Top 20 Best Rush Songs

Making a “best of” list of anything inevitably annoys and offends some. Its a personal thing.

But I feel I’m uniquely qualified to do a top ten best Rush Songs list because, unlike many Rush fans, I am a fan of all eras in the band’s career:

  • The early Led Zeppelin/Who sound-a-like days of the mid 70s
  • The outrageous prog masterpieces of the late 70s
  • The “classical” period of the early 80s
  • The synth cheese era of the late 80s
  • The return to muscle and metal in the 90s and beyond

Here’s my list of the 20 best Rush Songs, in order:

20. Driven

I’m not a super-fan of the 1990s Rush, but I have deep respect for their output here. No real clunkers among those three albums (well, maybe that rap in Roll the Bones qualifies), but not too many standouts, to me. Driven is the exception. I love the production nearly as much as the song itself – almost a 1970s mix on this track, understated but saturated guitars, just an awesome swing to Neil’s drum part. And Geddy here still was hanging on to the vocal chords of his youth, and showed it.

Drum geeks pay attention: what do Stewart Copeland, Buddy Rich and Neil Peart in this video all have in common? This song came just after Neil’s “back to basics” lessons in jazz drumming:

19. Time Stand Still

This one is a bit infamous. The great Amy Mann (well, my wife thinks she’s great) guest sang on this 1987 track. Listen – taken on its own merits, without reference to the “Rush” song legacy, this is a great song. If Asia or Emerson, Lake & Palmer or any other shitty 80s prog rock band had put out this song it would’ve been hailed as the start of their come-back. The verse harmonic progression and melody is long and interesting, the chorus provides a lovely, quiet contrast that perfectly conveys the words, and the rocking interlude section features an odd meter. Pretty much hits all the bases for Rush! What’s not to like?

Enjoy the horrible green screen technology and mullet hair styles in this vintage video:

18. Available Light

This is the final track of Rush’s 1989 album Presto. Its an absolute lovely, slightly bluesy ballad. Alex Lifeson’s guitar solo here is perhaps the most beautiful and expressive of his career. I imagine that this is what Alan Holdsworth would sound like if he guest starred on a Rush track. This ain’t the only appearance that Presto will make on this list, so standby…

17. A Passage to Bangkok

My first Rush album was 2112. My oldest brother bought it for me in 1989 for my 15th birthday at a cool little record shop in Darien, CT. I was totally into and enthralled with the epic title track, but this blues-rock jammer did the most for me. Alex’s guitar tone is the nastiest this side of Jimmy Page or Tommy Iommi. The chorus has the most fantastic swing to the rhythm that nicely accompanies the melody.

16. Subdivisions

This song is second only to YYZ (coming up later) in the number of Rush Youtube drum covers. Every drummer winds up learning this classic 7-beat pattern. Its a perfect exercise for hand/foot independence. Its also one of Rush’s greatest synth song. Always a hit in concerts.

15. Big Money

This one tucks in right under Subdivisions as their greatest synth-rock song. I really don’t understand what synth-era Rush detractors are whining about when they hear such ass-destroying bass lines like Geddy lays down in this song. His tone on this song is so tweaked and “poppy” sounding – it sounds like a crowd of those aliens from Sesame Street going “bork bork bork!” all at once. And the synths are clearly just textural (and tasteful) filler for the song production. Its straight-up arena hard rock, with plenty of arena reverb.

14. YYZ

In case you never heard the story, YYZ was conceived as a novelty song by the guys in Rush. YYZ is the code for the Toronto airport (the boys’ much-loved home base), and also the morse code version of the track’s opening rhythm.

Y Y Z
- . – - - . – - - – . .

YYZ is like the updated, 1980s version of Rush’s virtuoso instrumental showcase, La Villa Strangiato (omitted from this list).

13.Show Don’t Tell

Another one from their 1989 album Presto, this was their first single and it made a big splash on MTV at the time – and a big impression on me. It marked their return to straight-ahead rock, with an awesome and not-so-hard-to-play opening riff. My garage band buddies and I played it a couple times. We unfortunately never performed live it since our drummer sucked. But I was kicking some mean Geddy-style funk bass!

