Journey

My Top 20 Journey Songs

I have found the resurgence of Journey’s popularity to be fascinating.

I am not a Journey-hater, in fact, I was quite the fan back in the day. Viewed through the proper contextual lens (thinking about not just the time frame of their heyday, but also within the boundaries of their contemporaries in regards to genre and musicianship), their songwriting and abilities meet or exceed anyone else from their class (Toto, Foreigner, Survivor, etc…). Even now I really only have one issue with their music, and that is that they do not know how to even accidentally include subtlety in anything they present as a whole (I say “as a whole” because the rhythm section is gloriously understated and rich with textures.)

As of late, they have made headlines from their internal lawsuit that has Steve Smith and Ross Valory pitted against Neal Schon and Jonathon Cain, while simultaneously Steve Perry has crept back into our pop-culture awareness simply by showing up. Added to the publicity juggernaut is Arnel Pineda’s hollow (yet seemingly sincere) diatribe about embracing walking away if it means Steve Perry can come back into the fold (hollow because everyone in the know is aware that Steve Perry will never set foot onstage with Neal Schon again.)

This has all gone on in the midst of massive sold-out stadium tours and very public on-again / off-again / on-again feud/friendship between Schon and Cain. This all has me completely engrossed in re-visiting their catalog and sharing my findings with a trusty numbered list. Much like my recent ranking of the best Rush songs, this is entirely based on my listening experience and is sure to be different than anyone else’s. I will share why I think what I do, and as always, I welcome your comments.

Here is the undisputed list of the top 20 Journey songs of all-time.

#20 Don’t Stop Believing
Yes, this is their “Stairway-to-Hotel-Tom Sawyer” and is the most Journey-est of all the journeys, but it is over-played, over-celebrated, over-covered, and over-karaoke’d. I included it because I kind of have to, but also because before it magically became a gargantuan hit decades after its initial release, it is one of only like twelve songs that I can remember exactly where I was the first time I heard it.

The song defies a traditional (or even extended) song structure. It really doesn’t have a chorus, and the title comes at the end. It is geographically incongruous with any map of Michigan I can find, and the chords were predictable even back in 1981…but it is a timeless anthem and does deserve some kind of recognition.

#19 The Party’s Over
The lone studio track on the excellent “Captured” live album. Dig this – they adopted the Scarab as their logo and had featured him/her/they from birth (Infinity), to flight (Evolution), to adventures (Departure), and to being captured, which for a live album is basically the most clever thing my 11 year old brain had ever seen. This song sounds like a throwaway that just happened to land right, and hearing Journey not be so calculated gave us some true magic…and check out the freaking drum intro; complex, inventive, and groovy AF.

#18 After All These Years
Is this really in the best 20 Journey songs? I dunno, but when I heard it with new-comer Arnel Pineda hitting all those glorious post-Perry notes (and doing it without sounding like a carbon-copy), I knew that Jonathon Cain had not lost one ounce of his songwriting protein shake.

#17 After the Fall
This isn’t even rock, it’s like barbershop with fusion. The Steve Smith groove propels and twists in ways under the vocals that played by anyone else would have been bombastic, but in a band with no subtly in their writing, Steve Smith constantly pulled the rhythm section back and created a pocket of wonder.

#16 Why Can’t This Night Go On Forever?
This song came out right about when my first girlfriend and I broke up – which was the night before I got to see Journey (the only time) in concert. This means there is a feel, an emotion; a sense memory attached to this song that is an indelible mark on my emotional intelligence. This is not the best Journey ballad. It isn’t even in the top 5 songs on this album, but there is something so goddamned magical about this chorus that even thirty-plus years after its release, I am still saddened when it ends and I truly do want it to go on forever.

#15 Faithfully
Far superior to the higher-charting (yet penultimate power-ballad) “Open Arms”, this song leaves the world of great songs and transcends to being a “standard”. Songs exist because these kinds of 3-minute emotional story snapshots are captured on tape. Melody and lyrics when they work perfectly together are the highest form of art.

#14 Never Walk Away
Hearing this for the first time and I knew that the world still had Journey in it. Not my favorite band. Not the most innovative band, but somehow I think the world is brighter with their songs in it, and nothing post 1986 ever felt like we’d have another one of these kinds of songs to fall back on.

