Why Rush? Because they’ve been together for 40 years (since Neil Peart joined), shortchanged by critics for most of that time, endured and succeeded where countless other bands have not, maintained integrity throughout, and their work deserves celebratory discussion – much more than we’ve included here. We were going to list 40 songs in honor of their anniversary, but too much good stuff was being left out. It’s only 2.05 songs per studio album (not counting Feedback, which we’ll get to later) and about a quarter of their output. Which of course omits much else, but perhaps we’ll chat about this trio again someday.
1. Red Barchetta
Moving Pictures (1981)
CM: Representing Rush at their very best, “Barchetta” rides the line between expanded song and condensed epic, every nuance stamped with maturity. It’s got vivid music, a good story, and the band totally atop their game. Other entries share the same qualities, but I can’t rate anything better.
TG: The most exciting Rush song to me. The first time you hear it, you don’t know where it’s going next, and even after that first time, knowing all the twists and turns, it still offers surprises. And it’s a rock song about a car – those are almost always good.
TG: Long-form that has it all – bird sounds, a dream-like intro, the search for something beyond earthly toil and strain that lifts the spirit mentally and musically, the eventual realization that perhaps paradise isn’t what you thought it would be, and the escape back to reality. Doesn’t suffer from lapses of their side-long epics as it holds your attention its entire length
CM: They’d done fantasy and extended works before, but this upgrades the components, draws from a larger palette, and structures everything perfectly under one roof, no subtitles required. To isolate highlights would involve naming every part, though I must praise how well the prelude sets up the first verse, along with the overall balance of escapist textures and heavy rock. “Xanadu” was a shoo-in for our top three right off the bat, and please don’t miss the Exit Stage Left version.
CM: Forever an exciting landmark that bursts with ideas. Rush at the time of Permanent Waves had reached a high technical level while still absorbing useful influences, some of which underline the ‘catholic radio’ notion of this song. New wave, old wave, sine wave, and beyond...each might be permanent for the listeners they touch.
TG: The opening guitar riff puts me into overdrive. The song is about connecting with music (via one of Neil’s favorite radio stations) – “the magic music makes your morning mood” – as well as creating it (“glittering prizes and endless compromises shatter the illusion of integrity”) and criticizing the business (“the words of the profits were written on the studio wall, concert hall – echoes with the sounds of salesmen”). It’s an uplifting beginning but there’s cynicism aplenty after the first verse.
TG: One of the best rock instrumentals ever, let alone from Rush. Exquisite timing and empathy from our three players.
CM: The longevity of “YYZ” was sealed by riveting themes, exchanges, and solo signatures so well-ordered that one cannot imagine it being any different than it is. Meant to represent departures, arrivals, and varying locations of air travel, it’s a nonstop thrill, and heavens to Broon, that half-steppin’ bridge boogies hard. Every Rush instrumental has merit, but this one tops the crop.
CM: Previously decorative, Geddy’s keyboards assumed a foundational role on Signals, broadening the writing possibilities just as they encroached upon guitar territory, but we shan’t delve into the latter topic. One result was this evocative classic where yearning chords frame the lyric very well, as does the secondary synth melody following the chorus. Alex’s guitar reinforces key points, and Neil justly refers to this piece as a drumming feast. Unquestionably outstanding in every regard.
TG: “Geometric order, an insulated border, in between the bright lights and the far unlit unknown…Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone.” I can imagine these words coming to Neil as he’s flying over the Midwest (of America or Canada, eh) at night observing the patterns of lights below. Of course, the larger point is about subdivisions amongst groups of people – cool vs uncool, young vs old, us vs the other. The music lends itself to a sense of isolation with its coldness.
CM: Overplayed, sure, but why penalize rightful popularity? Certain points still knock me out (“the world is, the world is…”) and the whole is remarkably durable.
TG: The drum parts every amateur thinks they know by heart, the soaring synth, the guitar riff descended from Olympus – all held together by Geddy’s giddy bass. This is Rush simplified yet still strong.
CM: An essential manifesto and thorough achievement, maybe even the axis of all matters Rush. The message is strong – reason and freedom over superstition, pseudoscience, myth, etc. – and the music packs as much intent and intelligence as anything they’ve ever done. The descending motif that recurs throughout symbolizes coming down to earth; the mixed-meter verses and chorus are both complex and catchy; and the solo section burns before shifting magnificently back into the bridge.
TG: Before “Tom Sawyer”, Neil lets us know he’s not relying on God or government. Okay, mostly God. He’s making the bold statement that those who rely on religion and the promise of Heaven are weaklings resigning themselves to fate. Not Neil, “I will choose a path that’s clear; I will choose free will.” Note: I’m assigning these feelings to Neil because he’s the main lyricist. Geddy may sing these words, but Neil is Cyrano.