12. Closer to the Heart

This is a classic – one of their early breakthrough hits. Its still in rotation on classic rock radio today, at about the frequency of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung. Its also one of their only songs where writing credit was given outside the trio of Lee-Lifeson-Peart (some friend of Peart’s contributed lyrics). My ears are tired of it, but you’ll enjoy it if you’re a newbie.

11. Witch Hunt

I rank this as the greatest anti-cold war rock song of the 80s, and also one of the greatest libertarian rock songs, inveighing against propaganda and media mind control. Noam Chomsky himself could’ve penned the lyrics. The subject is very similar to Genesis’ more famous song “Land of Confusion”. The chord progressions in both sections (its a simple A-B form) is straight-forward and simple, and evokes the vast, expanding concept of an overweening state.

10. The Pass

This has to make every Rush song best-of list only because the guys in the band cite it as their own favorite, which counts for something in a catalog of songs as large as theirs. The song form is your typical “Rush ballad” – their “soft” songs are never soft from start to finish. They simply alternate (usually begin with) a tamer, sparser verse section with a rocking chorus. That’s what happens here.

The subject is about teenage suicide, as their music video makes abundantly clear.

9. Freewill

Ah…another classic song that has suffered from over-rotation on rock radio. Its Neil Peart’s ultimate individualist statement, written in the thick of his influence by novelist and libertarian Ayn Rand.

8. Lessons

This is the best song off their landmark album 2112. Its as bouncy as you can imagine Rush being. Geddy just has such a scorching voice during this era. He still sounds like the higher-pitched cousin of Robert Plant (Gene Simmons of Kiss called Rush the “Canadian Led Zeppelin” when they toured together in the early 70s). The rhythm has such a fun bounce to it. If you don’t smile listening to this, you suck.

7. Spirit of Radio

I’m afraid we’re nearing “destroyed and made tired by radio” territory here…And isn’t it ironic that a song about old-timey radio culture was ruined by being overplayed on the radio? Maybe it was rotated so heavily in the 80s and 90s by radio guys not because the public was clamoring for the song, or because it charted so well (it did), but because program directors were just tickled and honored to have a geeky prog rock song dedicated to their world.

6. Clockwork Angels

Its tough to say how “classic” Rush songs will become only a matter of months after release (I publish this in August 2012), but I’m willing to step out on a limb here and predict that the title track off the band’s latest album will go down as one of their best. Not only is it of a semi-epic length (7:31), but the entire thing is so varied and each section is just as awesome in its own right. It reminds me a bit bit those last 4-5 pastiche songs from The Beatles’s Abbey Roads: kinda the same but very different. And all incredible.

5. Presto

Full disclosure: I’ve been obsessed with this song since I bought the album (my first Rush studio release after I became a fan). You can read my in-depth critique of the song here: Rush – Presto.

4. Fly By Night

Their first hit. Wow, incredible to realize this was 1975. A great song that mixed melodic whimsy with lyrical gravity. The chorus is about as catchy as a Rush song has ever been.

3.Tom Sawyer

Ugh – I admit I’m sick of this song but I will use my musical super powers to suspend my aural fatigue and vote this for #3 on their all-time greatest list. Its so angular, straight and tight – there’s absolutely no swing to it. Its as though Devo took over production duties in the studio. To me, this is the quintessential “metronomic” Rush track. In fact I think it was recorded to a metronome…

2. Red Barchetta

Not only has this been voted one of their best in charts, polls and sales, but it truly is an awesome, rocking and touching song. It begins and ends in the most gentle and quiet way – with those pinging guitar harmonics. I always thought that the story was a true one, about Neil Peart’s fond remembrances of his pre-teen years visiting his uncle’s farm in rural Ontario, racing that little Red Barchetta over country roads while evading the Royal Mounties. Alas, it is based on a science fiction story published in Road & Track, about a dystopian future when private property (especially cars) is abolished and a Hunter Games-like oppressive state enforces uniformity. Wait…a libertarian lyric? From Neil Peart? Shocked.

1. Limelight

Tada! Here we have it. What would a “best-of” list for Rush songs be without an odd meter/time signature, geeky lyric and piercing vocal wail. Hmm…actually no piercing here, but we do get a heaping dose of that charming faux-English accent from our man Geddy Lee. Words like “Limelight” are tailor made to sound English in the hands of over-annunciators like Geddy. Anyway, the song is perhaps the most perfect example of their simple, understated approach to prog. They really get it right when they try least hard to impress. I’m sure Alex and Geddy tossed off the music here in less than an hour, just noodling around together on guitar and bass. We benefit greatly. Hope you enjoyed this list.

