's got... rapping. Yes, that's Geddy Lee, his voice modulated down a bit, doing a mid-song rap that rhymes "facts" with "gluteus max." Let's just move on.
178. "Double Agent," Counterparts (1993)
A rare miserable Rush song. Even though there's some cool dissonant guitar fills, the spoken-word element is embarrassing and the call-and-response ("Wound up and tight" "Soooooo tight!") is like something out of a Saturday Night Live parody. Cringe.
177. "Time and Motion," Test for Echo (1996)
A round-peg-in-square hole as '90s sludge rock tries to mix with Dream Theater-esque synths. It doesn't work and it is hella annoying. The "motion" of the title is made by my finger hitting fast-forward.
176. "Here Again," Rush (1974)
I suspect that this was intended as the big showcase for Rush's debut album, perhaps in the vein of "Since I've Been Loving You" from Led Zeppelin III, but the fact is it's slow and (by Rush standards) sloppy. By all accounts, the late John Rutsey was a nice fella, but tracks like this make you realize that the first album represents a band that's only two-thirds of the way there.
175. "Superconductor," Presto (1989)
One of the few Rush songs I genuinely dislike. It's an annoying riff and the melodic tricks are done far better on many other tunes of the era. And the title is a pun? It's about an orchestra conductor with magical powers or something? Ugh, go away.
174. "High Water," Hold Your Fire (1987)
An aimless track from one of Rush's most all-over-the-place albums. It just sounds like notes for notes' sake. And lots of them.
173. "Red Tide," Presto (1989)
This is the type of song that plays in an '80s TV show when there's a scene at a school dance. And a show with a low budget at that. Not good.
172. "Presto," Presto (1989)
There are chord similarities to the far superior "The Pass" off the very same album. For that we issue demerits. Being forgettable is one thing, but being lazy is unusual for Rush.
171. "Crossroads," Feedback (2004)
Oh, no. Rush covering Cream's cover of Robert Johnson's ur-blues text. When Cream did it, it was a psychedelic resurrection. Here, it's a very rare case of Rush being extremely uncool. I mean, singing about black holes and Rivendell and Prince By-Tor isn't cool, either, but it's so uncool that it's cool, you know? This is just unnecessary, and if you ever do a side-by-side with Cream you'll see that Clapton in his prime versus Alex Lifeson goofing off in the studio is not even close.
170. "Nobody's Hero," Counterparts (1993)
I feel bad knocking a 1993 song about the AIDS crisis targeted at a very straight male demo. Still, this is a clunky song that's a little bit all over the place. The strings, meant to sound triumphant, are just screechy.
169. "Garden Road," Rush ABC: Live From Cleveland's Agora Ballroom (1974)
A real slop-rock tune that was wisely left off the debut album. Kinda beneath Rush. Lifeson here mimics Jimmy Page just fine but Geddy Lee is still looking to find his own voice. Meanwhile, Neil Peart just hammers away like a construction worker looking to get home before the traffic gets bad.
168. "For What It's Worth," Feedback (2004)
Feedback is all about our guys having a good time, playing the tunes of their youth, but someone should have stopped them before they did this one. This Buffalo Springfield "anthem of the 60s" is too played-out. Even hearing "modern" covers of it feels like something in a cheesy, independent film. There are some peculiar guitar sounds squiggling around in the background to make things more interesting, but, I gotta say, this is another rare Rush misfire.
167. "Face Up," Roll The Bones (1991)
Bland, even a little corny. Not Rush's finest hour.
166. "Lock and Key," Hold Your Fire (1987)
Ooof. The opening sounds like the DVD menu of a Uwe Boll film. The rest is another synth-heavy pop track from Rush's very hit-or-miss album that just bugs me. There is, I admit, a strong solo in here. Even bad Rush is good, we must remember!
165. "Not Fade Away," single (1973)
Rush's entry to recorded music was this old Buddy Holly war horse. It isn't the Stones and it sure as hell isn't the Grateful Dead. It's... really plain. Everyone is being very cautious. Geddy hardly screams at all! The original tune "You Can't Fight It" on the B-side is a little more interesting, but not by much.
164. "BU2B2," Clockwork Angels (2012)
If this were the early days of Rush, this wouldn't even be a song, it would just be Part II Section iii of "The Fountains of Lamneth Book II" or something. It's 90 seconds of Geddy, practically cantorial, singing against some strings. Nothing much.
163. "Sweet Miracle," Vapor Trails (2002)
This opens with Rush evoking Iron Maiden (and not doing a very good job of it) and the rest is just pretty blah. Not the finest Rush song.
162. "Nocturne," Vapor Trails (2002)
This album saw Rush back in the studio after a long break, and I feel like this is a good example of them stumbling a little. It isn't an awful song, there's just nothing really going on. Vapor Trails is 67 minutes long. Hemispheres is 36. See where I'm going with this?
161. "Spindrift," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
One of the proggier entries on Snakes & Arrows, this one wins points for a menacing riff. But for whatever reason it just doesn't come together. A slog.
160. "Armor and Sword," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
This is a very straightforward "modern rock" track that doesn't do much for me. Remember Queensrÿche? Yeah, those guys were pretty good.
159. "You Can't Fight It," non-album single B-side (1973)
Kinda not-that-great, but agreeable. It's peppy, and when it breaks for the guitar-solo it feels more inspired by "Steppin' Out" by John Mayall/Cream than the Led Zeppelin influence that's about to overtake our Canadian friends in their early career. This isn't an embarrassment; it just isn't the uncut gem we want their lost single to be.
158. "Shapes of Things," Feedback (2004)
I really like the other Yardbirds cover on Feedback, "Heart Full Of Soul," but this one I can do without. I never connected with the song in its original form and bar band Rush doesn't add too much to it. Sorry!
157. "Available Light," Presto (1989)
A forgettable late '80s Rush track that almost puts you to sleep before it gets a little oomph from a weird recurring use of falsetto -- weird even by Geddy Lee standards.
156. "Second Nature," Hold Your Fire (1987)
Zzzzzzzzz. Not bad but not good. This bland ballad sounds like filler to my ears (and reminds me of Pete Townshend's solo work from the time; hardly a ringing endorsement.)
155. "The Big Wheel," Roll the Bones (1991)
It was 1991, the year of Nirvana's Nevermind, and Rush was still clinging to these heavily produced synth rockers. Points for them sticking to their guns. But this song is a bore.
154. "Dog Years," Test for Echo (1996)
A reasonably good rocker... about dogs. There are all sorts of cutesy dog lyrics here. Not really puns per se, but close enough. "I'd rather be a tortoise from Galapagos/Or a span of geological time/Than be living in these dog years." I don't know what the hell is going on.
153. "How It Is," Vapor Trails (2002)
This is one of those Rush songs that doesn't really sound like Rush. If someone like John Mayer covered it, it would be a hit. It toggles between a pleasant, clear melody, but then gets bogged down in not-very-interesting fast-rock mush. It doesn't quite work, but points for trying.
152. "Ghost Rider," Vapor Trails (2002)
I feel bad saying anything negative about Neil Peart's song about embracing life after suffering a personal tragedy (the deaths of his wife and daughter), but this tune is a little meandering.
151. "Workin' Them Angels," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
A lyrical call-back to "Working Man." Other than that, a straightforward rocker with a good mid-tempo approach.
150. "The Main Monkey Business," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
A groovy instrumental with a lot of neat effects, but nothing too tremendous.
149. "O'Malley's Break," Time Machine 2011: Live in Cleveland (2011)
A little live guitar noodle that leads into "Closer to the Heart." Nice, but not much.