TG: The entire text of the Clockwork Angels album reflects the statements made in “Freewill” in a different form. The Angels represent Heaven as they “promise every prize” and The Watchmaker metes out time as seen fit. The protagonist senses that something is wrong with this arrangement and sets out to find his own way and follow his will. Musically, there is so much going on in this song that it can be hard to wrap your head around without multiple listens. One thing to listen for is the wonderful breakdown at 4:50 as the song glides into new territory before being swept back up into the “mechanized grace” of the clockwork angels.
CM: Sometime after my honeymoon with Angels, when it became clear the album exceeded high expectations, I expressed to Todd that the title track might make a hypothetical Rush Top 10. He loved it too, and here we are several seasons later confirming its greatness. In fact, we’d separately ranked it eighth in our preliminary lists. Without detailing the memorable motifs, dramatic shifts, or lyrical imagery, I’ll just say the epic feel is entirely worthy of the band that made “Xanadu”.
TG: Great lyric surrounded by great music. Compositional maturity expressed in shortform as Rush displays the art (expressed in the lyric) necessary to change the status quo.
CM: Take away the fetching intro, solo segment, and colorful arrangement, and you’re still left with a terrific song at heart. Reintroduce those elements and you’ve got a profound effort. Bells and ploughmen for the win.
CM: The pre-album single hooked me right away, and its remixed appearance on Angels cemented “Caravan” as a thoroughly inspirational song. The “can’t stop thinking big” chorus works perfectly as that story’s starting point and also addresses the group’s career-long motivations, just as the playing shows how much they meant and still mean it.
TG: A young boy not only dreams of running away but takes the chance and does so. The ominous intro gives way to the pounding flow attributed to the passing caravan the boy joins. Amidst the commotion, he dreams big as this new adventure takes him to the city, a place where dreams die or thrive. The musical sense of motion propels the action forward.
CM: Moving Pictures is the most definitive platter Rush ever waxed, and “Limelight” surely equals Red, Zed, and Tom in quality – a list this exclusive splits hairs along the way. Every canonized part of it (need I specify?) displays the creative wisdom they’d gained.
TG: “The universal dream” of fame distilled through Neil’s rational voice admitting the realization that being famous is not all it appears as people think they “know” you because of your presence in their lives. However, as Neil explains, “I can’t pretend a stranger is a long-awaited friend.” He can not play the part expected of him. He wants to play his music and be himself instead of a persona – quite the opposite of most stars.
TG: The calm of the Reggae-influenced passages is disrupted by the powerful, climbing groove of the chorus, which then folds back in upon itself. Like the music, the New World Man is finding himself and his place in the world, while balancing his internal monologue with external influences and forces.
CM: One of their finest, each infectious strand leading smoothly into the next. Most of the lyrics strike me as referring to America, although they fit other scenarios – perhaps the title fella is instead a descendant or cousin of Mr. Sawyer. By the way, I’d trade almost every synthetic bit on Power Windows for the happy sequencer gurgle that starts this track.
TG: Mini-epic with soft opening turning to hard driving before chilling out again and then ripping into Alex’s solo – all within the first 3-1/2 minutes! The lyrics seem to state opposing themes of Rich vs Poor, Old vs Young, and even the United States (oaks) vs Canada (maples). Maybe I’m reading too much into it, though, as Neil once claimed the lyrics were “a bunch of doggerel.”
CM: Good tune aside, I’m most entranced by the separate instrumental episode of tension-release, give-take, and light-shade. Speaking of, Peart’s title characters make a scary point: the only path to literal equality is to chop the highest down to a lower level.
CM: An early radio hit that’s never lost accessibility. Many rock bands have tackled the subject of ramblin’ men and goodbye strangers; Peart’s rationale is that “my ship isn’t coming and I just can’t pretend.”
TG: Opening chord is a clarion call to action, new action, an undertaking with unknown results surely reflecting Neil’s mindset at the time and probably that of the band as a whole.
CM: Were this strictly a list of personal favorites, “Vital Signs” would make my top five. I love everything about it: the streamlined form, the way the vocal lies atop the music, the drumming, the ‘modern’ references (sequencer fade-in, techno-pun lyrics) that haven’t dated, and the accumulating weight of the final section.
TG: Keep the emotions in check and become mechanized or stay human and suffer the machinations of progress. The vital signs can be measured either way.
TG: Excellent kiss-off to the rulers of old and a reminder for the new. Nice foreshadow with the “closer to the heart” lyric. Elegant intro leads to rocking verses and the chiming guitar of the “scheming demons” line. Then a martial beat announces the piercing guitar and the resounding bass/guitar/drum combo before the brief but strong solo. And back to the opening theme in a different form before closing.
CM: Like “Xanadu”, a huge step forward. Expanded sound and vision soften the edges and grant the tougher parts more impact. Lyrically, Neil requests a political rebirth, not in an envious ‘Occupy’ sense but rather in the underlying philosophy that either entrusts or patronizes the individual.