Partings Words

If you dig Rush you’ll probably like my music too…

please take a listen and get a bunch of free downloads by clicking this linK!

Thank you!

  • SD1

    Available Light is truly one of their most underrated classics. And, as another fan of all their eras, I like the variety.

    • bensommer

      Agreed man. We’re two of a kind in afraid!

  • Louis

    Funny: quite a few songs in this list I’d choose as my least favorite (f.i. Driven and Lessons). It just shows there’s something in their music for every fan. I’m a fan of all eras as well. I’d pick Prime Mover as one of their best songs ever. And I REALLY miss Everydag Glory in this list. Nonetheless: a fun list.

    • bensommer

      Hmm yeah Prime Mover belongs. But it’s only 20!

  • Hag

    Love “Lessons” on this list. Spot on with Geddy’s voice in this era. I love “Something for Nothing” for his voice and the lyrics too.

    Love “Presto”, was glad to see it live finally last tour.

    Agreed with Louis on the diversity of what Rush fans like. For me, in the lesser known stuff, I would slot in “Marathon” (lyrics) and “The Garden” (everything) for sure. “Entre Nous” as well for the poetic lyrics, Neil was hitting it out of the park on this and CTTH.

    Thanks for the list, very well thought out reasons for the opinions, and accurate. Good Job!

    • bensommer

      Thanks bro!

  • ByTor2112

    Great list ! Been a fan since 1976. Wonderful to see “Available Light” make it. But, no “Natural Science” !?!? This song is Rush personified !

    • bensommer

      Hmmm I don’t even KNOW that song!

  • Rushin’Florida

    Great list and mine would be very similar…Available Light would be in my top ten. Jacob’s Ladder is one I grew up with and would be on my list as I became a Rush fan around the time of Permanent Waves and wore out both sides of the LP. Thanks for the post, it’s always great to hear what others like and why. Keep Rushin!!

    • bensommer

      I listened back to Jacob’s Ladder when making the list, since I too had fond memories of that live performance. Had to pick others, but I’m sure it would’ve found a spot on at top 30 list

  • Mattissimo

    Can’t disagree with anything on your list, in fact I applaud you for keeping it to 20. As another fan of the entire catalog, it would have been tough for me. That said, if I were to add a 21st song, it would be Workin’ Them Angels, very similar groove to Driven, which I probably would have put higher on the list, but that’s me. Rock on!

    • bensommer

      I don’t even KNOW that song! Gotta listen – thx for the tip!

      • http://twitter.com/AlexAnsara Alex A.

        So you’re admitting that you didn’t even factor in Snakes and Arrows songs? :) Working them Angels is awesome. You may like “The Larger Bowl” as well, not just because its a great song, but its pantoum structure is just cool. “Good News First” is great too.

        • bensommer

          What is a “pantoum”??!

  • ben averch

    Dude, where is Vital Signs? I would also go for The Wreckers. Entre Nous, Kid Gloves.
    Props for recognizing the solo in Available Light! One of the all time greats.

    • bensommer

      Dude – one a different day I might have included one of those songs. It’s an admittedly silly task to pick the best. Props to your guitar ear!

  • Matt Sexauer

    I love this list, and I don’t think there is a Rush tune that I despise. I do wish The Camera Eye was on your top 20, though.

    • bensommer

      Thx – hard/impossible to please everyone!

  • http://www.facebook.com/tony.howard.1088 Tony Howard

    An interesting list. I’d be hard-pressed to come up with a Top 20, though I suspect the mid-to-late 1980s wouldn’t fare well on my list.

    • bensommer

      That’s what most fans say

  • Ebbet

    Enjoyed the list. Two favorites of late for me have been “Red Sector A” and “The Manhattan Project”.

    • bensommer

      Thanks – those are good tunes – loved them at one point in my fandom but they haven’t stuck with me as much as these 20

  • Dee

    Dude great list, but it would’ve been nice if you included 2112, it’s such an epic, and for a fan who likes all their eras seems a bit odd that your top 3 is from Moving pictures album… just sayin’ !

