[DISCLAIMER: I wrote most of this before the unbelievably sad news of Neil Peart’s death broke. I’m still trying to get the words out for a tribute which will no longer be timely when I finish, but I think Neil would want me to focus on his life rather than his death, and thus I elected to finish this column first. I have endeavored to write something that he would like if he read it.]
Everyone loves a good ranking, right? I do! And while I suppose it is a little puerile to try and summarize a legendary band in such a simplistic way, my colleague and friend Rob’s (of Progressive Music Planet) “Rank ‘Em” columns helped me to start digging many an awesome band, by showing me what albums I should start with. I’m going to have a little fun with this and share some more details about each record, so hopefully a few will say, “Hey, this seems like my kind of music.” And of course, what better band to start with than my all-time favorite, Rush?
Rush released nineteen studio albums during their illustrious career (twenty if you count their underappreciated covers EP, Feedback). Each album has stellar moments, but in my opinion, almost every album has at least one really awkward moment, just because Rush are a bunch of nerds from the Toronto suburbs and they don’t care how many records they sell. Power to them, but it makes rating any Rush album a challenging task!
Without further ado…here we go.
19: Test For Echo
It’s not a bad album, per se. It just isn’t exciting. At no point in this album do I want to air-drum, which may be the biggest accomplishment of Neil Peart’s career. There are some great songs (“Driven,” “Half The World,” “Carve Away The Stone”) but even on the album’s best moments, you can tell that they’re kind of burned out. While the hiatus was taken for reasons personal, rather than musical, it sounds like the last album before a hiatus.
Something Here As Strong As Life (favorite track): I actually love “Carve Away The Stone,” the closer. It has wonderful lyrics dealing with guilt, but with an eye towards self-improvement (a favorite theme of Neil’s). The bassline is killer. The guitars are almost nonexistent, as is the case with much of this album, but Geddy and Neil fill in pretty capably.
Don’t Annoy Us Further (least-favorite track): “Dog Years” probably has a decent case for being the very worst song, lyrically speaking, of the Peart era. The lyrics are tolerable, however, as the vocals are hard to hear over the mash of sound emanating from the drums and stringed instruments. I don’t recommend it.
The Words That Touch My Heart (favorite lyrics): “Chip away the stone, Sisyphus/Chip away the stone/Make the burden lighter if you must roll that rock alone” (from “Carve Away The Stone”)
The Feverish Pictures (in which I review the cover): Despite being at the bottom of my list musically, the cover art for Test For Echo is one of my favorites of all time. It features a decidedly Canadian inuksuk on a snow-covered plain, with three tiny people climbing on the stones (the band members, perhaps?). It seems cover artist Hugh Syme reached his creative zenith just as his musical partners hit their nadir. 10/10
The Secrets That Set Them Apart (fun Rush trivia): This was the last studio album released before the horrible losses Neil suffered, causing him to leave the band. Alex Lifeson has said that they didn’t even think about the band being over at the time-that was just a given. They were just concerned about their friend (like the sweet Canucks they are). Thankfully for the world of prog, they did reform and release three more killer records before their eventual retirement.
As bluesy early ’70s hard rock goes, this album is killer. If only for the familiar aesthetic of Geddy Lee’s voice, I turn to this record more than anything by, say, Free or Bad Company. On the scale of Rush, however…meh. Neil’s not there, which basically means both the lyrics and the drumming have taken quite a hit. Still, you can see the potential exhibited by Geddy, Alex, and original drummer John Rutsey. Lee does his best Robert Plant impression on this record, and it’s a shame he doesn’t really use that bluesy tone on more of his songs.
Something Here As Strong As Life: “Working Man” is the song that made Rush famous, and for good reason. Its pounding, laborious riff feels like the doldrums of the daily grind played through a Marshall amp. Geddy sounds especially Plant-y here and his bass riff leading into the jam section is a harbinger of things to come. Rutsey, while obviously not Neil Peart, keeps a steady beat.
Don’t Annoy Us Further: Holy crap, I’m going to have to go with “In The Mood.” It’s not too bad, really, I just have to be “In The Mood” for it. And the lyrics…Neil didn’t join a moment too soon. Let’s leave it at that.
The Words That Touch My Heart: “It seems to me I could live my life/A lot better than I think I am” (from “Working Man”)
The Feverish Pictures: I actually like the bold, retro flavor of the band’s first album cover. It’s not as intellectual as a Syme painting, just as the lyrics weren’t as intellectual as Peart lyrics, so it works. I love the bubble letters on the logo. It just doesn’t look like a Rush album cover. The iconic emblem is the primary one used by the band to this day, albeit in its original red form, not the accidental hot-pink hue. 7.5/10
The Secrets That Set Them Apart: You might think Rush is as white as it gets, but you’d be wrong. Two-thirds of the band are first-generation Canadian citizens, born to Serbian and Polish immigrants, respectively. Alexandar Zivojinovic translated his surname, meaning “son of life,” directly from the original Serbian to create his stage name, Alex Lifeson. Gary Lee Weinrib got the nickname “Geddy” because that’s how his mother pronounced Gary in her heavy accent. Neil Peart and John Rutsey, the drummers, are the only members of Rush to use their real names, but some of the butcherings of “Peart” on the Internet must have made him second-guess that decision.
17: Snakes & Arrows
Some of my favorite Rush songs are on here. From the anthemic “Far Cry” to the inspiring “We Hold On,” this album is full of great moments. However, it shares that space equally with mediocre moments, and I don’t like the muddy production or the shrieking vocals at all.
Something Here As Strong As Life: “Far Cry” is the best Rush song of the 21st century. It opens with a riff that borders on heavy metal before shifting into some of Neil’s sharpest, most cynical lyrics. The rousing chorus gets stuck in my head on a weekly basis and all three members play their guts out. I don’t have enough positive adjectives in my vocabulary for this song.
Don’t Annoy Us Further: The worst song on this record is pretty much a toss-up between “Armor And Sword” and “Workin’ Them Angels.” They’re just sort of lame songs that have no business following up the mighty “Far Cry.”
The Words That Touch My Heart: “In the softest voice there’s an acid tongue/In the oldest eyes there’s a soul so young/In the shakiest will there’s a core of steel/On the smoothest ride there’s a squeaky wheel” (from “Bravest Face”)
The Feverish Pictures: Snakes & Arrows definitely grows on me artistically over time. I always liked the slightly childish design (based, of course, on the board game) and the serene Buddha in the background. It doesn’t look Syme-y at all, and that’s cool. The album is, in some ways, a departure from the usual Rush sound as well. 8/10
The Secrets That Set Them Apart: This was Rush’s first album with Alice In Chains producer Nick Raskulinecz. His style worked well for the grunge outfit but not for Rush’s intricate compositions, in my opinion. They didn’t learn their lesson, apparently; he was hired to produce Rush’s monumental swan song, Clockwork Angels (more on that one later).