#13 Who’s Crying Now
As a song, I know there is magic here, but it does not fully do it for me. I love it as a craftsman, but it just never fully “has” me…until the guitar solo, which is one of the finest solo’s ever committed to tape. All the bending precision of David Gilmore, tone like Hendrix, edge like EVH, pentatonic mastery like King (B B and Albert), all rolled into an undeniable Neal Schon sound.

#12 When You Love A Woman
All my friends freaking hate this song; with good reason – no subtlety (except in the drumming), cliché lyrics, trite arrangement, and a Steve Perry vocal where you can hear the strain of years on (and then away from) the mic. …But here’s the deal – the song is effing beautiful. The strings that come in on the bridge take this from power ballad, to majestic, and from the soaring solo until the end of the song we have a true sonic masterpiece.

#11 Too Late
This is a song about addiction. In a field of mostly love songs, and sort-of-love songs, more love songs, and a few inspirational lyrics about liking fans (still kind of love songs), this is WAY out there for them. This is from the Evolution album, which gets largely ignored because it falls between Infinity (the first to feature Perry) and Departure (which was the first true blockbuster in terms of visibility), but for me this is the height of Perry’s voice.

He is effortless in hitting the stratosphere and sounds like he found his confidence with his place in the band, yet he’s still just kind of going for it. This album also brought in Steve Smith, who was as important to their sound and FEEL as Perry. The vocal on this, and specifically the way it wants to get ahead of the beat while Smith keeps pulling the band back is breathtaking. It feels like you are in the room while they are cutting this.

#10 Separate Ways
Don’t think about this keyboard intro. Okay, now you can sing the entire thing in your head. Has there ever been an opening synth line this iconic? Perry sings this song that was inspired by bandmates going through divorce with 100% conviction; He sings with such an urgency that you never know he doesn’t have a dog in a divorce fight.

Apparently, they wrote this specifically because they did not feel they had an upbeat, contemporary song that could properly open the shows on their Escape tour. That seems like such a weird thing now – to open on your biggest tour with a new song no one has ever heard. This move is the closest they ever got to being punk.

#9 Mother, Father
Have you seen live Journey footage from when Deen Castronova was playing drums? Spoiler alert – he sang this Escape rocker and just nailed it. No small feat – Perry in his heyday nailed this in one take on the criminally quickly recorded album (their biggest album, and one of the top selling rock albums of all time). Escape was recorded in just 3 weeks, almost entirely live in studio; I wish Tik-Tok and YouTube were a thing at Fantasy Studios in 1981.

#8 Patiently
I saw this on Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert and my young mind exploded. I even caught it on re-run so I could record the audio onto my cassette deck. The song is awesome as an almost prog ballad-gone-rocker, with vocals that we now take for granted. The thunderous Ainsley Dunbar build gave me goosebumps, but the real showstopper was the Neal Schon Black Les Paul that could not be turned up loud enough.

To this day, I remember exactly how it made me feel when he switched over from his acoustic and slammed those gigantic chords – an articulation of all of life being ahead of me, and all of the answers are inside those six strings. I can only re-visit that very private moment for a short time before the inevitable regret of adulthood kicks in.

#7 Send Her My Love
Not a power ballad, more of a longing and a regretful goodbye. This has some amazing guitar work shrouded in a wash of glorious reverb and delay that ping-pongs against the unusual drum track in mystifying ways. Neal Schon’s guitar cries while Perry’s vocal lays the groundwork for an incredible payoff in the chorus. This might be the lone “subtle” track in their catalog of over 150 tunes.

#6 Be Good to Yourself
As disappointed as I was that Smith and Valory were fired during the recording of this record, there was no denying my delight at hearing this song. Everything I loved about Journey without any of the over-worked arrangements that plagued their previous record. This song, like many others, features a lyric written by Cain, inspired by something Perry said. This kind of writing parallels my own creations, so I am intrigued by what goes into that.

#5 Ask the Lonely
This song was cut from Frontiers (along with “Only the Young”) in favor of two very experimental tracks (that also happen to be the two weakest tracks on the album). Frontiers could have been to Escape as Hysteria was to Pyromania, but they truly blew it.

This song is vocally deceptive. Some Perry performances you just shake your head and go “Nope. Can’t sing that.” other ones you can kind of fake, and on some of the Frontiers stuff when he went with Jonathon Cain’s vocal register, you can karaoke the hell out of them. This one sounds like the latter, but here’s an alert for you – you can’t sing this. Literally no one can.

