These Go To Eleven: The 11 best Rush songs for 2.1.12By Michael Behrenhausen | February 1st, 2012 | 13 comments
Hopefully most of you know that today’s date is Feb. 1, 2012. Or 2.1.12. If you’re a Rush fan, there’s a good chance that you’re geeking out over the fact that it’s as close as you’re going to get to the year 2112 — barring any success achieving the same immortality already enjoyed by Rock Gods Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart.
“2112” is, of course, the conceptual title track of the veteran Canadian rock trio’s masterful prog rock epic and breakthrough album from 1976 that, when boiled down from it’s far-out, intergalactic plot, basically sets the idea of individual versus the state. More important: it freakin’ rocks!
But if you’re a Rush fan, you knew that too. Heck you probably know how to air drum the entire 20 minutes, 33 seconds of bafflingly great paradiddling by superhuman stickman Peart.
Anyway, we’re Rush fans, too. That’s why we want to celebrate the day with this 11-song Rush mix tape of some of our favorite tracks. Enjoy, or tear us apart in the comments.
The guys showcased this hard-edged, brand new tune from their forthcoming “Clockwork Angels” LP on their recent Time Machine tour. If its serpentine passages are any indication, sounds like the boys will be dallying in some extended prog-rock workouts for the first time in a while. That’s a good thing.
10. “Spirit of Radio”
In 1980, the band shed many of its earlier heavy prog-rock inclinations to take a cue from dynamic new wavers such as the Police, Ultravox and Talking Heads to create the album “Permanent Waves.” That classic LP was highlighted by this FM staple that managed to embrace the sounds of the future while still sounding uniquely Rush.
9. “One Little Victory”
Following a series of tragic events that took Neil Peart’s wife and daughter in the late 1990s, devastating the drummer/lyricist, it looked like the band would understandably never perform again. However, after years of soul-searching, Peart was ready to return. The result was 2002’s “Vapor Trails.” This opening track, powered by his jackhammer drumming and guitarist Alex Lifeson’s heavy distortion, proudly announced that they were back and they weren’t taking any crap.
Many view Rush’s mid-to-late ’80s keyboard-heavy work as the group’s nadir. Though, as fans are quick to point out, Rush’s low point is still better than most other groups’ highs. This tune, from 1985’s “Power Windows,” features a fantastic instrumental workout and is one of the highlights from the heavily hair-sprayed “me” decade.
7. “Closer to the Heart”
This tune, from 1977’s “A Farewell To Kings,” is as close to a radio-friendly ballad that Rush ever achieved. As well as being a concert staple and a great sing-along, this was the song that Rush fans could play for their girlfriend to see if they could get into the group too — or at least understand the rabid fixation you and the other dudes harbored. Usually, they couldn’t.
6. “Working Man”
From their 1974 debut album, this was the track that set everything in motion. The heavy, heavy Zeppelin-esqe riffs along with Geddy Lee’s blue-collar lyric hit a nerve in the hard-working town of Cleveland, Ohio where a local DJ had been spinning the platter. It provided not only the catalyst for the group to take their music on the road in the U.S., but gave them an all important record deal.
Driven by Geddy Lee’s keyboard lines and empathetic vocals, this tale of isolation in the suburbs from 1982’s “Signals” is a rocking, rallying cry for outsiders everywhere. Add in Peart’s usual killer drum fills (about 20 of them in this song) and a quick but anthemic Alex Lifeson solo and you’ve the song that resonates the deepest with Rush fans — who much like the band they adore, are a collection of misfits and dreamers.
When musicians cite Rush’s influence, they typically note Peart’s drumming or Lee’s bass playing. In addition to being a great song about individual freedom, “Freewill” showcases Alex Lifeson (that other guy in the band). Consistently one of the most underrated lead guitarists in rock history, his blistering solo on this song alone is evidence his name should be mentioned in the same breath as the Van Halen, Satriani and Vai.
3. “La Villa Strangiato”
This maniacally brilliant instrumental from 1978’s ambitious “Hemispheres” LP is the go-to-track if one wants to highlight the technical proficiency of each member of the band. From Lee’s jaw-dropping dexterity in balancing, boggling bass work while playing keys and foot pedals to searing leads from Lifeson and smoothly flowing time signature jumps and rumbling fills from Peart, “La Villa” is the place to be for Rush showcasing its very best.
2. “Tom Sawyer”
The definitive Rush song from the definitive Rush album, 1981’s “Moving Pictures.” This is the one that everyone knows, whether a fan or not. And for good reason, it’s the perfect summation of the band as created at the peak of its powers. We’ll let the music do the rest of the talking.
Not only the reason why we’re celebrating today, but the reason Rush has been able to follow its unique path to this day. After releasing three albums by 1975, the band was going nowhere. Rather than succumb to pressure from the record company to commercialize or be dropped, the group decided to go out swinging and do things its own way. The result: a cult phenom that became a huge success.
Michael Behrenhausen is a Denver-based writer, musician and regular Reverb contributor. The worst crime he ever did was play some rock ‘n’ roll.