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Classics Of The Progressive Pantheon: The Best Songs By Rush

A stroll through the peerless catalog of Rush reveals a mighty inventory of tracks that fans have helped to make immortal.

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Rush credit Andrew McNaughtan
Andrew McNaughtan, courtesy of UME

When the definitive map of progressive music is drawn, no one would dispute that Rush will be confirmed among its truly essential exponents. The Canadian band’s place at rock’s top table was confirmed decades before the death of Neil Peart on January 7, 2020, at 67, drew ever more admirers to his, and the band’s, remarkable legacy. A stroll through their peerless catalog reveals a mighty inventory of tracks that Rush fans have helped to make immortal.

‘Tom Sawyer’

Perhaps chief among them is “Tom Sawyer,” that timeless landmark from their 1981 epic Moving Pictures. The band’s songwriting collaboration with Pye Dubois, from fellow Canadian band Max Webster is also a track that Geddy Lee himself considers to be among Rush’s greatest.

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‘The Spirit Of Radio’

The band’s 1980 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame entry “The Spirit of Radio”, the first single from the Permanent Waves album, gave the band a relatively rare moment of crossover pop glory. Some diehards would have been less than enthralled by the 3’00” edit that was required for Top 40 radio, but the anthemic song, written by Peart, Lee, and bandmate Alex Lifeson, rose to the middle of the Billboard Hot 100 and reached a best-ever Top 15 placing in the UK.

‘2112’

Another indelible favorite among Rush disciples is the epic, 20-minute title piece from the 1976 album 2112, their fourth studio release. The track was divided into seven chapters, “Overture,” “The Temples of Syrinx” (the excerpt we feature here), “Discovery,” “Presentation,” “Oracle: The Dream,” “Soliloquy,” and “Grand Finale.” Lee told Circus magazine after the album’s release: “Our influences are still around – that makes it a bit tougher. We’re still a young band…with us, we’re still competing with some of our very influences.”

‘Limelight’

Moving Pictures also contained “Limelight,” notable as a measure of how Rush had grown uncomfortable with life in the public eye. “The reason I got into a band was to play,” Lee told Sounds in 1981, “and play for people. And the trouble is, most of the time you’re in the limelight it becomes very difficult to keep ahold of and recognise this fact.” The song was inducted into the the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2010. Lifeson would say that its solo was his favorite to play live. “There’s something very sad and lonely about it; it exists in its own little world,” he noted.

“La Villa Strangiato,” wittily subtitled “An exercise in self-indulgence,” was the closing track from 1978’s HemispheresIt was another epic, episodic piece, running to ten minutes and some 12 segments. From the group’s early days, fans retain a fondness for “Working Man,” featuring drums by original member John Rutsey, just months before Peart took his place. Then there’s “Xanadu,” a feature of 1977’s A Farewell To Kings and a turning point in their use of synthesizers as part of their armoury.

‘Subdivisions’

A mainstream US rock radio hit from the 1982 album Signals, this song described division in society and remained part of Rush’s live setlist for decades. It remains a regular feature of classic rock radio and was featured in the 2010 music video game Rock Band 3. “Hugely autobiographical of course,” said Peart of the song. “It was an important step for us, the first song written that was keyboard-based.”

At the other end of the Rush story, ‘Headlong Flight’ was a single from the final Rush album, 2012’s chart-topping Clockwork Angels, released the year before Rush took their rightful place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “A joy to write and record from beginning to end,” said Lee, revealing to Rolling Stone that it was first intended as an instrumental and had the working title “Take That Lampshade Off Yo Head!”.

These and so many more timeless excursions only emphasize how the music of Rush has continued to endure, and always will. “We don’t want to be Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones,” Peart told the NME in 1978. “That type of thing wasn’t what we we’re after. It was most important for each of us to be equal in input and output – each of us has to pull the same amount, musically, in composition and in every sense of being in the band. All of us have to pull together. It seems to me that’s the only way you can have a truly creative aggregate of people is if they’re all contributing in different ways.”

Listen to the best of Rush on Apple Music and Spotify.