#4 Anyway You Want It
The structure of this is far more 2021 than 1980; having a repeating I – V – vi – IV looped with the dynamic contrasts coming from the vocal phrasing, but Neal Schon just wanted to rock, so here we are. This is one of three songs that made me want to be a musician. The guitar solo was the catalyst, but eventually the drums on this, and of course the vocals, also captured my soul.

Much of Neal Schon’s playing is out of my wheel house. While I have played lead guitar in cover versions of Journey, I have never attempted this lead. I can hear where he goes, and while it is a bit fast, this is one I think I could learn…but I never want to. There is something magical about still not fully knowing what he is doing. A piece of my youth that I can voluntarily hold on to. (I will sing this any chance I get, though.)

#3 Winds of March
No idea what the hell they are singing about. Parenthood? Being in love? The changing seasons? Don’t know, don’t care. I can’t say anything about this piece of music except that when I finally got Infinity on vinyl, I literally wore this track down to nothing.

#2 Sweet and Simple
Have you even heard this? Not a single or even a deep cut for AOR radio. This is the definition of an “album cut”, but it transcends magnetic particles (or ones and zeroes) and becomes pure spiritual emotion. It is laid back and sounds like it might just be a nice Sunday afternoon drive between musical errands, but something happens along the way – it tricks you into not paying attention and then this hook of “it’s what I like to do” comes in and changes your world.

This is one of those songs where there is a singular moment that is so strong, that everyone in your inner circle has to be exposed to it. I remember when I got Signals by Rush – there was this opening drum fill on “Digital Man” that was so transportive, I just had to play it for my grandfather. He did not understand the bands I was getting into, but I knew if he heard this drum fill, in 6 seconds we’d be on the same page. I wasn’t wrong.

For anyone who didn’t “get” Steve Perry (and yes, while he is great…he is a crooner and not a belter. If you loved Bradley Delp and Lou Gramm, Steve Perry was perfection. If you were a Roger Daltry or a Bon Scott fan, this was not going to be your thing), the bridge on this song was the “first one’s free” moment. I would play at least the middle for any of my friends that would just give it a chance.

#1 Suzanne
Not a huge hit by Journey standards, and objectively I know this isn’t transcendent/standards writing, but holy shit if this just doesn’t do it for me like so few songs on the planet – it does not matter my mood or physical location; if this song comes on, it has my attention and the whole of my heart for every single beat.

I hope you enjoyed my top 20 Journey songs. If you’ve made it down here, maybe you’d enjoy my top 40 Rush songs, too.

Rush on Family Guy

My Top 40 Rush Songs – Part Two

Welcome back for the second half of my Top 40 Rush songs, you can find Part One here. Again, an advanced warning – there are many bona fide hits that are not on this list; as is the case with this kind of band, their best material was often their deep cuts and commercial failures.


So here’s #20 through #1:

#20 Mission (Hold Your Fire, 1987)
This was the first album to not go platinum since Caress of Steel – it was a shame that it was not better received by fans. I think that the longtime listeners really just wanted Rush to rock, and this is their furthest record from that. The real shame is that the arrangements and songs are so far beyond what a “rock band” can do, that it deserved more critical listens.
This song is uplifting, melodic, and beautiful. The live version is better because it doesn’t fade out clipping off the end to Alex Lifeson’s inventive and soaring solo. The vocals here (and really everywhere in their material from 1984-1991) are a perfect representation of Geddy’s underrated abilities. He found the sweet spot in his mixed voice, and the band knew how to write melodies in that perfect range.

#19 The Big Wheel (Roll the Bones, 1991)
Not a single. Not a song they ever played live, but the best of what this album had to offer. Human lyrics about the randomness of chance (really, just a microcosm of the entire record’s lyrical theme), this song is so much fun to listen to. Maybe it was too Hot-AC a la Mike and the Mechanics for other hard-core fans, but I found the musical choices to be awe inspiring.

#18 Leave that Thing Alone (Counterparts, 1994)
My favorite of all the instrumentals in their career. So interesting to have such a beautiful and sing-able chorus with no words, or even vocables. Any detractors of Alex Lifeson should ask themselves, “Which of my favorite guitarists make me want to sing (not play) their parts?”, then go punch yourself in the face for being an Alex Lifeson detractor. Geddy Lee’s bass is always a perfect 10, here it is a 12.

#17 Between the Wheels (Grace Under Pressure, 1984)
I realized at the time that Rush were losing a pretty big chunk of their mainstream fan base with this album. Part of me rejoiced in this – I was a nerd and Rush was MY band. It felt weird to see jocks walking the halls wearing the same concert tees as me…but in a more altruistic sense I not only wanted Rush to be popular and therefore long-lasting, but I also felt that the planet NEEDED this music. This song has so much dissonance, yet accessibility. I always loved this dichotomy that was such a stronghold of mid-80’s Rush.

#16 Marathon (Power Windows, 1985)
This is not only my favorite Rush album, it is my single favorite album ever recorded. While they had brilliance before it and quality after it, nothing ever spoke to me in quite this deep and emotive way. Other albums have come VERY close (Sugarcult’s “Palm Trees and Power Lines”, Taylor Swift’s “Lover” both come to mind), but none have the enduring indelible mark left from that very first spin.

This album (like “Moving Pictures” and “Roll the Bones”) plays like a greatest hits album. I could have put any song from that record on here, but I dug deep to keep the list balanced. This song has a chorus that is beyond what hard-rock is capable of doing. When the last iteration comes in with the bombast of guitar under the choir and strings, it is impossible for me not to tear up. The story of reaching for the heights that are beyond you and approaching your dreams with a lifelong determination resonate with me even more at 35 years of listening.

#15 Subdivisions (Signals, 1982)
When I get into conversations with other lifelong Rush fans, I can set my watch by when talk of synthesizers ruining their sound will be introduced. I have to take a deep breath and say “my first album was Signals because their synths are what won me over”.

I am not denigrating their amazing body of work from ’74-’81, but once they embraced post-punk and New Wave as influences, I was all-in. Add to this lush soundscape that the song is anthem for the outcast without ever making me feel like an outcast and you have a perfect song.

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#14 Middletown Dreams (Power Windows, 1985)
When I have a new friend that says they do not like Rush, I try and find out why. There are many reasons to not like a band, or a song. Ultimately trying to explain why you like or dislike music is completely pointless – you either are moved or you aren’t. It can’t be explained away.

The reason I ask is because if their exposure to Rush is their ex-boyfriend trying to play Xanadu on drums, or hearing Spirit of Radio and Tom Sawyer every other hour at their uncle’s house, then they are not 100% lost. Even if the issue is Geddy’s (BEAUTIFUL) voice, I still have hope.

This is one of the songs I send them. Melodic, unpredictable, fascinating, moving, relatable, and timeless. Plus, if they are not a fan, they have literally never heard this song and Geddy is in peak-pop-vocal-performance on this one.

#13 Cold Fire (Counterparts, 1994)
Objectively I am not surprised at how many of their more popular and “radio-ish” songs were not smash top-40 hits, but this one defies explanation. Unlike a record like Power Windows or Clockwork Angels where they not only don’t sound like the year they were made – they don’t sound like a year, period – this one is dripping with 1994 sensibility.

There is a timeless factor since it did not embrace production tricks of the hour, but it flows (evenly) right alongside Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, but with a radio-ready chorus that exceeds either of what those bands did in 1994. The lyrics are not abstract, and the pacing and structure do not defy the laws of physics like so many of their other “hits”. Listen to it just once and you will be singing “I’ll be around, if you don’t let me down” for the rest of the week.

#12 BU2B (Clockwork Angels, 2012)
As soon as they got out of their insulated shell and allowed themselves to once again absorb other new music, the gloves came off and we got this – the best of what any band can do in 4 minutes of groove metal.

They take a riff that has a Rage Against The Machine vibe while still being 100% Rush and twist and turn melodic phrases that are spit-whispered over the verse until the chorus unleashes a hook so big that Phish are running scared. The song is great, and then the bridge comes in – left turn into melodic beauty that shows why after 40 years, we are still listening.

#11 Losing It (Signals, 1982)
This song seems like a time-machine warning of what Neil did not want his artistic life to become. I felt there was nobility in his retirement, but after passing less than five years in, this song now has a whole new prophetic poignancy. I loved this song when I was 14, now I fear it.

#10 Mystic Rhythms (Power Windows, 1985)
I live for music and yet it is so infrequent that a song can be fully transportive for me. I think I might be too self-conscious to just let myself go, but if this song is on, I no longer exist – I am swept away into an imaginative world painted with the brushstrokes in the color of Neil’s words and I feel the world around me only through the conduit of Alex’s guitar. While this is not my number one favorite song of all-time, I kind of think it might be the best song they have ever written.

#9 Time Stand Still (Hold Your Fire, 1987)
The inclusion of Aimee Mann on the chorus is a rarity for them, but damn does it payoff having a female voice complement Geddy’s sweet tenor on this track. This was one of those songs that the first time I heard it, I felt like I was experiencing something special. it was more than a song, it was a feeling – an EXPERIENCE…and how perfect is that when the song is about living in the moment and holding on to experiences. This is a song that when you are young celebrates the promise of what is ahead, and when you are older celebrates the gift of what has come.

#8 The Pass (Presto, 1989)
This record was hit/miss for me when it came out. Part of that is purely insular as I was getting close to adulthood and experiencing all of the uncertainty when that is thrust upon you. The other part was that I did not like the middle-of-the-road they were driving down. I either wanted more of the (almost) pop, brooding synth stylings, or I wanted a full-on return to rock.

I have since come to really appreciate this album, and this song was instant for me and remains a favorite. As someone who has attempted suicide, it is rare to find a moving song about that kind of ordeal that actually companions with the listener and gives them hope, while not filling the lyrics with pandering platitudes. If I want to cry, I can just grab this song.

#7 Kid Gloves (Grace Under Pressure, 1984)
A lot was said by Alex Lifeson about his frustration in the band during their synth-heavy years and that having to work his parts around the driving force of the keys was not something he enjoyed. The great irony is that the way he implemented his guitar into the tracks from ’82-’87 is my favorite guitar work in the history of guitar.

Methodical, pulsating, textural, and inventive. This track is a stand out because he utilized all of the skills and colors he was using to carve out a voice in the din of synths, on a track that really doesn’t have any synths. Oh, and this just absolutely ROCKS.

#6 Limelight (Moving Pictures, 1981)
This song actually charted. I did a deep dive on this recently to try and understand from the inside-out as to why this tune works and remains a classic. In theory, the melody is not stand-alone catchy enough to make this song sing-able, but it absolutely is.

David Barton once wrote, “They have hits, but very few memorable hooks or choruses”. I mean, he isn’t exactly wrong, but I think they had their hooks layered in a different way. The guitar riff is catchier than Backstreet Boys, and the chorus chord changes will rip your heart out. Lyrically this is an anthem for introverts, and I need more of those in my life.

#5 Tai Shan (Hold Your Fire, 1987)
I have heard Geddy say that this is his least favorite Rush song, even calling it a mistake. A few things about this; First, I love Geddy Lee and virtually everything about him, but while I don’t want him to be disingenuous, I think this is a question that as a songwriter you just never answer. When you say you don’t like something in your catalog, you hurt the listener’s experience of that song.

Secondly, an artist is not the one to judge the worth of their work. In this way, I like that we disagree because it means I have my own Freewill. This song might be too simple for them, or the lyric too personal, but the whole thing is just a beautiful tapestry of words and melody. I get goosebumps and tears. Pure magic going on here.

#4 The Garden (Clockwork Angels, 2012)
I love that the last song in their recorded catalog is easily one of their finest. This is another one I play for people who say they don’t like Rush. Such an intrinsically beautiful sentiment about the legacy that we leave behind, wrapped in metaphor with the most unexpected of endings on a concept album – they leave with a whisper instead of a scream.

#3 Grand Designs (Power Windows, 1985)
Sometimes a piece of music has a different kind of power to it. rather than empathy for the listener, or a soundscape that transports you to another world, there are songs that can lift you from wherever you are to a more joyous place. This song is not about joy or hope – it is about corruption and complacency, but in the happiest and most sing-able way possible. The band is playing at 100 from start to finish, and the coda has the biggest sing-along in the whole of their output (and I’m pretty sure The La’s stole it for “There She Goes”)

#2 Analog Kid (Signals, 1982)
This was the song that sold me on the band. I was familiar with Tom Sawyer and Spirit of Radio, but when I heard this, my world was instantly shattered. The day Neil died I wrote an extensive piece on what this song (and specifically his words) meant to me, so I won’t repeat that here, but there is true magic in the way that a piece of sonic information can change our view of self in an instant.

I did not realize it at the time, but in retrospect, I knew once the guitar solo came in that I would absolutely become a musician. There was no way something that was this profound to the development of my soul could keep me on the sidelines as a passive listener.