TG: The effects and the musical eddies reflect the theme of life emerging from pools of water and echo the overall theme of permanent waves flowing through our lives. Then a shift into hyperspace for the music and lyrics. Despite the innovation of the future, man now lives in pools…of ignorance. But the final verse expresses hope that honesty can survive and flourish. If not, then the waves will eventually crash and wash away everything to how it was before. Damn.
CM: This three-parter sews multiple themes into a relative “state of integrity” via development and reprise of the strongest bits, leaving plenty of snapshot moments along the way. At times the two merge, one example being at 7:17 when the happy third panel cuts to a previous theme now in heavier armor (a reprise payoff) with great cymbal variations from Neil (a closer zoom-in). Fitting that “Science” ends the album that straddles Rush’s past and future, as it caps their interest in extended forms and prepares for modernizations to follow.
CM: It’s impressive that some of Rush’s most compelling songs come from their latter era, and “Far Cry” more than earns elite status. Gut-punch bedrock, attractive choruses, and lyrics relevant to the temper of the time all vibrate with purpose and commitment. Snakes and Arrows suffers in places from overdub saturation, but it works for this track, especially in the distinct guitar flavors and “solo” maelstrom.
TG: Often times, it seems like Rush announces their presence with an opening volley of sound represented by the first song of an album. “Far Cry” leads Snakes & Arrows with aggressiveness and a bit of crankiness, as in “What the heck happened to the world I thought would be here? Just when I think I’ve caught up with what’s going on, the Earth rotates into another sunrise and a day of insanity and inanity. At least I can find solace from the solar glare in my interior self.” But, wait, if they announce something with the first track, do they do anything with the last track?
TG: Before “Anthem,” this was the Rush anthem. A rock hard ode to the workin’ man. And one (or maybe just me) wonders what other times of day Geddy and Alex would have written about lyrically if Neil hadn’t come along and if they were jealous that “Eight Days A Week” and “25 Or 6 To 4” had already been written.
CM: This primal showpiece closes the recorded debut of hungry youngsters who’ve clearly paid their dues, including some fine work from original drummer John Rutsey, RIP. Centered on a monolithic riff and accelerating as needed, “Working Man” makes a simple statement in a massive way.
TG: Perfect capturing of time (youth) and place (see title) musically and lyrically. Although, Neil can’t help but throw in the rational, “Still we saw the magic was fading every year.” Neil, this is Wet Blanket; Wet Blanket, Neil. Excellent groove vacillates between hard and soft. Just when you think Rush is going to rock it out (at 1:00 and 2:20), they pull back the hit and caress you with a gentle hand. Beautiful guitar voicings by Alex.
CM: The choruses pull me in, and I love how they drift into memory lane, as does the final section. An underrated prototype for more complex songs they would be known for later.
TG: A strident rock adventure looking back on the rush of living on the run and in the moment with Geddy crying the refrain, “I wish that I could live it all again!” The thrusting guitar occasionally pauses just long enough for you to catch your breath or let a thought cross your mind before bursting forth again and surging on bass and drums toward some line in the distance.
CM: As eventful and rocking as anything produced in their youth, imbued with wizened prowess.
CM: Does the Analog Kid grow into a Digital Man and eventually a Body Electric? Ask Mr. Kurzweil. For me, this one’s about the slick shuffle-reggae rhythm and varied scenery, plus it exemplifies how refined Geddy’s singing had become circa Pictures and Signals.
TG: I think the mistake many people make – even Rush fans (and I’ve been guilty of doing so, as well) – is thinking that everything after Moving Pictures is a slow downhill slide from that peak. But “Digital Man” rocks as hard as anything they’ve ever done. Maybe the sound of the band is a bit more calculated and controlled, but it’s still powerful.
TG: The complete long-form suite with Overture forecasting what’s to come. The music is actually less churning and dense than previous features By-Tor and Lamneth. The forms and music are simple yet effective because the ideas are spread out and more appreciable. It’s pretty amazing that this side-long opus propelled them into stardom and a rabid following when their record label was pushing for more “Fly By Night”s and “Working Man”s (Mens?).
Maybe one day we’ll learn how many takes were needed to capture the thrilling ‘tuning of the guitar’ section at the beginning of Discovery. One can only hope for a Deluxe Edition featuring such treasures.
CM: Faced with outside pressure, Rush redoubled their force in a go-for-broke sidelong piece that praised individual discovery over collective powers that be. Lacking the broader resources of Yes or Genesis, they extended a handful of motifs via sheer determination into a striking opus. The Overture and Grand Finale are tops.
CM: For me, this instrumental is too schizophrenic to become much more than An Exercise In Self-Indulgence, but the big moments (like Lerxst’s wonderland) elevate the end result, which works very well live – cf. Exit Stage Left again.
