Rush has released a new album, their 20th, entitled Clockwork Angels, and it’s a doozy! The review will be posted a little later, but I think it’s as good a time as any to readdress and re-rank their rather massive discography. Bear in mind that everything after Signals and right before Vapor Trails is ignored by me, if for no other reason than I haven’t listened to those albums, being one of the very many who didn’t care for the synth pop direction they were jumping into. It took the excellent documentary Beyond The Lighted Stage to get me excited again, and just in time, too. It’s good to be back on the bandwagon again. So here is my totally biased ranking of the best of Rush’s output, starting from the bottom and working my way all the way up to my #1 pick. I won’t include the new one. It’s a little early for that.
#13. RUSH (1974): This self titled debut is the only record to not feature drummer Neil Peart. Rush’s first drummer, John Rutsey, was pedestrian at best, and the album as a whole sounds like a Led Zeppelin tribute band and would be a total waste if it wasn’t for a couple of real standouts: Working Man and Finding My Way.
#12. Vapor Trails (2002): Firstly, what’s with the American spelling of “Vapour” all about, eh? This record would certainly rank a lot higher if not for the muddy sounding production. Neil Peart lost his wife and daughter just prior to the release of this album and the album is permeated with poignant and deeply personal lyrics. There’s nary a goblin or wizard to be found in the lyrics, and that’s a good thing.
#11. Caress Of Steel (1975): The boys went a little overboard with the Tolkeinesque imagery on this one. As Lee says, “I think we smoked a lot of weed when we made that one…”, and it shows. It still contains some dynamite songs, especially Bastille Day, and Lakeside Park is a great, if underrated, song. Hey, even I Think I’m Going Bald rocks my boat!
#10. All The World’s A Stage (1976): Their first official “Live” release and also Rush at their rawest. Featuring songs from their first 4 albums, ATWAS is a wonderful document of the bands early phase and contains a pretty spanking version of 2112 to boot!
#9. Snakes and Arrows (2007): This is the album that got me back. Crisp production, excellent playing and great melodies, in addition to a couple of the best instrumentals I have heard in decades help give this album classic status.
#8. Fly By Night (1975): This is their first real classic album, as it contains some of their very best work in the title track, By-Tor and the Snow Dog, the amazing Anthem and the underrated Beneath, Between and Behind.
#7. Exit…Stage Left (1981): Their second official live album and the one that does the best job documenting their ‘second phase’, which includes songs from Moving Pictures and Permanent Waves. Red Barchetta is a standout, as is the live rendition of La Villa Strangiato.
#6. Signals (1982): This album marks the spot that a lot of Rush fans thought they were losing the plot. Me too, and after this I stopped buying Rush records. But time has been kind to Signals and it remains one of their most accessible albums due to a slew of fantastically timeless songs like Subdivisions, The Analog Kid and New World Man.
#5. Hemispheres (1978): The last real ‘prog’ album Rush would record. Contains what is perhaps my favorite Rush song of all time in The Villa Strangiato, and Cygnus X-1 Book II Hemispheres (yeah, really!) is one of their best side-long epics, and also their last.
#4. 2112 (1976): If Rush never released this album we wouldn’t be having this discussion today. The success of the side long title suite gave the band creative ‘carte blanche’ with their label. They were now free to follow their muse, and they certainly did. It’s still a stunningly great album.
#3. A Farewell To Kings (1977): Closer To The Heart from this album is the closest Rush ever got to a bonafide power ballad hit record (in Canada, at least), but how can you fault an album with such great songs such as Xanadu, Cygnus X-1 (Book I), Cinderella man and the title track? A great, great album.
#2. Permanent Waves (1980): Where Rush says good-bye to their proggy ways and pen some honest to goodness pop hits in The Spirit Of Radio, Freewill and the bilingual Entre Nous. There was still a hint of prog, though, with Natural Science.
#1. Moving Pictures (1981): What else could #1 be? This is not only the best album by Rush it’s one of the best albums of all time. It appeals to fanatics and haters alike, and it’s responsible for making it ‘ok’ to actually listen to Rush in public, instead of only at all night Dungeons and Dragons sessions.