Underrated Rush: The Most Overlooked Song From Each Album
Is it possible for a band to be worshipped with god-like reverence and biblically underrated? In Rush's case, 100 percent.
Throughout most of their four-decade run, the Canadian prog-rock trio were essentially the world's biggest cult band: largely ignored by the mainstream but successful enough to pack stadiums. They scored a few modest hits ("Tom Sawyer" among them) and usually made a solid dent in the Billboard 200, but they operated in their own sonic universe — they never sold their souls to trends, even when they embraced synths and New Wave gloss.
In a nutshell, fans love most of their catalog and non-fans couldn't care less. But even the faithful need an excuse to re-explore the hidden corners of their material. We spotlight the most overlooked track from each Rush LP below.
"Take a Friend"
From: Rush (1974)
Without their drum god and master conceptualist Neil Peart, Rush were still embryonic. Their self-titled debut lacks the signature progginess and imagination that flourished a couple years down the line, but the record's fuzzy blues-rock attack resulted in some charming — if derivative — moments. "Working Man" and "Finding My Way" come closest to reaching classic status, but fans who run hot and cold on Rush may want to revisit "Take a Friend," the trio's twangiest tune. After a series of spiraling arpeggios, the track settles into some pleasingly rowdy Zeppelin-meets-Skynyrd riffage.
From: Fly by Night (1975)
Peart doesn't play a second of drums on this nylon-string ballad, but he does flex his nerd muscles with a quaint lyric inspired by the "enchanted" elven kingdom from Lord of the Rings. The sparse acoustic atmosphere is rare for a band so frequently defined by volume — the only other elements here are Geddy Lee's gentle voice and the delay pedal mists that Alex Lifeson pulls from his electric guitar. It's nowhere near as famous as "Anthem," "Fly by Night" or the multi-part "By-Tor & the Snow Dog," but it proves Rush could make compelling music with the amps cranked down.
From: Caress of Steel (1975)
Like "Rivendell" before it, this sprawling, 12-minute epic looked to Tolkien for inspiration. It's the obvious choice for this list: The anthemic "Bastille Day" and "Lakeside Park" are the album's melodic heartbeat, and no one in their right mind would pick the dud to end all duds, "I Think I'm Going Bald." It's almost a coin flip between "The Necromancer" and the album-closing "The Fountain of Lamneth," but the former is more disciplined in its prog excess, flowing relatively freely from Black Sabbath-y metal to folky serenity.
From: 2112 (1976)
Since 50 percent of Rush fans consider "2112" to be a magnum opus, we aren't left with too many choices from the band's fourth LP. It's tempting to pick "Twilight Zone," a clunky but trippy nod to Rod Serling's innovative sci-fi series — but instead we're selecting "Tears," the heartbreaking ballad written composed entirely by Lee. The lyrics conjure a cringe or two, but we recommend focusing on the symphonic-sized mellotron, played by the group's art director, Hugh Syme.
From: A Farewell to Kings (1977)
Rush did release "Cinderella Man" as the second single from A Farewell to Kings, but it's still been overshadowed by the album's other powerhouses, including the opening title track, "Xanadu" and "Closer to the Heart." It's weird that you don't hear "Cinderella Man" mentioned in the same breath as the others — it's a caffeinated crash course in power trio perfection, running the gamut from folky balladry to roaring hard rock to a middle section that, to quote Peart, "might even be called (shudder) funky!"
From: Hemispheres (1978)
Two beloved tracks — the 18-minute prog behemoth "Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres" and virtuosic instrumental "La Villa Strangiato (An Exercise in Self-Indulgence)" — bookend Rush's sixth album. Between the two remaining choices (fairy tale "The Trees" and punch rocker "Circumstances"), we're going with the latter — it's the odd man out on Hemispheres, but not for a lack of quality. It's brash, instantly catchy and (a trait critics often overlook about the band in general) fun as hell. "We were able to work in a shorter time frame [on that song]," Lee told Rolling Stone in 2018. "That started to become more challenging and more enticing, so we sort of headed off in that direction."
From: Permanent Waves (1980)
Permanent Waves opens with the back-to-back blast of "The Spirit of Radio" and "Freewill," two of the catchiest songs in the Rush catalog. But the album grows moodier and more atmospheric as it plays, with the dark ballad "Different Strings" arriving midway through side two. Lifeson contributes some of his most tasteful guitar work, including a Stratocaster solo that sadly fades out right as it warms up. "It reminds me of soldiers sitting around a piano in a smoke-filled pub in England during the war," he told Guitar Player in 1980. "It's the type of solo I really enjoy playing - an emotive, bluesy sort of thing. The only problem is that the Strat part was added on at the last minute; it really starts to happen as the song ends, which was unfortunate."