16: Power Windows
Stuck between two of my very favorite Rush albums, it was never quite as good as the rest of the ’80s Rush albums, in my opinion. The decade began with “The Spirit Of Radio” and ended with “Available Light,” for Pete’s sake. It’s my favorite Rush era. There are some fantastic songs on this one, from “Big Money” to “Marathon,” but there’s more “filler” tracks on this one than on any other Rush album, in my opinion. It is, however, a very cool-sounding album.
Something Here As Strong As Life: “Manhattan Project” does what Rush does best: intellectual, yet accessible. The historical lyrics provide a grim warning to those who would “play with the biggest toys,” and the subtle counterpoint of the music inexorably moves into your head. It’s a classic.
Don’t Annoy Us Further: There aren’t any bad songs on this record-just a few that run a bit longer than maybe they should. “Emotion Detector” comes to mind.
The Words That Touch My Heart: “But she’ll go walking out that door/On some bright afternoon/To go and paint big cities/From a lonely attic room” (from “Middletown Dreams”)
The Feverish Pictures: Norman Rockwell meets Back To The Future. The cover of Power Windows features a young, partially-clothed boy pointing a TV remote out his window at night. Behind him are three very retro television sets. It’s another example of Syme’s double entendres, in my opinion: his bedroom window is powered, yet the powered television acts as his window to the outside world. It’s one that reveals more upon your second glance. 7/10
The Secrets That Set Them Apart: Geddy Lee doesn’t switch basses casually. His trusty Rickenbacker carried him through the 70s and early 80s, and he has been a faithful Fender endorser for decades. This album marked the beginning of his shorter, lesser-known Wal era. The punchy, pricey, and surprisingly lightweight bass would remain his go-to for three more albums.
15: Fly By Night
The true debut album. This record sounds a lot like Rush’s eponymous debut, but with exponentially better lyrics. Youth is the word of this album. Geddy wails as high as he ever has, Alex plays bluesy solos with lots of notes and licks, Neil plays like he’s getting paid by the beat and his lyrics express wide-eyed optimism. (They always have, of course, but the optimism is expressed in a more simplistic, immature, youthful way than it is on the later Rush albums.) Sometimes I like this, sometimes I don’t. Long story short: the songs are great, but Rush isn’t as good as they would become in the years that followed.
Something Here As Strong As Life: If you don’t like Rush, you will detest “Anthem.” Geddy screams Rand-inspired lyrics about self-actualization over the heaviest riff of Rush’s entire career. Alex’s solo is fricking unreal, and his guitar tone shakes me to the bone. However, the true star of the show is Neil. From the inhumanly technical fills to the verbose, symbolic lyrics, he makes his presence felt. Anyone who heard the first record knew after this song that they were dealing with a different Rush.
Don’t Annoy Us Further: Rush has an unfair reputation as a straight-laced, conservative, upstanding, goody-two-shoes band that didn’t smoke, drink, have sex, or say anything more obscene than “dadgummit.” Gene Simmons once told the story of the time Kiss and Rush were on tour, and they shared a hotel with an all-female bowling league. Simmons was out, ahem, “enjoying himself” with the bowlers, and he goes to check on Rush, and they’re watching TV alone in their room. But if that’s the Rush you know, listen to “Rivendell.” Whatever they were on when they wrote that song, I don’t recommend it.
The Words That Touch My Heart: “I can shine like you shine/It doesn’t make me brighter/If I think like you think/It don’t make my load any lighter” (from “In The End”)
The Feverish Pictures: The iconic Fly By Night owl is one of only two Rush album covers not designed by Hugh Syme. Nevertheless, it’s a good one. As you might infer from my love of this cover and that of Test For Echo, any painting with snow in it is instantly cool in my eyes. I can’t say I like the font at the top. This cover, like the album, is a predictor of Rush’s future: it’s another double entendre. “Fly-by-night” means sleazy, shady, or corrupt, but owls, quite literally, fly by night. 8/10
The Secrets That Set Them Apart: Neil Peart was one of many drummers who auditioned for Rush after the departure of John Rutsey. Geddy has stated in the Rush documentary, Beyond The Lighted Stage, that his first thought upon meeting Neil was that he wasn’t “nearly cool enough” to be in Rush. Peart himself said in the same film that his drums looked funny, and (after some hesitation) he also looked funny. Then he began to play…and the rest is history.
14: Caress Of Steel
Ach, dang it! Where do I put this album? It’s straight-up pretentious prog-rock cheese from the mid-70s, but it’s so, so good. “Bastille Day” is an absolute banger with great lyrics about the French Revolution (which probably didn’t please the record label). “The Fountain Of Lamneth” and “The Necromancer” were the most ambitious songs of Rush’s career up to that point. It’s just so raw and puerile and cheesy. And let’s not talk about “I Think I’m Going Bald.”
Something Here As Strong As Life: As important as “The Fountain Of Lamneth” was to Rush’s future, I’m going to have to go with “Bastille Day.” Rarely did Rush get this extreme. The pounding riff, the out-of-control solo…and the LYRICS! This, here, is a great example of why I love Rush so much. They wrote a heavy metal song about history, and there’s lots of long words, but Lee still screams his guts out like he wants to see some aristocrat heads tumble.
Don’t Annoy Us Further: You can’t expect a bunch of teenagers to really understand the problems of old age, but you have to give them kudos for trying. “I Think I’m Going Bald” is another example of what I like about Rush: their willingness to release really weird songs. Unfortunately, as compared to, say, “Roll The Bones” or “Tai Shan,” this one falls flat. Geddy clearly doesn’t believe the lyrics (to this day, he has a full head of hair) and the riff is recycled from “In The Mood,” but changed up a little so the teacher doesn’t notice.
The Words That Touch My Heart: “And we’re marching to Bastille Day/La guillotine will claim her bloody prize/Sing, O choirs of cacophony/The king has kneeled to let his kingdom rise” (from “Bastille Day”)
The Feverish Pictures: Hugh Syme makes his glorious entrance with a cover as geeky, poorly-executed and awesome as the album it adorns. It depicts a sorcerer on a high mountain, surrounded by smoke, with a glass pyramid suspended in midair. Originally, it was supposed to be silver, but the record label screwed up (again) and made it the burnt ochre color we know and love today. (“It’s like, how much more bronze could this get? And the answer is none. None…more bronze.”) It’s an icon. 9/10
The Secrets That Set Them Apart: Rush referred to the Caress Of Steel tour as the “Down The Tubes Tour,” and it’s not hard to see why. While I think this album is a work of art, the label disagreed, as twenty-minute metal epics and rock anthems about historical facts are hardly commercial. That’s part of my love-hate relationship with this album: it almost killed my favorite band’s career. Thank goodness their iconic follow-up is one of the albums that built prog.
