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.
- In Concert: Rush at the Prudential Center, 10/20/12 (grayflannelsuit.net)
- In Defense Of … Rush Being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Column) (popmatters.com)
- RUSH: Super Audio CD Edition Of ‘Counterparts’ Due Next Month (blabbermouth.net)