I thought I took on a massive task when I reviewed every Rush album through 2008 (see most of the “rush” category here). I didn’t realize until today that I’d forgotten to review Clockwork Angels, so I’ll do so here: It’s good. Really good. A couple of dud songs, but overall, their best album since the Permanent Waves through Signals heyday.
Then Ultimate Classic Rock’s Ryan Reed, who is not one of the UCR staffers I know from Popdose, took it upon himself to rank every Rush song.
So let’s put off work a little longer and take a look. I won’t replicate the whole list (take a look), but I’ll highlight a few worth emphasizing or disputing.
Starting with the bottom …
167 (last) – In the Mood. A little harsh. Their debut album was basically three teenagers distilling Led Zeppelin and other influences into a blues-rock album from which the only real standouts were the blazing Finding My Way and the rock-radio anthem Working Man. Yeah, In the Mood is a little immature, and its inclusion in latter-day setlists was probably ironic, with the happily married Geddy Lee singing about picking up the hot woman at the party. It’s all quite silly, but it doesn’t pretend to be anything else, and the guitar riff is pretty good.
(No argument with the next two)
164 – Roll the Bones. Some people hate the rap segment here with the heat of a bunch of prog-rock fans being forced to listen to Taylor Swift and Vanilla Ice. But again, Rush owned the silliness here, and this was always a crowd-pleaser in concerts.
162 – Peaceable Kingdom. Wow, really? This was one of my favorites on Vapor Trails, though like much of that album, it wasn’t recorded particularly well. Even the remixed version of that album, which removed much of the sludge that made the album a difficult listen, didn’t do this song many favors. But I love Neil Peart’s lyrics here, and Geddy Lee weaves some wonderful melodic bass lines throughout.
159 – Lock and Key. The keyboards are a bit overboard here — it’s late-80s Rush, after all — but this doesn’t seem worth dumping at the bottom here along with the remainders from their immature debut or the synth-rockers from Roll the Bones that didn’t age well.
154 – Mission. Love it. Sure, it might be worth a remake without quite so many layers of keyboards, but the tribute to heroes is inspiring.
152 – Resist. Come on, man. Gotta love the hammer dulcimer.
148 – Time and Motion. Yeah, Test for Echo doesn’t fare well on this list, and I can’t disagree with that. Peart’s lyrics were dealing with abstract stuff in no real meaningful way, and the performances were getting a little repetitive. And this album could easily have been their swan song after Peart’s family tragedies. I don’t know what inspired Peart to come back to make two more half-decent albums and one great one, along with several terrific tours that allowed the band to revel in their surprising late-career popularity, but I’m grateful.
144 – Tai Shan. Kind of funny that it’s ranked higher than many others from Hold Your Fire (including a couple that I personally loved) when even Geddy Lee doesn’t like it. I never hated it, but it doesn’t make me race back to listen again.
139 – BU2B. I liked the original single better than the album version. Lyrically, it’s fascinating — it fits well with the Clockwork Angels narrative but also as a critique of those theological strains in which God is micromanaging things.
137 – Emotion Detector. Yeah, it’s not a highlight of Power Windows. It has glimmers of being a good one, but at some point, we have to accept that Peart simply wasn’t, to cite Sara Bareilles, going to write you a love song.
129 – Before and After. I have absolutely no memory of this track from the debut, which means it probably deserves ranking below some of the synth-driven songs the author have already mentioned.
125 – Nobody’s Hero. The best-written critique so far: “It’s easy to root for this poignant power ballad” about tolerance and untimely deaths, but it just doesn’t follow through.
124 – Dreamline. This is weird. He says it’s easily the best song on Roll the Bones, but he ranks it one step below Bravado. I liked both of those and Cut to the Chase (#122), in which Peart pokes fun at his own tendency to get lost in the philosophical weeds.
120 – You Can’t Fight It. I didn’t know this song existed. Wow.
117 – Countdown. This tribute to a space shuttle launch is a highlight of Signals for me, and I know I’m not alone.
113 – Workin’ Them Angels. Why is this one so high?
112 – Territories. This is my biggest complaint so far. I quote this song all the time. Imagine if someone tried to refer to the flag as “a colorful rag” today in a popular song. The right-wing media would slaughter them. And Peart’s electro-African drums are a nice touch, as are Alex Lifeson’s quirky guitar riffs.
110 – The Weapon. Again — maybe people have major issues with Rush’s synth phase, but this song speaks to me.
105 – Available Light. This one inspired me at a particular point in my life. It was the middle of college for me, after all. I still think at times that I’d love to freeze the world in place and run around to take a look, like Fry and Leela in that Futurama episode. I’m not sure if should be any higher than this, but we’re getting into stiff competition, no longer just sifting through the experiments that didn’t quite work.
104 – Tears. Nowhere near this high.
101 – Halo Effect. Another clunky look at romance. Shouldn’t be this high.
98 – Something for Nothing. I didn’t care much for Side 2 of 2112, but this was a fun one to play on guitar.
95 – One Little Victory. It’s hard to judge this one out of context. We thought for a couple of years we might never hear from Rush again, and when they came back, we had no idea what kind of shape Peart would be in. He answered that question with authority, opening up their comeback album with a blazing double-bass drum extravaganza underpinning some exuberant lyrics and some soaring Lee/Lifeson riffs. As with much of Vapor Trails, the production could’ve been much better. But this needs to be much higher.
94 – The Body Electric. Good eye for some standout bass work.
92 – Ceiling Unlimited. I’ll sound like a broken record on the Vapor Trails material because Vapor Trails is indeed a broken record. The production muddied some nice melodic hooks and lyrics throughout the album, and this is another example.
90 – Not Fade Away. Another single I hadn’t heard before. It’s a cover of a tune Buddy Holly made famous, and it barely sounds like Rush. Will this list also include the recordings from the Feedback album of covers they tossed out late in their career?
89 – The Anarchist. Their concert opener in some of their last shows, and with good reason — it’s a propulsive start, with drums, guitar and bass joining the mix in that order, all building to a powerful sequence and a promising verse. It fizzles a bit in the chorus, though, and the lyrics are more or less exposition to the Clockwork Angels narrative.
88 – The Main Monkey Business. The band had three instrumentals on Snakes and Arrows, and they were really the most memorable songs. The drums in this are more restrained than the typical Peart performance but creative and compelling.
87 – Driven. Take a powerful riff and develop it. Sounds obvious, but it was too rare on Test for Echo. This was a nice exception.
82 – Malignant Narcissism. Another Snakes and Arrows instrumental, and another good one. I wish they’d played it more live. One of the shortest songs in the Rush discography, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
81 – The Fountain of Lamneth. We’re finally getting to the stuff from Rush’s worst album, Caress of Steel? There’s no way this is better than the singles from the synth era.
79 – Afterimage. We get it, man, you don’t like the synth-driven Rush. But this was a powerful tribute to a friend who had passed away, and it did indeed take on new meaning when Peart lost his family.
76 – Animate. The opener on the underrated Counterparts could be a little higher.
75 – Red Lenses. Probably about right. I initially hated it but grew to appreciate it.
73 – Red Sector A. The analysis here is right, too. This is basically a sequencer-driven song with Lifeson and Peart adding some fills while Lee sings a heartfelt paean to prisoners — it sounds futuristic but was inspired in part by Lee’s mother’s memories of surviving a Holocaust concentration camp.
72 – 2112. “An adorably campy baby step” is about right. The overture and “The Temples of Syrinx” are terrific, and the menacing “We have assumed control” closer is unforgettable. The 10 minutes or so in between are quite forgettable.
70 – The Necromancer. It’s 13 minutes of stoner crap not worth a repeat listen, and it should be in the bottom 10.
68 – We Hold On. One of the best non-instrumentals on Snakes and Arrows.
65 – Clockwork Angels. I’d nudge the title track of their startlingly excellent final album a bit higher.
64 – The Trees. I’m glad Peart outgrew his Ayn Rand phase, but this parable of the forest is still a clever allegory against Communist “we’ll make you equal by crushing everyone” philosophy. (Granted, we’ve overcorrected really far in the other direction these days.)
62 – Earthshine. A good one that actually fits the “wall of sludge” production on Vapor Trails, which makes me wonder why it ranks behind a couple of lesser tracks from that album and Snakes and Arrows.
57 – Between Sun and Moon. Good spotlight for a highlight from Counterparts.
54 – Madrigal. Never performed live? Interesting. An easily forgotten one from A Farewell to Kings but certainly a pleasant listen.
49 – Hope. The last of the Snakes and Arrows instrumentals and the only Rush song I can think of that featured only one member — Alex Lifeson on a 12-string acoustic. It’s a short, lovely piece that makes me want to hear more solo acoustic work from the oft-overlooked guitarist.