Production-wise, this album is one of Rush’s best! I love, love, love the bass tone. In a way, it’s kind of a production oasis: a fantastically-produced record in the middle of some really, really bad-sounding records. However, the songs aren’t really up to par with most of the Rush discography, in my opinion. There are a few classics here and there (“Animate,” “Nobody’s Hero,” “Alien Shore,” “Cold Fire”) and a lot of songs that don’t grab me at all. Plus, they used the stupid horn synths on this one. I hate horn synths.
Something Here As Strong As Life: “Stick It Out” is a really weird bit with a lot of strange chords and intervals, which is not something Rush is really known for. It seems almost Steely Dan-esque in its riffs, but the production and lyrics are still very Rush. One of the coolest things about Rush is the fact that they’re not at all afraid of releasing really oddball songs. This one works like a charm-it’s one of my favorite Rush songs. The bassline is a work of art.
Don’t Annoy Us Further: “Leave That Thing Alone” never grabbed me, which is odd, because I usually adore Rush instrumentals. “The Speed Of Love” has kind of a lousy melody, though. It would have to be between those two.
The Words That Touch My Heart: “You and I, we reject these narrow attitudes/We add to each other, like a coral reef/Building bridges on the ocean floor/Reaching for the alien shore” (from “Alien Shore”)
The Feverish Pictures: It’s not a bad cover. It’s subtle, and I like the lowercase letters. But it doesn’t help that the inside of the album jacket features a much cooler picture which really should’ve been the cover. 6/10
The Secrets That Set Them Apart: Rush is hardly known for their love songs, yet love is a major lyrical theme of Counterparts. True to its title, the album discusses counterparts, opposites, and connections, and naturally men and women are the archetypal counterparts. The opener, “Animate,” is a heartfelt love song for Neil’s wife, while “The Speed Of Love” and “Cold Fire” lament the difficulty and tension of romantic relationships and the perceived complexity of the opposite gender. So, if you’re looking for a Rush song to put on a mixtape for your crush…well, first of all, I’d advise against that, as Rush aren’t a sappy mixtape sort of band, but if you must, choose something from Counterparts.
Dang it! I can’t rank this one at 12! This is the follow-up to my all-time favorite Rush album and it absolutely continues Rush’s hot streak. Some of my favorite Rush songs are on this one: “Show Don’t Tell,” “The Pass,” “Red Tide,” “Available Light.” All the instruments, in particular Neil’s drums, are top-notch. So why is it so low? The production. It’s so unbelievably tinny and weak that it often sounds like nails on a chalkboard. (One might call it the counterpart to Counterparts in that respect.) Still…the songs! This is as low as I would rank it. Ever.
Something Here As Strong As Life: One could argue that all Rush songs are anti-suicide anthems, but “The Pass” is the only one written explicitly for that purpose. The somber, plodding bassline acts as a funeral march for the song’s subject, and Alex’s heart-wrenching solo and sweeping synth chords are a desperate plea to the listener to make it through the day. It’s hard to write about this subject without coming across as cheesy or insensitive, but Neil does it masterfully. This song will always have a place in my heart.
Don’t Annoy Us Further: “Hand Over Fist” isn’t bad at all, but it kind of sounds like it was written in ten minutes, which is not an impression I get from many Rush songs. I can only listen to that chorus so many times.
The Words That Touch My Heart: “No hero in your tragedy/No daring in your escape/No salutes for your surrender/Nothing noble in your fate” (from “The Pass”)
The Feverish Pictures: Eh. Not my favorite Rush cover. Really, just a mediocre 80s rock album cover, in my opinion. I’m biased; I don’t really like party magicians with rabbits and top hats, so the whole aesthetic is just based on something I find cheesy. Nonetheless, we all know Syme can do better. 4.5/10
The Secrets That Set Them Apart: One interesting thing about this one is the fact that they were deliberately going for a more hard-rock sound. They hired a new producer (Rupert Hine) and wrote more guitar-focused songs than they had on their past few albums. Alex was certainly delighted.
11: Clockwork Angels
This will be the last Rush album. I’ve accepted that. But what a finale! You could make the case that it’s their proggiest record, an obtuse concept album of the sort that Rush was really never known for, with lyrics about totalitarianism, anarchy, and a world controlled by machines. It’s not accessible at all, but that’s part of what makes it great. It’s not without it’s faults, of course; you can’t hear the drums. The production is unbelievably muddy-more listenable than Presto, but very indistinct. Still, Clockwork Angels stands as an anomaly within the Rush canon as one of their best and wackiest records. How like Rush to end their career on a left turn!
Something Here As Strong As Life: In all likelihood, “The Garden” will be the last song of Rush’s illustrious career, and I can’t imagine a better way to go out. The contemplative, yet optimistic power ballad seems almost like a recap of everything Rush learned in forty years of playing music together. And Alex’s solo…holy guacamole. I have to admit, this one makes me tear up a little. The last Rush song…as well as one of their best.
Don’t Annoy Us Further: Surprisingly for such a conceptual piece, there are no really egregious songs here. In fact, they’re all amazing. The only one that isn’t that great is “BU2B2,” a throwaway reprise of the earlier track “BU2B.” But that’s a very forgivable offense.
The Words That Touch My Heart: “The lenses inside of me that paint the world black/The pools of poison, the scarlet mist, that spill over into rage/The things I’ve always been denied/An early promise that somehow died/A missing part of me that grows around me like a cage” (from “The Anarchist”)
The Feverish Pictures: An album that doesn’t sound like a Rush album deserves nothing less than a cover that doesn’t look like a Syme cover. It’s a clock with alchemy symbols instead of numbers, hovering over a red mist that looks almost as murky and swirly as the production. It introduces a new logo, which has taken its place alongside the hot-pink bubble letters and the sweeping calligraphy from Hemispheres as one of the iconic Rush logos, the one Rush used in their twilight years. There’s no symbolism here, no hidden details, no puns. It just looks cool! 7/10
The Secrets That Set Them Apart: The concept of Clockwork Angels is hard to decipher. Neil Peart’s last album leaves a lot more to the imagination than his usual, clear-as-day musings on life, love, and Isaac Asimov. If you want to really understand this album, there’s a novel and a comic book based on it by a friend of Neil’s. I haven’t read either. In fact, I can’t even find them for sale or at the library. It seems they’re pretty niche.
10: Roll The Bones
The first Rush album of the 90s-the beginning of the end, one might say-slides up and down this list more than any other. “Dreamline,” “Bravado,” “The Big Wheel,” and “Ghost Of A Chance” are some of my favorite Rush songs ever. Unfortunately, I despise the title track and a lot of the songs are total throwaways. Plus, the production is all shiny-like Dream Theater. It’s rock and roll, man; why’s it gotta sound shiny? And if you think Counterparts had horn synths, Roll The Bones takes them to another level. So yeah, the good is legendary and the bad is abysmal. It’s a very bipolar album.
Something Here As Strong As Life: Ach, there’s so many great songs here! I’m going to have to give it to “Ghost Of A Chance.” The ominous riff, gentle melody, and unbelievable bassline support the lyrics perfectly. And they’re very good lyrics, too; while (being a Christian and all) the atheist-ness of this song and album chafe me a bit, it’s done very maturely. It’s not like, say, Tool or Ghost (despite the song title). It’s also another song for his wife, which gives it great emotional value and a slightly dark aftertaste, as she was dying at the time.
Don’t Annoy Us Further: Every Rush album has a “left turn:” a humorous, uncharacteristic, or simply bizarre track that turns off some fans and intrigues others. “Roll The Bones” is that track on the album of the same name, and I’m sorry to report that it’s a flop. The rap can be kind of fun if I’m in the right mood, but otherwise this is one of my least favorite Rush songs.
The Words That Touch My Heart: “When we are young/Wandering the face of the earth/Wondering what our dreams might be worth/Learning that we’re only immortal for a limited time” (from “Dreamline”)
The Feverish Pictures: One of Syme’s best pun covers! To “roll the bones” means to roll the dice, or, more generally, to take a chance. The cover features a young boy kicking a skull down the sidewalk-literally, “rolling the bones.” It’s very 90s, but so is the album. I mean, it’s a prog-rock album with horn synths, rapping, and shiny, Dream Theater production. What would you expect? 8/10
The Secrets That Set Them Apart: The rap in the title track is not Neil, the usual go-to guy for low spoken-word vocals, but Geddy, singing through a special effect. On the R40 tour, this bit was accompanied by a video of various celebrities lip-syncing to the rap. Peter Dinklage got “gonna kick some gluteus max,” which had to have made at least a few people think of his role in Elf. And you have to wonder if Neil had anyone specific in mind when he wrote “no maniacs in polyester slacks.” I wonder if he ever met my grandfather?
9: Vapor Trails
Out of Rush’s three 21st-century albums, this one is actually my favorite. It was very close to not happening; Neil Peart had seemingly retired from music following his personal tragedies, and the band had broken up, seemingly for good. This album marked Rush’s triumphant return to the music industry, the rebirth of one of the greatest careers in rock and roll. The excitement of this album is palpable, as Neil declares victory over a tragedy no family man should ever experience. It’s also one of the most bass-heavy records of Rush’s already bass-heavy discography. While it’s not the best Rush album, it may be the most historically important Rush album (aside from, perhaps, 2112). It revived the band and fueled a decade that included some of Rush’s most extensive tours. So why is it only number 9? Well, even in its far-superior remixed state, it’s a major casualty of the loudness wars. The production on Vapor Trails is the worst in Rush history, full stop.
Something Here As Strong As Life: “Ghost Rider” is one of my top-ten Rush songs, easily-maybe not for the music itself, but for the immensely important declaration of victory and resilience it represents. It’s a heartfelt account of Neil’s motorcycle trek across the continent. Musically, it’s pretty excellent as well, opening with a fantastic bass riff reminiscent of “The Pass” and “YYZ.” Especially in light of Neil’s passing, you need to hear this song.
Don’t Annoy Us Further: Ach, they’re all good! There are no real clunkers on Vapor Trails, but I have to say my least-favorite track is the opener, “One Little Victory.” It’s probably the only time in Rush history where Geddy Lee actually sounds as old as he is. The yodeling kind of gets to me. But the music is fabulous!
The Words That Touch My Heart: “Just an escape artist/Racing against the night/A wandering hermit/Racing toward the light” (from “Ghost Rider”)
The Feverish Pictures: Meh. Looks more like a compilation cover, really; nothing particularly memorable about it. The orange on the original release is kind of a nice color, but otherwise this is not Syme-quality album art. 6/10
The Secrets That Set Them Apart: The recording of Vapor Trails took about fourteen months-the longest gestational period of any Rush album. It was an intensely difficult album, as it was made after Rush had basically abandoned all hope of ever recording again. This further reinforces my view that Vapor Trails is among Rush’s most impressive accomplishments, showing the late Neil Peart’s quiet strength and desire to achieve. His life was both fabulously productive and horrifically tragic.
8: A Farewell To Kings
This album is something of an extension of the musical ideas expressed in 2112. Having piles of cash and a good deal of slack from the label (more on that next), they decided to make an album with wordier lyrics, crazier time changes, and more bizarre synth and percussion effects. Rather than writing a side-long epic, they bookended A Farewell To Kings with two ten-minute songs (which, in my opinion as a songwriter, is quite a bit harder). Geddy discovered Moog Taurus bass pedals, and Peart made extensive use of chimes, bells, cowbells, and exotic symbols. Meanwhile, Alex Lifeson picked up an acoustic guitar and took up the craft of Don McLean-esque balladry. The results are mixed, but nevertheless groovy.
Something Here As Strong As Life: “Xanadu” can make a case for not only my favorite song on this album, but my favorite Rush song, full stop. Wait, no, I won’t go that far. But it is right up there with “Mission,” “2112” and “The Analog Kid.” The moment when Geddy’s voice comes in, the solos, Neil’s cowbell grooves, the 7/8 synth stuff at the end…there are so many unbelievable moments in these eleven short minutes. The lyrics are based on the poem Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and while they are a little dorky at times (“For I have dined on honeydew/And drunk the milk of paradise/WHOOOAAAHHH, PARADIIIIIISE!”), they raise an interesting question: is eternal life all it’s cracked up to be? An absolute slammer, no doubt. If you want to get intimate with Rush’s proggier side, “Xanadu” is the song for you.
Don’t Annoy Us Further: Shortly after writing the deep and touching libretto to “Tears,” Geddy Lee regressed to his pre-Neil self with “Cinderella Man.” The lyrics aren’t that bad, but compared to Rush’s usual fare, they’re not very good. And besides the riff, it’s kind of a lame song. The melody sort of goes nowhere.
The Words That Touch My Heart: “Can’t we find the minds that made us strong?/Can’t we learn to feel what’s right and what’s wrong?” (from “A Farewell To Kings”
The Feverish Pictures: Syme’s cover this time uses similarly medieval imagery to the lyrics of the album. It depicts ruins that were once a great castle, and a once-great king, drunk as a skunk, lounging on his throne with a grotesque grin. A Farewell To Kings features an album cover as cynical and bleak as its title track-indeed the whole album, arguably Rush’s darkest. Also, the font used has become symbolic of Rush. 9/10
The Secrets That Set Them Apart: The supporting tour for A Farewell To Kings was their first real international tour (playing venues in Canada and the USA doesn’t count). Going to England was later regarded as a huge move for the band; Geddy remarked in the documentary that “all our favorite bands were from England.” What led to this unprecedented turn of events? In North America, early 80s songs like “Tom Sawyer” may be more famous, but Rush’s biggest overseas hit was undoubtedly “Closer To The Heart.” The unabashedly hopeful lyrics, gradual build and Zeppelin-esque screaming endeared these three geeky Canucks to many a European music aficionado. I, personally, will love it no matter how many times they play it.
