You can choose a ready guide
In some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide
You still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears
And kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose free will
In 1974, a trio of Canadians called Rush released their self-titled debut to little fanfare. The world did not realize then that they would become the Rock gods they are today, over 40 years later. In this two-part post, I will rank each of their studio albums from best to worst. Part one will start with their debut and end with their tenth album, Grace Under Pressure. Part 2, which I will post next month, starts with Power Windows and ends with their most recent album, Clockwork Angels. A 5-star album will be considered the best album, and one star will be their worst.
The three members of Rush are:
Geddy Lee–bass, keyboards, lead vocals
Alex Lifeson–guitar, backing vocals
- Rush (1974) ***
Single: “Working Man”
This almost seems like a Rush that existed in a parallel world, because it’s so different from the Rush we know today. The main difference is that this album was recorded with John Rutney, the drummer Neil Peart later replaced. Rutney eventually left the band because of health problems during their first tour. Here they sound almost like a more bass-heavy version of Led Zeppelin, which isn’t a bad thing.
Best tracks: “Finding My Way”, “Working Man”, “In the Mood”
2. Fly By Night (1975) ****
Single: “Fly By Night”
Neil Peart’s tenure with the band begins with this album, bringing with him songwriting influenced mostly by objectivism, specifically the writings of Ayn Rand. (he eventually dropped the more extreme Rand views) It’s an impressive debut and this feels more like the Rush we know today. It also contains their first suite, “By-tor and the Snow Dog”. “Rivendell” is influenced chiefly by Tolkien”, and “Anthem” is one of my favorite non-hits.
Best tracks: “By-Tor and the Snow Dog”, “Fly By Night”, “Anthem”, “Rivendell”
3. Caress of Steel (1976) *
Single: “Bastille Day”
Ugh. This is Rush at their worst. Only two of the five songs are good. They relied too much on the two suites on the album, “Necromancer” (which is spoken word), and “The Fountain of Lamneth”
Best tracks: “Lakeside Park”, “The Fountain of Lamneth”
Fun Fact: By-Tor, the title character in “By-Tor and the Snow Dog”, also makes an appearance in one of the suites. The copper picture is actually a printing error. It was supposed to be steel-colored.
4. 2112 (1976) *****
Single: “2112” (parts 1 and 2 only)
Most fans consider this Rush’s best album, and I agree. The title track is twenty minutes of pure epic, and the rest of it’s great too. And to think their record company didn’t want them to record more suites.
Best tracks: “2112”, “Twilight Zone”, “Something For Nothing”
Fun Fact: While “2112” has appeared on several live albums, Different Stages is the only live album that has the entire song.
5. A Farewell to Kings (1977) ****
Singles: “Closer to the Heart”, “Cinderella Man”
It’s not a five-star album, but man is it close! “Cygnus X-1” is a great space opera, even if you have to get Hemispheres to get the whole song. “Xanadu” is also an excellent song. And of course “Closer to the Heart” is the great anthem.
Best tracks: “Cygnus X-1: Book 1”, “Xanadu”, “Closer to the Heart”
6. Hemispheres (1978) *** 1/2
Along with the second part of “Cygnus X-1”, this album contains Rush’s first instrumental song, “La Ville Strangiato”. The two short songs don’t measure up to the long ones that well, but I still like this album.
Best tracks: “Cygnus X-1 Book 2”, “La Ville Strangiato”,
7. Permanent Waves (1980) ***
Singles: “Spirit of Radio”, “Freewill”
Permanent Waves marks the end of Rush’s first phase, with their final suite, “Natural Science”. The album is a great indicator that something on a grand scale is to come.
Best tracks: “The Spirit of Radio”, “Freewill”, “Jacob’s Ladder”
8. Moving Pictures (1981)*****
Singles: “Tom Sawyer”, “Limelight”, “Vital Signs”
This is it–Rush’s magnum opus. It’s one of two albums in the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. (the other one is 2112) The album marks a new phase in Rush’s sound, as Geddy Lee began to add keyboards to Rush’s sound. “Witch Hunt” is the first of Rush’s “Fear” tetralogy, four songs each exploring a different aspect of fear. “YYZ” is often considered Rush’s best instrumental song.
Best songs: “Tom Sawyer”, “YYZ”, “Witch Hunt”
Fun Fact: “Witch Hunt” is meant to be part 3 of the “Fear” tetralogy. “YYZ” is the airport code for Pearson International Airport.
9. Signals (1982) *** 1/2
Somewhat above average, but overall a great experiment as Geddy Lee makes his keyboards more prominent. “Subdivisions” alone shows that the new phase should not be dismissed.
Best songs: “Subdivisions”, “The Analog Kid”, “The Weapon”
Fun Fact: “The Weapon” is part 2 of the “Fear” tetralogy”. The video for “Subdivisions” features the video game Tempest.
10. Grace Under Pressure (1984) *****
Singles: “Distant Early Warning”, “The Body Electric”
Of all the album recorded during Rush’s second phase, this is the best. It shows that Rush had adapted well to the new wave-dominant 80’s. Geddy Lee’s keyboards work well on this album, actually balancing his bass sound in a way Signals doesn’t. When anyone says the keyboards ruined Rush, I always wonder if they ever gave this album a try.
Best tracks: “Distant Early Warning”, “The Enemy Within”, “The Body Electric”
Fun Fact: “The Enemy Within” is the true beginning of the “Fear” tetralogy.
Join me in one month for the second half of Rush’s discography. For now, here’s my ranking for part 1:
10. Caress of Steel
8. Permanent Waves
5. Farewell to Kings
4. Fly By Night
3. Grace Under Pressure
2. Moving Pictures