#1 Available Light (Presto, 1989)
There is a feeling we get as humans. I am guessing it is similar for all of us since everything on the planet is geared towards it – Falling in Love. Intellectually I know that “In Love” and “Real Love” are not the same thing, but they do come from the same place and they carry a particular feeling of bliss mixed with understanding and contentment. Once in a while, I can get this feeling elsewhere. As rare as it is, it happens from a song, and this particular compositions grabs my heart and refuses to let go.

Thanks for joining me on this epic voyage through the Rush catalog.
I hope you have found some new inspiration and a rekindling of old favorites.

Rush on Family Guy

My Top 40 Rush Songs – Part One

After Neil Peart died in January of 2020, I was unable to listen to Rush – it was just too emotional and listening only brought me sadness. I have never been affected by a celebrity/musician death the way I was by this. Eventually days turned into weeks turned into months and recently I was able to do a deep dive back into their extensive catalog. I also dove into reading all sorts of “Best Rush Songs”, “Worst Rush Songs”, “Every Rush Album Ranked”, etc.

I never come close to agreeing with those lists, but I also do not have any desire to list all 160+ songs and rank them. In honor of Rush being largely ignored by American Top 40, I have compiled my list of the best 40 Rush songs, in reverse order – with explanations. I do not expect anyone to agree with this, even though this is literally the best and most accurate list in the history of the written word.

Rush on Family Guy

Advanced warning – there are many bona fide hits that are not on here; as is the case with this kind of band, their best material was often their deep cuts and commercial failures.

Here’s #40 through #21:

#40 Tom Sawyer (Moving Pictures, 1981)
I was not going to include this song – it is not one of my favorites, but it really was the song that defined them and became their “Stairway-to-Hotel California”. My opinion is colored because you just cannot escape this song on classic rock radio and from my disdain at the throngs of people who can only name this as the song by Rush that they “know”. This kind of hype makes me unfairly dislike the tune. Certainly this song has some brilliance to it – the musicianship is off-the-charts, the lyrics speak to a metaphorical rebellion that any teen in the early 80’s could identify with, and the middle section revolutionized rock-drumming the same way “Eruption” changed rock guitar.

#39 Working Man (Self-titled, 1974)
There was an energy to their debut that ALMOST overcame the lack of Neil Peart. While the rest of the record kind of swims around in Led Zeppelin and Bad Company tributes, this track was an unbelievable standout that features one of the most epic Page/Beck/Clapton inspired marathon guitar breaks in recorded history. Even in 2021 Alex Lifeson’s solo sounds fresh and energized. More importantly, you can hear him smiling through his strings. This song is just pure joy with nothing self-conscious or calculated.

#38 Lakeside Park (Caress of Steel, 1975)
This feels like the first true “tune” from the band. Lyrically wistful and filled with relatable imagery that they really would not use as a staple in their writing until the 80’s. The chorus lifts and is instantly hum-able. The rhythm section is locked and in the pocket. The guitars glide under the vocals in an unpretentious wash. The song is a bright magical moment on an album that is just riddled with weed-induced sonic failures.

#37 Overture/Temples of Syrinx (2112, 1976)
I was hesitant to include any “chapters” from their side-long concept pieces because I do not know if this is cheating, but 2112 was such a definitive rock statement at the beginning of the disco era, that I had to include at least the opening. 2112 is written like rock, but sounds like prog, and moves like punk. While the musicianship does not suffer, it takes a backseat to attitude and the one-two punch of this opening can still give me chills after decades of hearing this.

#36 Circumstances (Hemispheres, 1978)
I’d love to say it is the only song with goddamned French on this list, but alas, it is not. As a kid that loved complicated music, I thought having to look up what words meant in order to understand a song was the coolest thing ever. As an adult songwriter I think it is the stupidest idea on Earth, but there is no denying how much bi-lingual ass this song kicks.

Lyrically they approach the over-worn subject of change and inject new-life into it with insight and relate-ability, a hallmark of what would become the best of Neil’s lyrics. There is also a “sound” here. After all this time, I still can’t quite put my finger on why this song (and album) sound so majestic. The album before it and after it ostensibly use very similar tones and instrumentation, but this one has something so special in the treatment of guitars that the mix is just complete ear-candy.