TG: Cut and paste in the best way possible. Rush turns sonic leftovers into a “powerhouse” stew.
CM: Following some thin-sounding records, Counterparts rejuvenated Rush’s sound in one tube-glowing blow, “Animate” the insistent kickoff. I especially like bridge’s breakdown and rebuild of momentum.
TG: “A secret place, a touch of grace” and, no, I didn’t realize those lyrics were in the song right before “Secret Touch” when we were making this list. As if there weren’t enough verbal and lyrical wordplay going on here…
The bass on this track is great, with nice sound and variety. The song is more complex than it seems. Compared to tracks from days gone by, the pulse shifts and varied song structures don’t seem to show up as much in latter Rush (mid-to late Rush? Just how much longer are these guys going to make music, anyway?), but when they do appear, they’re well-enjoyed.
TG: Is that Flea on bass? Is Ben Shepherd moonlighting post-Soundgarden? Nope, it’s Geddy laying down some phat-ass licks and fancy fingerwork. Damn, I love this song. Why isn’t it higher on the list?
Speaking of ass, has anyone noticed that Rush doesn’t curse in their songs? Hardly an oath spews from Geddy’s lips and Neil’s mind. My excellent partner on this site notes that they use “hell” in “Wish Them Well”, but that was more likely for rhyming purposes than for effect. Of course, this is a group that also writes songs about driving cars and sailing ships without turning them into metaphors about women (mostly).
CM: First of all, I’d never planned on revisiting the sonic aberration of Vapor Trails until the 2013 remix granted a new hearing. Secondly, I must mention “Earthshine” as another prime VT choice, but “Secret Touch” edged it out. It’s got both a fresh attitude and a vintage aura that can lodge in my skull for half a day, and by golly, does it get thunderous.
TG: First track of second album announces Neil’s presence in thought (Live for yourself, there’s no one else) and performance (sorry, Rutsey) and provides a strong musical anthem as well. Nice interplay between Alex and Neil.
CM: A gutsy statement that acknowledges Rush’s new beginning and also prefigures their ferocity when on the ropes for “2112”.
CM: Borrowing a smidgen of Page’s “Heartbreaker” (or Howe’s “Clap”) to get started, this adverbial adventure merges quickly into hectic traffic, keeping pace via high-octane fuel and alert maneuvers.
TG: There’s a lot going in these three minutes, and I love all of it. The intro sounds like some kind of double-time waltz. Geddy’s vocals provide amperage in the foreground, Alex’s chiming guitar fills the midground, and Neil pounds his kit with abandon in the background. And the lyrics “Beneath the noble bird, Between the proudest words, Behind the beauty, cracks appear” eulogize a once mighty nation – the United States. Wait, what?
“Ten score years ago” 200 years ago from 1975 – close enough. “Defeat the kingly foe” Overcome the British – check. “A wondrous dream came into being” – check and mate, King George. “Tame the trackless waste, no virgin land left chaste” – pretty much. “All shining eyes, but never seeing” – ouch, thine verbal barbs dost pricketh mine skin, Canadian. As usual, however, the truth prevails. America was not what it once was in 1975, and it falls further as the days of 2015 tumble like dominoes into the abyss.
TG: If you’re in the right mood, this song can knock you out emotionally. It starts out innocently with those rich and seemingly hopeful acoustic chords, but soon enough the loss and regret clamp down their realities. Neil is being ironic with his use of “Hero.” The subjects of the verses are heroes; they are the noble few – dealing with pain, rejection and loss while the world looks over and through them. The subjects of the chorus receive the praise and adoration, but are they truly worthy heroes? It seems not.
CM: Though the song is somewhat awkward elsewhere, the passage about years gone by, drifting apart, and then hearing that someone was gone is affecting enough to get my vote.
CM: With more sophistication under their belt, Rush re-envisioned a sidelong piece with plenty good results. The instrumental prelude mines gold, the song-narrative has its moments, and the postlude contrasts everything else nicely. Due to repetition or jarring shifts elsewhere, this might be a celebrated case of parts over sum, and that’s possibly why we chose it. Dionysus is our consultant in paradoxical alibis, you know.
TG: Better musically than Book I. Battle of the “gods” to control the mind as our hero’s ship slips into Cygnus, the black hole. How does all this relate to Olympus? Ask Neil. Somehow, the pilot of the Rocinante ends up being the god of balance whose heart and mind meld into a “single, perfect sphere.” I suppose it all adds up to the dream of becoming a perfect (hu)man. BTW, Rocinante is the name of Don Quixote’s horse. So, was Neil saying that the journey (in)to the back hole was as foolish as tilting at windmills? Yes.
