Rush (2012)

The 15 Best Rush Songs Since the 1990s

Rush (2012)

Well, the moment is finally here. Rush are finally members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Whatever beef I may have with the Hall and their selection process, I can admit that it’s nice to see the band receive some long overdue validation from a lot of the same music critics and gatekeepers that spent the past few decades ignoring them.

And while I can’t know the minds of the voters, it seems safe to assume that Rush earned their induction on the strength of the brilliant albums they released in the ’70s and ’80s. But those of us who have supported the band our whole lives know there’s a lot of great music to be heard from their entire catalog. However, it’s their material from the 1990s to the present day that I want to focus on for this list.

Now if we accept the premise that Rush’s golden age ended with the start of the 1990s — something I realize many people don’t accept, but that’s another topic — that means there are six studio albums to draw from here: Roll the Bones, Counterparts, Test for Echo, Vapor Trails, Snakes & Arrows, and Clockwork Angels. This group of records happens to also mark the period when Rush’s crossover into the mainstream ended, their albums sold a little less each time, and the band came to be supported almost exclusively by the enthusiastic core fan base that still flocked to concerts.

Of these six records, the one I personally hold in the highest esteem is 1993′s Counterparts, which placed #8 in my 2007 ranking of the group’s albums. Roll the Bones, meanwhile, was beaten to the bottom only by the band’s first album and Hold Your Fire. So what does that all mean? Not much, really, since there is great music to be found on even the most mediocre Rush album.

With all that out of the way, here is my list of the 15 best Rush songs from the 1990s to the present day. Feel free to tell me what a moron I am in the comments.


1. “Dreamline (from Roll the Bones) — I still have a cassette of the Roll the Bones album listening party I taped off the radio in 1991. Listening to the boys talk up the new album was a thrill, and at first I was really into the record. My enthusiasm for it dipped after Counterparts was released, only to be rekindled over the last six or seven. But the opening cut, “Dreamline,” that I’ve always loved. It bursts with an energy and ferocity not heard from Rush in years, and it’s no wonder they used it to open the concerts for awhile.

2. “Bravado (from Roll the Bones) — This retains the sound and feel of the Presto album, which is just fine by me. It’s a mid-tempo track with some great Peart lyrics and an excellent vocal melody from Geddy. I’ve never been of the belief that Rush has to ROCK all the time, and more subdued and textured songs like these are treasures to me.

3. “Cut to the Chase (from Counterparts) — The first evidence of Rush’s new-found commitment to organic hard rock was “Stick It Out,” the first single from Counterparts. That song made it clear that the group was (mostly) done with synthesizers and melodic, mid-tempo AOR. But as symbolically important as “Stick It Out” was at the time, “Cut to the Chase” is a far superior song. The riffs are sleeker and just as hard-hitting, and the song moves with the velocity and intensity of a rocket. The money shot is the all-too-brief drum break at the 3:45 mark. Gets me every time.

4. “Between Sun & Moon (from Counterparts) — I guess you could call this Rush’s stab at alternative rock. To me it’s simply a fantastic blend of power and melody, powered by a fairly basic but insistent rhythm. It also boasts a surprisingly sticky chorus.

5. “Double Agent (from Counterparts) — I forget where I saw this, but many years ago I read a quote from either Geddy or Alex that “Double Agent” was more the result of some relaxed jam sessions than something that grew from a concentrated songwriting plan. In other words, when Rush wasn’t really trying to write a great song they did anyway. I bring this up because I’ve thought to myself many times since then that I wish they’d do it more often.

6. “Driven” (from Test for Echo) — A beautiful showcase for Geddy Lee’s fluid, impactful bass playing if I ever heard one. That alone carries “Driven” to inclusion on this list. I would entertain a case for “Time and Motion” but it didn’t quite make the cut.

7. “One Little Victory (from Vapor Trails) — For a time in the late ’90s, it looked as if Rush was done for good. The personal tragedies endured by Neil Peart would have finished most musicians, but somehow he and the group not only survived, they prospered. And so even now, a decade after Vapor Trails signaled the return of Rush, I still get a little giddy at the opening double-bass drum blast on “One Little Victory.” The song’s very existence is a celebration of the human spirit, and the fact that it kicks ass is simply a bonus.

8. “Secret Touch (from Vapor Trails) — Couple this track with “One Little Victory” and you’ve got the hardest-hitting Rush one-two punch since the ’70s. If there’s a flaw on this one, it’s the same flaw that mars most of Vapor Trails, and that’s that it goes on a little too long.

9. “Resist (from Rush in Rio) — Do bands even do the MTV Unplugged thing anymore? Because now that I think about it, Rush would probably make an interesting choice. Consider this song, which originally appeared on Test for Echo, as a prime example of the “less is more” school of musical arrangement. In its original form it was a decent but not particularly memorable rock ballad. Stripped down to just Geddy and Alex on acoustic guitar, it becomes something much, much better.

10. “Far Cry” (from Snakes & Arrows) — While the Snakes & Arrows album was heralded as a return to form (and there’s a phrase that needs to be retired immediately) for Rush, I just could never get into it. Way too many mid-tempo numbers with no identity and no real sense of purpose. But boy, “Far Cry” came as close to recapturing the energy and spark of the band’s hard rock roots as any song they had released since the days before the much-maligned synthesizers took over. It’s got a killer riff and the kind of punchy but clean production that Vapor Trails desperately needed. The only thing lacking is a truly blistering Alex Lifeson guitar solo.

11. “Armor and Sword (from Snakes & Arrows) — And here’s one of those mid-tempo tracks I just talked about. The difference here is that Neil’s slightly off-kilter drum pattern and Geddy’s great harmonized bass riff in the first section provide a firmer foundation. There is also a true songwriting dynamic at work here — there are essentially four distinct parts to “Armor and Sword” and they blend together seamlessly. The real payoff doesn’t occur until almost four minutes in, but it is glorious. The overall effect is akin to being run over by a really cool tank.

12. “Malignant Narcissism (from Snakes & Arrows) — There are three instrumental cuts on this album, a first for Rush. This is easily the best of the trio. Geddy busted out a fretless bass and Neil used a bare bones four-piece drum kit, making this a unique track in the band’s history. It was basically an improvised jam knocked out in two days, so of course the result is Rush’s best instrumental since “YYZ.”

13. “Carnies (from Clockwork Angels) — I came this close to putting “Caravan” in this spot, but the pre-chorus and chorus on “Carnies” put it over the top. It’s one of the songs from Clockwork Angels that I always end up singing along to, which is not to be discounted. I also love the “How I pray just to get away / to carry me anywhere / sometimes the angels punish us by answering our prayers” lyric.

But go ahead and listen to “Caravan” to by all means. You can’t go wrong there either.

14. “Headlong Flight” (from Clockwork Angels) — This the most unabashedly progressive song from Clockwork Angels, as well as the group’s longest studio cut (7:20) since “The Camera Eye” in 1981. And unlike some of Rush’s more recent songs that are a few minutes shorter, there are no “check the watch” moments to be had. From the primal guitar riff that recalls “Bastille Day” to Neil’s tour de force drumming, this song is all the proof I need that Rush is still a vital creative force.

15. “The Garden (from Clockwork Angels) — If there’s been one blind spot with Rush’s music traditionally, it’s that they tend to go for power or cool intellectualism over real emotion. But on “The Garden,” we have a song that packs the biggest emotional punch since… well, I can’t really remember. Maybe I’m just a sucker for a nice piano part and a string section, but this song closes Clockwork Angels not with a last big hurrah, but on a relatively subdued and somber note.

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  • Malchus

    Those three songs from Counterparts are my favorites. That CD is not only a great Rush album, but a great rock album, as well. From that album I would have also added “Nobody’s Hero,” which really become resonant to me after 9/11.

    Great list, Chris!

  • http://sportsmyriad.com Beau

    I think song length is more of an issue on Clockwork Angels. Headlong Flight is much better live, where it doesn’t go on quite as long. Even the titletrack, which I love, meanders a bit.

    Vapor Trails had a lot of great songs, and I’m a little annoyed that (A) the rumored re-mastering doesn’t seem to be happening and (B) they don’t play those songs live. The sound is mud, and the songs deserve better.

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ Chris Holmes

    Someone on YouTube uploaded “remastered” versions of the entire VT album. I only heard a few, but they sound great.

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ Chris Holmes

    Thanks!

  • Ken

    thanks for including Carnies and Between Sun & Moon. Def in my top 15 from the past 20 years!

  • http://www.facebook.com/wollin Daniel Wollin

    Here is my list, these songs just fascinate me, I call them the “No Hit Wonders”

    Everyday Glory

    Alien Shore

    Red Tide

    Countdown

    Mission

    Yo Bet Your Life

    Ghost Riders

    The Way The Wind Blows

    The Wreckers

    Available Light

    The Garden

  • http://www.facebook.com/mick.bodine Mick Bodine

    You forgot to mention the face melting guitar solo from Cut To The Chase…..dayum!

  • Paul

    The Pass should be in there someager but which song do you take out.

  • DH

    Rush’s work since 1990 is full of good ideas (aka riffs) ruined by bad choices (aka choruses and sometimes, dare I say it, lyrics) leaving many more “almosts” than “well dones”. So many of their choruses and other parts now seem to be written separately and forced to fit into place. Their best writing has been when we (or they) aren’t always immediately sure what’s what, and before long you don’t care.

    When a band comes to the studio to record, the producer needs to step up and tell the band what’s good and what’s not, regardless of how long it took them to write it. Even legends like Rush should not be immune to being told to throw some bad material out. Not sure this is happening. Case in point (and there are many) is Neurotica. It’s a bright spot on an otherwise terrible album. Some good ideas overall, but the AWFUL chorus ruins the whole song.

    Counterparts should have been a four-song EP (just the first four); Between Sun & Moon begins the rapid decline on that work.

    Some other song-specific thoughts:
    - Roll the B-Sides; no songs are worthy.
    - From T4E missing Time and Motion; also very good.
    - From CP missing the “other three” (see earlier comments).
    - Armor and Sword needs to be much higher; also missing Spindrift.
    - CA is too new to really evaluate this way, but can’t immediately disagree with you’re current placements and comments.

    Thanks for forcing some re-listens and re-thinking. Good work.

  • ML

    Well thought out list. Usually this type of list is just somebody’s opinion but I think this is a good list and I agree with at least half of it and can’t argue against the rest. Well done.

  • http://twitter.com/ianandrewharris Ian Harris

    Yes, good call on the post 1990 stuff, and some good selections – especially the ‘one-two punch’ on Vapor Trails. I’d add:
    Ceiling Unlimited
    We Hold On:
    How It Is
    Between Sun and Moon
    [and I agree with] You Bet Your Life

    (I whisper this: I can’t quite get into Clockwork Angels…)

  • http://www.popdose.com/ DwDunphy

    I know there isn’t a lot of support for Test For Echo, but like you said, you will always find worthwhile stuff if you let the album sink in. Even Snakes & Arrows which initially left me cold grew on me in a major way (specifically “The Way The Wind Blows”). I also agree that Counterparts is just plain solid and “Cold Fire” shoulda/coulda/woulda been a hit, but Atlantic was rapidly losing their touch as the premier rock label. They fumbled on this, on King’s X’s Dogman, and so many others as they attempted to keep Stone Temple Pilots from burning out.

  • http://www.popdose.com/ DwDunphy

    CA is a tough one for many, and while I wouldn’t say try to condition yourself to like it (I hate it when people tell me that) there is stuff on their that grabbed me only later down the line. However, how many bands that came to prominence in Rush’s eras still make music with all the passion and little desire to just milk the residuals from decades old hits? I’m glad these guys are still around because they prove you don’t have to quit or wither.

  • picman1

    There is no right or wrong with these choices. I like the idea of putting the classic early albums aside and ranking those since 1990. Great idea. The song that rose quickly to the top of my list and now sits at the top is “The Garden.” Just a tremendous song in every way. I also agree that Bravado should be right up there along with Dreamline and “Headlong Flight” but after that i like a few others such as “The Wreckers”, “Virtuality”, “Neurotica” and “Big Wheel.” Why those last two have never been played live is a mystery to me as i think they are classics. As for the top 15 I believe one can argue several from the new album can be included… “Anarchist”, “Carnies” and “Clockwork Angels” are all great ones. The bottom line is that RUSH has gotten better over the years which so few bands can say and the newest album and tour are a testament to their unique talent. I have seen them 15 times live and I hope they stick around long enough for me to see them 15 more!

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ Chris Holmes

    The list starts after Presto, but I do love that song.

  • picman1

    Why would someone so clueless bother posting at all?

  • http://www.popdose.com/ DwDunphy

    The band has never outright shunned any of their material so I fully expect one day they’ll revisit the Roll The Bones stuff. I only wish whatever company has the rights to Presto-through-Test would finally give them a proper re-release on vinyl domestically.