#35 Something For Nothing (2112, 1976)
In discussions about 2112, side 2 often gets left out of the conversation, which is a shame. For all of the epic-ness on side 1, the whole dystopian, Rand-inspired, pot-fueled 20 minutes is amazing for 1976, but you really have to look past the lyrics to fully embrace it with 2021 ears. Side 2 has aged better. I love “Something For Nothing” and as an added bonus I was told in 1985 by one of my hardcore Christian friends that this song was blasphemous. Read the lyrics and come to your own conclusion, but I think it celebrates not taking life for granted and fighting for a better life. Not sure how that translates to blasphemy.

#34 Cygnus X1: Book1, the Voyage (A Farewell to Kings, 1977)
Overly long title, check.
Multiple suites defined by Roman numerals, check.
An ambiguous ending, check.

This song has nothing going for it in the world of “song”; Easier to think of it as a “piece”, but holy hell is this just some bad-assery from start-to-finish! In addition to having some ridiculous energy, the vocal melodies are catchy, interesting, and hair raising. I feel that they never truly got the credit for their melody construction that they deserved. Maybe because they are arguably the best riff-writers of all time, their melodies just sit in the shadow. This piece also has to be listened to in headphones – no need for a surround-sound mix; this is surround-sound in regular stereo.

#33 Bastille Day (Caress of Steel, 1975)
The opener from their weakest album (until 2001’s Vapor Trails), this song still has me lamenting what could-have-been on this record. This song is a prog-punk bombast with one of the most surprise (and moving) codas I have ever heard. When I was a kid and listening to this, I had to go the library to read about WTF Bastille Day was so that I could understand what was wrong with eating cake instead of bread. I think they probably intended for us to just get high while we spun this record, but I was a strange young man.

#32 Ghost of a Chance (Roll the Bones, 1991)
This album gets a lot of undeserved hate. People are still complaining about the rap on the title track and taking the intent out of the conversation. I won’t write a treatise on this, but Rush mixed in their heavy seriousness with flights-of-fancy all the time, and an experiment into the lyrical world of rap was one of those.

Anyway, this song is beautiful in sentiment, mood, and execution. It was just too “weird” to be a charting hit in ’91-’92, but the chorus wondrously floats above a soundscape of rich synth textures and colorful guitar passages. It was a love song for those of us that can’t relate to syrupy ballads. It is also one of only two songs to ever rhyme “Love” and “Above” that doesn’t make me roll my eyes (or, bones, I guess).

#31 Anthem (Fly By Night, 1975)
The first record with Neil Peart, and ergo, the first proper Rush record. Filled with big ideas, the potential of what they could do was clear in the first 30 seconds of this song. While the album sounds more like a sketch-pad for what they could finally pull off with 2112 and A Farewell to Kings, the energy and drive is undeniable and this song still rocks from front-to-back all these years later.

#30 Vital Signs (Moving Pictures, 1981)
The closing track to their most popular album, this song is the rhythmic blueprint for where they would go from ’82-’84. heavily inspired by punk and ska (and I think most notably Talking Heads and The Police) this song is very interesting. It sounds like Rush, but when you dissect it, you realize it is reggae.

Part of why the albums from ’96, ’01, and ’07 fail is that they stopped being influenced by their contemporaries. At this stage they were still sponges for all that was happening in different musical pockets. Once they started being influenced by themselves instead of the music world around them, they stagnated. This song was pure magic in the left turn it took from their established “sound”.

#29 Entre Nous (Permanent Waves, 1980)
You will not see Freewill or Spirit of Radio on this list, sorry. While those songs really became the catalyst for Rush to reach the mainstream, they are just not part of their very best work. Freewill is relentless, too long, and slightly boring. Spirit of Radio is overplayed and has a melody that sounds similar to something from Reading Rainbow.

This song (more goddamned French not-withstanding) is Peartfection. The lyrics are poignant and conversational. The melody is instantly singable and haunting. The payoff “The spaces in between leave room for you and I to grow” is more brilliant than a rock song has the right to be. There is also a way that they are using the keys and guitar together that belies how long they had been doing this – it sounds 100% correct, which is something they battled for YEARS after this to get right.

#28 La Villa Strangiato (Hemispheres, 1978)
The first of several instrumentals to make a “best of songs” list. This thing is ridiculous. Over-the-top in every way; bloated, indulgent, and excessive…yet here we are with a sonic masterpiece that stays interesting and jaw-dropping for decades. Also of note is the mammoth guitar solo that builds from a whisper and turns into a tasteful shred-fest that proves Alex Lifeson is not competing with anyone. It isn’t that nobody is in his league, more that he’s the only one signed up for this sport.