TG: Neil’s rumbling drums start this track rolling, and it hardly lets up. It has a rough edge (perhaps reflecting the attitude of the Anarchist himself – “The lenses inside of me that paint the world black...a missing part of me that grows around me like a cage”). Maybe the lyric symbolizes the darker tendencies in all of us, and thus strikes an angry chord.
CM: Given this track’s functional position in Clockwork Angels, I wouldn’t have considered it for a list like this until my co-writer suggested it, and he’s right. The richness that it contributes to the album also stands alone. Love the opening parade of motifs and choice lyrical moments.
TG: From a rough cut to a smooth instrumental. Yes, a couple of heavy bits are hidden between layers of sheen, but that just makes the whole more mesmerizing. I think I could listen to this all day long and not get tired of it.
CM: With fewer notes yet more consistent groove than “YYZ”, this follows the same template of singing a song without words.
CM: I put “In the Valley” (and “The Fountain” reprise) on my initial list hoping to sneak it past collaborative approval; meanwhile Todd had promoted the whole “Fountain of Lamneth” – Side 2 of Steel, that is. No complaints from me! Anyway, “Valley” takes a crucial step forward in being the most dynamic music the group had yet conceived, and I’m not just referring to the contrast between acoustic and electric guitar. Every gesture, pause, and punch claims new territory. The remaining portions of “Lamneth” are swell enough but I never really bought the whole as a proper Suite, as nothing apart from the bookends seems linked. But now I hand over the reins…
TG: There’s a fountain on that mountain, and I’m gonna get there no matter how many rhyming quatrains and couplets it takes!
Okay, calm down, Rush fans. Have a sense of humor, eh? My estimable co-creator thinks Lamneth is a suite of several different songs with loose relation. However, I’m here to tell you that it represents the journey of life from birth to death symbolized as a mountain to climb and conquer rather than one to climb and then decline (after middle age). How? Well, we start off...
In The Valley...literally, from the womb. Neil, you sneaky bastard. “I am born / I am me / I am new / I am free / Look at me / I am young / Sight unseen / Life unsung.”
Didacts And Narpets...are our teachers and parents telling (shouting at) us what to do. “Think! Live! Earn! Give!”
No One At The Bridge...is ourselves as adults, suddenly on our own. “Remembering when first I held / The wheel in my own hands / I took the wheel so eagerly / And sailed for distant lands / But now the sea’s too heavy / And I just don’t understand / Why must my crew desert me / When I need a guiding hand? / Call out for direction / And there’s no one there to steer.” (No one at the bridge – good one, Neil.)
Panacea...is love, passion, lust and security from our partner of choice. “I catch the scent of ambergris / And turn my head, surprised / My gaze is caught and held / And I am helpless, mesmerized...Enchantment falls around me / And I know I cannot leave.”
Bacchus Plateau...is middle/old age. “Here’s a misty memory / A hazy glimpse of me / Give me back my wonder / I’ve something more to give / I guess it doesn’t matter / There’s not much more to live. Another foggy dawn / The mountain almost gone / Another doubtful fear / The road is not so clear / My soul grows ever weary / And the end is ever near.” Plus, mournfully beautiful guitar work from Alex in this part.
The Fountain - “Many journeys end here, but the secret’s told the same / Life is just a candle, and a dream must give it flame.” Neil even hints at rebirth and reincarnation at the last: “Though I’ve reached a signpost / It’s really not the end / Like Old Sol behind the mountain / I’ll be coming up again.”
CM: The calling card might read “melodious midtempo rock with a softer chorus” but constant variations of texture and timbre deepen the water, and there’s a blissful two-chord detour around what would have been an unnecessary guitar solo. Though not unanimously renowned, “Entre Nous” finds Rush becoming more personable and showcases rapidly escalating arrangement skills.
TG: An elegant, upbeat ballad that declares we need space between ourselves and our loved ones in order for each to grow closer to the other. Separation bringing togetherness, in other words.
CM: Another interesting Steel artifact that transitions from dark ambiance into firm riffs and a cascading finale. The spoken word and story haven’t dated well, but we’re willing to make historical allowances; sometimes one needs an evil wizard to get juices flowing.
TG: If you can make it through the altered vocal exterior, lots of good musical nuggets await inside.
CM: The third salvo in the opening sequence of Counterparts and a hidden fan fave, “Chase” impresses with brawny demeanor and inspirational lyrics, including being “young enough to remember the future” and pursuing one’s inclinations no matter what.
TG: Hear ye, hear ye, be it knownst to ye and yourn that the musical group RUSH hath verily discovered an ancient book of riffs, devoured it from cover to cover, and unleashed the results upon the vast unwashed and ignorant multitudes under the title Counterparts. Listen upon’t and fear the power therein!
In seemingly unrelated news, Mr. Rupert Hine is hereby sentenced to 30 days in the stockade.