No Rush album-not even the more successful Moving Pictures-is as iconic as 2112. It was a stunning breakthrough into the music scene of 1976 and into prog history. I don’t think it’s any stretch to say that if it weren’t for this record, progressive metal simply would not exist. It’s the archetypal combination of earth-shaking riffs and elaborate compositions, and it was one of the albums that helped prog transition from the hippy-dippy, Mellotron-soaked world of Yes and Genesis to the technically virtuosic world of Dream Theater and Steven Wilson. So why is it way down here, at number 7? Simply put, side two can’t hold a candle to side one. While they’re good songs, they’re not that good. But the title track alone puts this one in the top ten. I’m already wondering if I should rank it higher!
Something Here As Strong As Life: “2112” is easily the best song on this record. “The Twilight Zone,” a trippy tribute to the memory of Rod Serling and his classic television program, is a distant second. But seriously-even Jason likes this song. It’s a twenty-minute science fiction epic about a future in which all music, literature, and art is produced by computers owned by the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx. A man discovers a guitar, teaches himself to play it, and brings it before the Priests as a new discovery. “Don’t annoy us further!” scream the Priests, smashing his beloved axe. Then he has a dream about a world in which creativity is encouraged, and, upon awakening, commits suicide in hopes of being reincarnated into a better time. The song ends with a seriously radical jam, followed by an enigmatic ending: “Attention, all planets of the Solar Federation: we have assumed control!” Neil reads this seriously awesome line in his powerful basso profundo, leaving us to wonder who assumed control, whether our friend got his wish, and what became of the Temples of Syrinx. (Personal interpretation: the world the narrator describes in his dream return to our solar system as promised and restore freedom to earth.) If you don’t like this song, kindly surrender your prog card.
Don’t Annoy Us Further: I guess I’d have to give it to “A Passage To Bangkok.” Rush is a musical confederation of three very funny men, and their humorous side is on full display here. But the more powerful songs on this record outshine it greatly-even “Tears” and “Lessons.” The lyrics to these two tunes were composed by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, and their profound (albeit juvenile) words have always touched me in a very different way than Neil’s mature musings. So, as much as I hate to do it, I’ve got to give this award to 2112‘s underrated weed-o-rama, which, unlike most songs concerning that topic, is actually pretty dang well-done.
The Words That Touch My Heart: “Listen to my music/Hear what it can do/There’s something here as strong as life/I know it will reach you!” (from “2112”)
The Feverish Pictures: Is it an objectively good cover? Absolutely not. Is it a great cover? Heck yes! The extremely dated font, the night sky and red pentagram (the Priests’ emblem) that seem to anticipate the Star Wars backstory opening, and the kimonos and quasi-seductive facial expressions on the band members’ faces inside the jacket all contribute to a vibe of unabashed geekery. If you want to know why Rush appealed to sci-fi nerds and social misfits, look no further than the album art from 2112. 10/10
The Secrets That Set Them Apart: While we now know 2112 as a masterpiece of early progressive metal, this album was originally intended as a massive middle finger to their record label. Their label despised Caress Of Steel and made it clear that if their next album wasn’t more commercial, they were in danger of being dropped. What did Rush do, you ask? They made an album that was even more Caress than Caress, except, ya know, a million times better, and sent a simultaneously pretentious and self-deprecating geek-out to their label. Oddly enough, it sold pretty dang well, so although the execs were still baffled, they didn’t complain. (Also, Hugh Syme plays the Theremin at the beginning.)
6: Grace Under Pressure
Holy THRAK, this is gonna be hard! This is where we get to my very favorite albums, the ones I have zero quibbles with. The perfect Rush albums. Alex Lifeson considers Grace Under Pressure “our most satisfying album,” and it’s not hard to see why. Every song is catchy, energetic, and exciting, contrasting with the deeply disturbing lyrical themes (grief, the Holocaust, paranoia, Ray Bradbury stories about a robot who attempts to become sentient, and so forth). Speaking of lyrics, this record might be Neil Peart’s lyrical masterpiece. The nuanced references are radical, but in no way distract from the emotional weight of their messages. Indeed, this could be considered “pop-rock:” every word rolls off the tongue like butter. Just ask my little brother, who can’t stop singing “one, zero-zero-one, zero-zero-one, SOS!” This is as low as I’d ever rank it.
Something Here As Strong As Life: Geddy Lee’s parents were Holocaust survivors, and Neil consulted Mary Weinrib and her son Gary (better known as Geddy Lee) in the making of the most sobering song in the entire Rush discography: “Red Sector A.” Depicting the horror of prison camps and the uncertainty of their isolation, the lyrics ask “Are we the last ones left alive?/Are we the only human beings to survive?” Lee sings with as much emotion as he ever has in his sixty-odd years, and Lifeson’s solo is among his greatest moments. The greatest travesty of the twentieth century is, shockingly, a rare topic in the world of hard rock, and Rush’s musical tribute to those lost is gut-wrenching.
Don’t Annoy Us Further: I wouldn’t change a hair on this album’s head, quite frankly. Every song is a classic. But if I had to pick a least-favorite, I’d reluctantly go with “Afterimage.” There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it; it’s just that I always felt that the music doesn’t live up to the fantastic lyrics.
The Words That Touch My Heart: “The world rains on my shoulders, but what am I to do?/You sometimes drive me crazy, but I worry about you/I know it makes no difference to what you’re going through/But I see the tip of the iceberg and I worry about you” (from “Distant Early Warning”)
The Feverish Pictures: I don’t understand this cover, but I love it. The bald, feminine head looking serenely at the thing and the other thing in the blue horizon is iconic. 8/10
The Secrets That Set Them Apart: The band, believe it or not, approached Steve Lillywhite to produce Grace Under Pressure. Lillywhite, most famous for his work with Peter Gabriel and the Dave Matthews Band, has long been one of the most respected producers in the industry. He committed to produce the album but later reneged, opting instead to produce Simple Minds. The members of Rush were irritated at his faithlessness and elected to produce the album themselves. (They did a heck of a job, by the way.) I hope Lillywhite, now aged 64, regrets his decision: there’s no question that Rush has aged better.
5: Moving Pictures
Ah, yes. The hit album. Prog fans are notorious for their fear of success; for whatever reason, if an album sells well, it is no longer “prog.” With all due respect, I consider that foolishness. Sneaking the ten-minute “The Camera Eye” and the incredibly multi-faceted “Red Barchetta” onto an album with two hit singles was an ingenious move of prog evangelism. I would go so far as to say that prog has never reached the masses on a larger scale, before or since. Its success is completely justified: some of Rush’s best tunes are on this one. In all honesty, this would be higher on the list if it weren’t for my own personal love of the underrated!
Something Here As Strong As Life: “Limelight” is the spirit of Rush in a nutshell. From the awesome 7/8 riff, you know you’re in for a treat, and it’s also one of Neil’s best performances. The lyrics deal with his discomfort with crazy fans such as myself: “I have no heart to lie/I can’t pretend a stranger is a long-awaited friend.” And I haven’t even mentioned my favorite part of the song: the bassline. Oh my Geddy…that bassline. Halfway through, the brisk and jubilant song breaks down into a sadder, slower bit that features Alex’s best solos. Listen to this song now.
Don’t Annoy Us Further: It’s not even close. “Vital Signs.” I hate Vital Signs with a passion-the only Rush song I have any negative emotions toward. “Everybody need a mood-lifter!” Is this really the same guy who wrote “Losing It”? And I’ve never liked the reggae feel. It works for “Digital Man” and “Distant Early Warning.” Not so much here. That little synth riff eats at your head: “badabadabadabadabadabadabadabada.” Also, and I cannot stress this enough, the lyrics. What are they even about? Okay, off my soapbox.
The Words That Touch My Heart: “I feel the sense of possibilities/I feel the wrench of hard realities/The vision is sharp in the city!” (from “The Camera Eye”)
The Feverish Pictures: Pun time! Hugh Syme outdoes himself with a triple entendre on this cover. The first thing you’ll see is a group of orange-clad laborers transporting paintings into a museum. They are moving pictures. On the steps of the museum, a group of people sob, for the pictures are very moving. And THEN, on the back cover, we see cameras and film crews. Apparently, it was all a scene in a film-otherwise known as a moving picture. The puns are invigorating! 10/10
The Secrets That Set Them Apart: Hit song “Tom Sawyer” was the beginning of a beautiful friendship: that of Canadian progressive rock band Rush and Canadian poet Pye Dubois. His poem of the same title was refined and expanded by Neil and set to music by Geddy and Alex. Also, that really cool bit after the solo where Neil does all the fills? Yeah, that was a mistake. He was actually supposed to just play the normal beat, but he got lost and decided to prove to the world that he was the best drummer in music history. But, as he himself once said, “There are no mistakes, only new parts.”
I consider Hemispheres to be the culmination of the classic-prog, heavy-metal Rush of the 1970s. Featuring their last side-long epic, the second book of “Cygnus X-1,” and culminating with their first instrumental, the monumental “La Villa Strangiato,” this is a full-length LP composed of only four tracks. Very proggy! The pure technical prowess that went into the making of Hemispheres is off the charts; it’s been cited as a major influence by such artists as Dream Theater, Blind Spectrum, and Steven Wilson. The craft of retro prog, which Rush started upon with Caress Of Steel, is perfected on this gorgeous record. They consider it the most difficult album of their career to this day. There isn’t a wasted note on the record, and for such an ambitious work, it’s actually far more concise than similar albums by such bands as Yes and Genesis. Honestly, it’s only my personal taste keeping this at number four: it’s the most musically well-made Rush album by objective standards. I just happen to really, really love the three above it!
Something Here As Strong As Life: “La Villa Strangiato” was among the songs that cemented my love of Rush. Despite its length, complexity, and lack of lyrics, it’s insanely catchy, accessible, and just flat fun. Lesser songwriters could have milked five good songs out of the ideas in this one, but Rush (again, a surprisingly concise band) instead made one spectacular tour de force. Neil’s fills are at their very best here, using all two million of his toms and guiding the song through various rhythmic tunnels. Geddy goes full-on Chris Squire, playing with thrilling punch and speed. But the true star of the show here is Alex. There are so many glorious riffs here! And let’s not even go into the solo. In the middle of the song, Lifeson rips out a gorgeous, gradually building solo that combines the soul of Gilmour and the speed of Van Halen to create a fully-improvised masterpiece that many a prog guitarist regards as a defining moment in the genre. I’d give my right arm to play like these guys. (Yes, I know that’s counterintuitive.) But “The Trees” is a very close second, whose tongue-in-cheek warning against socialism wraps around a song that rivals “Red Barchetta” and “A Farewell To Kings” for the most prog in the least time.
Don’t Annoy Us Further: “Circumstances.” I don’t love it any less; I just happen to love the other three more.
The Words That Touch My Heart: “Now there’s no more oak oppression, for they passed a noble law/And the trees are all kept equal by hatchet, axe, and saw” (from “The Camera Eye”)
The Feverish Pictures: Prog Dalí. On one brain, we have the notorious Starman, stark naked as usual, pointing savagely at the man on the other brain. (Oh, wait, I forgot to mention the brains, didn’t I? Well, they’re standing on massive floating brains, like the planets in Super Mario Galaxy, over an eerily desolate desert.) On the adjacent brain stands an immaculately dressed English gentleman, whose hoity-toity ensemble is completed by a cane, a bowler hat, and (if you look closely enough) a fabulous mustache. Hugh Syme deals with Rush’s beloved themes of duality and contrast in a peculiarly surrealist manner. 10/10
The Secrets That Set Them Apart: Rush never really stopped being prog, but Hemispheres marked the end of their 1970s, “purist prog” era and the beginning of their more (I hate using this term) radio-oriented period of the 1980s. While prog stars make the job look incredibly easy, putting together an album of this scale and technicality is a Herculean task, and it took a toll on Rush. The studio version of “La Villa Strangiato” is not one take, but three different takes pasted together, and they struggled to play it live for a while (you know, until they didn’t. Did I mention these guys are incredible?). Geddy Lee said in a later interview that they decided then and there that they would never do an album “like that” again. What did they come up with in order to change their trajectory? Keep reading!
3: Permanent Waves
Of all Rush albums, Permanent Waves may just be the most fun. And that’s really something; love them or hate them, you can’t say Rush isn’t unbelievably fun for a prog band. From the speedy, exhilarating riff of “The Spirit Of Radio,” you know you’re in for a treat. After the ambitious and taxing Hemispheres, Rush wanted to make a more accessible, more exciting, and more fun record-and did they ever succeed! That’s not to say they abandoned their prog roots: “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Natural Science” are epic pæans to the natural world that clock in at seven and nine minutes (respectively) and rank among my favorite Rush songs of all time. Not to mention, I think the production is the best in Rush’s storied career; the guitar tone “crackles with life.” If this were any other band, Permanent Waves would be number one. However, this is Rush, and Rush happens to have made my two favorite albums by any band, ever. And so it must take the bronze medal in these sonic Olympics.
Something Here As Strong As Life: Do I have to pick just one? In that case, I’m going with “Natural Science,” Rush’s epic environmentalist anthem. As one of Rush’s last epics, it begins with a gentle, soothing melody and a description of a serene tidepool before gradually building into the album’s epic finale: “Part III: Permanent Waves.” Serving as both an appreciation of the world’s beauty and a reminder to enjoy the natural world even in the midst of technological advancements, the lyrics are among Neil’s best. But Alex Lifeson’s riffs guide the song through its various times and sections. It’s a more concise epic that stands as one of Rush’s crowning achievements.