#27 Nobody’s Hero (Counterparts, 1994)
After the almost pop offering of Roll the Bones, this album was a full-force return to rock. Influenced by the raw guitar bands of the time, this album was the closest to actual “Power Trio” since 1980. The album suffers from being a little too long in the middle (starts very strong, ends even stronger but loses its way in the middle act). I had longed for this to be a vinyl release – not because I prefer the sonics (I do not), but because the time constraints of 20 minutes a side would have made this perfect (assuming the dropped the filler and kept the killer).

Anyway, this song is the kind of thing I had hoped they would do for years – a true acoustic-inspired, mid-tempo almost-ballad. The lyrics about loss and regret, the string section, Geddy’s beautiful vocal (yes, his voice is fucking beautiful – quit judging otherwise just because it is different). Pitch-perfect, emotive, and tuneful.

#26 Bravado (Roll the Bones, 1991)
This song took me awhile to “get”. Lyrically it is an instant Peart classic, but musically it just did not seem to have the urgency and contrast I wanted from such a guitar driven song. When i saw it live, the slow-burn of the build hit me in a way that the recorded version hadn’t.

Since that time, I have come to prefer the penultimate album version and the ways this twists and builds onto itself (instead of around itself). The track is subtle and genius by every metric. I performed a solo guitar-vocal version of this as a tribute right after Neil Peart passed and I barely got through it without bawling my eyes out. Tearing the song down to just melody and chords was enlightening to just how perfect this truly is.

#25 YYZ (Moving Pictures, 1981)
Nominated for a Grammy and lost to the Police’s, “Behind my Camel”, which is in the Miriam Webster Dictionary under “Horseshit”, this is one of those rare musical events that has no diminishing returns once you memorize everything that happens. On my 10,000th listen (I guess), I am still moved, blown away, and sad when it is over.

#24 Different Strings (Permanent Waves, 1980)
The lone Geddy Lee lyrical entry onto this list, and a rare “Pure” ballad for Rush. I am guessing he wrote this for/about his wife (they are one of the rare Rock and Roll marriages – going on 45 years) but it has a universality that one can see themselves in this story at any stage in a relationship. It is also filled with tremendous insight that never seems pandering or preachy – “Different eyes see different things, different hearts beat on different strings.” I always felt that this song and Entre Nous were placed back-to-back because they were different sides to the same lyrical coin. I cannot find anything on the interwebs to confirm this, though.

#23 Red Sector A (Grace Under Pressure, 1984)
A lot gets discussed about the haunting lyrics of a concentration camp in WWII, so I won’t go into detail about it except to say that I cannot name any other song that sings about this, especially in such an accessible way. The music often gets overlooked and it is a bombastic mixture of New Wave, New Romantic, Hard Rock, Disco, and Progressive. So minor key and oddly ambivalent in its melodic delivery that it sounds dark and stark, yet the track sparkles with shimmering guitar, and is a thick wash of synthesizer and electronic percussion.

#22 The Wreckers (Clockwork Angels, 2012)
New life was breathed into the band when they were working on (what would be) their final album. The songwriting was stronger than it had been in two decades, and this song has the distinction of having the most proper pop-chorus in the band’s history. The lyric is about pure evil and awfulness, but the chorus pays off in a very satisfying and philosophical way. This song brought me back to Rush after I lost interest in their meandering Snakes and Arrows album from ’07.

#21 Virtuality (Test for Echo, 1996)
This was the first Rush album that did not totally do it for me. Over 20 years later, I have come to appreciate it – the production is edgy, in-your-face, and huge. The band is completely on their game musically, but the vocal melodies and lyrical themes just don’t land the way their previous works did.

This song was the lone exception – I could listen to it on infinite repeat. The main riff is heavy and contagious. The lyrics were ahead of their time lamenting on-line surfing vs real-world interaction – with the idea of the internet being a vast sea, although the hook “net boy, net girl” has not aged well, in fact, even then it did not have the metaphorical panache of Peart’s best lines.

The song construction is brilliant and it moves through each section without effort. The sing-ability of the chorus will rival any Mariah Carey hit, and the way the acoustic guitar jangles in the chorus is as close to musical perfection as has ever been achieved.

I hope you enjoyed Part One of my countdown.
Part Two.