148. "Halo Effect," Clockwork Angels (2012)
The sixth track on Clockwork Angels and the first, chronologically, to take a breath. A little reminiscent of "Nobody's Hero" from Counterparts, though. That's not really an endorsement.
147. "Faithless," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
More like lifeless! I kid, it's fine. And a song about the joys of Secular Humanism is certainly a rarity.
146. "Out of the Cradle," Vapor Trails (2002)
A not-very-inspiring song that has some interesting things going on vocally, but are better presented in this album's "Peaceable Kingdom" and "One Little Victory." This is the last track on Vapor Trails and when you make it this far chronologically you are usually pretty exhausted.
145. "War Paint," Presto (1989)
Not Rush's most memorable moment, but at least this plain pop-rock record moves a little bit. Good enough, I guess.
144. "I Think I'm Going Bald," Caress of Steel (1975)
This is a toughie, because the last 45 seconds or so of this tune features some of the best bluesy Alex Lifeson soloing anywhere in the repertoire. But, good lord, these lyrics are atrocious ("I walk down vanity fair, mem-o-ry lane everywhere") and the hook is more than a tiny bit annoying. A vexing song.
143. "Mr. Soul," Feedback (2004)
The second of two ill-conceived Buffalo Springfield covers on Feedback. This one isn't as bad as "For What It's Worth," but I gotta admit that Rush kinda sound like Ghost World's Blues Hammer here. Not a good look. Nice nod to The Byrds' "Eight Miles High" during the solo, though, and you can hit Google if you don't get the connection there.
142. "Half the World," Test for Echo (1996)
Not a bad song, but I feel like this could also be used in a car commercial. If it didn't have that "modern rock" 1990s production this could have fit right in on Signals-era Rush, especially with Peart's use of repetitive lyrics. Weird tune, that Rush fans with patience can learn to love.
141. "Neurotica," Roll the Bones (1991)
On an island, none of these early 90s Rush songs are bad. Or, at least, very few of them are. It's just when you listen to them all at once you realize that during this era a lot of them really sound the same. "Neurotica" is one such example.
140. "You Bet Your Life," Roll the Bones (1991)
Typical of the era (so good, but not great) but at least it's got some pep and weird vocal effects.
139. "Ghost of a Chance," Roll the Bones (1991)
This is a misguided attempt at sounding like a bar band of the era. Was Rush listening to the Smithereens? Who can tell? This song does not really work, but I bet they had fun.
138. "Rivendell," Fly by Night (1975)
Definitely the tune you memorize on the guitar to play to a girl, preferably on a sun-dappled meadow. Maybe she's wearing a flower in her hair, who knows? This is lower-tier Rush, for sure, but it absolutely gets bonus points for being called Rivendell and the line "You're wanting to return/to where the Misty Mountains rise." It wasn't just Led Zeppelin that liked Tolkien!
137. "Hand Over Fist," Presto (1989)
"Hand over fist/Paper around the stone/Scissors cut the paper/And the rock must stand alone." Yes, Rush wrote a song about rock, paper, scissors. It wins points for chutzpah, but the rest is standard 80s synth rock.
136. "Turn the Page," Hold Your Fire (1987)
A cool opening bass riff kinda putters out into a forgettable song. But at least it has a driving beat.
135. "Test for Echo," Test for Echo (1996)
A strong rat-tat-tat riff elevates this generic 90s Rush tune. Peart's typical "strength of the individual" lyrics are more creaky here than usual. "Conform to uniforms of some corporate entity/Don't change that station/It's gangster nation/Now crime's in syndication on TV." This would have more punch if the song wasn't a drag.
134. "The Larger Bowl," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
A peppy tune about social injustice and wealth inequality? Hey, Rush can do anything. A simple song, but very catchy.
133. "Hope," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
A pleasant, acoustic guitar instrumental from Alex Lifeson. Almost Fairport Convention-ish at times.
132. "The Way The Wind Blows," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
The intro to this is devastatingly bad, with some tedious white boy blues. But then it shifts gear into a classic Rush morse code riff, then a nice airy melody. If you snip the beginning, it's a highlight from Snakes & Arrows.
131. "Ceiling Unlimited," Vapor Trails (2002)
I won't tell anyone if you won't, but the riff sounds an awful lot like "I Will Follow" by U2. But if that isn't a deal-breaker this is a strong late period rocker, which ends with some triumphant major chord bliss.
130. "Peaceable Kingdom," Vapor Trails (2002)
A very rare example in Rush's repertoire where the vocal line is the most interesting thing happening in the song. That's normal for other artists, but for Rush? There's some anguish in Geddy's singing here (and the echoey background vocals) and while Peart's lyrics are vague, a close read suggests this is an angry response to the 9/11 attacks and Islamic fundamentalism in general.
129. "Tai Shan," Hold Your Fire (1987)
What the hell is going on here? This mix of Chinese musical touchstones and synth-pop doesn't quite click, especially at such a slow tempo. "I stood at the top of the mountain/And China sang to me." Some Rush fans would have ranked this as perhaps the worst in the entire repertoire -- and Lifeson has cited it as his "least favorite" -- but I think that's unfair. It's definitely an earworm and gets points for unique instrumentation even if there are some lackluster aspects at play.
128. "Fancy Dancer," Rush ABC: Live From Cleveland's Agora Ballroom (1974)
A booty-rockin' number that, yeah, I can totally see why it got left off the debut album. But still entertaining with a rat-tat-tat beat. Decent solo from Lifeson. (Another song worth noting from Rush ABC: "Bad Boy," a very Led Zeppelin-ish cover of the Larry Williams song that also includes an impressive Lifeson solo. He's still in Jimmy Page imitation mode, but the dude's got chops!)
127. "Driven," Test For Echo (1996)
A solid tune that toggles between a menacing riff and a jangly, catch melody. Well produced!
126. "Carve Away The Stone," Test For Echo (1996)
An odd time signature makes this otherwise straightforward track of the era interesting. The guitar solo is solid. As I've established by now, Test For Echo is not Rush's finest hour, but on an island this song is all right.
125. "Cinderella Man," A Farewell To Kings (1977)
Personal taste is weird. Smack dab in the middle of one of Rush's best albums, and certainly in their best era, there's a tune that just bugs me for some reason. Maybe it's the scratchy guitar or something, all I know is that when this one comes up I dive for the fast-forward button on an otherwise perfect collection.
124. "Good News First," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
A Counterparts-esque rocker with some unusual, chant-like singing, plus almost Pat Metheny-like guitar tapping. It's a song only a Rush fan would love, but a highlight from Snakes & Arrows.
123. "The Stars Look Down," Vapor Trails (2002)
A rich "modern rock" track with a forceful bass-line and expansive vocals; one of the better songs off of the quasi-comeback album Vapor Trails. The guitar solo is more like what you'd hear with bands like Audioslave, but it works. Simple, but good.
122. "Where's My Thing? (Part IV, "Gangster of Boats" Trilogy)," Roll the Bones (1991)
Slippery instrumental that really leans into the jazz fusion side of things. Peart's really going bananas on the drums, too. This is a solid number that is even better amidst the many Roll the Bones clunkers.
121. "Chain Lightning," Presto (1989)
A bouncy bass line keeps this one fun, as does the driving rhythm. Dark groove passages break out into moments of airy, catchy melody. I dig it.
120. "Scars," Presto (1989)
The opening of this sounds a lot like Eurythmics. It's basically a collection of grooves and loops with some squealing guitars. A little corny, but it works, though "Cut to the Chase" off Counterparts will cover similar ground later and better.