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ Chris Holmes

    Thanks for the well thought-out rebuttal.

  • http://www.popdose.com/ Ted

    Good list, Chris. Mine is chronological (not rank order), so here’s my top 15:

    1. The Big Wheel
    2. Double Agent
    3. Alien Shore
    4. Carve Away The Stone
    5. The Color of Right
    6. Driven
    7. Vapor Trail
    8. Secret Touch
    9. Freeze (Part IV of “Fear”)
    10. Far Cry
    11. We Hold On
    12. Faithless
    13. Clockwork Angels
    14. The Anarchist
    15. Headlong Flight

  • http://www.popdose.com/ DwDunphy

    I have the LP that came out of it. It is less messy than the CD, but would still like to see them finally release the remixed disc. Maybe now that the band is in the Hall, the old labels will try to commoditize.

  • http://www.drcastrato.blogspot.com drcastrato

    First of all, I love Rush. Nice article. I agree with your overall assesment of the post-80′s material. Roll The Bones was ok, Counterparts was better, Test for Echo was worse, Vapor Trails kicked ass, Snakes & Arrows was a letdown but a real grower, and Clockwork Angels is a headtrip with a lot of great work I’m still plowing through. (If that was not your assesment, then I guess it’s just mine). Here are my 15 (grouped by album, but songs are ranked within each album)

    Where’s My Thing, Dreamline, Big Wheel

    Animate, Stick it Out, Alien Shore

    Driven

    Ceiling Unlimited, Freeze, Secret Touch

    Far Cry, Faithless

    Headlong Flight, The Anarchist, Caravan

    Runners up that I had to cut to get to 15 were Earthshine, Armor & Sword, & Cut to the Chase. And I’d like Cold Fire a lot more if it didn’t have that triggered snare effect for half of the song. That shit was fine on Power Windows but didn’t fit on Counterparts.

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ Chris Holmes

    I would say your album assessment matches mine almost exactly.

  • http://www.popdose.com/ Ted

    The whispers on Clockwork Angels leaves me in the minority of sorts. I really thought it was a strong album by the group. And the fact that they revisited the genre of the concept album without making 2112 part II, or Hemispheres: Once More With Feeling, was impressive. The songs are, by and large, very well written and while I’ll admit that it wasn’t a “hit out of the box” for me, I warmed up to it pretty quickly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AlexBlair812 Alex Blair

    Couldn’t agree more. Was gonna make my own list but now I don’t have to! Some great melodies in here. Of course, as a Rush maniac I love every song, but these songs, particularly the ones you listed from Presto and Counterparts, have flown under the radar.

  • Sean

    Since 1990?

    1. Double Agent

    2. Caravan

    3. The Big Wheel

    4. Bravado

    5. Animate

    6. Wish Them Well

    7. The Garden

    8. Where’s My Thing?

    9. Carnies

    10. Earthshine

    11. Freeze

    12. Malignant Narcissism

    13. Halo Effect

    14. Headlong Flight

    15. Resist

  • Christopher

    Music is so interesting—see, Ian, all of your choices strike me, personally, as banal when I listen to them. Different strokes, not criticizing! & I’m not saying *you’re* banal by enjoying those…but this is why when people say “that’s a good song, & that is not”, I grit my teeth a little, because music seems to generally reflect the listener’s very deepest soul (really), &/or, how they view themselves & the world. It really is a connection between artist & listener, whereas the listener essentially says “Finally! Someone expressed it!”

    & Ted, the consensus on Clockwork seems to be the fans, the critics, & the band all like it very, very much. I heard a leaked version on poor Youtube clips, & I wasn’t happy…now I like it very, very much (& no, I not a huge believer in “that song was a grower”)…

  • Malchus

    Doesn’t Atlantic have the rights from Presto to Snakes and Arrows?

  • http://www.popdose.com/ DwDunphy

    Sort of. I believe Anthem owns them and Atlantic holds the limited license rights, but it strikes me as odd that with Clockwork Angels having as much hoopla as it has that Atlantic didn’t capitalize.

  • Brett Raud

    A nice way to remind me to go back and give many of those albums a fresh relisten.
    Gotta say the song “Earthshine” appeals to me as much as anything they’ve done. Yes it is that strong of a song for me.