Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best Rush Songs
Rush are two months away from launching a 40th anniversary tour, and this might be your last chance to ever see them live. Neil Peart doesn't want to be away from his daughter for long periods of times and the strain of playing for three hours a night is taking a toll on his body, so the band says that this might be the final big run. We'll see whether or not that's true, but right now, fans are looking forward to career-retrospective sets that will hopefully showcase rarely-played tunes. As anticipation builds, we asked our readers to vote for their favorite Rush songs. Here are the results.
Much to the shock of many in the industry, Rush began scoring actual radio hits in the early 1980s. This synth-driven song, which kicks off 1982's Signals and reached Number Eight on the Mainstream Rock chart, is about divisions within society. The video shows a lonely high school student who wanders the streets of Toronto by himself while the "cool" kids all drive off to a party. The whole thing has the look and feel of an early episode of Degrassi High. The song has been a part of the band's live show for over 30 years.
“La Villa Strangiato”
The full title of this highly complex 1978 song is "La Villa Strangiato (An Exercise in Self-Indulgence)." Divided into 12 distinct parts, it wraps up Hemispheres and closes Rush's prog period. The group has joked that the song is so complicated they initially had trouble playing it live, but considering they've now done it over 950 times, it seems clear they've got it nailed. The next song that Rush fans heard after this was "The Spirit of Radio," a very different kind of tune for a very different decade.
Early in his life, Rush drummer Neil Peart became interested in the writings of Ayn Rand, and some of her philosophy spilled into his lyrics on 2112 and Hemispheres. One of the most clearly Rand-influenced songs is "The Trees," which is about the troubles that arise when oaks and maples demand equality. In the end, they get their wish when they're all knocked down.
In a 2012 interview with Rolling Stone, Peart explained that Rand's work no longer speaks to him. "I was a kid," he says. "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. But then I soon saw, of course, the way that it gets twisted by the flaws of humanity. And that's when I evolve now into…a bleeding heart Libertarian."
“The Spirit of Radio”
In the early 1980s, many stars of the previous decade denounced the current state of the music industry. There's Bill Joel's "Still Rock and Roll to Me," Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll" and the Ramones' "Do You Remember Rock and Roll Radio?" Rush's "The Spirit of Radio" attacked modern radio for the "glittering prizes and endless compromises" that "shatter the illusion of integrity." Ironically, radio embraced the song and turned it into a huge hit.
In the classic Orson Welles movie Citizen Kane, the newspaper mogul builds an enormous hilltop house where he hides amid priceless treasures for the final, miserable years of his life. The name of the house was taken from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 18th century poem "Kubla Khan," which also inspired Neil Peart to write the lyrics for "Xanadu." The song is about an explorer who gains immortality after tracking down the mythical Xanadu, only to discover that living forever pretty much stinks.
The future is a pretty lousy place in the world of Rush. Their 1981 song "Red Barchetta" tells of a time when the "motor law" has banned many cars but a rebel holds onto the title whip for 50 years. When he takes it for a drive, he winds up in a dangerous chase. The song, which is on Moving Pictures, was never a single, but it remains a fan favorite.
Back in 1974, Cleveland rock station WMMS began playing a song by a then-unknown Canadian rock band. It got a huge response, even if most listeners had no idea who they were or why they sounded vaguely like Led Zeppelin. It's presumed that "Working Man" touched a nerve with the many blue collar workers across the city, and it provided Rush with a nice launching pad in the States. The track was recorded with original drummer John Rutsey; just months later Neil Peart took his place behind the kit.
Neil Peart is largely an introvert, and when Rush began getting incredibly famous in the early 1980s, he poured his discomfort into the song "Limelight." "Living in a fish eye lens," he wrote. "Caught in the camera eye/I have no heart to lie/I can't pretend a stranger/Is a long-awaited friend." The song did little to solve his problem – it became one of the band's biggest hits, making his "gilded cage" even harder to live in.
When Rush's two 1975 albums, Fly By Night and Caress of Steel, failed to find a mass audience, their label wanted them to record something more commercial. Knowing its entire career was on the line, the band decided to double down on its sound by crafting the crazily ambitious 2112. The 20-minute title track is about life in a version of 2112 where music has been banned following an interplanetary war. Without any doubt, it's one of the most cherished compositions in the history of prog rock. Rush can't get offstage without playing at least a little bit of it. When they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they played the first segment with members of the Foo Fighters, who were dressed up like Rush from that time period.
Neil Peart wrote most of Rush's lyrics by himself, but their most famous song was actually co-written with Canadian poet Pye Dubois. The latter came up with a poem about a modern-day rebellious spirit very much reminiscent of Tom Sawyer, and Peart fleshed it out into a complete song. It was the second single off Moving Pictures and never rose higher than Number 44 on the Hot 100, but it has since been played countless times on classic rock radio and remains the band's signature tune.