Our Top 10 Rush Songs list takes a look at one of the greatest rock bands of all time. The Canadian power trio were one of many practitioners of the Progressive Rock genre, putting forth every component one would come to expect from that particular form of rock. Rush Songs presented fans with mythological storytelling inspired by fantasy and Greek literature in similar fashion to Robert Plant’s lyricism in Led Zeppelin. Rush songs ran the gamut from short three minute rock pieces to extremely long music suites consisting of complex instrumentation. Rush were the true masters of the craft, adapting to the environment quite well, all the while keeping to their primary homeland inspired by the blazing hard rock tendencies of Led Zeppelin and Cream. Of course, Rush were one of those kinds of bands that were greatly underrated by many music critics. However, that sort of biased opinion didn’t matter; it was all about making music for the fans, and that’s exactly why their cult status is so widespread.
The band’s influence extends far and wide across the landscape of rock. Everybody from Anthrax, Alice in Chains, Foo Fighters, Primus, Pixies, Metallica, No Doubt, all the way to Elliott Smith, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, Tool, and Trent Reznor. The cauldron of euphonious confection is stirred fastidiously by the inimitable triple threat of vocalist and bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and drummer Neil Peart. And it wouldn’t do them enough justice as a band to say that they’re all some of the most highly skilled in their respective fields; seriously though, Peart, alone, is probably in the top ten greatest rock drummers of all time.
And even though sales have nothing to do with a bands technical capacity and consistency, Rush are third behind The Beatles and the Rolling Stones for having the most consecutive gold and platinum records. But all of that aside. Rush needs none of those accolades to reassure themselves that they’re a band of grand importance. Rush is a band still selling out stadiums and producing albums. It’s extremely hard in this case to pick out ten Rush songs from their huge discography, so we have lifted songs from each of their albums that really punctuate their range of compositions. This list won’t focus entirely on their big hits (as monumental as “Tom Sawyer,” is, it won’t be on here) but there will be enough variety to get you turned on to them if you’re new to Rush.
This was the lead single that kicked off their 1982 record, Signals. The album as a whole was a stylistic shift for the band, focusing less on electric guitars and more on synthesizers. This song properly displays what a hard rock band can achieve outside of their comfort zone. It’s also a very identifiable song in the sense that it deals with peer pressure, alienation, and trying to fit in; definitely one of their best to start off this list.
9.) By-Tor and the Snow Dog
Fly By Night was the band’s second studio album, and they were already delving into the prog rock currents that would soon mold them; this song is a perfect demonstration of such. Like with all of their elongated suites, this one’s broken up into several little sections that tell individual, fantasy-based stories. The first half of the song is fast-paced, with wonderful drum fills by Peart and raging guitar riffs and solos courtesy of Lifeson, while the mid section goes into more melodic, minor key changes, before closing out the epilogue with one final turnaround. The inspiration behind the song involved Anthem Records manager Ray Daniels’ German Shepherd dog, and tiny, white dog; Rush’s road manager nicknamed the two dogs By-Tor and Snow Dog.
8.) Before and After
Rush hit the scene in 1975 with their self-titled debut, and boy was it a way to grab everybody’s attention. There was nothing really groundbreaking about it, per se, since it was just your garden-variety rock record; very heavy and bluesy. Rush were basically channeling their inner Zeppelin here, especially in Before and After. With its soft and delicate commencement of phaser-driven chords and the additive of acoustic, it really kicks into an Over the Hills and Far Away–like explosion as it cranks up the amplification; Lifeson really mops up the joint with his guitar licks on one of the earliest Rush songs on this list,
7.) The Necromancer
Here’s an awesome progressive rock composition off of their third album, Caress of Steel. This was the album that not only just about killed their career because it was such a commercial failure (thanks to this song), but it was also the album that set the band on the right path; the path of a newly constructed band who found their sound. The Necromancer was their first epic that contained storytelling and imagery inspired by Tolkien, with a collage of instrumentation that echoed the band Wishbone Ash; a very underrated band, by the way.
6.) The Spirit of Radio
This is one of their more fun-loving tracks from their 1980 album, Permanent Waves. The album was a departure from their previous progressive rock, and this was the hit single to generate the band a wider audience. It’s such a cool song because of its distinguishable opening riff and its reggae break halfway through; this is one of those arena rock staples to bring a smile to ones face as they proudly bounce about.
With their 1977 record, A Farewell to Kings, Rush were really zeroing in on their ability to orchestrate beautifully made concept songs; the multi-textured arrangements were so mind-bending. And what would a list of the best Rush songs be without this underrated piece of Herculean proportions? Xanadu, inspired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, Kubla Khan, has every electrifying element to make this eleven minute song a bona-fide epic; it’s five minute instrumental that segues into mystical harmonies is too good not to patiently absorb.
4.) La Villa Strangiato
(An exercise in Self-Indulgence): And with A Farewell to Kings comes the 1978 follow-up record, Hemispheres. This lovely instrumental really signified the band as an unstoppable force who could manufacture the most complicated rock compositions blended with intellectual key changes, progressions, guitar solos, bass riffs, and alien percussion that could never be emulated. The second half of the song with that James Bond-esque riff really seasons the instrumental with that much-needed zest. One of our favorite Rush Songs of all time.
3.) Closer to the Heart
If there’s one thing that can be said about this Rush song, is that it’s quite incendiary for being as short as it is; it really leaves an impression on you. With its intricate acoustic guitar work, inspirational lyrics, and Geddy Lee’s always powerful howls, Closer to the Heart is one of the bands shining moments, and it really modifies A Farewell to Kings into the classic that it is.
When Moving Pictures hit the scene in 1981, Rush were now international superstars; with Rush songs like Tom Sawyer and this one, how could they not be? Limelight is an incredible rock song because it’s not only radio-friendly, but it also has a message that can resonate with the listener. Yes, it’s about the pressures of fame, but it deals with the alienation and false pretenses of what stardom truly is, and it turns into something quite sad.
If you have yet to listen to their 1976 magnum opus, 2112, please go out and do so, because it really is a life-changing experience; a record like that really opens up your eyes up to an entire new world of music. The album as a whole is nothing short of amazing, but if there’s one song that sums up Rush as a band, it’s the self-titled, twenty-minute suite that takes up side one of the record. It’s worth noting that Neil Peart wrote most of the lyrics over the course of the band’s career, and here he’s at his most adventurous, philosophical, pensive, and dream-like; adopting influence from Ayn Rand’s book, Anthem.
The song’s broken up into seven individual sections: Overture, The Temples of Syrinx, Discovery, Presentation, Oracle: The Dream, Soliloquy, and Grand Finale. Each musical vignette has a style all its own that sews the prodigious suite together by the finest thread, and makes it, bar none, one of the finest examples of a prog rock pièce de ré·sis·tance, and easily Rush’s greatest song and our No. 1 choice on our Top 10 Rush Songs list.
Top 10 Rush Songs
Written by Matthew Pollard
Updated August 15 2020
Photo By Enrico Frangi (Uploaded by User:Jonasz) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons