All 167 Rush Songs Ranked Worst to Best
The difficulty – and nerdy thrill – of ranking Rush's catalog is that you're essentially pitting several distinct bands against each other: the bluesy Led Zeppelin disciples, the conceptual prog-rock explorers, the arena-packing prog-pop stars of the early '80s and the metallic, middle-aged alt-rockers, among other variations.
Compounding the problem is that Rush, unlike some of their prog contemporaries (we won't name names), managed to stay relevant – and musically compelling – as they aged. Sure, there have been embarrassing moments, and we're fully prepared to make fun of each one, but even Rush's worst LPs (like Roll the Bones and Test for Echo) have their redeeming qualities. The Canadian trio could have bowed out of the limelight several times (after the prog boom fizzled in the late '70s, during the grunge movement of the early '90s), crumbling to commercial pressure or cultural shifts. Instead, they maintained a workmanlike approach to their music – constantly tweaking and experimenting. For every failure (the strained Oriental atmosphere of "Tai Shan"), there are 10 victories.
Across roughly four decades, the band – bassist-singer Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and (for most of their run) drummer-lyricist Neil Peart – have recorded 19 studio LPs and 167 original songs. And we're focusing on that sprawling catalog for this Worst to Best list. That means we're leaving off compilation-only live cuts ("I've Been Runnin'," "The Loser"), concert drum solo recordings ("The Rhythm Method") and the band's 2004 covers EP, Feedback, a tribute to their formative '60s influences.
With that said, gather round, ye Geddy-heads, and let's dive in.
167. "In the Mood," Rush (1974)
Lee rarely wrote lyrics – a very smart policy, as the gag-worthy "In the Mood" demonstrates. "Well, you're makin' me crazy / The way you roll them eyes," the bassist barks over a gross boogie-rock riff. "Won't you come and sit with me / I'll tell you all my lies." ("'Eyes' -- that rhymes with 'lies'!" How about 'fries'? And 'disguise'?) It can't be said enough, but thank Christ for Neil Peart.
166. "Need Some Love," Rush (1974)
Poor John Rutsey, the drummer who flew too close to the sun (or, in this case, the Lifeson). Knowing he'd eventually be replaced by the godlike Neil Peart, it's hard not to look back on Rush's early recordings and wonder how the extra proggy firepower could have perked up tepid tracks like "Need Some Love," a borderline boogie-rocker with lyrics even blander than the anonymous riffs.
165. "Virtuality," Test for Echo (1996)
These lyrics, a meditation on life in the internet age, could very well be the clumsiest Peart ever wrote. "Net boy, net girl / Send your signal 'round the world," Lee sings over a generic alt-rock riff. "Let your fingers walk and talk / And set you free."
164. "Roll the Bones," Roll the Bones (1991)
The title track to Rush's weakest LP deserves kudos simply for attempting some new sonic tricks, like the brash organ parts and Peart's funk-metal drumming. Unfortunately, Rush squander all that goodwill in the penultimate section, which features Lee's pitch-altered grumbling – the lamest attempt at "rapping" ever recorded. "I do a little rap on 'Roll the Bones,' and even 'Tom Sawyer' to a certain degree has a spoken-word intro," Lee told Rolling Stone. "It's not rap, essentially, but in a way it's our version of it." Lifeson playfully chimed in, "Yeah, we invented rap."
163. "I Think I'm Going Bald," Caress of Steel (1975)
After you've sung about the triumph of battle, you can't help but sound stupid shrieking about male pattern baldness. Sure, there's more than meets the eye – or follicle? – in Peart's pained lament of youth, as he ruminates on time slipping through his fingers' tenuous grasp. But Lee belts the lyrics with the subtlety of a swinging sledgehammer, flattening out any hint of genuine emotion. Musically it's a flatliner from the start, riding the sort of sub-Zeppelin riffs Lifeson and Lee would outgrow in a year or so.
162. "Peaceable Kingdom," Vapor Trails (2002)
The trio dip into a ragged Red Hot Chili Peppers vibe for this skip-worthy Vapors Trails track. Like most of the material from that LP, "Peaceable Kingdom" originated from an impromptu studio jam, and with its bland arrangement, it sounds like it. Many fans interpret Peart's lyrics as a reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks ("Justice against the Hanged Man / Knight of Wands against the hour," Lee sings. "Swords against the kingdom / Time against the Tower.")
161. "The Color of Right," Test for Echo (1996)
Here's a perfect example of elite musicians playing a bad song well. The musicianship is so potent, particularly Lee's rumbling bass, that you almost forget what you're hearing is unbelievably generic.
160. "Here Again," Rush (1974)
I'm not sure anyone who bought the first Rush album was searching for bong-side ballads, but "Here Again" was the band's noble, if disastrous, attempt. Rutsey can barely keep up the lockstep kick-snare pattern, and it almost sounds like Lifeson and Lee are improvising the riffs as they go. This is two minutes' worth of true content stretched out to eight minutes, and it feels more like a brutal half-hour.
159. "Lock and Key," Hold Your Fire (1987)
If only Lee could have tracked down the lock and key for a decent hook. This late '80s dud is Rush-by-numbers with its heavy, ascending riff – and there's no melodic content to latch onto.
158. "Sweet Miracle," Vapor Trails (2002)
"Oh, sweet miracle of life," Lee sings over moaning bass. Oh, sweet god, this is a boring song.
157. "Neurotica," Roll the Bones (1991)
No relation to the live-wire King Crimson cut from almost a decade earlier. If only ... Roll the Bones is full of dull music (as we'll continue to discuss very soon), but this is the dullest. It has all the ingredients of a post-80s Rush song. (Distorted hard-rock riff? Check. Peart's now-standard ride cymbal groove? Check.) And that's the problem: "Neurotica," outside of Lifeson's wild guitar solo, feels like actors rehearsing a script.
156. "The Big Wheel," Roll the Bones (1991)
Rush morph into Mike + the Mechanics on this schmaltzy arena-rocker. And Peart's produced much more nuanced critique of religious dogma than the obvious rhyme schemes he churns out here. "Well, I was only a kid, gone without a backward glance / Going for broke, going for another chance," Lee sings. "Hoping for heaven, hoping for a fine romance / If I do the right dance." Oof.
155. "Face Up," Roll the Bones (1991)
Let's cut Rush a break for their early '90s work – maybe they were just victims of the "more-is-more" CD era, forced to cram their track listings with too many songs to maximize the era's technological capacity. Perhaps that's what led to the faceless "Face Up," a horrifically bland blues-rocker.
154. "Mission," Hold Your Fire (1987)
"I hear their passionate music, read the words that touch my heart," Lee sings on this cornball synth-pad suck-fest. "I gaze at their feverish pictures, the secrets that set them apart."
153. "Totem," Test for Echo (1996)
Producer Peter Collins reportedly played a crucial role in developing this forgettable, vigorously strummed tune, and psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud's 1913 book, Totem and Taboo, inspired Peart's New Age-y lyrics. So let's spread the blame around.
152. "Resist," Test for Echo (1996)
As a lone power ballad interrupting an onslaught of rockers, "Resist" stands out from the rest of Test for Echo just on a stylistic level. The chiming piano part is definitely a highlight, and Lee's layered vocals offer some melodic oomph and pop sweetness. But the arrangement is predictable and flat – Peart relies on his standard ride cymbal triplets, and Lifeson feels like a passenger along for the ride, at least until his Edge-like solo.
151. "Dog Years," Test for Echo (1996)
This one's so boring, you latch onto any flick of melody or atmosphere, actively rooting for a reason to care. In that light, Lee's chorus bass is pretty dreamy; Peart attacks his hi-hat with some elegant flair; and there's about 40 percent of a good melody intact. But this is a classic example of how Rush's divided writing style – Lee and Lifeson setting Peart's lyrics to music – often puts them in a compositional bind, having to shoehorn words into existing structures. The opening riff is the closest the band ever came to pop-punk – not a great look.
150. "Heresy," Roll the Bones (1991)
Peart's snare march during the fade-out of this snoozer is a nice touch. Unfortunately, it lasts about 15 seconds.
149. "Red Tide," Presto (1989)
If Rush hadn't already borrowed so much of the Police's reggae-New Wave vibe in the early '80s, it would be easier to brush aside the opening guitar riff's obvious similarity to "Message in a Bottle." But they did, so we can't. Worse, the least original part of the song is also the most memorable.
148. "Time and Motion," Test for Echo (1996)
This one alternates between blues-rock and grunge, with some shimmering synth bridging the two styles. It's hard to dislike it, but that's kinda part of the problem – too often in the '90s, Rush's middle-of-the-road material failed to elicit any emotion. "Time and Motion" is inoffensive, but who listens to Rush for its inoffensiveness? Give me some awkward 2112 shrieks any day over this tepid track.
147. "Open Secrets," Hold Your Fire (1987)
It's an open secret that the band had run out of melody on this lackluster, reverb-saturated track. Lee's funky bass and Peart's defy cymbal work spark brief intrigue in the last 30 seconds, but it's too little, too late.
146. "Second Nature," Hold Your Fire (1987)
After Hold Your Fire's formidable opening salvo, the album recedes into late-'80s blandness with this lifeless, keyboard-led power-ballad.
145. "High Water," Hold Your Fire (1987)
A godfather-of-Flea bass line, a cousin-of-the-Edge guitar solo, a less-jazzy-brother-of-Bill-Bruford drum part. Sounds like a distinct combination on paper. The song itself, though, is MIA, as Lee sings vague nature imagery without a engaging melody in sight.
144. "Tai Shan," Hold Your Fire (1987)
"Tai Shan," an instant-clunker attempt at Asian texture via fluttering harps and synth-flutes, takes a lot of guff as the worst Rush song ever – mostly because the band hates it so much. "You're supposed to be crappy when you make your first three or four records," Lee told Blender in 2009. "But even in our middle period, we did this song called 'Tai Shan,' using a poem Neil wrote about climbing a mountain in China, and when I listen to that, it's like 'Bzzt.' Error. We should have known better." He's correct.
143. "Spindrift," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
*snore* Sorry, I drifted off halfway through writing this blurb. Where were we? Right, this absolutely forgettable, vaguely atmospheric song – which, contrary to every strand of logic, the band released as a single. Like "Dog Years," it exemplifies the awkward writing method of "Hey, here are some lyrics – put them to that riff." Only in the last 45 seconds, as they embrace the song's dissonant prog-metal core, does the riff come alive. Too bad it's fading out at the time.
142. "Turn the Page," Hold Your Fire (1987)
"Every day we're standing in a time capsule, racing down a river from the past," Lee sings. "It's just the age; it's just a stage / We disengage, we turn the page." Peart appears to show some accidental self-awareness about the band's own creative plight on this Hold Your Fire low-light. Disengage, indeed.
141. "Superconductor," Presto (1989)
The irony is thick: Rush attempt to flagellate the pop music machinery for its anonymity and lack of substance – on one of their cheesiest songs ever, a flat-liner that shares more DNA with "Highway to the Danger Zone" than "La Villa Strangiato." "Hit you in a soft place, a melody so sweet," Lee sings over airy synth pads. "A strong and simple beat that you can dance to." It ain't easy to dance in 7/8, but mainstream rock audiences gave it a go – "Superconductor" peaked at No. 37 on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart.
140. "Anagram (For Mongo)," Presto (1989)
Lee coughs up a passable chorus hook on this otherwise dull ditty, heavy on cheap power chords and feather-light keys that sound like a Casio on its dual-piano-and-strings setting. The only interesting element of "Anagram" is anecdotal: Peart titled the song after a line from Blazing Saddles and constructed the lyrics using an anagram – or similar variations in wordplay – in each line ("Miracles will have their claimers," "There is tic and toc in atomic").
139. "BU2B," Clockwork Angels (2012)
Producer Nick Raskulinecz played up Rush's heavy side throughout much of Clockwork Angels, and some of the nuance that defined Snakes & Arrows gets lost in the waves of distortion. "BU2B" is the weakest moment – a surplus of generic hard-rock riffs without a single decent melody or groove.
138. "Ghost Rider," Vapor Trails (2002)
Fittingly, given the title's phantom imagery, Rush briefly embrace a spooky post-rock vibe during the instrumental section. Otherwise, this one fades into over-compressed murk that defines Vapor Trails.
137. "Emotion Detector," Power Windows (1985)
A lot of Rush fans jumped ship by Power Windows, finally fed up with the glossy synthesizers, the general lack of Lifeson and some of the more personal lyrical content. "Emotion Detector" is the sonic equivalent of a prog fan weeping as he gets his "2112" tattoo removed. "Not content with being cool, we must throw ourselves wide open," Lee sings. "And start acting like a fool if we need too much approval." Yikes.
136. "Seven Cities of Gold," Clockwork Angels (2012)
"A man could lose his way in a country like this." Or a generic blues-rock riff like this.
135. "The Larger Bowl," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
A criticism rarely leveled at Lifeson, one of prog-rock's most inventive guitarists: "He sounds like he belongs in a bar band." But "The Larger Bowl" exists, and thus the snarky comment.
134. "Out of the Cradle," Vapor Trails (2002)
Peart's lyrical style has evolved significantly over the decades – from sci-fi narratives to philosophical treatises to naked expressions of pain and loss. But it's always painfully obvious when he struggled to put pen to paper. "It's not a place; it's a yearning / It's not a race; it's a journey," Lee sings over barking bass and alt-grunge riffage. "It's not an act; it's attraction / It's not a style, it's an action."
133. "You Bet Your Life," Roll the Bones (1991)
On some songs, you wish Rush would allow themselves to experiment a little bit, maybe buy some new effects pedals or instruments. "You Bet Your Life" has a solidly hooky chorus with some vocoder tones on the backing vocals.
132. "Where's My Thing?," Roll the Bones (1991)
Lifeson opens this Grammy-nominated instrumental with an assault of high-octave funk guitar, and Peart joins in with a complex rhythm. But there's not much meat on the bone, and those silly synth-brass lines are still embarrassing almost three decades later.
131. "War Paint," Presto (1989)
After being neutered by digitized late-'80s production on Hold Your Fire, Peart at least sounds reinvigorated throughout the entire Presto LP. His jazzy snare rolls and unconventional, kit-wide triplets perk up this otherwise lackluster track.
130. "Ghost of a Chance," Roll the Bones (1991)
The chorus here is a nice touch, with the band receding a bit to half-time and allowing the synth to wash over. There's also a creepy, vampiric organ sound on the verses that adds some intrigue. Still, without a decent hook to speak of, there's a ghost of a chance this one will linger in your brain 30 seconds after you listen.
129. "Before and After," Rush (1974)
The atmospheric instrumental intro is a nice touch, but afterward we dip right back into the well of plodding blues-rock that dominates Rush's debut LP.
128. "What You're Doing," Rush (1974)
127. "In the End," Fly by Night (1975)
This middling rocker feels like the mighty "Fly by Night" sinking in quicksand – the same Townshend-like chord flourishes and arpeggiated riffs with none of the urgency or explosiveness. Too bad: The acoustic 12-string intro is promising enough, teasing a folk-rock wrinkle they hardly explored thereafter.
126. "Take a Friend," Rush (1974)
Lifeson's guitar solo, full of crunchy leads and twangy hammer-ons, verges on Lynyrd Skynyrd territory – and that wrinkle alone makes it a stand out from the lackluster hard rock that occupies much of their debut. The guitarist displays his psychedelic side with 3/4 flourishes in the intro and outro, and the underrated Rutsey – forever a victim of the Pete Best effect – flexes his muscles a bit with some animalistic tom-tom fills.
125. "Nobody's Hero," Counterparts (1993)
It's easy to root for this poignant power ballad, given the personal subject matter: In a pair of verses, Peart touches on a friend who died of AIDS and a girl who was murdered in his hometown, the Port Dalhousie community in St. Catharines, Ontario. But the lyrics come out of Lee's mouth in the most stilted form imaginable: "I knew he was different in his sexuality / I went to his parties, as a straight minority," Lee croons early on over a delicate acoustic guitar. "It never seemed a threat to my masculinity / He only introduced me to a wider reality."
124. "Dreamline," Roll the Bones (1991)
Rush really love "Dreamline," cementing it as a tour staple for roughly a decade – including some shows on their 2012-13 Clockwork Angels run. It's unclear precisely why. It's the kind of big, reverb-y modern Rush song these guys could whip up in a brief rehearsal – easily the best song on Roll the Bones, which is a bit like saying, "The best cabin on the Titanic."
123. "Bravado," Roll the Bones (1991)
Rush go into power-ballad mode here, with Lifeson's huge, ringing chords wafting over Peart's jazzy drums.
122. "Cut to the Chase," Counterparts (1993)
Seconds in, you can just tell it's going nowhere. Lifeson and Lee get caught recycling cliched hard-rock riffs, and there's zero vocal melody at play. There are two redeeming moments: The guitarist's seductive shredding at the 2:43 mark and the nifty phaser and EQ touches on Peart's drums at 3:45. Listening to "Cut to the Chase" is like watching The Big Bang Theory in a 3-D IMAX theater – you're impressed with the technical spectacle but still annoyed with the lack of substance.
121. "Presto," Presto (1989)
Lee leans into a Supertramp vibe on the chorus, giving this one a quirky pop edge. But the rest sort of fades into the background – even Lifeson's vigorous acoustic counterpoint strum is repeated, and bested, on the Presto classic "Show Don't Tell."
120. "You Can't Fight It," single (1973)
Another Zeppelin knock-off, another day. Granted, this is the B-side to the band's rare first single, so we have to cut them some slack. Plus, on a purely technical level, "You Can't Fight It" is pretty damn strong: Lifeson's solo sounds like Jimmy Page after a decade of strict guitar lessons, and Rutsey's triplet tom fills are deliciously heavy.
119. "Making Memories," Fly by Night (1975)
Lifeson cranks out another Lynyrd Skynyrd-like guitar solo, once again tapping into a rarely explored Southern-rock influence. "Making Memories" isn't much of an actual nuts-and-bolts song – like the vast majority of Rush's second LP, it's a fairly pedestrian track elevated by sheer energy and virtuoso technique.
118. "Lessons," 2112 (1976)
Folky acoustic strumming dominates "Lessons," a respite from the hard-rock riffage that defines 2112. The most interesting part about it is the lyrics – not the content, which is pedestrian fluff about "sweet memories," but the fact that Lifeson wrote them. "We just thought it would be kind of cool if Ged and I wrote lyrics for at least one song," the guitarist told Rolling Stone of his rare turn as wordsmith. "He wrote 'Tears.' That was really the reason. I can't say that I'm comfortable writing lyrics. Even later on with my solo record, Victor, it was the hardest part. It doesn't flow for me the way I would like it to. And I'm not sure that would be different if I did it more often. You know, Ged's "Tears" is so typical of the kind of stuff that he likes to write and do, even today. He likes those more ballad-y pieces that are emotive and sweet. I'm the dirty, heavy guy."
117. "Countdown," Signals (1982)
Like the lyrics, which reflect on the Space Shuttle Columbia's initial launch – the band watched it onsite in a VIP area – "Countdown" feels like a slow-burning build-up. Problem is, this one never blasts off: The trio builds layers of power chords and synth texture, but the song comes off like one huge intro to a non-existent song.
116. "Freeze (Part IV of 'Fear')," Vapor Trails (2002)
The disorienting guitar harmonics are a nice touch on this gnarled funk-rock Vapor Trails highlight, largely set in 5/4.
115. "The Stars Look Down," Vapor Trails (2002)
For a guy who's known – and often satirized – for singing so high, Lee rarely ventures into his pure, controlled falsetto. But his breathtaking vocal leaps highlight this atmospheric tune, which benefits from the breathing room of a spacious arrangement (not to mention David Bottrill's vastly improved 2013 remix of the full Vapor Trails LP).
114. "Stick It Out," Counterparts (1993)
Lifeson's dissonant, grungy riff and sustained whammy bar work make this one listenable, but it's still deeply shocking that "Stick It Out" peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Album Rock chart. Interesting sidebar: Beavis & Butthead made fun of its video – a hilariously brooding attempt at tapping into grunge visuals – on the iconic MTV show. "This guitar sounds kinda cool," Beavis interjects. "Yeah," his pal snorts in reply, "if you happen to be a wuss." Ouch!
113. "Workin' Them Angels," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
Not much to write about this by-numbers rocker. Bonus points, though, for Lifeson's creative usage of mandolin and bouzouki in the bridge.
112. "Territories," Power Windows (1985)
Peart's African rhythms perk up this gleaming New Wave pop tune, but the multi-cultural effect is dulled by dorky "We Are the World"-styled lyrics. "Don’t feed the people, but we feed the machines," Lee sings. "Can’t really feel what international means."
111. "Half the World," Test for Echo (1996)
Peart, in keeping with much of the decade, was a bit off his lyrical game here: "Half the world lives; half the world makes," analyzing the randomness of human life. "Half the world gives while the other half takes." (One might add, "Half a song written, half a song played.") Luckily, Lee and Lifeson tethered those diary entries to a simple but sturdy alt-rock churn.
110. "The Weapon," Signals (1982)
Peart adopts a disco-like groove on this Signals track, the fourth single from the album and the second overall installment of Peart's lyrical series based around the emotion of fear.
109. "Limbo," Test for Echo (1996)
This solid instrumental closes out Test for Echo with a desperately needed wash of ethereal atmosphere. Plus, there are random samples from "Monster Mash," so it deserves some props for irreverence's sake alone. All those naysayers who say Rush don't have a sense of humor? Send them here.
108. "Good News First," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
Lifeson's swirling, finger-picked electric guitar riff adds some textural counter-balance to this Snakes & Arrows highlight. Lee also takes some risks with his bizarre vocal performance, using squeals and a rare level of melisma.
107. "Everyday Glory," Counterparts (1993)
A strong arrangement duals with a lackluster lyric. The arrangement – highlighted by Lee's deep slap-bass, Peart's signature ride cymbal work and Lifeson's textured guitars – win. But it's worth noting just how dopey the drummer gets with his lyrics, attempting to romanticize the trials and heroism of normal folks. "Mama says some ugly words; daddy pounds the wall," Lee sings. "They can fight about their little girl later; right now they don't care at all."
106. "Carve Away the Stone," Test for Echo (1996)
Pear took inspiration from the Sissyphus myth, and for most of its run time, this lackluster track is like pushing that goddamn boulder up the hill. It only comes alive, as many Rush tracks from this period do, when they let loose during the instrumental section.
105. "Available Light," Presto (1989)
Presto concludes with a heartening surge of darkness, dominated by Peart's tumbling drum fills and Lee's soaring chorus vocal.
104. "Tears," 2112 (1996)
Lee attempts a heartbroken love song with his lyrical contribution to Rush's famous breakout LP. He fares poorly. But the arrangement is sublime: Cover artist Hugh Syme contributes the heavenly washes of Mellotron, signaling the band's desire to expand their instrumental palette beyond the conventional hard rock of their early work.
103. "Scars," Presto (1989)
It's a depressing moment when you realize Lee's funky, slapped bass line isn't a bass at all, but rather a sequenced synthesizer loop. Not a great first impression for this heavily rhythmic track, which features a drum pattern Peart devised from encountered during his famous bicycle tour of Africa in 1988. There's a core of a compelling idea here – if only they'd recorded it a decade or so earlier.
102. "Secret Touch," Vapor Trails (2002
Middle-of-the-road lyrics ("You can never break the chain / There is never love without pain") hamper this Vapor Trails standout. But instrumental flourishes and production details keep it alive – from Lee's distorted slap-bass and phaser vocals on the bridge to Lifeson's funk riffing on the outro.
101. "Halo Effect," Clockwork Angels (2012)
A fairly modest power-ballad that builds from acoustic to electric. The clincher is the eerie, string-lifted bridge.
100. "The Way the Wind Blows," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
For a second, it sounds like we've dipped back into the Led Zeppelin well, with the boys running through a generic blues-rock riff. Here's another lovely example of Lee venturing into a gentle falsetto.
99. "Nocturne," Vapor Trails (2002)
Lifeson's dreamy, counter-rhythmic hammer-ons and Lee's high-octave bass pulse anchor this Vapor Trails stand-out.
98. "Something for Nothing," 2112 (1976)
Fantastically bombastic, this 2112 track – part of the album's underrated second half – runs builds from a delicate acoustic intro to metallic Lifeson riffs. Lee shrieks his head off, as he often did in those days. Keep an ear open for possibly the only sloppy Peart drum fill of all-time at the 1:10 mark.
97. "The Twilight Zone," 2112 (1976)
When the well of inspiration runs dry, consult the classics: Peart lifted plot threads and themes from two Twilight Zone episodes, "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" and "Stopover in a Quiet Town," for the lyrics to this spacey track. Rush were massive fans of the show, having dedicated Caress of Steel to late Twilight Zone creator-writer Rod Serling, but the song feels like a clumsy attempt at setting his stories to melody.
96. "Chemistry," Signals (1982)
"Chemistry" finds Rush at their most economical, riding a booming synth-guitar hook throughout most of its duration. Lifeson churns out some show-stopping shredding a la "Don't Stop Believin'."
95. "One Little Victory," Vapor Trails (2002)
This snarling metal-rock single had a lot riding on its shoulders, arriving as Rush's long-awaited comeback after the six-year following 1996's Test for Echo. It did not live up to expectations. The generically bluesy riffs are only redeemed by Peart's jazzy drumming and Lee's kind of hilarious falsetto leaps.
94. "The Body Electric," Grace Under Pressure (1984)
"1, 0, 0, 1, 0, 0" -- that's exactly what this song sounds like: mechanical, cold, inhuman – but in the most seductive way possible. Sweet Jesus, that bass! That production! In an era when most rock bands sounded like computers, Rush were thriving – even if, yes, they did go a bit far with the keyboards at times.
93. "Finding My Way," Rush (1974)
Rush were still in the throes of blues-rock worship on their self-titled debut, genuflecting at the altar of Led Zeppelin and Cream. "Finding My Way" isn't much of a song: a couple generic guitar riffs, some cymbal-heavy drum work; Geddy Lee's primal, nasal howl. The frontman's elastic bass line gives this one an edge, along with Alex Lifeson's psychedelic, bent-note guitar harmonies on the bridge.
92. "Ceiling Unlimited," Vapor Trails (2002)
This one sneaks up on you. On first listen, it sounds like a middle-of-the-road modern Rush song – from the predictable chord progression to the melodic patterns. But there's a lot of intricate detail here: Peart's jazzy snare rolls and roto-toms, Lee's layered vocals and wonky hammer-on bass.
91. "Best I Can," Fly by Night (1975)
The almighty Peart had arrived, requesting that we Neil before him. While this chunky hard rocker isn't much of a showcase for his virtuoso talents, the drummer's steady presence still elevates this one beyond most of the Rush LP. With his double-kick fills, jazzy snare-tom triplets, elegantly controlled hi-hat and randomly placed cowbells, he offered a full-blown clinic with his official debut.
90. "Not Fade Away," single (1973)
Rush added a hard-rock spin to a Buddy Holly classic on their debut single, which was released in a limited pressing of 500 copies on their own Moon Records label. (These days, an OG copy is a serious collector's item.) Lee in particular dominates the track, dazzling with his fluid bass runs and singing with confidence in his middle register – a far cry from the chipmunk-on-helium approach that he utilized throughout much of the decade. "Man, we were very young when we did this!" Lifeson told MusicRadar in 2011. "We were playing the clubs and didn't know better. Because we were having such a hard time getting a deal, our management thought that maybe something a little more accessible, possibly something already known, would be the way to go."
89. "The Anarchist," Clockwork Angels (2012)
Some Eastern strings add a new wrinkle to this sturdy hard rocker.
88. "The Main Monkey Business," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
Lifeson employs some 12-string guitar on this tasty instrumental track, which recalls the lurching prog-metal approach of Porcupine Tree, a band that's clearly taken some cues from the elder statesmen.
87. "Driven," Test for Echo (1996)
Prior to the recording of Test for Echo, Peart – the world's most acclaimed rock drummer – decided to revamp his playing and signed up for private lessons with jazz great Freddie Gruber. He entered the sessions with a new grasp of rhythm, literally, having switched over to the traditional jazz grip – and you can hear the fruits of his labor on this intricate track, as he unfurls dazzling cymbal patterns and plays against the downbeat. Overall, though, "Driven" is a rare highlight on Test for Echo, which Lee described as "strange" in 2012's Rush: An Oral History, Uncensored.
86. "Test for Echo," Test for Echo (1996)
"Test for Echo was a strange record in a sense," Lee reflected in the 2012 Rush book An Oral History, Uncensored. "It doesn’t really have a defined direction. I kind of felt like we were a bit burnt creatively. It was a creative low time for us." One rare exception to that rule is the instantly hummable title-track – a radiant blast of modernized alt-prog.
85. "Carnies," Clockwork Angels (2012)
In which Rush discover Rage Against the Machine. Lifeson's riff, a gnarled mass of pinched-note squeals and open-string wails, recalls Tom Morello at his heaviest. The admiration goes both ways: Morello called Rush "one of our all-time favorite bands" in a statement about his appearance alongside Lee and Lifeson in Rage bassist Tim Commerford's video for "VooDoo," a song with his electronic rock band Future User.
84. "Double Agent," Counterparts (1993)
This is a weird one. Lee's brooding spoken-word vocals can't help but sound clunky, but they at least demonstrate the band's willingness to color outside its own lines. And there's no denying the raw force of Lifeson-Lee's aggressive funk-metal riff, accentuated by Peart's nimble rhythms.
83. "Hand Over Fist," Presto (1989)
Synth-pads, squealing guitar solos, overlapping vocals – the whole pop-rock radio shebang. Lifeson even goes full-on Prince with his treble-heavy funk tone. For reasons that remain unclear, Rush didn't release "Hand Over Fist" as a single, opting instead for the far inferior (and less catchy) "Superconductor" and "Presto."
82. "Malignant Narcissism," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
Killer riff, but you cant help but wonder if "Malignant Narcissism" wound up as a two-minute instrumental because Rush had no idea how to develop it any further. Nonetheless, it's nice to hear the boys work their magic – Lee's bassline is so funky, Les Claypool would kill for it.
81. "The Fountain of Lamneth," Caress of Steel (1973)
You can tell most of what you need to know about this cartoonishly proggy multi-part epic just by perusing the song titles, which include "Didacts and Narpets" and "Bacchus Plateau." In a 2013 interview with Classic Rock magazine, Lifeson cited the "Panacea" section as one of their worst recorded moments, saying, "It was an attempt at something that didn't really work out. It was ... innocent." The band sounds a bit tentative here, working through a finger-picked nylon-string guitar pattern. But Lee's giving himself a bit too much gruff overall, even if Rush should never sing about sex. ("Her body soft and warm, naked in our unity," Lee relates. Ew.) Draw another goblet, my nerdy friends.
80. "Between the Wheels," Grace Under Pressure (1984)
Rush borrow the synth chords from the Police's "Spirits in the Material World," remove the hooks and groove and contemplate the "wheels of time" passing us all by. There's nothing wrong with "Between the Wheels," but it's hard to shake the feeling that Rush – and, well, other bands – have presented this same song more effectively in the past.
79. "Afterimage," Grace Under Pressure (1984)
Listen closely and you can hear Alex Lifeson bashing his axe against the wall in frustration. The synth-splattered "Afterimage" exemplifies Rush's mid-'80s sound, and the guitarist probably was probably extra pissed about it. But for a brief period, they handled those keyboards with subtlety and grace, and this cut is a prime example. There's also a deeper layer of poignancy to the lyrics ("Suddenly, you were gone / From all the lives you left your mark upon"), knowing that Peart dedicated the live version from 1998's Different Stages to his then-recently deceased late daughter and wife.
78. "Cold Fire," Counterparts (1993)
The more New Wave-slanted "Cold Fire" comes off as a bit muted within the mostly throttling Counterparts. But even here, Rush sound rejuvenated – check out Lifeson's sublime solo starting around 2:38, highlighted by shredding and palm-muted harmonics.
77. "Marathon," Power Windows (1985)
"Marathon" is basically three songs somewhat clumsily fused into one, and only two of them were worth keeping. Lee's Bootsy Collins-on-cocaine bass riff propels the verses, but the chorus reverts to a snooze of sparkly synth, choir and strings. Then the instrumental bridge, with its herky-jerky 7/8 riff, kicks it back up a notch. Not quite a marathon – but perhaps a 5K.
76. "Animate," Counterparts (1993)
"Polarize me, sensitize me, criticize me, civilize me," Lee belts on this heavy hard-rocker. "Compensate me, animate me, complicate me, elevate me." Those are indeed rhyming verbs! Cringe-worthy lyrics aside, "Animate" marked a crucial turning point for Rush, helping them adapt to a post-grunge rock landscape with one of their leanest riffs in years. The sound is undeniably influenced by Pearl Jam – a sort of proggier hybrid of early '90s hits "Even Flow" and "Alive."
75. "Red Lenses," Grace Under Pressure (1984)
This one's a mixed bag, with Lee throwing down on some campy synth-horns that probably made Lifeson – and a lot of Rush fans – furious. But there are too many distinct moments to write it off, like Lee's funky slap-bass; some spooky, Talking Heads-ish synth and Peart's tightly wound tom fills on his Simmons SDS-V kit.
74. "Grand Designs," Power Windows (1985)
Did the La's, one of rock music's most iconic one-hit-wonders, rip off this Power Windows anthem for their sole 1988 hit "There She Goes"? Lifeson's chiming, neon synth part votes "yes." I guess Rush couldn't point the finger even if they wanted to – they were still leaning pretty heavily on the Police's reggae-ska vibe here. For many fans, "Grand Designs" was probably the point of no Rush return – the keyboards are the main attraction, supporting one of Lee's sleekest vocal hooks.
73. "Red Sector A," Grace Under Pressure (1984)
This arty New Wave single, with its throbbing sequenced synths and a four-on-the-floor kick pulse, has dated a bit. But the sentiment is evergreen, as Lee draws on his mother's memories of surviving the Holocaust (after being imprisoned at a concentration camp in Dachau, Germany). "I hear the sound of gunfire at the prison gate / Are the liberators here? / Do I hope or do I fear?" the bassist sings. "For my father and my brother, it's too late / But I must help my mother stand up straight."
72. "2112," 2112 (1976)
Rush were on the verge of being dropped from their label when they recorded their riskiest album to date, 2112, which kicks off with a 20-minute, dystopian conceptual suite about a future world in which music is outlawed by the "Solar Federation." It's the sort of bloated sci-fi crap that most critics used to write off prog as a whole – but it's extremely fun crap, full of chunky, Townshend-inspired riffs and dramatic tonal shifts. Rush would sharpen their vision for long-form writing with the "Cygnus" cycle on A Farewell to Kings and Hemispheres, but "2112" is an adorably campy baby step.
71. "The Speed of Love," Counterparts (1993)
Producer Peter Collins, returning from Power Windows and Hold Your Fire, assists the band in its return to a grander, more energetic sound. Lee's bass bites with the tenacity of a dog with rabies, and Peart's drums punch like prizefighter.
70. "The Necromancer," Caress of Steel (1975)
There's not a single chance these dudes weren't blazed when they wrote "The Necromancer," which veers from Sabbath-ish proto-stoner-metal to Lifeson's squealing, harmonic-heavy solo to a climax of fragile acoustic strumming. The mini-epic drones on for almost 13 minutes – so long, in fact, that the titular pooch from "By-Tor and the Snow Dog" drops by for a visit during the "Return of the Prince" section. Rush probably could have restrained themselves a bit – lopping four minutes off this track would only improve its reputation with the anti-Caress crowd – but, then again, isn't indulgence the point of a track this stoned?
69. "BU2B2," Clockwork Angels (2012)
This interlude is too slight to rank high on this list, but its a stunning moment nonetheless. The tense strings, framing an emotional Lee vocal, are a welcome relief from the hard-rock onslaught of Clockwork Angels.
68. "We Hold On," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
It's rare to fid a legitimately catchy Rush chorus post-1989, but Lee had no trouble on this brooding alt-rocker. Elsewhere, Lifeson unfurls some legitimately psychedelic guitar work during the bridge, and Peart joins in with some tom-tom bashing. The only downside is a glaringly awful copy-paste job at the 1:18 mark where the backing track comes in a hair too early. Oops.
67. "Alien Shore," Counterparts (1993)
Peart examines the dualities of race and sex on this darkly funky track. "You and I, we must dive below the surface / A world of red neon, and ultramarine," Lee sings. "Shining bridges on the ocean floor / Reaching to the alien shore.“ The drummer singled out the song in the band's 2004 book, Contents Under Pressure, noting, "Not everything lives up to it’s potential [on Counterparts], but ... I like the lyrics to 'Alien Shore' particularly."
66. "By-Tor and the Snow Dog," Fly by Night (1975)
Rush had the ambition to craft a nine-minute, multi-part suite – even if they hadn't developed the discipline to pull off that grand feat. Nonetheless, "By-Tor" is a fun exercise in self-indulgence, an excuse to stitch hair-raising drum solos and Who riffs into a stoner-friendly prog tale. (Side note: The song was inspired by the band's roadie, who recalled encountering a growling German Shepherd and another, smaller canine during a visit to the home of Anthem Records manager Ray Danniels.)
65. "Clockwork Angels," Clockwork Angels (2012)
The title-track to Rush's farewell LP is a dynamic piece that alternates between bruising hard-rock and dollops of echoing guitar. Nick R's production is on-point here too, with the instrumental bridge of distantly mic'ed drums.
64. "The Trees," Hemispheres (1978)
Peart injects the philosophy of author Ayn Rand – a crucial influence on both 2112 and Hemispheres – into this sage, atmospheric fairy tale, which chronicles a struggle for equality between the oaks and maples of a particularly argumentative forest. The drummer later grew out of his Rand phase, as he told Rolling Stone in 2012, chalking up his mindset to youthful idealism. "Libertarianism as I understood it was very good and pure and we're all going to be successful and generous to the less fortunate and it was, to me, not dark or cynical," he said. "But then I soon saw, of course, the way that it gets twisted by the flaws of humanity."
63. "Witch Hunt," Moving Pictures (1981)
This meditation on mob mentality was intended as a studio-only track – a designated opportunity to indulge with overdubs and not worry whether they could ever pull it off onstage. They filled out the arrangement with extra keyboards and double-tracked drums (including cowbell and extra toms), adding to the textural depth of this eerie track. But "Witch Hunt" remains the weakest – but far from weak – link on their greatest album.
62. "Earthshine," Vapor Trails (2002)
A majestic high point of Vapor Trails, with some of Lifeson's most psychedelic guitar work.
61. "How It Is," Vapor Trails (2002)
This track is a nice brush with adult-contemporary alt-rock – a break from the grungy bum-rush of Vapor Trails. This could easily be a Toad the Wet Sprocket song, and that's intended as a compliment.
60. "Vapor Trail," Vapor Trails (2002)
Rush get full-on atmospheric with Vapor Trails' pseudo title track, another flirtation with radio-friendly alt-rock. Lifeson washes his hands of distortion, and Peart bashes a snare with a ringing, marching-band style tone.
59. "Armor and Sword," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
Make special note of Lee's vocal rhythm on this airy track, as he sings against the 3/4 pattern, adding a sort of "floating in midair" vibe.