TG: Just when you wondering if we knew that Rush released any albums in the ’80s, here’s their quintessentially ’80s song with keyboards aplenty and guest vocals from Aimee Mann. And by no means will we link to its hilariously bad video. Even though it’s all flashy and vigorous, this song is about growing old and trying to hold onto the moments you fear won’t come your way again.
CM: “Time Stand Still” has only gotten better with age, and it was quite affecting to begin with.
CM: I detest how the frenzied mix of Power Windows often obscures superb playing underneath, but a few tracks make their essence known despite bleeps and whooshes, “Money” specifically through clear phrasing and rhythmic push and pull.
TG: Keyboard, thy name is Annoying. However, this song shows off Rush’s power and dexterity even in colder, more poorly produced times.
CM: The first notes issue an air of beauty that grows more poignant as the song progresses, no small thanks to strings and piano. Rush has never done something so directly moving to my ears.
TG: Wow, Clockwork Angels is getting a real workout in this list, but it’s a damn fine album and one of their best. Kudos to Neil for going with a lyrical concept and to Geddy and Alex for indulging him – like they wouldn’t have, anyway. “The Garden” may be “just a ballad” but it’s powerful in the context of CA and meaningful outside of it – showing all who care to listen that Rush are masters of their craft.
CM: Another first-class Signals entry, hypnotic in its chord cycles and foot-tapping beat that Peart takes up, down, and sideways. A synth arpeggiator hovers throughout most of the track; far from confining or sterilizing the group’s playing, it encourages nuanced developments, plus the sound itself has much character.
TG: Love that opening march/shuffle (muffle?) beat by Neil, and he maintains an amazing pulse throughout the song. It feels to me like a mood piece with the synths dominating space over the vaporous (except towards the end) bass and Alex’s skeletal guitar lines.
TG: Gosh darn it all to heck, this instrumental kicks serious bottom. Sorry, I’m trying to be like Neil by avoiding swear words, but it’s fucking hard to do when this track kicks more ass than Donkey Racing Day in downtown Del Rio, Tennessee. Just kidding, there’s no downtown in Del Rio, TN. Hell, the title is longer than the song, but I always hit rewind so I can hear it again.
CM: Balls-out bass ‘n drum jam with hairy guitar layered above. Geddy nimbly fingers a Fender while Neil shows he don’t need no fancy kit to do his thang.
CM: Given the fantasy lyrics and subtitled segments, one might mark this as Rush’s first art/prog attempt, but the music speaks the same basic language as their debut. It is however wider in scope and the ‘battle’ section raises action to a new level. The guitar break gets even spookier on All the World’s a Stage.
TG: Sets the stage for their future epic sides. And for By-Tor to return as a prince for some reason. It does have economy and brevity (compared to later epics) as attributes as well as scorching guitar passages, but the subject matter is a bit silly when you know the story behind it. Oh, and Geddy says Hell like he means it on this one!
TG: Hey, it’s 4:20 somewhere. This song is smoother than Del Rio (California) Gold and not at all skunky. Look at the way my fingers move when I type, man…
CM: Exotic rocker with unforgettable intro riff. Keep recreational indulgences separate from your sober work ethic, kids.
TG: Not too different in sound from “Distant Early Warning” below, but has more memorable instrumentation with Alex’s extended roils bubbling up monsters from the deep and Neil pounding the hell out of his kit. I like how the fast pulse of the keys alternates with the slower hand of Alex on guitar to create a rolling effect in the beginning and the verses. The chorus is bright musically while the lyrics are pessimistic. Plus, they have some deconstructionist fun at the end. Just a great composition, and it’s way down here at #44.
When you get this far down in a list, do the numbers and places even matter any longer? I think they do, but they also don’t. Personally, I’d like for “Wheels” to be higher, but part of working with someone else involves compromise. Is “Bangkok” just a bit better than this song? Maybe. Is “Ghost Of A Chance” slightly less better than this song? Probably. Should we even include anything from Presto? Possibly. These are the kinds of questions we asked ourselves and each other while making this list. And, believe me, we had way too much fun doing it.
CM: My earliest encounters with this song weren’t enamoring, but I grew to love it (and most of the rest of Grace) down the road. I like the contrast between the menacing vamp and the more open, driving sections. By the way, check out the ballsy validation “Wheels” received on R30.
CM: In keeping with the chance theme of Roll the Bones, Peart celebrates the improbable meeting of a soul mate. I love the chorus, where heavenly guitar chords portray a fortunate “state of grace.” Elsewhere on Bones, “Bravado” and “Where’s My Thing” were in the running.
TG: You knew it was coming if you read this list in order. “I believe there’s a ghost of a chance we can find someone to love and make it last.” That’s a great sentiment. What else is there to say?