48 – Headlong Flight. Have I mentioned how great an album Clockwork Angels is? This is indeed one of the high points of a masterpiece, with the band chugging along through a couple of verses from the defiant protagonist and an entertaining extended bridge that builds up and then releases into the final verse. No idea why it’s ranked behind the forgettable The Wreckers from the same album.
46 – Mystic Rhythms. Good call here. One of the best mixes of Peart’s electronic drums, Lee’s synths and Lifeson’s creative arpeggiated riffs.
44 – Anthem. The Peart era (which would end up as roughly 95% of their recorded output) kicks off here with an Ayn Rand tribute whose lyrics haven’t aged well. But it’s tough to deny the power of those riffs and Peart’s full-bore polyrhythmic drum attack.
41 – The Garden. Certainly an atypical song to wrap up the Rush catalog — I remember being surprised to see Lifeson playing keyboards when they did this live — but it’s beautiful and heartwarming. It’s especially appropriate for these troubled times. We can’t save the world, but we can tend our gardens and revel in our families’ love. (Not literally on the former. My yard is a disaster area.)
38 – Far Cry. I wasn’t happy at first with the math-rock “hey, look how many weird time signatures we can toss in” opener here, but a great song and killer chorus emerge.
37 – The Big Money. Certainly a Power Windows highlight. Yeah, Lifeson doesn’t have much to do while Lee is getting funky on bass and stepping on some synth pedals, but that’s a minor complaint. And the “eat the rich” theme is a bit removed from Ayn Rand, ain’t it?
35 – Beneath, Between and Behind. I’m not sure I ever heard them play this early highlight live, and I’m not sure why. Great riff, soaring melody … certainly one of the best from their pre-2112 days.
30 – Lakeside Park. Another stupid one from Caress of Steel, inexplicably included in the upper echelon along with some other dubious choices. (Rivendell??)
26 – Show Don’t Tell. One of their most rhythmically interesting tunes, popping up just as they were starting to scale back the synthesizers.
25 – Time Stand Still. Aimee Mann FTW.
24 – The Pass. Probably the most moving song in the Rush catalog — a plea to bring a despondent friend back from the brink of suicide. It could be a sappy mess, but it’s brilliant.
23 – Digital Man. Awww, yeah. Bring in those reggae rhythms.
22 – YYZ. They have 21 songs better than this, probably the most memorable instrumental in the last 40 years of rock? Wow. I haven’t gotten to La Villa Strangiato yet, which I also love but shouldn’t be higher than this.
20 – The Analog Kid. I may be biased because I was in high school for this, and dreaming of the future was all I did. But it certainly stands up.
16 – A Passage to Bangkok. Look, if we’re going to dump all over the young Rush’s couple of songs about women, can we also dump on their most explicitly stoner-oriented song?
14 – Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres. I thought I was the only Rush fan who would rank this above the other side-length epic, 2112, but I guess not. It’s a little dull at times, but it’s a good story with some memorable moments. He ranks this just behind the original Cygnus X-1, which is indeed a pretty good one but not what I would call a top-20 Rush song, especially after Lee hits (sort of) that ridiculously high note at the end.
Also, it’s a wall calendar …
12 – The Spirit of Radio. An obvious choice, and I’m furious that it’s mistakenly called “The Spirit of the Radio” here.
11 – Fly By Night. Another early one that strangely disappeared from their live shows despite a killer guitar hook and fine vocal melody.
10 – New World Man. A “hit,” strangely enough, and a pretty worthy one. Another one they didn’t play much in the shows I saw.
9 – Subdivisions. An ode to the outcast, and let’s speak up on Alex Lifeson’s behalf here. I remember reading a review that said he took a “creative nosedive” on Signals, and this song alone should prove otherwise. Listen to those pretty harmonics in the guitar solo, all swirled together with the whammy bar.
6 – Closer to the Heart. It’s a standard, yes, but I’ve grown a bit weary of it, and I think the band did, too. That raises a question of how to gauge a song that is good by any standard but simply played to death.
5 – Xanadu. I’d never really stopped to think which of Rush’s epics was the best, but yeah, this is probably it.
3 – Red Barchetta. A classic, any way you look at it. Funny how it’s set in a dystopian future but is so upbeat and energizing. I would’ve ranked it ahead of Limelight.
The top pick is obvious, with good reason.