10-List: Firewater’s Favorite Rush Songs

The death of Neil Peart in 2020 inspired me to listen to all of the Rush studio albums, both again and for the first time with some of the later releases. First, I assembled a list of my Top-25 tracks (the other fifteen are in the “honorable mentions” below). I was surprised that there were no songs after 1989 on this list. When I whittled it down to this resulting 10-List, there were none after 1981.

If you’re keeping score, that means all of these songs were from the band’s first seven years. I assure you that I listened to all of the albums, all the way to 2012’s Clockwork Angels. There’s a lot of good music to listen to throughout, but my favorite tracks were all created during the first quarter of their long career.

Working Man” Rush (1974)

This song, from Rush’s self-titled debut record, has become a fan-favorite over the years and, obviously, one of mine. It is the cut that attracted the attention of Donna Halper, a disc jockey and music director at WMMS in Cleveland, Ohio, who played it on air and made it a popular song in that city. It also landed Rush their first record deal, and the first two Rush albums were dedicated to Ms. Halper. Incidentally, this album was pre-Peart, when John Rutsey was still the band’s drummer.

Bastille Day” Caress of Steel (1975)

We’re skipping the album Fly By Night, also released in 1975, although the title track nearly made the cut and is listed in my honorable mentions below. “Bastille Day,” with music by Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee and lyrics by Neil Peart, is about the storming of the Bastille that began the French Revolution. Peart’s lyrics and drumming elevated the songwriting of the band.

2112” 2112 (1976)

This is a twenty-minute track encompassing the whole of Side 1 of the album. Caress of Steel was considered, at the time, to have been a failure, and even though the band was being pressured to create music with more commercial appeal, the boys stuck to their progressive leanings. It seems to have paid off for Rush in the long run. “2112” has seven distinct parts. If I were forced to choose my favorite parts, they would be “Part I: Overture” and “Part II: The Temples of Syrinx.” The song lyrics, again by Peart, were based on Ayn Rand’s book Anthem. The red star and naked man icon all started here.

A Passage to Bangkok” 2112 (1976)

This was a song about all the places in the world where you can find good cannabis. It seems more obvious to me now, but Peart’s elegant lyrics hint at the message rather than bashing you over the head with it. Alex Lifeson has admitted that the music was inspired by Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” It’s the lead song on Side 2 of the album, immediately following “2112.”

Closer to the Heart” A Farewell to Kings (1977)

I wasn’t a jock in high school. I played football in junior high for a minute and lots of tennis, but by the time I started high school, I was a metalhead, comic book geek and part-time stoner. However, the captain of the high school football team and I became unlikely friends after taking a journalism class together. I was over at his house when I heard this song the first time. He was a Rush fan. I was growing into the role but this didn’t become one of my favorite Rush songs until years later. Initially, it was too pop music for my tastes.

La Villa Strangiato” Hemispheres (1978)

I just want to point out one thing about the 18-minute track that comprises the entire first side of the album Hemispheres. “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres” is about a spaceship called the Rocinante that flies into a black hole. As a fan of the James S.A. Corey space opera series The Expanse, this pleases me to no end. However, this track didn’t make my list. “The Trees,” another fan favorite, is on this one as well, but didn’t quite crack my top-25. “La Villa Strangiato” closes out the album, a 9:37 instrumental with twelve distinct parts. This one reminds me of some of the tracks on Moving Pictures, which I had listened to first. Parts V: “Monsters!” and X: “Monsters! (Reprise)” were based on the 1936 composition “Powerhouse” by Raymond Scott. If it sounds familiar to you—as it did to me—it’s because it was used in the Warner Brothers cartoon scores in the ’40s and ’50s, as well as more recent places.

The Spirit of Radio” Permanent Waves (1980)

A crazy opening riff, a tribute to free-form radio, a lyrical homage to Simon and Garfunkle’s “Sound of Silence,” and then a slide into reggae. This one doesn’t echo with the sound of salesmen. It probably shouldn’t work, but somehow it does. Rush’s highest charting single in the UK.

Tom Sawyer” Moving Pictures (1981)

Yes, you know this one. And, yes, it’s probably overplayed. That doesn’t make it any less of a great song. Every time I hear the opening sounds of Geddy’s bass pedals, I experience a little thrill of joy.

Red Barchetta” Moving Pictures (1981)

If I ever compile a 10-List of driving songs, this will be on it. The song includes a science-fiction car chase scene and a lot of shifting and drifting. Great music, too.

Limelight” Moving Pictures (1981)

The lyrics to this song describe some of Peart’s negative feelings about celebrity. I’m sure his problems were compounded by the success of this album.

As promised, here are the other Rush tunes that nearly made this list.

Honorable mentions:

“Finding My Way” Rush (1974)

“Anthem” Fly By Night (1975)

“Fly By Night” Fly By Night (1975)

“Lakeside Park” Caress of Steel (1975)

“The Twilight Zone” 2112 (1976)

“Xanadu” A Farewell to Kings (1977)

“Freewill” Permanent Waves (1980)

“Vital Signs” Moving Pictures (1981)

“YYZ” Moving Pictures (1981)

“Subdivisions” Signals (1982)

“New World Man” Signals (1982)

“Red Sector A” Grace Under Pressure (1984)

“Distant Early Warning” Grace Under Pressure (1984)

“Time Stand Still” Hold Your Fire (1987)

“Show Don’t Tell” Presto (1989)


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