TG: While constructing this list, I put the following question to my co-author: Is “Ladder” more fun to play (on guitar or whatever) or more fun to listen to? I asked that question because I think he enjoys playing it while I only moderately enjoy listening to it. To me, it’s kind of like a Strangiato, Jr. However, other than one of my personal favorites below, I don’t know what else I would put in this place. And I do enjoy the live version on Exit Stage Left, so maybe I’m just picking nits and nicking pits at this point.
CM: I initially dithered on “Jacob” because the grungy second act seems to run long – like “Cygnus X-1”, it’s a rather arbitrary collection of riffy bits – but the sun breaking through and all ensuing developments up to end make a grand impression. Besides, the more from Waves the merrier, and yes, it is fun to play along with.
CM: While I’ve appreciated Test for Echo more than ever in the last couple years (“Resist”, “The Color of Right”, and “Carve Away the Stone” are belated goodies), it doesn’t contain many high-water marks. “Driven” and the title track were our main candidates, and my partner tipped the scales toward the former.
TG: Driving bass and drums buoyed by crunchacious riffage. I like this song more every time I hear it, which hasn’t been much because Test For Echo is probably my least favorite Rush album. I thought the lyrics were more grumpy old man than new world man, and they detracted from the music, which was strong in parts yet otherwise didn’t do much for me aside from the first two tracks. Still, this song is quite worthy of the Top 50. And I reserve the right to change my mind about Test For Echo overall.
CM: You just might, homeslice.
TG: “Don’t ask me, I’m just improvising,” I said about halfway through this list. It was entre nous whether to include this or “Available Light” in the 50. “Presto” stands out because it’s wistful. Once again it seems Neil is flying over Earth projecting his thoughts and feelings on those below. The isolation and separation once inspired “Subdivisions.” This time it inspired an altogether different song wishing for closeness. How perfect was it that Geddy, Alex, and Neil came together due to circumstances they really had no control over? I’m glad they did, because their music has made my life more enjoyable. I’m pretty sure their partnership has done the same for them.
CM: As with Vapor Trails, I must say the 2013 edition of Presto has upped my opinion of the album. No remix in this case, just a judicious enhancement of bass, something severely lacking in previous editions. But no matter when or how I’d heard Presto since its release, the title track always shone through. The lyric and electro-acoustic backdrop make, er, magic.
CM: Though I prefer other selections from Grace, this song’s urgency can’t be dismissed, something that earned it much airplay and many live performances. Absalom, Absalom!
TG: The biggest problem with the ’80s albums after Signals is the sense of stasis perhaps induced by the presence of the sequencers and synthesizers that must have seemed so exciting (to the audience and band) at first. Yet, after time, it lead to an unfortunate sterility of sound that was no doubt aided by production techniques. Why mention all this now? Because Rush was still capable of reaching out and grabbing our attention with exciting songs like this one featuring a strong hook in the chorus.
TG: Great opening track for a debut album produced by the band themselves.
CM: “Before and After” (love that intro!) and “Finding My Way” remained in a dead heat until Todd noted that the first song from the first album would nicely finish our list. Aptly titled and burning with optimism’s flame, here it is.
Heart Full of Soul
TG: Fairly faithful reproduction of the original, but I really like Alex’s classic distortion and Geddy’s big, round bass sound. Geddy does a great job with the vocal, too.
CM: The whole EP is a hoot, but this cut gives me the most eight-mile-high satisfaction.
Todd’s 5 Faves:
I Think I’m Going Bald
Caress of Steel (1975)
TG: I started losing my “flowing” hair in high school. How could this not be a personal favorite? And I always found it ironic that Geddy was singing these lyrics – not many men in rock had more hair than him. And the lyric isn’t even about Neil, it’s about a friend of theirs. It’s interesting how Neil moved away from personal experience in his lyrics over the years yet came back around to doing so as he gained years. I don’t have anything else to say about that; it’s just interesting.
TG: So many of Neil’s lyrics are about age and ages, the experiences of them and the differences between them. He must spend a lot of time thinking about such things: “Maybe time is a bird in flight.” Maybe keeping time as a drummer makes him regard time more intensely? I don’t know, but I appreciate the effort. I also like this song because it sounds different than almost anything else they’ve ever created and yet it still sounds like Rush. If that makes any sense at all.
TG: Hard-driving music with politically themed lyrics to match. The opening makes me want to bang my head and wave the hair I used to have while doing so. That distorted bass gets me down deep. And the lyrics are beautiful and disturbing at the same time.
TG: A song about the perils of growing old holds new musical surprises. The electric violin (played by an outsider, no less!) provides an elegiac quality. I like this song more as I get older. Big surprise, huh? And if you thought my take on “Lamneth” was long, you better go get something to drink or take a break before this one…
The Seven Stages of Signals:
01. Subdivisions – The Infant: “Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.” Now, the lyrics of Subdivisions clearly aren’t mewling and puking, but discord and distaste play a part. And the word subdivisions puts me in the mind of cellular structure. Cells must divide and grow and follow orders in order to become productive members of the body just as youth must live and grow and follow orders to become productive members of society. There’s no room for dreamers or misfits in either place.