Don’t Annoy Us Further: As much as I love this album, the weak link is pretty obvious: “Entre Nous.” For whatever reason, I’ve never been crazy about the riff or the melody; they sound a little contrived and awkward for me. It’s a great song, but let’s be real-being sandwiched between “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Different Strings” would make a lot of great songs sound kind of lame.
The Words That Touch My Heart: “Each of us/A cell of awareness/Imperfect and incomplete/Genetic blends/With uncertain ends/On a fortune hunt that’s far too fleet” (from “Freewill”)
The Feverish Pictures: For such a fun and colorful album, the greyscale of the cover seems a little weak. And putting a pretty girl on the front seems like a pretty obvious “eighties hard-rock” move. However, let that not distract from the very cool font on the front, which looks very much like a radio airwave. 7/10
The Secrets That Set Them Apart: Despite not being a very good cover (at least by Rush standards), the cover of Permanent Waves was not without its share of controversy-and not for the reason you might think. The newspaper on the ground reads “Dewey Defeats Truman,” a reference to the Chicago Daily Tribune’s infamous screw-up in which they erroneously reported that President Harry S. Truman had lost the election to the (now obscure) Thomas E. Dewey. Unsurprisingly, the Tribune would rather forget that ever happened, so they complained to Rush’s label, who changed it to say “Dewei.” (As if that made any difference.) In addition, the billboards in the distance (if you really squint, you can see them on the far right. It helps if your copy of the album happens to be vinyl) originally read “Coca-Cola,” but the corporation didn’t care for the free advertising, so subsequent pressings read “Geddy, Alex, & Neil” in the Coca-Cola font. As Neil would say, “glittering prizes and endless compromises shatter the illusion of integrity.”
Wow! What an album! I mean, what a completely amazing and good album. Every song is a classic. The production strikes a happy medium between guitars and synthesizers that Rush has never equaled, before or since. The songs are unbelievably catchy, from the hard-rocking, no-punches-pulled riffs of “The Analog Kid” to the breezy progressive reggae (proggae?) of “New World Man.” It’s really no surprise why this one got more airplay than any other Rush record (save, perhaps, for Moving Pictures). However, the musical depth is still unbelievable. “Subdivisions,” for example, has awesome time changes and a drum beat inspired by jazz fusion, and “Losing It” wasn’t played live for years, simply because it was too difficult to pull off onstage. And the lyrics! Dealing, primarily, with interpersonal relations and various emotional experiences, the lyrics here are among Neil’s best. I would never take the next album off the top spot, but this beautiful record has made me question that at times. Short times, to be sure, but times.
Something Here As Strong As Life: While every song on Signals is a favorite, there are two definite front-runners. “The Analog Kid” is one of the fastest, hardest-rocking songs of Rush’s career, featuring an amazing guitar solo, a great riff, and some of Neil’s best lyrics. The song deals with an overwhelming sensation of the realness of life: the strange little details, like a bird or a building, that make the world suddenly become a very exciting place. “Losing It,” in contrast, is among his most depressing songs, dealing with old age and the loss of talent. It’s musically a very complex piece, featuring a great melody, numerous surprising time changes, and (oddly enough) a violin. These two are just about tied, in my opinion, for the best song on Signals.
Don’t Annoy Us Further: It’s not a bad song at all, but “Countdown” seems like kind of an odd closing track. It doesn’t feel like an ending! Signals is kind of like a Chinese word that ends on the third tone; it feels like there should be more, but there isn’t. (Sorry, I needed to throw in a linguistics joke.) If you swapped “Countdown” and “Losing It” in the track order, it would be a perfect album.
The Words That Touch My Heart: “Some will sell their dreams for small desires/Or lose the race to rats/Get caught in ticking traps/And start to dream of somewhere to relax their restless minds/Somewhere out of the memory of lighted streets on quiet nights” (from “Subdivisions”)
The Feverish Pictures: While I suppose it’s not much to look at, the cover of Signals visualizes its theme pretty well. It depicts a dog sniffing at a fire hydrant-in other words, picking up “signals” from other dogs. It’s understated, humorous, and even a little philosophical. Not bad work at all. 8/10
The Secrets That Set Them Apart: Rush has often reiterated that there is no “secret vault”of unreleased songs. If they didn’t like a song, they generally knew as much before they actually recorded it. However, there is an exception of sorts in the period between Moving Pictures and Signals: the quirky “Tough Break.” Written and sung by their keyboard tech, Tony Geranios (who is credited under a stage name so stupid I won’t repeat it here), but with all other instruments handled by Rush, it definitely sounds like it could have been on Signals. Tragically, it didn’t make the cut and didn’t see the light of day until it resurfaced via the dark magick of the Internet. You can listen to it here. (Okay, you really want to know the name? It was “Jack Secret.” Told ya.)
1: Hold Your Fire
Here it is! The big cheese, el numero uno, the top dog: Hold Your Fire, my favorite album by Rush, and possibly my favorite album of all time. I did an Album Spotlight on it a year ago, so if you want to hear me rant for an inordinate amount of time about it, click here. But here’s the “TL;DR” version: Hold Your Fire was my introduction to Rush. It features lush, warm production, profound lyrics dealing with age, the natural world, optimism, cynicism, and enjoying life, Rush’s catchiest melodies ever, and fabulous bass work from the first riff of “Force Ten” to the finale of “High Water.” For the love of prog, you need to hear this album before you kick the can. It’s so unbelievably amazing!
Something Here As Strong As Life: I’m being faced with an impossible task: choosing a favorite track from the great Hold Your Fire. Every single one is amazing! Besides the unbelievable consistency, most of the songs are all-time favorites. It sounds like a “Greatest Hits” album to me! I suppose, if only for sentimental reasons, I’ll have to go with “Mission.” It was the first Rush song I ever heard and set me on the journey through the world of prog. The lyrics deal with admiration for great artists and their massive dreams, which I always loved, since I consume a lot of art. The music is also fantastic, overlaid with gorgeous synth licks, backed by a subtle but technical Lee bassline, and featuring an amazing prog bit in the middle. And the guitar solo! The grand finale of “Mission” stands as one of Alex Lifeson’s best improvisations. There may be objectively better-made songs on Hold Your Fire, but there are none more important to me.
Don’t Annoy Us Further: I’d wager good money that you were expecting “Tai Shan” here. Well, I happen to love “Tai Shan!” If you put a gun to my head and made me pick a least-favorite song from this unbelievably solid record, I’d probably have to go with “High Water.” Whereas “Countdown” was not a closer in any sense of the word, “High Water” seems to have been written expressly for the purpose of summing up the themes, both musical and lyrical, of Hold Your Fire. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I rarely listen to it without first listening to the other nine songs in order. It’s very much an “album track.”