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24 Comments

24 Comments

  1. Jules

    August 11, 2016 at 11:29 am

    Entre Nous and Time Stand Still in the Top 20? No Cygnus X-1 Book I? Eh?

  2. Donald Keim

    August 27, 2016 at 9:53 pm

    No camara eye either

  3. Adam

    August 28, 2016 at 4:12 am

    Nothing from Power Windows?

    • Andy

      August 28, 2017 at 5:59 pm

      1.Subdivisions 2. Cygnus x-1 book 2, 3. Red Barchetta

  4. Tim Sullivan

    July 31, 2017 at 2:48 am

    ‘Mission’ would be very high on my Top 20 list. Also agree with Adam that something from Power Windows should be on the list. My choice would be ‘Manhattan Project’

  5. Dave

    July 31, 2017 at 7:38 pm

    The pass.

  6. Mike

    July 31, 2017 at 8:11 pm

    Considering that the Canadian Power Trio (The Holy Triumvirate…and the Best Band on the Face of the Earth) has rarely sought to be chart toppers, this is a decent list. It is, by no means, a list of fan favorites which would reach into the bowels of their discography.

  7. Markus

    August 1, 2017 at 12:37 am

    Marathon is a song I’m missing.

  8. John frangione

    August 2, 2017 at 8:04 pm

    Replace Time Stands Still with Camera Eye

  9. Ron

    August 2, 2017 at 9:08 pm

    First of all, this isn’t a bad list.

    However, what about something from Clockwork Angels? The Garden, Caravan, Headlong Flight or the title track could all easily be on the list. Hell, there isn’t even anything from the last 20 years.

  10. Steve G

    August 2, 2017 at 10:49 pm

    This is such a fruitless endeavor, all Rush songs over 40 years are great, I could never pick a favorite or top 20, it would easier to make a list of the stinkers, that would be a short and easy list. Maybe Tai-Shan from Hold Your Fire and Here Again from the first album? That’s all I got.

  11. RIchard B

    August 3, 2017 at 12:36 am

    20 is not enough. Maybe 30.

  12. Leland Carr

    August 3, 2017 at 1:46 am

    All Rush is awesome Rush!!!!!!

  13. Devin Chanowsky

    August 3, 2017 at 2:03 am

    Losing it.

  14. jerome girard

    August 3, 2017 at 3:17 am

    It’s way to hard to pick my top 20, The above list it’s a good start, need to add : Driven, The Pass, Losing it, Between the Sun & Moon, Distant Early Warning, Grand Designs, Lessons, Tears, BU2B… see I could go on until I go through there whole catalog.

  15. Eric Grains

    August 3, 2017 at 7:17 am

    Middletown dreams

  16. Darren

    August 3, 2017 at 1:14 pm

    My Rush playlist is 50 songs. I also have one that includes 165.

  17. Rob

    August 3, 2017 at 6:09 pm

    I like this list because its their best songs before they changed their style, with the exception of Red Sector A and Time stand still. I would lose these 2 and put in Something for Nothing and Cygnus X-1 Book I.

  18. Janelle

    August 4, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    I couldn’t even begin to list only 20 songs…miss the boys touring!

  19. Anthony R

    August 4, 2017 at 5:09 pm

    There are too many good songs to fairly compile a top 20. Rush just rocks! Miss them already!!!

  20. canali

    September 13, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    my fav song is still the title track from A Farewell to Kings.

  21. Drew

    September 14, 2017 at 1:18 am

    BEST instrumental EVER WRITTEN……………..”La-Villa-Strangiato”!!! The very FIRST TIME I heard this tune,back in the early 80’s,I was immediately HOOKED by the wondrous and EXTREME feeling of excitement that was felt by me,each and every time I heard this song!!! Even to this day,it always gets my heart racing!!! 🙂

  22. Brian Gaddy

    February 7, 2018 at 12:12 am

    This is not for REAL FANS !!! This is for the general public, and for those who listen to the radio OR have just bought their biggest sellers. Sad. Superficial poll.

  23. Juan Carlos

    July 30, 2019 at 1:08 am

    Xanadu!!!

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