119. "Emotion Detector," Power Windows (1985)
There aren't any bad songs on Power Windows but "Emotion Detector" is the one that comes closest to fitting that description. It's pure computer-enhanced pop and if you came to it unaware of the band's other work you'd be stunned that this once was a guitar-heavy prog-metal band. But, hey, life contains multitudes.
118. "Grand Designs," Power Windows (1985)
Chronologically, "Grand Designs" is one of the first red flags that our beloved Rush might get into some trouble with an over-reliance on synthesizers with their peppy pop tunes. It still has the requisite Rush edge, just not much of it.
117. "Need Some Love," Rush (1974)
The verse on this one is almost Rolling Stones-like, and that's a style that doesn't really fit for Rush. (Frankly, it feels a little beneath them.) The chorus-break riff, which is pure Led Zep, is more than fine, however. A good song on a good album by a band that is better-than-good, but about to become great.
116. "The Seeker," Feedback (2004)
There's nothing too fancy going on here, but this is a smart bar-band choice for a covers EP. One of the better The Who songs, great for singing along.
115. "Time Stand Still," Hold Your Fire (1987)
Though something of a hit, this late '80s duet with Til Tuesday's Aimee Mann gets a little annoying after a while, to be honest. Hold Your Fire lacks the edge found on Power Windows and replaces it with a reliance on synths and jangle. But every now and then this still gets played on the radio and it isn't unwelcome.
114. "Broon's Bane," Exit...Stage Left (1981)
A quick, live Lifeson noodle with interesting minor chord changes that, after 96 seconds, segues into "The Trees." Enjoyable!
113. "Caravan," Clockwork Angels (2012)
A thunderous opening to Rush's final album. Do you have good speakers? This will rattle floorboards. I like the refrain "I can't stop thinking big." The three back-from-the-dead albums (Vapor Trails, Snakes & Arrows, and Clockwork Angels) were each better than the one before it. One wonders what a fourth one would have sounded like.
112. "Bravest Face," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
There's a great Signals-era song in here ("In the sweetest child there's a vicious streak/In the strongest man there's a child so weak" is pure "New World Man") but it gets bogged down in the "Modern Rock"-ness that harms some of Snakes & Arrows. There's a thickness here and too much business between the verses.
111. "Totem," Test For Echo (1996)
A bright, jaunty tune, much better than much of the sludge on Test For Echo. Neil Peart's name-dropping pantheistic lyrics are probably coming from a good Secular Humanist place.
110. "Earthshine," Vapor Trails (2002)
A good, but fairly straightforward rocker with a teeth-rattling, loping bass line and a clear, almost Fripp-like guitar solo from Lifeson that then tears up the joint. Good song!
109. "Alien Shore," Counterparts (1993)
A straightforward '90s Rush rocker, with a funky beat. The lyrics, I must report, are about race and gender, not about visiting other planets. (Or are they?)
108. "Cut to the Chase," Counterparts (1993)
A swinging beat sets this typical early 1990s hard rocker apart from the others. "Cut to the Chase" is not one of Rush's masterpieces but, let's be honest, if a band like Dream Theater were to record it it would be the highlight of their resume. #Diss.
107. "In the Mood," Rush (1974)
There's an alternate reality in which Rush followed the route of "In the Mood" from the first album and became a party rock band. There's no shame in that (or in Rutsey's opening clok-clok-clok on the cowbell) but I'm glad that the band got into spaceships soon after this.
106. "Wish Them Well," Clockwork Angels (2012)
A very catchy late-Rush tune. Not too many pyrotechnics other than that triumphant melody. I never saw them play this live, but I bet it was very rousing.
105. "A Passage to Bangkok," 2112 (1976)
A slick, somewhat menacing lick leads to a tight, catchy rocker. Lyrics-wise, I don't exactly know who these nice nerdish boys Rush think they are fooling by pretending to be drug smugglers, but it was the 70s. Slight demerit for use of that stereotypical riff also heard in the early '70s hit "Kung-fu Fighting" by Carl Douglas.
104. "Cold Fire," Counterparts (1993)
What's most interesting, maybe, is how in 1993 everyone in rock music was trying to capitalize on "grunge." This is a slick, quasi-New Wave track with a shimmery guitar solo. Rush cares not for your trends!
103. "Seven Cities of Gold," Clockwork Angels (2012)
Rock the hell on, Rush. This opens with a Black Sabbath-style riff before shifting into a sunnier, jangly-er melody. Lyrically, this is about sailing to a mythic city to reap its riches, so maybe this is about Peart striking it rich as a rock star.
102. "Vapor Trail," Vapor Trails (2002)
Maybe it's my prejudice because this is the album's title track, but I feel like they put a little more work into this tune than most of what's on Vapor Trails. It builds from one segment to the other, then has that triumphalist edge without sounding like a "jock jam."
101. "Secret Touch," Vapor Trails (2002)
The tapping guitar intro sounds a lot like Van Halen circa OU812 but that quickly turns to Rush's interpretation of nu-Metal. Rush's final two albums (better than Vapor Trails, on the whole) go in this direction a lot, and you hear it on really firm ground here. This is a strong Rush song in any era.
100. "Summertime Blues," Feedback (2004)
If I'm not mistaken this was the tune off the Feedback EP that got the most radio airplay and I can totally see why. The guys are having a great time, and really covering The Who Liveat Leeds more than the Eddie Cochrane original. You just wanna sing along!
99. "The Twilight Zone," 2112 (1976)
A dreamy, drug-hazy mid-tempo tune that is less of an homage to the TV show than you might think. Groovy stuff.
98. "The Speed of Love," Counterparts (1993)
Counterparts delved into hard rock unlike any previous Rush album, but there is still a little bit of the air and space from the Power Windows era on this one. Lee's voice is in particular good form here. Lifeson's solo is clear and bright.
97. "Making Memories," Fly by Night (1975)
If it weren't for Geddy Lee's loping bass or his distinctive voice, this jangly acoustic guitar-led tune would almost sound like one of Dickey Betts' Allman Brothers Band numbers. Not a bad thing! Unusual Rush.
96. "Tears," 2112 (1976)
Chronologically speaking, this is the first Rush ballad to really work. Muted strings and flute in the background are a nice lesson from the Led Zeppelin model, but one is left hoping for this to build into something with some more teeth. While that doesn't happen, it's still a good track, and it's way better than "Rivendell."
95. "Bastille Day," Caress of Steel (1975)
This is a great example of a Rush song that Rush-haters can throw in our face to make fun of us. (After, you know, "The Trees.") It's got a slick opening and a good riff, but Geddy's very up-front caterwauling vocals about the French Revolution just doesn't really work for some reason. Good Lifeson, solo, though.
94. "The Analog Kid," Signals (1982)
Geddy Lee, titan of the bass guitar. Did kids air-bass before Geddy? I guess a little to John Entwhistle or Chris Squire or Steve Harris, but cuts like "The Analog Kid," which is just another typical bit of brilliance from in-the-zone early 80s Rush, is just begging for you to stand up and flap your fingers around to an invisible instrument. This song is great fun.
93. "Freeze," Vapor Trails (2002)
A bonafide scorcher with an odd time signature, awesome use of the ride symbol, in-your-face bass, and what I'll call the "triumph jangle" you hear in later Rush. This is part four of Peart's post-facto "Fear Trilogy" (which has four parts) but I'm not going to get into all that because it's confusing. I just really like the way this song builds.
92. "Leave That Thing Alone," Counterparts (1993)
This instrumental is sequenced right after the abysmal "Double Agent" on Counterparts. Maybe as a mind-wipe. Anyway, this is a fun and funky dance track with great bass fills. Is it me or is the guitar melody slightly reminiscent of the Doctor Who theme?