58. "Leave That Thing Alone," Counterparts (1993)
Rush continue riding a wave of Counterparts energy on this vibrant instrumental, which leaps from prog-funk bass riffs to spacey organ and Steve Hackett-ish guitar work. A live favorite performed on many of the band's subsequent tours, "Leave That Thing Alone" earned Rush their third Grammy nod in 1994 for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
57. "Between Sun and Moon," Counterparts (1993)
Counterparts marked a return to Rush relevancy – the point where songwriting caught back up to technique. Everyone's on fire here: Lee crafts one of his sharpest chorus hooks, and Peart pounds out a funky tom pattern on his all-acoustic kit. (You couldn't blame the guy for experimenting with electronic drums, but a player this precise doesn't need any excuse to sound more like a machine.)
56. "Prime Mover," Hold Your Fire (1987)
Hold Your Fire peaked at Number 13 on the Billboard album chart – their lowest debut since 1978's Hemispheres. But don't blame this New Wave deep cut, starring Lee's deeply soulful, funky bass and Lifeson's echoing riff.
55. "Force Ten," Hold Your Fire (1987)
"Tough times demand tough talk, demand tough hearts, demand tough songs," Lee sings. "Force Ten," appropriately, reinstates some of the toughness long missing from their music since the early '80s.
54. "Madrigal," A Farewell to Kings (1977)
One of a few dozen songs Rush never performed live, this airy love ballad offers a moment of reflective calm within the thunder of A Farewell to Kings. Peart was still in fairly tale mode in the late '70s, so he couldn't resist sneaking in a "dragon" reference. But this one's fairly straightforward in both arrangement and sentiment: "When all around is madness and there's no safe port in view," Lee sings over a fretless-styled bass and orchestral-like guitar effects. "I long to turn my path homeward to stop awhile with you."
53. "Wish Them Well," Clockwork Angels (2012)
The formula of modern Rush is simple: If you can remember the chorus after the first listen, it's a keeper. This streamlined hard-rock anthem passes muster – check out Lee's high-range backing vocals with their expertly controlled vibrato.
52. "Caravan," Clockwork Angels (2012)
This one builds from crunchy, metallic verses to a gliding chorus in which Lee appropriately sings, "I can't stop thinking big!" Rush originally issued both "Caravan" and "BU2B" as stand-alone singles prior to their Time Machine tour, later remixing them for the LP after discovering some new sonic dimensions. "We knew when we did the rest of the songs that there had been some growth in terms of the sound," Lee said in 2012, detailing the revamped version.
51. "Distant Early Warning," Grace Under Pressure (1985)
The reggae vibes pop up again on Grace Under Pressure's dynamic opening cut. The band sounds eerily like the Police.
50. "The Enemy Within," Grace Under Pressure (1984)
This one's essentially a cocktail of early Police and Blue Oyster Cult's "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," with an added splash of synth and ska. "Experience to extreeeeeemes!"
49. "Hope," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
In their early days, Rush ripped off Led Zeppelin's molten hard rock with teenage zeal. Here, on this spellbinding solo instrumental showcase, Lifeson taps into Jimmy Page's Eastern folk side via III, strumming his acoustic 12-string guitar fancifully in open-D tuning. At barely two minutes, it's the shortest song in the band's catalog, and it took him only one real take to nail down.
48. "Headlong Flight," Clockwork Angels (2012)
This is Rush's version of punk-prog, with each player trimming the fat from their playing. One of several of their new-millennium tracks that recalls the distorted thrust of Rage Against the Machine, "Headlong Flight" sounds eerily like "Bulls on Parade" with its main riff.
47. "The Wreckers," Clockwork Angels (2012)
On their swan song LP, Rush often sound obsessed with toughening up their sound – often sacrificing melody in favor of riffs. "The Wreckers" is a notable exception, offering a lushness with its layered strings and harmony vocals.
46. "Mystic Rhythms," Power Windows (1985)
Fitting title for this hypnotic single, built around Lifeson's delayed guitar riffs and electronic beats that recall Peter Gabriel circa Security.
45. "Bravest Face," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
Lifeson offers some originality to the modern Rush aesthetic here: He mingles jazz chords and bluesy licks on the solo, and his nervous acoustic down-strokes in the verses could pass for a modern indie-rock band. Lee also experiments with his vocal approach, layering in heavy chorus harmonies and nodding to blue-eyed soul at the climax with soulful runs. “When I first listen to a rough sketch of guitar, bass, vocal and drum machine, I am hearing it as the lyricist, and I am also listening as the drummer," Peart wrote in an essay at the time. "In a larger sense, though, I’m really listening as a fan – someone who wants to love that song. Even on first listen, I felt that way about ‘Bravest Face’ and ‘The Way the Wind Blows,’ and I was especially excited by how different they were from anything we had done before – fresh and vital, yet rooted in some deeper musical streams.”
44. "Anthem," Fly by Night (1975)
Much of this Fly by Night barn-burner follows the early Rush playbook: a nifty 7/8 pattern, Peart bashing his kit with a meticulous majesty (check those splash cymbals), Lee shattering eardrums behind the mic. But that early formula rarely paid off as well as it did here.
43. "Middletown Dreams," Power Windows (1985)
The dreamy atmosphere of this Power Windows highlight envelops you like a warm blanket, Lee crooning with a rare softness and sweetness over an instant-classic synth hook.
42. "Kid Gloves," Grace Under Pressure (1984)
Lifeson wiggles to the forefront on "Kid Gloves," flipping the bird to Lee's synthesizers all the way. The guitarist's delayed, palm-muted 10/8 riff – which conjures Genesis' "Follow You Follow Me" with a proggier sensibility – is one of the highlights of Grace Under Pressure, offering some grit to an album that often gets lost in reverb. He sounds like he's exploding with pent-up anticipation on the guitar solo, which flaunts an Eddie Van Halen-like tremolo bar flair.
41. "The Garden," Clockwork Angels (2012)
A rare Rush song that will leave you reaching for the Kleenex, "The Garden" stands out in the band's catalog for its sweetness and simplicity, its clarity and control. It's an unusual arrangement for these guys, with Lee crooning softly over a David Campbell string arrangement, Jason Sniderman's twinkling piano and Lifeson's restrained acoustic guitar. And its delicate quality initially concerned producer Nick Raskulinecz. "Nick was a little wary of it getting too sweet," Lifeson told MusicRadar. "The demo was very acoustic. The piano parts were there, as were the strings, but everything was kind of soft. Nick wanted us to toughen it up some." Luckily, they didn't do much toughening. If this is how the Rush story ends – and by all indications it will be – it's a poignant curtain call.
40. "Manhattan Project," Power Windows (1985)
Peart examines the real-life Manhattan Project – the World War II development that resulted in the Trinity nuclear test – on this breathtaking, synth-heavy cut, documenting the very moment when man devolved into beast.
39. "Faithless," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
The lyric is so simple, it shouldn't work, but Peart injects this Eastern-tinged rocker with a honorable meditation on finding faith in the universe and other people – and not gods. "I don’t have faith in faith / I don’t believe in belief / You can call me faithless," Lee sings. "But I still cling to hope / And I believe in love / And that's faith enough for me." It's essentially a love song to atheism – a beautiful, rarely expressed sentiment in rock.
38. "Far Cry," Snakes & Arrows (2007)
"One day I feel I'm ahead of the wheel, and the next it's rolling over me," Lee belts, preaching a universal truth. It's one of Lee's strongest choruses of the modern era.
37. "The Big Money," Power Windows (1985)
Lee is one of a handful of prog musicians with the chops – and willingness – to get funky. And on this dynamo single, he smacks the crap out of his bass strings like they owe him a gambling debt. But "The Big Money" is more than just a killer groove – it's also easily one of Rush's most deceptively intricate radio hits, bouncing giddily from atmospheric synths to tribal tom-toms to arena-rock choruses. The band's early '80s sonic exploration – the brushes with reggae and ska and synth-pop – had coalesced into a color all their own.