    • bensommer

      I got 2 others from 2112 at least – I just don’t think their epic length songs are that great. If you got something good to say – it probably shouldn’t take 20 minutes!

  • Tim

    Love this list! Also love that you included video links so I can enjoy a couple of their newer songs I have not heard. I was hard core right up to roll the bones and just could not get into that new sound. Maybe I should go get their latest and see what they are up to. I know you said you don’t like their epic tunes but how do you feel about Hemispheres? I can listen to that all day long! Also do you disqualify Working Man because it was pre-Neil? Anyway, great list!

    • bensommer

      Thanks Tim! I gotta keep up with the video links – they get taken down from Youtube after a while.

      Hemisphere’s – of course I loved it at a certain time in my life – late 90/91 when I got into the band. But none of those songs stuck with me.
      And working man – sorry I just hate the song. Geddy’s vocal melody is bland blues and speak-songy. And the riffage sounds like a blander version of Zeppelin. That wasn’t Rush to me

  • Newbie

    Just starting to get into Rush. The song that got me in was Working Man–is that not one of their more famous songs?

  • Greg23

    Well I have to say I partially disagree with the list, because you excluded many of my favourite Rush songs, but that’s OK, ’cause the great thing about the band is that they have so many great songs it’s easy to have different preferences… I would certainly include the epics like Hemispheres, 2112, Fountain of Lamneth (well at least the “Bacchus Plateau” part), Natural Science(!!!), La Villa Strangiato and the slightly shorter ones like Kid Gloves, Bastille Day, Different Strings, Lakeside Park, Vital Signs, Cinderella Man (touching lyrics), New World Man, Something for nothing…I still probably missed quite a few haha :)

    • bensommer

      I would include Something for Nothing as #21 for sure

    • mah

      I very much agree with your favorites, fountain of lamneth is amazing

  • Commentary

    Working Man left off the list…really?

    • bensommer

      This is not a democracy!

      If it were, I would already be ousted from office for not including this darn song… :)

  • freddy

    Been a fan from day one,,, alot better songs then these…. you need to come up with a new list..

    • bensommer

      This is an absurd debate, indeed! “Best of” – p-sha!

  • nelsoneas

    This is just a grateful shoutout for ya bud. I’m downloading songs for my wife’s mp3 player for when she runs. The list you concocted reaaally helps because I’m one of those stuck in a Rush era or two: 2112 to Grace Under Pressure. I did pick up Clockwork Angels however to get back on track (I’m truly enjoying it…especially the title track). Your list is helping me hear what I’ve missed. Thanks for taking the time. Your knowledge is appreciated.

    Nelson
    Caracas, Venezuela

    • bensommer

      You’re quite welcome Nelson!

  • kathy

    my favorite under rated rush song “here again” did not make the list.

  • Alex

    Where is Xanadu? By far their best work as progressive rockers!

    • bensommer

      Hmm. Good one but again I only got 20!

  • Andrew James

    Subdivisions is definitely top 5

  • Chris K

    Excellent list. Probably the best “Top Rush Songs” list I have seen. This is certainly because, like you, I have thoroughly enjoyed the band’s entire career and catalog.

    • bensommer

      Thanks Chris! We’re a rare duo who likes the entire catalog!

      • Chris K

        Ben – Curious what you think about Porcupine Tree and Opeth… A couple years ago, I hadn’t heard of either band… then I read a recent (at the time) interview of Neil Peart, in which he was asked what he was listening to lately. He mentioned Porcupine Tree. I listened to tracks from 4 or 5 different PT records, loved them all, then started Googling for THEIR influences — right away up comes Opeth. Needless to say, I was blown away — again — Anyway, curious what you think of these 2 bands, as well as how you discovered them…

        • bensommer

          I think I came to them the same way. I own a site http://BandsLikeRush.comwhere I interview…bands like Rush. Was a slow-burn way to generate
          traffic to my own music for fans who like Rush, who would probably like my own music. I tried to land a PT interview but they were “too big” I guess. At least I got Ian Anderson – who is a tad bigger than those guys!

          Anyway – appreciate Opeth and PT but not in love. There’s just not the zing, or immediate hook I get with a band like Rush.