91. "Between Sun & Moon," Counterparts (1993)
Strong work for early '90s Rush. Opens with interesting tapping guitar (almost sounds like Dire Straits?) then builds to a rising vocal melody, before reverting back to a little bit of some old Robert Plant tricks.
90. "Circumstances," Hemispheres (1978)
I don't want to shock anyone here, but on a purely musical level this isn't too different from some of the regular hard rock of its day. Get rid of some of the drum fills and the emphasis on the bass and it practically sounds like Judas Priest. It is the only thing on the Hemispheres album that isn't perfect. But it is on Hemispheres and Hemispheres is apex Rush, so here we are.
89. "Manhattan Project," Power Windows (1985)
There's a lot going on here, and most of it is good. The first section of the tune is cheeseball city, the type of music you'd hear on 1985-era VH-1. Then you realize this is a historical song about the creation of the men who devised the atomic bomb. (The band's target demo of engineers and early computer scientists could use an ethics refresher, Neil Peart may have been thinking.) Then the song shifts in tempo and wouldn't you know you are rockin' out? There's a lot of 1985 Rush happening here.
88. "Madrigal," A Farewell To Kings (1977)
All the early Rush albums had a late-in-side-two ballad that have a mercurial "m'lady" quality to them. (None more so than "Rivendell" from Caress of Steel, which really should be analyzed in a lab.) This one is a little more complex so it's higher on our list.
87. "Peke's Repose," Clockwork Angels Tour (2013)
Some shimmery guitar weirdness with some evocative sonic touches that lead into the live "Halo Effect." Quite cool.
86. "Heart Full of Soul," Feedback (2004)
You see? You SEE? Geddy Lee can sing nice when he wants to! This is the best type of cover song. It's a selection everyone knows, but it isn't overplayed, and modern production makes it sound richer, not like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Can't say that about everything on Feedback. Great tune!
85. "Clockwork Angels," Clockwork Angels (2012)
If you want to apply Neil Peart's biography to the main character of Clockwork Angels, this is congruous to Peart writing the lyrics to "Fly By Night" at age 18 in Heathrow Airport. The young hero has left the farm and entered Chronos Square, and there is a sense of adventure in this song. It isn't quite a prog anthem (not even by Dream Theater standards) but it is a complex song that rewards on repeat listens.
84. "Carnies," Clockwork Angels (2012)
Geddy's wail gets a real workout on this one, charging up and down scales. The verse is more throbbing hard rock, not quite as heavy as this album's "BU2B" but close.
83. "Limbo," Test for Echo (1996)
A rockin', wordless song with a collection of decent riffs, Lee howling some ghostly "ahhhhhhh!"s and "wooooooooo!"s, plus Peart really working those ride cymbals. Listen closely and you'll hear samples from "The Monster Mash." Your guess is as good as mine on that one.
82. "Heresy," Roll the Bones (1991)
A song dedicated to the people of the newly liberated Eastern bloc countries. Peart's zeal for individualism really comes through, especially in the bright, rising, and triumphant conclusion of this power ballad.
81. "Dreamline," Roll the Bones (1991)
A snappy, roll-the-windows down rocker, kinda like "Time Stand Still" on speed. The first line is "He's got a road map of Jupiter," so how bad could this be?
80. "Anagram (For Mongo)," Presto (1989)
One of the better sunny, upbeat late-80s Rush tunes. But on top of that is the explosion of clever Peart wordplay. "Take heart from earth and weather," "Miracles will have their claimers," "The cosmic is largely comic," etc. Even the song's weird title is an obscure soundalike gag from Blazing Saddles ("Candygram for Mongo!"). Kneel before Neil (whose wit is not mixed-up and lean.)
79. "Lessons," 2112 (1976)
One of the last Rush tunes to so clearly wear its Led Zeppelin love on its sleeve, this is an upbeat, hummable track that includes some fills that just beg for your air-bass accompaniment.
78. "Take a Friend," Rush (1974)
The first Rush album is all about a band trying to find its voice. A few tweaks and "Take a Friend" would fit in with "Stranglehold"-era Ted Nugent. (Nugent may be a pig, but he put out some good records way back when, let's not deny that.) This has got a good groove, and the pre-Peart lyrics are about bi-curiosity? Hard to say for sure.
77. "Mission," Hold Your Fire (1987)
There's part of me that wants to say that this is a bad song. It's annoying and corny. But holy smokes is it catchy. I'll sing along at full voice, but only if no one is looking. If a newcomer hears this and doesn't hate it, then they truly have Rush in their blood. It's got the post-prog era triumphalism boiled down to its gleaming, golden essence. I can't believe I'm placing this so high on the list. (Oh, who am I kidding? I love this cheeseball tune.)
76. "Seven and Seven Is," Feedback (2004)
Arthur Lee and Love are a sadly neglected band by most. This cover plays it pretty straight, it's just the production and Lee's bass that gives it a little more oomph. A great example of what a covers album should do with lost gems. Listen to this song and then go listen to Love and be the hippest guy on your block!
75. "Witch Hunt," Moving Pictures (1981)
Moving Pictures is certainly Rush's best album, but this is the closest thing to a clunker. It's just a little unfocused and noisy, compared to the perfection that surrounds it. It does have cool horror movie sound effects, though.
74. "Chemistry," Signals (1982)
A perfect marriage of Lifeson's guitar and Lee's early '80s synth. Some might even say they have nice chemistry. What's fun is that this was released just a few months after Asia's first album, with their mega hit "Heat of the Moment." Steve Howe's guitar and Geoff Downes keyboards made a zillion dollars, but anyone doing a side-by-side would agree that this track pwns Asia hard.
73. "Losing It," Signals (1982)
This Signals' ballad is a little darker than the ones on other albums. (No "Rivendell" sweetness here!) But the strings and fuzzy guitar build to some outstanding shredding; the very precise groove toward the end is almost A Farewell To Kings-like. A very unpredictable track.
72. "Lakeside Park," Caress of Steel (1975)
The only good "short" song on Caress of Steel, this probably could have been a hit if anyone other than Geddy Lee was singing (screeching) it. It's a nice, mellow, summertime tune about a park on Victoria Day with a good guitar solo. But Rush had no time for hits! They were true to themselves and that's why they are the best.
71. "Working Man," Rush (1974)
A huge radio hit in Rust Belt (Rush Belt?) America, "Working Man" is a strong rocker that would have fit in nicely somewhere on side three of Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti. Alex Lifeson's solo is very Page-inspired, but there are worse ways to go. This is a great song to play when you are drinking beer from a can, not a bottle. Funnily enough, if you listen to the lyrics you'll discover that the aggrieved, narrating working man doesn't have it that bad. He gets up at seven, gets to work at nine. What's he doing for two hours? Then he's home by five. Is this a Canadian thing?
70. "Red Lenses," Grace Under Pressure (1984)
Grace Under Pressure is a flawless album, but if something has to be listed last it is this. Parts of it have a nice, in-the-pocket groove (and awesome bass-line) but then it shifts into a goofy, circus-like cacophony. I am pretty certain this song has something to do with the Cold War, but I haven't gotten around to analyzing it. "I see RED!"
69. "The Enemy Within," Grace Under Pressure (1984)
A super peppy tune, and probably the precise moment where Rush was most influenced by The Police. The last section is practically ska. But, like, with synthesizers going neaarrrwwoooo and that awesome interplanetary guitar.
68. "One Little Victory," Vapor Trails (2002)
The gap between Test for Echo and Vapor Trails was the longest in Rush history. Some thought the band was done, and understandably so, considering the tragedy that hit Neil Peart. But "One Little Victory" was a strong jump back in the ring, with a real rumbling drum pattern and a catchy-hook chorus. A substantial rocker in the late-Rush canon.