36. "Chain Lightning," Presto (1989)
Lee's bass sounds like a low-end locomotive on this dissonant rocker, which builds to a dizzying chorus with Lifeson's spacey guitars and Peart's swinging drums. Rupert Hine's warm production brings adds a shimmer to the song – this is some of the most organic engineering of any rock album in the late '80s.
35. "Beneath, Between & Behind," Fly by Night (1975)
Rush were still Led Zeppelin disciples on Fly by Night, but they infused their formative hard rock with a progressive edge and an unrestrained glee. "Beneath, Between & Behind" is a riff powerhouse, bouncing joyously from chord to chord. But it's the subtle touches that elevate this one to a classic – look, for example, how Peart shifts to a half-time, hi-hat-heavy groove at the 2:09 mark.
34. "The Camera Eye," Moving Pictures (1981)
Peart drew on his own past people-watching for this analytical cut, full of arpeggiated guitar, squelching synths and jazzy hi-hats. "It's basically, how would one put it, looking through the lens at two different cities ... New York and London," Lee told Toronto's CHUM-FM.
33. "Losing It," Signals (1982)
Ben Mink, violinist of fellow Canadian prog-rock band FM, adds haunting, dissonant edge to the second half of this atmospheric Signals cut. Peart is at his darkest lyrically, documenting a writer's and dancer's mental and physical decline. "The bell tolls for thee," Lee sings. Heavy!
32. "Rivendell," Fly by Night (1975)
Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett was a crucial early influence on Lifeson, and you can hear the ripples on early albums like Fly by Night and Caress of Steel. "Rivendell" is a clear example, with his nylon-string plucks and delay-pedal tones underscoring a tale about the elven kingdom from The Lord of the Rings. "Steve Hackett had such a great presence in the early Genesis music," Lifeson told Rolling Stone in 2015. "He was up against a lot – strong drummer, strong keyboards, a very amazing vocalist, and he worked in all these tonal shades around the music that happening. Being in a three-piece, there's lots of room. And then you've got to fill it up."
31. "Circumstances," Hemispheres (1978)
Spasmodic riffs and arpeggios, Peart tapping that glockenspiel in the bridge – it's Rush in all their full prog glory.
30. "Lakeside Park," Caress of Steel (1975)
A lot of Rush fans – hell, even Rush members – hate "Lakeside Park," for reasons that are entirely unclear. ("If I hear 'Lakeside Park on the radio, I cringe," Lee told Raw Magazine in 1993. "What a lousy song!") Perhaps it's Peart's nostalgic lyrics about working at a summer carnival; maybe it's the campy sweetness with which Lee sings about "willows in the bree-eeze." But there's a rare blend of power and preciousness here: Peart romanticizes his youthful job with a same mythic weight he offers historic battles and Tolkien tales, anchoring the onslaught of dreamy riffs, psychedelic guitar solos, and mammoth triplet tom-toms to a core of wistfulness rare in the Rush catalog.
29. "Working Man," Rush (1974)
Without this head-banging fuzz-rock anthem, Rush's debut LP would be an afterthought – a demo-worthy stepping stone to their prog destiny. But "Working Man," with its Sabbath-styled riffs and blue-collar lyrics, is a stone-cold classic. After a primal, two-minute pummel, they tease an ambitious streak with wild guitar solos, triplet drum fills and tempo changes, climaxing with Lifeson's grandiose fanfare of string bends. Rush had only one flash of brilliance, but they harnessed its power to forge their hard-prog path.
28. "Different Strings," Permanent Waves (1980)
Lee, in this rare post-70s lyric-writing credit, demonstrates a Peart-like maturity. "Different eyes see different things/ Different hearts beat on different strings," he sings over acoustic guitar and bass harmonics. The track ends with one of Lifeson's most subtle and bluesy solos – you only wish it hadn't been faded out so quickly. But that was Rush in 1980: trimming fat at every possible point.
27. "Cinderella Man," A Farewell to Kings (1977)
Staccato riffs, anthemic acoustic strums, grooving hi-hats, bits of balladry and balls-out rocking – "Cinderella Man" is one of Rush's most overlooked tracks from the late '70s, a true showcase for every tool in their arsenal.
26. "Show Don't Tell," Presto (1989)
Rush adopted a harder-edged sound for Presto, emphasizing Lifeson's guitars more than they had in a decade. This propulsive single emphasized the guitarist's high-octave funk attack on the verses, with a spacey synth vibe on the choruses and bridge. The album went to No. 16 on the Billboard 200, and "Show Don't Tell" landed at No. 1 on the rock chart, becoming their second of five songs to do so.
25. "Time Stand Still," Hold Your Fire (1987)
'Til Tuesday singer-songwriter Aimee Mann's breathy vocal adds a soothing femininity to this Top 3 hit, marking the band's first collaboration with a guest singer. "When we wrote that song, I just became obsessed with having a female vocalist come in and add a different nuance to it," Lee told A.V. Club in 2015. "We talked about a lot of different vocalists. At that time I was a big fan of Kate Bush, and I’ve always been a big Björk fan. Somebody suggested Aimee Mann, and we listened to her work. Her voice is absolutely beautiful and really possessed a lot of the qualities that we were after, and she was thrilled to come up to Toronto and lend her talents to our song, which I think really elevated the track. She’s such an awesome person and we had a ball with her."
24. "The Pass," Presto (1989)
"All of us get lost in the darkness / Dreamers learn to steer by the stars," Lee croons on this cosmic power ballad, the single most emotional moment in the Rush catalog. It's a perfect symbiosis of music and lyric, as Lifeson's rippling guitar solidifies the poignancy in Peart's poetry about teenage suicide.
23. "Digital Man," Signals (1982)
The song that nearly broke Rush altogether: Producer Terry Brown, essentially the band's fourth member since 1975's Fly by Night, was disgusted by "Digital Man"'s reggae-leaning groove that he argued against the song's inclusion on Signals – essentially catalyzing his departure from their studio team. "Terry was definitely afraid that we were moving away from being a rock band, taking too much influence from other bands like the Police," Lifeson told Prog in 2014. "And he really wasn't keen on Neil's use of electronic drums." Brown's intuition may have proved correct over the long haul, as the band burrowed deeper into their rabbit hole of electronics throughout the '80s, but he was wrong here.
22. "YYZ," Moving Pictures (1981)
This Guitar Hero-worthy instrumental originated from a Morse code rhythm Peart overheard from the cockpit of a small plane. The drummer's hands endure a daunting workout on "YYZ," including some precise triplets on the ride cymbal bell. But, like the entirety of Moving Pictures, everybody's on their A-game – Lee alternating between bass and synth, Lifeson incorporating a signature finger-tapped solo.
21. "Entre Nous," Permanent Waves (1980)
Peart focused on a less narrative form of grandiosity – one of love – with this lovely rock ballad, tinted with some spacey analog synth on the bridge.
20. "The Analog Kid," Signals (1982)
Every second of this track is a pure adrenaline rush: the transition from the caffeinated main riff to the synth-scraping chorus is one of the most breathtaking moments in their catalog, as is the way Lee extends his "call me" note at 2:54. This is Rush at their finest: proggy yet economical, melodic and lyrical, a verse-chorus structure with space for soloing and extra flourishes. Every single note of this slays.
19. "Freewill," Permanent Waves (1980)
A cross-section of fizzy New Wave and heady prog, full of wild time-signatures (ah, 13/4, that old staple!). In the final verse, Lee brushes off his old glass-shattering, dog-whistle range – a blast from the then-near past, and that's before mentioning the unexpected jazz-fusion breakdown. On the lyrical front, Peart subtly slams the concept of theism without managing to be a dick about it – not an easy feat. (He's explored the same themes many other times but never with such grace.)
18. "Natural Science," Permanent Waves (1980)
A bit disjointed but in only the best way possible, Permanent Waves' nine-minute closer cycles through riffs and tempos and moods like Lee hairstyles in a retrospective video clip.
