This is a post about Rush the rock group, not Rush the radio guy.
A few days ago, a good friend of mine asked if I would write a post about some of my favorite Rush songs as opposed to some of their more popularly played songs like Limelight and Spirit of Radio.
I’ve taken some time to think about this, so here goes.
I do have to disclose the fact that I have not listened to the radio in years, so some things might have changed. However, my experience with Rush on radio is that if you are lucky enough to catch one of their tunes on air, you’ll have to be tuned into a classic rock/progressive rock station. Even then, you’ll likely only hear a song from a narrowly defined era (1980-1982) in the broad Rush epoch, which is really a shame.
Aside from the two songs my friend used as an example, there are maybe four additional songs that make up the entirety of the Rush rotation: Tom Sawyer, Freewill and Subdivisions. Perhaps you’ll sometimes hear Red Barchetta, too, but hearing anything from outside the 1980-1982 period is a rarity.
Rush’s two most commercially successful albums: Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures were issued back-to-back in 1980 and 1981. Signals, which opens with Subdivisions, represents a transition from the progressive rock found in its two predecessors to a more synthesizer-oriented sound.
Granted, the songs that my friend and I have come up with above are all great songs and they belong in any serious Rush playlist. But there is so much that could be played that isn’t. So I’m coming at this post from the angle of a Rush fan who wishes the tiny Rush playlist would expand. Here is a list of songs that, if it were up to me, would be added to the rotation. I’ve tried not to get greedy. I could easily list 20 songs. Or 50. But I’m limiting myself to five.
Fly by Night from the album Fly by Night (1975)
Despite an almost cult-like following, Rush has consistently been spurned by commercial outlets. So imagine my surprise (shock, even) when Volkswagon aired a TV commercial back in 2012 that featured this Rush classic. Fly by Night is Rush’s second album, but the first featuring drummer/lyricist Neil Peart. When I became a Rush fan more than a quarter-century ago and began going through their catalog, this was one of the songs I latched onto almost immediately. The band was in the process of transitioning from blues rock to progressive rock, and Fly by Night (the album) retains elements of both genres. The song Fly by Night definitely comes down on the side of progressive rock and remains a staple from the early part of Rush’s catalog.
Red Sector A from Grace under Pressure (1984) and Clockwork Angels Tour (2013)
Several Rush songs revolve around dystopian themes and are somewhat dark by nature. Red Sector A is probably the darkest of the dark, as it is written from the viewpoint of a concentration camp prisoner from the Holocaust (a real-life dystopia). Bassist/vocalist Geddy Lee’s mother is a Holocaust survivor. (Lee, born Gary Lee Weinrib, is Jewish.) Originally appearing on Rush’s 1984 album Grace under Pressure, I would instead select the live version that appears on Clockwork Angels Tour, which includes a string ensemble. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a Rush song that is anywhere near as dramatic.
Far Cry from Snakes & Arrows (2007)
One of the things I love about Rush is that they have actually improved their game with age. Not content to rely on the strength of songs from a bygone era, they have consistently created newer great songs. Far Cry is one of those songs, a hard-driving track that relies solely on bass/guitar/drums that also contains one of my all-time favorite Rush lyrics, “One day I feel I’m on top of the world/And the next it’s falling in on me/I can get back on/I can get back on/One day I feel I’m ahead of the wheel/And the next it’s rolling over me/I can get back on/I can get back on.”
The Anarchist and Headlong Flight from Clockwork Angels (2012)
It is quite possible that Clockwork Angels is the final Rush album. Following their R40 tour last spring and summer, Neil Peart announced his retirement from drumming, or at least from touring. Whether or not the band reunites for another studio album is up in the air. My guess is they won’t. If Clockwork Angels is indeed the final Rush album, you can truthfully say the band went out with a bang and on top. This is my favorite Rush album. Period. It is a coming-of-age story featuring a young man during the time before electricity (“a world lit only by fire”), an art form that is referred to as “steampunk.” The album’s twelve tracks reflect different aspects of the young man’s life as he moves from one endeavor to another, finally culminating when he is an old man and much the wiser. For me, Clockwork Angels perfectly ties up and summarizes the four decades the trio have played together.
At any rate, two of the twelve songs from this album are as hard-driving as any Rush songs you will ever hear. Not bad for a trio of guys in their early 60’s.