67. "BU2B," Clockwork Angels (2012)
If the songs in Clockwork Angels represent different stages in life, this is the angry, sullen teen period. The riff is Rage Against the Machine-level heavy and Geddy's vocals howl with dissonance. This is a strong hard rock groove, one of those songs you play in the car while flying down the highway.
66. "The Pass," Presto (1989)
This is like a re-do of "Mission" from Hold Your Fire. It's slow and the hook is very open, very vulnerable. There's even some pan flute (or a synthesizer set to "pan flute.") But it builds to a big and triumphant climax, and the lyrics, which examine the irrationality of suicide, are some of the heaviest in Peart's notebook.
65. "Force Ten," Hold Your Fire (1987)
This opening track is one of the better songs on Hold Your Fire, good harmonies, good beat, and even though the keyboards evoke 90215-era Yes there's still enough going on to keep your toe tappin'.
64. "Territories," Power Windows (1985)
Rush at their most spare, focusing on unique rhythms and simple guitar lines – until those synthesizers zap in and the shredding starts. Potent stuff.
63. "Vital Signs," Moving Pictures (1981)
Lifeson's scratchy guitar versus Lee's oscillating synthesizer sounds, balanced with Peart experimenting with electronic drum sounds. For most bands that would be enough, but then it becomes a trippy reggae song. This closer off Moving Pictures is world's apart from its opener, "Tom Sawyer," but there's only one band that ever lived or ever will live that could pull something like this off. That band is Rush!
62. "What You're Doing," Rush (1974)
Some argue that the first Rush album is merely a Led Zeppelin knock-off. There are worse accusations. This riff-that-doesn't-die track does nothing to dispel the theory, but, let's face it, it also kicks so much ass.
61. "Best I Can," Fly by Night (1975)
A bonafide rocker with Geddy in great screechy form, pounding drums, and a great doo-doo-doo-doooooo riff. "I'm itch-ing to rock!" Sure, go for it.
60. "Resist," Test for Echo (1996)
A solid soft-rock ballad. It feels like Rush is meeting the alt-rockers of the 1990s halfway. (The piano isn't too far removed from R.E.M.'s "Perfect Circle.") One of the better Test for Echo tunes (and it flowers into something absolutely gorgeous on the Rush in Rio live album.)
59. "Something for Nothing," 2112 (1976)
It's weird because side one of 2112 is so innovative and expansive, but side two is quite straightforward. "Something for Nothing" is the only thing on there that is more than just a quick rocker or simple ballad. It's not top tier Rush, but it's got the quiet-to-loud build, the loping bass, the thunderous riff, rollicking drums, and Geddy screaming like a trapped animal. The second best song on one of the all-time essential albums.
58. "Kid Gloves," Grace Under Pressure (1984)
Another outstanding track from Grace Under Pressure. Rush is really in the zone in 1984 and this track, set at a furious pace, eases off the synths a bit to let Lifeson breathe fire all over an outstanding guitar solo. (There's even a fill that's either a hat tip homage or a "caught ya" to Eddie Van Halen.)
57. "Prime Mover," Hold Your Fire (1987)
Much better than the average late 80s New Wave track, thanks to a triumphant vocal line (and lyrics: "Anything can happen!"). If you played this for someone who barely knows Rush they might never guess this was them, and in the context of Hold Your Fire that might be a good thing.
56. "Different Strings," Permanent Waves (1980)
Outstanding slow-tempo track (in its usual side two, second-to-last position) with really cool Geddy Lee bass harmonics. The shortest track on Permanent Waves but just beautiful, with a bluesy Lifeson outro that leaves you wishing for more.
55. "Fly by Night," Fly by Night (1975)
Catchy tune! Lyrics written by an 18-year-old Neil Peart, future poet-percussionist, while at an airport wondering where his life will take him. A classic.
54. "The Anarchist," Clockwork Angels (2012)
If you layered on a little 80s synthesizer this would fit right in on Signals or Power Windows, which, obviously, is high praise. Amazing groove, strong melody and a little Middle Eastern-style strings in the background, too. People who gave up on Rush before Clockwork Angels really owe it to themselves to listen to this album.
53. "Middletown Dreams," Power Windows (1985)
Power Windows has many remarkable examples of Rush playing with the richness of their sound. This is a great example of things starting out spare, with a snap to the rhythm and thin sheets of synthesizer sounds until the tidal wave of pure neo-prog comes crashing down.
52. "Stick It Out," Counterparts (1993)
Rush are a lot of things, but they are rarely crude. This track is as close as they come to sleazoid cock rock, but the killer riff, dissonant chords and Peart wailing away on that ride cymbal demand your attention.
51. "Everyday Glory," Counterparts (1993)
A classic example of Rush Triumphalism. Big and bright with a sturdy rhythm. This was the last track on Counterparts, their best album of the 1990s and what would have been Rush's best late period album if Clockwork Angels didn't come nineteen years later.
50. "The Color of Right," Test for Echo (1996)
A Test for Echo stand-out, with a big anthemic chorus. There's a parallel universe out there where this was a hit.
49. "Show Don't Tell," Presto (1989)
An outstanding, bouncy riff that won't die, furious drums, and a super catchy hook. This is a strong tune in any era, but really sticks out during the late 80s doldrums. Oh, if only all of Presto could sound like this!
48. "The Big Money," Power Windows (1985)
Oh my GOD, that bass. We're fully in the 1980s and even though Rush is one of the top synthesizer bands they refuse to cease rocking. This opening track to Power Windows has everything you need for Rush greatness: the solo, the drumming, a cool turn of lyrical phrase, and even some weirdo sound effects. (Is that a bobcat?) Superb way to lead off an album.
47. "The Fountains of Lamneth," Caress of Steel (1975)
This is an odd duck on the Rush resume. If you first bought Caress of Steel on cassette, as I did as a young lad, this epic prog composition was actually just cut up into multiple tracks and sprinkled throughout the album. But despite the full fades-to-black, it is one tune. Parts of it absolutely rule, other parts never quite take off. As such, it's hard to place on a list like this … but you don't need to hear about my woes. The first section is classic morse code-style Rush riffing and the "Didacts and Narpets" section is some glorious dark drug, art-rock weirdness. The "Panacea" section has practically been disowned by Alex Lifeson. A mixed bag, but an epic Rush mixed bag and therefore is worthy of close study. Importantly, Rush had to stumble a little on "The Fountains of Lamneth" to make "2112" happen.
46. "Digital Man," Signals (1982)
"Digital Man" is a sneak peek at some of the Police-like quasi-reggae that's to come on Power Windows. This has a great loping bass-line and Neil Peart is back there showing Stewart Copeland who is boss. Lifeson's guitar is spinning sheets of sound. It's so good, and it's not even the best song on Signals, that's how amazing Rush was in the early '80s.
45. "Malignant Narcissism," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
The most pure example of kickassery on Snakes & Arrows is this two-minute instrumental. But you'll need plenty of room to air-bass with Geddy on this one.
44. "The Wreckers, " Clockwork Angels (2012)
An outlier on Clockwork Angels, this is a mellower, brighter tune with an immediately catchy melody. The first seventeen seconds practically sound like R.E.M. "All I know is that sometimes the truth is contrary" is a repeated phrase. This is an unusual song and a great one.
43. "Entre Nous," Permanent Waves (1980)
Only Neil Peart circa 1980 writes a love song with lyrics like, "We are planets to each other/Drifting in our orbits." Really nice melody, very aggressive drumming and lots of "zoooooooooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuuupppppp!" synthesizers, which is a good thing.