17. "Jacob's Ladder," Permanent Waves (1980)
"Jacob's Ladder" is based on the image of crepuscular rays, which have been likened to the Biblical ladder to heaven. Surreal subject matter that calls for a grandiose arrangement, and Rush deliver. After a gloomy sci-fi death march, Lifeson performs one of his most show-stopping guitar parts – a double-octave lead figure that borders on vintage British metal. That's only the first two minutes.
16. "A Passage to Bangkok," 2112 (1976)
2112 is a tale of two sides: Rush saved their silliest, most long-winded ideas for the title epic and turned the second half into a catch-all hodgepodge. "A Passage to Bangkok" is one of the sharpest vocal melodies the band wrote pre-1980, and it's a load of fun as a lyric – Peart's lighthearted (lightheaded?) fable about traveling via train to Thailand in search of the world's finest reefer at each stop.
15. "Bastille Day," Caress of Steel (1975)
This song is the sound of the titular battle, the hard-rock guillotine claiming her bloody prize. Surprises aplenty: the downbeat shift at 3:55, the climactic tempo slow-down and slow-mo guitar harmonies. Lee's voice is still high and shockingly shrill, but by this point he'd learned to utilize more restraint, picking and choosing moments to shatter glass with his high trills.
14. "Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres," Hemispheres (1978)
A bit longer and even more complex than its Farewell to Kings predecessor, "Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres" moves from eerie synth ambience to heady riffs. In one of the coolest headphone Easter eggs in rock history, producer Terry Brown split Lee's double-tracked voice into the left and right channels each time he sings the word "hemispheres" on "Armageddon: The Battle of Heart and Mind."
13. "Cygnus X-1 Book I: The Voyage," A Farewell to Kings (1977)
By 1977, 10-and-a-half minutes was a walk in the park. The first edition of the "Cygnus" saga moves from warped funk to punk-ish hard rock to dark dissonance. The biggest jaw-dropper is the bluesy opening riff, which alternates between bars of 6, 7 and 8 – a complex time-signature that will leave any prog fan smiling (if tapping their foot irregularly).
12. "The Spirit of Radio," Permanent Waves (1980)
There's almost a punk edge to this breakout hit, which helped Permanent Waves peak at Mo. 3 in Canada and the U.K. and No. 4 in the U.S. Another track where Lee wrote himself a quality melody that stands separate from the riff. The reggae breakdown and climactic piano stomp gave this one a commercial appeal no one could have predicted five years earlier. Peart's lyrics are about listening to Toronto radio station CFNY-FM.
11. "Fly by Night," Fly by Night (1975)
Bristling with energy at a compact 3:19, "Fly by Night" packs more unbridled second-by-second fun than any other song in the Rush canon. Lifeson's crunching, descending guitar riff is instant joy – the sound of, well, flying by night and changing your life, and the rhythm section's torrent of proggy fills (Lee's chorus triplets, Peart's splash accents) achieve a perpetual, cinematic tension, as you wonder when and how the next surprise will emerge. (Even the bridge is built on a quality hook, with Lee singing merrily through a trippy wave of phaser – an effect achieved by running his vocal through a Leslie speaker.)
10. "New World Man," Signals (1981)
One of the band's catchiest, funkiest guitar/bass riffs and with a chorus that's melodically, as interesting as the other parts. Rush are often better riff writers than vocal melody writers, but this one is an exception.
9. "Subdivisions," Signals (1981)
Rush had given themselves over to synth worship, but it hadn't affected the quality of their music. "Subdivisions" is menacing prog-pop with rumbling, pitch-shifted vocals and some of the tastiest analog synth leads this side of a Stevie Wonder album. Peart contributes one of his jazziest, most complex grooves in the 7/8 section, which only makes the pattern more satisfying when he "resolves" the implied tension in 4/4. Still, Lifeson has bemoaned both the song's and album's production in the years since. "In a couple of key places there was too much emphasis placed on the keyboards," Lifeson told Prog. "The mix of 'Subdivisions' has always been a disappointment for me. I recall leaning over to push up the faders [to increase the guitar levels in the mix] and Terry would smile and push them back down again."
8. "Vital Signs," Moving Pictures (1981)
"Vital Signs" is the closest Rush ever came to progressive electronica, tapping into a Tangerine Dream ambience with their gurgling sequenced synth patterns. But like all of Rush's work from this fertile period, there are multiple layers to the track: Lifeson's splashes of reggae color signal the way forward ... to Signals.
7. "La Villa Strangiato," Hemispheres (1978)
Rush subtitled this instrumental powerhouse "An Exercise in Self-Indulgence" – ironic since, by their geeky standards, it never offers a moment to yawn or check your watch. This one's full of subtle, deeply emotive playing: the rhythmic shift at 3:33, with Peart settling into a funky hi-hat pattern; Lifeson's palm-muted guitar figure; a swinging, jazzy section ("Monsters!"), mind-melting bass and solos ("The Ghost of the Aragon"). Perfection.
6. "Closer to the Heart," A Farewell to Kings (1977)
The first genuine pop song Rush ever wrote, and one of the most beautiful moments in their vast catalog. The 12-string acoustic intro is spellbinding in itself, but it's easy to forget the song's winding journey through massive guitar crunch, swirling synths and twinkling glockenspiel.
5. "Xanadu," A Farewell to Kings (1977)
Rush pulled out all the bells and whistles -- quite literally -- on this hard-prog monster. Indeed, Peart's tubular bells are one of many recently employed pieces of gear, along with an array of synthesizers, glockenspiels, temple blocks, chimes and the usual, you know, guitars and drums. The lyrics document a narrator's ill-fated search for the mythical titular kingdom – he finds immortality, but also madness.
4. "A Farewell to Kings," A Farewell to Kings (1977)
The intro to A Farewell to Kings' anthemic title track signals the changes afoot: Synth and glockenspiel flutter over Lifeson's gorgeously plucked, stereo-panned classical guitar, ushering in a trademark thunderous hard-rock riff. There are surprises around every turn: funky bass-led sections, rhythmic shifts, 7/8 time. Their future was limitless.
3. "Red Barchetta," Moving Pictures (1981)
This New Wave prog-pop classic is the sound of open-air freedom, the perfect soundtrack to rolling down the windows and driving worry-free into the unknown. Fittingly, Neil Peart's lyrics, a stunning short story in isolation, details a character's reckless joyride in a futuristic dystopia where sports cars have been outlawed by a "motor law."
2. "Limelight," Moving Pictures (1981):
"It was my attempt, really, to explain how it felt," Peart said of "Limelight" in a 2012 interview. "I tried to explain that extroverts do not understand introverts." This crunchy classic-rock masterpiece is quintessential Neil Peart: Even when he's diving inward, explaining his own insecurities in the eye of fame, he manages to be universal. The arrangement is equally effective, focusing on Lifeson's ringing guitar lines and the drummer's dance between New Wave and jazz. (For bonus enjoyment, check out the promo in-studio clip below. There's so much greatness, it's hard to know where to start, but highlights include Lee's hilarious red socks with white shoes and occasionally palming some congas, despite the fact that no such percussion appears on the track. And, of course, there's the giant Eraserhead poster on the wall.)
1. "Tom Sawyer," Moving Pictures (1981)
"Tom Sawyer" is the ultimate Rush song in several ways. It's their most famous piece, occupying a prime piece of classic-rock radio real estate for almost four decades. It's their cleanest, most seamless fusion of prog and hard rock, boasting some of their tightest ensemble playing and a guitar riff catchier than "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Like the entirety of 1981's Moving Pictures, it's also a fascinating crossroads between '70s and '80s Rush, arriving a few years after the knotty conceptual sprawl of Hemispheres and a few years before Lee became obsessed with synthesizers. The piece originated from one of numerous jam sessions during a particular frigid winter rehearsal at a Toronto farm; Peart, meanwhile, developed his lyrics of rebellion from a poem he received from lyricist Pye Dubois based on Mark Twain's 1876 novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The result is the Rush masterpiece – a compact, four-and-a-half-minute summation of everything they represented."'Tom Sawyer' is a real trademark song for us," Lifeson told Louder Sound in 2014. “Musically, it's very powerful, and lyrically, it has a spirit that resonates with a lot of people. It's kind of an anthem."