The Words That Touch My Heart: Damn, I’m going to have to do a top three. There are so many great lines on this record!
1: “Well, I guess we all have these feelings/We can’t leave unreconciled/Some of them burned on our ceilings/Some of them learned as a child/The things that we’re concealing/Will never let us grow/Time will do its healing/You’ve got to let it go!” (from “Open Secrets”)
2: “Summer’s going fast, nights growing colder/Children growing up, old friends growing older/Freeze this moment a little bit longer/Make each sensation a little bit stronger” (from “Time Stand Still”)
3: “Nothing can survive in a vacuum/No one can exist ball alone/We pretend things only happen to strangers/We’ve all got problems of our own” (from “Turn The Page”)
The Feverish Pictures: Simple, colorful, and holistic. The three spheres of Hold Your Fire, juxtaposed against a bright red background, exemplify the concision and understated spirituality of the record they decorate. The album looks like it sounds! Not since 2112 has a Rush album cover been so beautifully iconic. Much like the album itself, this image will always evoke happy memories. 10/10
The Secrets That Set Them Apart: Rush’s writing process for Hold Your Fire was unique for several reasons. For one, its lyrics were the first Neil ever wrote on a Macbook. “Tai Shan,” a song Rush themselves don’t like at all now, was written about a bicycling experience of Neil’s in Tài’ān, China, and featured a synthesizer intended to sound like a shakuhachi. Neil has since called it a “mistake,” and when inquired about his least-favorite Rush song, Alex once remarked that it “has to be one of the worst.” (Well, I like it, anyway.) “Time Stand Still” remains the only Rush song to feature an outside vocalist: ‘Til Tuesday frontwoman Aimee Mann. (Unless you count “Jack Secret,” which I don’t.) “Force Ten,” despite being the first track on the album, was the last one written. It was thrown together in a mere day after they decided they wanted a tenth song (hence the name). Those are some facts about various songs on Hold Your Fire. I would have put together something more cohesive, but there aren’t any crazy stories about it that I know.
Well, there you have it. Every single Rush album, ranked and debriefed. If you like Rush and know their albums, feel free to tell me in the comments how wrong my opinion is. If you’ve never really gotten around to them, rectify that immediately. Hopefully I’ve given you some information that will help you get started.
Dedicated To The Memory
Of Neil Ellwood Peart (1952-2020)
As many of you know, Neil Peart died recently. His life was marred with unimaginable suffering: losing his first wife to cancer, losing his daughter at only nineteen years old, and then battling with brain cancer for three years (only to lose that struggle as well). But more than that, he was one of the greatest drummers-nay, musicians of the twentieth and twenty-first century, absolutely dedicated to being the best drummer he could be. After reading this column, I hope you will come to the same conclusion that I have: he was also a great poet and philosopher. This article is for him.
Awesome article, written with love and passion, a real definitive guide for a great band of my youth. Now I feel the urge to listen to Rush songs again and again. Please keep writing such “best of” articles. Dream Theater?
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Thank you so much!! It really means a lot. I’m not the biggest of DT fans (I own three albums) but perhaps Stephen might be interested in doing something similar for DT. If I try this again, it will be for King Crimson.
Another human being who think HYF is great? thanx. I`m not alone.
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Not by any stretch. It’s got quite a cult following.
Count me in as a HYF lover! No argument for #1 here! I remember many times in college listening with the lyric sheet, reading along. Open secrets, Mission are perfection. Great ranking and thank you.
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Rush never made a bad album during their career. But if I had to say which was the closest to being in the bad category, it would be HYF.
What a terrific rundown of their albums. Thank you!! Bold choice to go with HYF as #1. I don’t disagree with you, either. It is truly a special record.
One thought about the Hemispheres cover. . . I’ve always seen the figures not as standing on two brains, but rather on the two hemispheres of a single brain. The naked man, in a kind of ballet pose, is standing on the right hemisphere, which is thought to be associated with creativity and emotions, while the dressed-up and buttoned-down gentleman is standing on the left hemisphere, which is thought to be the more rational and analytical side. They represent, I’ve always thought, the competing (and ultimately, we hope, complementary) influences of Dionysus and Apollo, which are always operating within us.
Thank you again and cheers!
Awesome article. I disagree with some of it, but you explained your reasons, so that was good enough for me. I have a soft spot for Hold Your Fire also. It was the first tour I saw Rush on. I love the album and always loved it while many were not loving it. It is not ranked #1 on my list but it is ranked very high. I can tell how much you love the band through your writing. We have the same passion for the band but we differ in one way, you are a talented writer and I am not. I felt that you were writing my thoughts on the band. Thank you for that. I will tell you, you should give Entre Nous another try. They lyrics are among my favorite Rush lyrics of all time.
First, a minor suggested correction–Jackie’s and Selena’s deaths didn’t occur during the RTB era–rather, during the pre-VT years. However, I must compliment you on a great summation of Rush’s body of sttudeo work–great intro for the uninitiated. While disagreeing with some of the rankings and reasons behind them, for this aspect alone, I love your article. I also appreciate your passing comment about being a Christian–I am as well, and it just proves what universal appeal Rush has for those of us in the prog world, regardless of race, creed and other demographics. Also, fab tribute to the Professor–such a gentle, humble spirit, who did much to leave the world better than he found it. Finally, as a blind listener of 30 years, I loved that you went to some detail in describing pictures for those of us who can’t take in album covers and the like. thx, and blessings to you from a fellow rabid Rush fan, Sandra
Interesting take on my favorite band. Can’t say I agree 100% on your ranking, but, I enjoyed reading your submission.
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I agree with much of your list and mostly a well written analysis of the individual albums. But your top choice of HYF I cannot agree with at all, too many weak sounding songs. There are 4 very good songs with Force Ten, Time Stand Still, Lock & Key, and Mission and Geddy’s bass playing and singing are quite strong throughout along with some of Peart’s most insightful lyrics on the human condition. However too many weak sounding songs with dated production (Open Secrets, Second Nature, Tai Shan, High Water) to be considered one of Rush’s best albums. For albums in the 80’s, Signals is far stronger with Neil Peart’s lyrics being truly exceptional without some of the cliches seen on HYF. Also Analog Kid is far better than any of the songs on HYF as good as Mission may be. How anyone could think the guitar solo on Mission is better than Analog Kid is beyond me 🤷🏻♂️
Thank you! This is a brilliant bit of analysis, and I largely agree with your rankings. (My personal rankings shift some depending on my mood, but there are certain ones that stay near the top, including pretty much everything from the 80’s. I rank Power Windows a bit higher, as I retain a certain fondness for the album that was my introduction to the band.)
I would, however, argue that the Moving Picturs cover is actually a QUADRUPLE pun. The images are of stuff being moved, so they are *moving* pictures. Paintings are what’s being moved, so they are moving *pictures*. The movers are being filmed, so *moving pictures*. And then of course they are emotionally moving pictures.