42. "Jacob's Ladder," Permanent Waves (1980)
One of Rush's final prog epics. One-upping "The Trees," this time it's the Clouds prepping for battle. Lifeson is in pure axe-man mode, shredding it to pieces during the first instrumental break. Then come the synthesizers and the time signature changes and the dizzying descent into pure mathematical Rush mayhem. Amazing.
41. "The Body Electric," Grace Under Pressure (1984)
You gotta understand what it was like to live in 1984 as a sci fi-loving nerd. It was 1984! 1984! You get it? The Future! Computers were here! And a band like Rush was making tunes with all kinds of digital glyphs and sparkles and lyrics in boolean! "One zero zero/One zero zero/One/S.O.S!" This band is incredible.
40. "Open Secrets," Hold Your Fire (1987)
Even though it has the synthed-out jangle that kinda grates on me after a while, this is a Hold Your Fire highlight. The opening riff has some menacing clang to it. Lyrically, the theme is how everyone carries psychological damage, and maybe we should all cut one another a break. Good message, even if "We all have these feelings/We can't leave unreconciled/Some of them burned on our ceilings" is a clunky way to go about it.
39. "The Garden," Clockwork Angels (2012)
This is it. The last ever Rush song. There will be no others. And it is so unusual in their repertoire. An emotional, bittersweet ballad about an old man facing retirement, looking back on his accomplishments. It's got a little bit of a Broadway quality, I'm not gonna' lie, but look at all that Rush has given us. Let them take a moment and have their curtain call. And that amazing, expressive guitar solo. Excuse me, there must be something in my eye…
38. "Beneath, Between and Behind," Fly by Night (1975)
The third straight track off Fly by Night's marvelous side one that blasts out pure, unadulterated Rush rock. A loud, clangy tune with cymbal crashes all over the place, a bass line that would make Steve Harris weep and riffs a-plenty (one of which sounds an awful lot like the Minutemen tune "Corona," which is better known as the theme from Jackass.) This is a band bursting at the seams. Lyrically, it is a thinly veiled screed about American Exceptionalism mired in the Military Industrial Complex, which is perhaps a little weird coming from a Canadian band, but whatever.
37. "Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres," Hemispheres (1978)
Ostensibly picking up where "Book I" left off at the end of A Farewell to Kings, this prog behemoth kicks ass, but doesn't quite have the oomph of some of the other enormous Rush longplays. The 18-minute track jumps between Greek mythology and sci-fi, an admixture that ought to send any self-respecting teen geek into an apoplexy of delight. There are some weird, early synthesizer effects and great riffs, but the truth is there are some passages that feel maybe stretched out just to cover a whole album side.
36. "The Weapon," Signals (1982)
The most complex composition on Signals, its chorus comes as a bit of a left-turn, with a driving rhythm, a mix of computer bleep synthesizers and clear laser blasts. That's what it sounds like in my head. The song exudes a Rubik's Cube energy to me, but I may just be having an 80s flashback. All I know is it could spawn a Ready Player Two out of thin air if you gave it time.
35. "Before and After," Rush (1974)
The instrumental introduction to this song is the best indicator on Rush (1974) of where the band was headed when they dropped John Rutsey, picked up Neil Peart and eventually set the Rocinante into the heart of Cyngus-X1. The rest is a solid, Led Zep-inspired blues scorcher.
34. "Mystic Rhythms," Power Windows (1985)
The most Talking Heads-inspired track in the Rush repertoire, this echoey synth-heavy tune is a head-fake to the band's future. Their next album, Hold Your Fire, continued with the synths, but not with this level of complexity. They'd never record a song quite like this again.
33. "Finding My Way," Rush (1974)
Side 1, Track 1, first album. A straight-up banger, as the kids say. Solid fun way to introduce the band, with Geddy singing those high notes, an easy-enough-to-imitate guitar riff, thumping bass line, and a rhythm just waiting to get air-drummed.
32. "Far Cry," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
Rush never had a problem with opening tracks; Snakes & Arrows is no exception. Their penultimate album starts off with a headbangin' rocker with a killer bass line and nice flange-y guitar. "One day I feel/I'm ahead of the wheel/And the next it's rolling over me" is a great lyric, too.
31. "Subdivisions," Signals (1982)
How do you follow-up a perfect album like Moving Pictures? Well, with a live album. But after that? You try to replicate it and … come close. "Subdivisions" is the first track on Signals and was a solid radio hit. It isn't "Tom Sawyer" but that's lightning in a bottle. The themes are classic Rush: in praise of individuality, scorning conformity. Definitely the type of thing to appeal to a kid at computer camp. Much of this song is a fairly typical synth-led New Wave hit, until those crazy bass fills come in. Lifeson's solo is brief, but crystalline and perfect.
30. "Natural Science," Permanent Waves (1980)
One of Rush's last epics, bridging the gap between prog and New Wave. Lots of weirdo effects (what do you call a "pre-echo"?) shifting time signatures and that some of that essential, etched-in-marble riffing that makes this band so perfect. The sub-divided (subdivisions?) sections are called "Tide Pools," "Hyperspace" and "Permanent Wave" so there's some kind've weird math thing going on here. "Wheels within wheels/In a spiral array/A pattern so grand/And complex/Time after time/We lose sight of the way/Our causes can't see/Their effects." Lee sings these lines before the song shifts into a triumphant march.
29. "Distant Early Warning," Grace Under Pressure (1984)
Red alert! We have a perfect '80s-era album opener. An urgent beat, catchy hook, space-age synths, and a Lifeson solo wet with effects. I don't really know what this song is about but I love bobbing my head to it.
28. "The Camera Eye," Moving Pictures (1981)
Whenever I put on Moving Pictures I forget there's an 11-minute track on there. It isn't one of their weird prog epics with multiple sections, it's just an outstanding groove where they give themselves some s p a c e. Their sonic texture, if I may use such an obnoxious expression, was (and remains) so unique at this period. The desire to rock your face off still exists, but synthesizer-led New Wave pop is right around the corner. An ideal headphones song.
27. "We Hold On," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
Snakes & Arrows closes well with this upbeat rocker. Lifeson adds a Middle Eastern element to one of the many guitar lines and Peart is grooving a slick beat while also going nuts on all the tom-toms. I urge the Rush fans who left the band after their prog/classic rock era to check this out, it is so freaking good.
26. "Closer to the Heart," A Farewell to Kings (1977)
Here, on their fifth album, Rush finally did it. They recorded a song everyone could enjoy. A simple, not-very-heavy tune and, importantly, hella short at two-minutes-and-fifty-three seconds. This is gateway drug Rush, maybe even more so than "Tom Sawyer."
25. "Afterimage," Grace Under Pressure (1984)
There's a driving, dark quality to some of the melodies on Grace Under Pressure. The poppy-synth-New Wave-reggae beats are a little deceiving in this regard. This tune, on paper, could easily be a tossed-aside 80s tune in the hands of a lesser band, but Rush takes these elements and turns them into absolute gold.
24. "The Necromancer," Caress of Steel (1975)
One of Rush's early epics (twelve-and-a-half minutes) and drenched in Led Zeppelin's Song Remains The Same-era "Dazed and Confused" with even a little early Black Sabbath. The lyrics make sly winks to the more magick elements of Tolkien, though "three travelers from Willow Dale" is a little less foreboding when you know it is a Toronto suburb. The spoken word is put through an eerie horror movie filter then come those booming, low riffs. Everything switches gear for the sunny conclusion. Extra points for continuity and an appearance by Prince By-Tor!