From: Moving Pictures (1981)
Moving Pictures is sort of like a best-of album — nobody's underrating staples like "Tom Sawyer," "Red Barchetta," "Limelight" or "YYZ." But a couple of the deep cuts, including the spooky "Vital Signs," deserve more love. Rush pack a lot of ideas into a seamless four and a half minutes: electro-prog synth ripples, reggae guitar stabs and an array of rhythmic alterations. "A tired mind become a shape-shifter," Lee sings, seemingly describing the band at its early '80s peak.
From: Signals (1982)
Unlike the more streamlined singles "New World Man" and 'Subdivisions," this Frankenstein's monster probably wouldn't have worked on radio. Hell, Rush just barely slipped it onto Signals, relentlessly debating the song's merits with producer Terry Brown. (The two camps parted ways after the album — probably for the best.) Despite the drama, "Digital Man" is among the band's most playful moments, morphing from manic prog-funk verses to a ska-styled bridge to a robotic, synth-rock coda.
From: Grace Under Pressure (1984)
Synthesizers dominate Rush's 10th album, with Lifeson's guitars often used as chordal shading. But a chiming 5/4 riff drives this zestful track, which peaks with a guitar solo full of glorious harmonics and violent tremolo bar gyrations. Sadly, they never played it live after the Grace tour.
From: Power Windows (1985)
This dreamy Power Windows song didn't survive in Rush setlist much beyond that album's tour, though they did revive it for a batch of shows in 2012 and 2013. It's one of the LP's emotional highlights, with Lee sweetly singing over jittery synth patterns and squealing guitars. "[There] is a Middletown in almost every state in the US," Peart told Canadian Composer of the song in 1986. "It comes from people identifying with a strong sense of neighborhood. It's a way of looking at the world with the eyeglass in reverse. I spent my days-off cycling around the countryside in the US, looking at these little towns and getting a new appreciation of them."
From: Hold Your Fire (1987)
Lee's bass barks like a territorial hound on this polished deep cut, which is rarely mentioned alongside the album's fellow singles "Time Stand Still" and "Force Ten." Seriously, that bass! Even if this track were reduced to an instrumental rhythm section jam, it would be worth including on this list.
From: Presto (1989)
A refreshing dissonance and tension anchors this Presto standout, which Rush somehow never played live. Peart's meditative lyrics explore the contagiousness of both weather and human emotion: "Enthusiasm spreads," Lee sings over his thwacked bass. "Tides respond to lunar gravitation."
"Ghost of a Chance"
From: Roll the Bones (1991)
It's hard to pick an underrated song on Roll the Bones — outside of the few obvious tracks (live favorites "Dreamline" and "Bravado"; the grooving, Grammy-nominated instrumental "Where's My Thing?"), most of this material falls well below Rush's usual standard. But "Ghost of a Chance" is worth revisiting for its intriguing dynamic shifts and tonal choices, like the unexpected organ sound on the verses.
"Between Sun & Moon"
From: Counterparts (1993)
Lifeson's guitar riff on "Between Sun & Moon" is gritty and raw for a reason: He fashioned his parts in tribute to some of his musical heroes. "Pete Townshend can make an acoustic sound so heavy and powerful," he told Guitar Player in 1993. "I've always admired that … [T]here's a musical bridge before the solo that's very Who-ish. I even throw Keith Richards in there."
From: Test for Echo (1996)
Test for Echo's penultimate instrumental is a deeply weird song — just not in the way prog-haters might expect. The arrangement is heavy on guitar harmonics; Peart randomly breaks into a semi-swinging jazz groove on the ride cymbal at one point; and hilarious samples from the novelty tune "Monster Mash" pop up from time to time. The record's opening trio of singles ("Test for Echo," "Driven" and "Half the World") tend to earn most of the attention, but "Limbo" is rife for rediscovery — partly because it doesn't take itself so seriously.
From: Vapor Trails (2002)
When Rush issued a sorely needed Vapor Trails remix in 2013, it allowed fans to rediscover a record previously marred by murky fidelity. One of the chief beneficiaries is "Earthshine," which Lifeson dominates with his stoner-metal fuzz and oceanic, psychedelic textures. The trio played the track 123 times between 2002 and 2004, but it disappeared from set lists after that point.
From: Snakes & Arrows (2007)
Peart embraces the beauty of atheism — of finding faith in the good of human beings, not unseen gods — on this droning, string-backed rocker. It was also a showstopper onstage, although Rush didn't break it out until 2010. "The world's a crazy place right now and it's driven by religion," Lifeson told Nola.com in 2008, commenting on the spiritual analysis of Snakes & Arrows. "It's always been driven by religion. But currently the division between the East and the West, and the small representation of the very militant within those groups creating such an enormous mess...it has to be talked about and thought about."
"Wish Them Well"
From: Clockwork Angels (2012)
Few bands end their career with an album this strong: "Caravan," "Headlong Flight," "The Wreckers," "The Garden" — they're quintessential late period Rush, balancing virtuosity and verse-chorus craftsmanship. One of the LP's lesser-known moments is "Wish Them Well," a simple, sturdy hard-rock anthem with some of Lee's most emotive vocals this side of the century line.