02. The Analog Kid – The Whining Schoolboy: “With his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly to school.” Neil instead sets his scene on an August afternoon, and his Kid eyes “a bright and nameless vision” of his future while he “lies in the grass, unmoving” (slower than a snail, dig?) complaining about “too many hands on my time.”
03. Chemistry – The Lover: “Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad made to his mistress’ eyebrow.” Neil: “Eye to I / Reaction burning hotter...Emotion transmitted / Emotion received / Music in the abstract.” Do I even need to say much here? Sure, the former is about a male and female making beautiful music together and the latter is about three guys making serious music together, but both groups need what? Chemistry!
04. Digital Man – The Soldier: “Full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard, jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel, seeking the bubble reputation even in the cannon’s mouth.” This one may seem like a stretch, but the whining schoolboy has faced love and battle and come out wiser from both experiences. He reflects the world in his language (strange oaths) and his look (whiskered like a wild leopard). So does the Digital Man reflect the attitude and appearance of the world he hears and sees via “radio and radiation;” “He picks up scraps of information / He’s adept at adaptation.” Also like The Soldier, Digital Man seeks approval (reputation) through adaptation even in changing circumstances.
05. The Weapon – The Justice: “In fair round belly with good capon lined, with eyes severe and beard of formal cut, full of wise saws and modern instances.” Neil states, “He’s not afraid of your judgement / He knows of horrors worse than your Hell / He’s a little bit afraid of dying / but he's a lot more afraid of your lying.” Justice personified as age and wisdom. However, the self-satisfaction of The Justice should not be confused with true superiority. Fear transformed into a weapon. Having the most powerful weapon doesn’t ensure superiority. Justice seeks truth while fear hides from it.
06. New World Man – The Elder: Sees “a world too wide for his shrunk shank” and hears “his big manly voice, turning again toward childish treble, pipes and whistles in his sound.” Neil’s New World Man is “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.” Both lean on their wide experience but know that the least resistance forms the safest path and so choose it rather than sound as uselessly as pipes and whistles against the fast approaching dawn of the new.
07. Losing It – Death: “Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” Neil writes, “But now his mind is dark and dulled / By sickness and indecision / And he stares out the kitchen door / Where the sun will rise no more / For you, the blind who once could see / The bell tolls for thee...” Death comes to all, so live and do while you can.
08. Countdown – (Afterlife.) Shakespeare calls it “mere oblivion.” Neil equates a space shuttle launch with ascension into “heaven”. Oblivion/Oblivious. Close enough for me.
TG: Straightforward, driving, and damn good. As Neil said, it’s about sticking with it and seeing things through. Don’t hold your tongue – stick it out! Say (and play) what you want, what you mean. I’ve taken that to heart in these song reviews. I admire, enjoy, and respect Rush, but I’m not putting them on a pedestal. They’re great, yes, but they’re human, and they have flaws like anyone else. Just remember all that before over-reacting to anything written here.
Chris’ 5 Faves:
The Camera Eye
Moving Pictures (1981)
CM: Do I choose this because it inhabits so much acreage on Moving Pictures? Am I of the opinion that it’s an underrated masterwork? Maybe both, maybe neither, but I’ve loved every zug and zwang of “Eye” for a long time, particularly the opening. The parallel verses rank amongst Neil’s best writing and Geddy’s best melodicizing, and the guitar solo sits on Alex’s top shelf.
CM: The most direct Signals cut, “Kid” matches sentiment and music well: “Rockin’ in the breeze” describes the momentum of the verses, offset by expansive chords for the “You move me” segment and a darker backdrop for “too many hands on my time.” The fact that this didn’t make our top 50 illustrates Rush’s wealthy output.
CM: Who else but Rush would celebrate the Space Shuttle in song? Having been invited to a launch, they found a prime opportunity to praise “the leading edge of life,” as Neil pens in his reportage. The music is dramatic yet not over-the-top, with clever shifts of meter, a true synth solo from Ged, and NASA audio snippets drizzled on top. It excites me every time. “40 seconds to LOS...you’re looking good burning over the hill...see you in Madrid.”
CM: I’m apparently one of the few bipeds on the planet who actually likes this, let alone thinks it captures a lasting feeling. (We came from the water, we continue to be instinctively moved by it, isn’t that amazingly wonderful...why yes.) Maybe its black sheep status comes from following the even more maligned “Tai Shan”; all I know is that I get an emotional buzz out of it.
CM: I don’t need to feel angry to appreciate the last-straw scenario of this song – “how many times must another line be drawn” – but it has provided company in such circumstances. More generally, it promotes perseverance over undue opposition, something everyone might relate to at various times.