23. "Anthem," Fly by Night (1975)
Yes! Rush has (chronologically) arrived. The jump in quality from the end of Rush (1974) to the beginning of Fly by Night is recognizable in milliseconds. With Neil Peart replacing John Rutsey, this is now the Power Trio of the ages, a pounding, brute riff with rich texture and complex rhythms. I think this song is some kind of ode to Libertarianism (it is named for an Ayn Rand book) but I've never stopped banging my head long enough to try and make sense of it.
22. "Headlong Flight," Clockwork Angels (2012)
An amazing, speed-of-sound experiment in dissonance and caterwauling balanced with thick metal riffs that is far-and-away the best thing on Rush's final album. (It also self-quotes "Bastille Day" a bit.) It's a spectacular Rush song, and what's amazing is that it isn't because it harkens to their glory days. At seven minutes and 20 seconds, it is entirely of a piece with their later work, despite the "Bastille Day" wink. Rush was still evolving, even at the end, and making great music.
21. "Marathon," Power Windows (1985)
Coming right after the track about atomic fear ("Manhattan Project"), here comes one about physical fitness. Nineteen Eighty-Five! The bass riff is bordering on funk (I wonder if Flea was inspired by this?) and the build-up to the triumphant finish is splendid. "In the long run" is a great turn of phrase, too. The highlight of Power Windows.
20. "Xanadu," A Farewell To Kings (1977)
Eleven minutes of Rush grandeur, starting with resonant bells and chirping birds, weird synthesizer-enhanced guitar chords and sophisticated drumming. You can practically see the stage smoke and lasers when you listen to this one. Then, for the kids who paid attention in class, a deep dive into Samuel Taylor Coleridge. I love Rush so much.
19. "Animate," Counterparts (1993)
In 1993 Rush ditched the last remnants of synth-heavy New Wave and fully embraced Hard Modern Rock. Counterparts was their heaviest album up until that point and kicks off with this outstanding track. The low, thrumming bass and Peart going to town on that ride cymbal make for a nice pairing. This isn't just a great Rush song, it's a great rock song.
18. "Between the Wheels," Grace Under Pressure (1984)
Grace Under Pressure closes out with another Police-inspired groove (the riff is basically "Spirits in the Material World" before a counter-melody kicks in), but with a much darker edge than that British band could muster. Quite frankly you listen to Alex Lifeson shred and you wonder why The Police never hired a guitar player. Everything snaps together perfectly here.
17. "The Trees," Hemispheres (1978)
A friend of mine who ribs me about Rush loves this song. Well, he loves to get it wrong. "How the sequoiaaaaaas marched in triumph!!!!!!" he shrieks in his mock Geddy Lee. Sigh. He'll never get it. The lyrics (which, no, are not Fascist, they merely explain how true Communism will always be in conflict with man's Will to Power) are humiliating; they are like being caught reading comics on the bus. In sweat pants. But "The Trees" still rips. Rush fans love it, and if you can't handle "The Trees" then get off our message board.
16. "Bravado," Roll the Bones (1991)
There are a great many Rush power ballads and many of them have a similar sonic texture. Technically, "Bravado" isn't that different from a lot of songs on albums like Hold Your Fire or Counterparts. And yet, for some reason, this one just kills me. Kills me! It's a song about going out swinging, and Peart's lyrics are touching and clear. "If love remains/Though everything is lost/We will pay the price/But we will not count the cost." That's heavy shit! Now, it's possible that I am over-ranking this tune because of when Roll The Bones came out in my life (e.g., when I really needed it, man) but this song, which others might consider totally forgettable, is really special to me. So I'm placing it in the top 20, even above "The Trees," and if you don't like it you can do your own epic Rush ranking. (Just clear your schedule, because this takes forever.)
15. "New World Man," Signals (1982)
This is the most insidious earworm on Signals, and it turns out that it was a last-minute addition to make sure the two sides of the cassette would be even. The cassette! But it's got outstanding bass fills and lines like "he's noble enough to know what's right/but weak enough not to choose it/he's wise enough to win the world/but fool enough to lose it" are pure Peart poetry.
14. "Red Sector A," Grace Under Pressure (1984)
Perhaps the most serious song in the Rush catalogue, "Red Sector A" is loosely inspired by Geddy Lee's parents' experiences at Auschwitz. Nazi atrocities are not typical fodder for synthesizer-enhanced rock songs, but Rush, as is surely evident by now, is no ordinary band. They meant it as a tribute and it works. It's a staggeringly good song.
13. "In the End," Fly by Night (1975)
The second-best song on the second (but first real) Rush album stretches close to seven minutes and is extremely ambitious. It starts quiet, gets loud, keeps a pocket groove with great flange guitar, and has more "wooooOOOOOhhhh!"s and "ooooOOOOOOohhh"s! per capita than most Rush songs. I have no clue what it's doing lyrically, but I always interpreted it as being about maintaining dignity while getting mocked, something a lot of Rush fans need to do.
12. "Countdown," Signals (1982)
Rush was a bit in the spotlight in 1982 after the success of Moving Pictures, and they closed out their follow-up in the most #onbrand way possible: with a love song dedicated to Space Shuttle Columbia. (The band was allowed in the VIP section during the launch.) Actual NASA chatter is sampled into the mix and the early 80s synth means something here, man. In 1982 we were finally in the future, "technology -- high, on the leading edge of life!" This is wonderment and triumph for everyone who likes doing math homework. Seriously, I love Rush so much.
11. "The Spirit of Radio," Permanent Waves (1980)
Rush firing on all cylinders. Great flangy hook, killer riff, a drum beat that demands you wave your arms around like an idiot on while you listen on headphones right there on the bus. Like Boston's "More Than a Feeling," this is a side one, track one song about how great great songs can be! Great! No surprise this was and still is a radio hit.
13. "The Story So Far," R40 (2015)
Who invited this dull drum solo to the middle of this awesome live version of "Cygnus X-1 Book 1"? And what the heck were they thinking?
12. "The Rhythm Method," A Show of Hands (1989)
A strong, jazzy drum solo that gets a little "Mickey Hart-Planet Drum" about halfway through and then goes full bore effects pedals, sounding like an EPCOT stage show. There's a better version of this farther down the list.
11. "Here It Is!," Clockwork Angels Tour (2015)
A live drum solo tucked into "Where's My Thing?" It's fine.
10. "De Slagwerker," Snakes & Arrows Live (2008)
Attached to the rowdy "Malignant Narcissism," this live Peart drum/percussion break gets eerie and slow and has no shortage of glockenspiel. Then it dives into swinging big band. This might be an example of something that is great live (especially at an outdoor venue in summer!) but doesn't quite stand up for repeat listenings at home.
9. "The Rhythm Method," Different Stages (1998)
A live 8+ minute percussion solo extravaganza that takes its time and goes heavy into digital effects. Lots of ecstatic fans in the mix on this one.
8. "Drum Solo," Live at Hammersmith Odeon – February 20, 1978 (1978)
This popped up recently on Spotify under the A Farewell to Kings: 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition and I am only including it to prove how badass this giant list is. It's pretty much the same solo as the one on All The World's A Stage but since that one is more iconic it's going to pop up again later.
7. "Der Trommler," R30 (2005)
The titles of Neil Peart's live drum solos kept changing (depending on the country they are recorded in) but they also got better as time marched on, with snazzier digital pedals and other far-out sound effects coming to the foreground.
6. "Drumbastica," Clockwork Angels Tour (2013)
How to amp up on the mayhem of a live version of "Headlong Flight"? A four-minute, rapid-fire Neil Peart drum solo. This is a short one, but a good one.
5. "Drumbastica," R40 (2015)
Same as above but a tiny bit better.
4. "Moto Perpetuo," Time Machine 2011: Live in Cleveland (2011)
An 8 minute percussion break that maintains its oomph even during the Grateful Dead drums/space bit, then the jazzy bit with pre-recorded big band. I'll be honest, these Peart drum solos eventually sound the same, but this one is peppy.
3. "The Percussor (I) Binary Love Theme (II) Steambanger's Ball (drum solo)," Clockwork Angels Tour (2013)
This is the most Mickey Hart/Grateful Dead "Space/Drums"-inspired of all the live Peart percussion experiments. It is sufficiently far out. And then it goes into "Red Sector A" and kicks all kinds of ass.
2. "Drum Solo within YYZ," Exit… Stage Left (1981)
I'm kinda breaking my own rules here about not listing live versions of songs, because Rush has so many live albums that we'd be here all day. But the drum solo on the 1981 version of "YYZ" should have gotten its own track listing. It stretches out Rush's mightiest instrumental into nearly 8 minutes of fire and fury.
1. "O Baterista," Rush In Rio (2003)
Close to 9 minutes of live drum solo-ing and weirdo digital effects. If you are gonna' do it, go all the way. I think the Brazilian fans going nuts gives this one a slight edge.
10. "By-Tor and the Snow Dog," Fly By Night (1975)
Rush's first "weird" song, this is an eight-and-a-half-minute epic with high fantasy lyrics ("the sign of Eth is rising through the air") and a braggart's pride in its difficulty (Section III, Part b is entitled "7/4 War Furor.") Behind the scenes, the band was inspired to write the tune by a roadie's puppy, but for a hungry audience of nerds who demanded fierce, precise rock this is a shot of pure Ketracel-white to the amygdala. The complex drumming patterns (good luck memorizing them with your pencils), oddball guitar effects and Geddy's high notes took Fly by Night from being a great album to being an essential album, and was the first indicator that Rush was going to be the most important bards of nerddom ever to ride forth in glory upon this rock called Sol 3!
9. "A Farewell to Kings," A Farewell to Kings (1977)
Though just shy of six minutes, the opener to Rush's first post-2112 album has the feel of one of their vast epics. Its complex prog structure contains multiple sections, one of which can easily be called a bass and guitar solo happening simultaneously. When Rush is really cooking you don't know whether to air-bass, air-drum or air-guitar, and this is a good example of that.
8. "La Villa Strangiato," Hemispheres (1978)
A nine-and-a-half minute orgy of guitar virtuoso-ship, jumping from Spanish tropes to jazz fusion to Raymond Scott's "Powerhouse." (Perhaps better known as "Looney Tunes" music.) There are twelve different sections ("A Lerxst in Wonderland" being the weirdest name if you don't know that Alex Lifeson's nickname is Lerxst) and the composition is allegedly based on a series of Lifeson's troubling nightmares. I guess when you are a genius you dream in odd time signatures! This is Rush's first substantial instrumental composition and a sip from a deep, dark well of prog plasma. Glorious.
7. "Limelight," Moving Pictures (1981)
A big hit during concerts, which is ironic considering it's about Neil Peart's complex relationship with live performance. But that incredible beat lends itself to jabbing your fist in the air. This is Rush's Springsteen song in terms of energy, but with a gorgeous and playfully dissonant electric guitar solo. All this and it gave us the greatest "we're recording this song! and check out the cute doggy!" music video of all time.
6. "Freewill," Permanent Waves (1980)
Quintessential Rush. The doo-doo-doo-doo-doo-doo riff, the high synth, the outrageous drum beat, the solo, Geddy Lee's high notes, and Neil Peart's individualistic lyrics that are HELLA DEEP when you are fifteen. "If you choose not to decide/You still have made a choice." I don't think a week goes by when I don't think about that rockin' truth bomb.
5. "YYZ," Moving Pictures (1981)
The beat is morse code, the airport call for Rush's home base of Toronto. But it's also a signal. Bang your pen against your binder and the other Rush nerds in the cafeteria will prick up their ears and wink back. This is Rush's best instrumental and an important litmus test for kids who borrowed the Moving Pictures tape because they liked "Tom Sawyer." If you can handle these insane rhythms, blistering solos, and harmonics-enhanced bass fills (almost unheard of elsewhere in classic rockdom) then you were a Rush fan. Welcome to the club. We look after our own and will copy you diskettes of The Bard's Tale II: The Destiny Knight.
4. "Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage," A Farewell To Kings (1977)
By this point of Rush's career they had written songs of high fantasy, post-human dystopia, and magick-enriched supernatural lore, but they had yet to embrace sci-fi. Well, this is sci-fi. Hard sci-fi. Diamond hard sci-fi. With "Cygnus X-1 Book 1: The Voyage" the mighty Canadian troika finally went to space. The ship Rocinante (a classic lit reference you can Google if you like) challenges a black hole and the sonic texture of this song gets really tripped-out and scary. A descending series of scales breaks through with a powerful boom, and with a release and fury that Rush's early heroes Led Zeppelin would often achieve, but here it is on Rush's own terms, with their own unique sound. This track is a triumph.
3. "Tom Sawyer, " Moving Pictures (1981)
And here it is. Rush's most famous song and deservedly so. It's the true, righteous blend of pure rock and early synths. It came at the perfect time: computers and vector video games were here and blowing our minds. (I have no doubt that some of its commercial success has to do with the phrase "and the space he invades" triggering thoughts of Space Invaders -- especially with those zooming, futuristic synths!) It's a pop song but it has serious bite, catchy enough for everyone, but still has a rocker's edge. That opening – a Wall of Sound with Lasers – is truly one of the best things Western Civilization has ever accomplished, and every time it comes up on the radio the instinct is to crank the volume. Catch the mystery, catch the drift!
2. "2112," 2112 (1976)
If Rush came out of nowhere and released this one composition and nothing else, they'd still be one of my favorites. From the opening synthesizer gurgles to the final klaxon warnings from the Solar Federation, "2112" is a masterpiece of prog – perhaps the masterpiece of prog. With an Overture winking to Pyotr Tchaikovsky, a cohesive story that appeals to anti-authoritarian youth, sections devised to both sing along to and pantomine to on air drums, "2112" was everything to me as a kid. And adult. And still will be after my corpse is interred beneath the Temple of Syrinx. When "Tom Sawyer" was a huge hit, newcomers were at a crossroads. Fans would say "try this" and it would be "2112," and it would either attract or repel. These twenty-minutes-and-thirty-four seconds are pure sonic bliss, a space opera with pounding drums and flashing neon riffs. And Geddy's vocals on the quiet parts of "The Discovery" are some of the most striking-yet-accessible in the repertoire. I welcome domination of the Solar Federation if this is the glory that they bring! I'm also happy to kinda ignore the acknowledgement to "the genius of Ayn Rand" in the album's credits if you are.
1. "Red Barchetta," Moving Pictures (1981)
I have never owned a car and barely know how to drive and yet my favorite Rush song (and therefore perhaps my favorite song of all time?) is about the thrill of automotive freedom. "Red Barchetta" is all-in on earnest Peart lyrics: individualism and technology will aid one's escape from "The Eyes." With a provocative drum beat, loping bass, clashing guitars and white hot soloing this is six minutes and six seconds of absolute perfection. When I listen to this song I am immediately transported to eight grade and, if "The Eyes" aren't watching, I'll sing along at full voice and start shaking my arms in all directions. So can one play the air-guitar, air-bass, air-drums (and air-synthesizer) at once? Yes, one can play the air-Rush!! Rush, the greatest band of all time!