Tag Archives: Alex Lifeson

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.