Happy Canada Day! July 1st is our nation’s official birthday here in Canada, so we thought we’d try to do something to pay honour to arguably the greatest and most famous band that our ten provinces and three territories have given birth to. We asked Hellbound’s regular contributors to write a paragraph or two about their favourite Rush song of all time, the results of which follow below. we also asked some guests, all of which are Rush fans, to chime in with theirs too. All of the albums mentioned are indeed worthy of the nod and worth checking out if you have never heard them before.
Favourite song: “Subdivisions”
Neil Peart has often been criticized as a rather stilted, excessively logorrheic lyricist, but when he stopped writing bloated sci-fi epics and started focusing on more personal observations it was a watershed moment, and from then on, his lyrics could, from nowhere, come along and hit you like a ton of bricks. That certainly was the case the first time I heard “Subdivisions” in 1984. When you move in the middle of the year from a friendly town to the toughest junior high in a city, you have a very narrow window of time in which to fit in. I missed it completely, and was subsequently ostracized and mercilessly bullied for two hellish years. I was in the ninth grade, by then numbed and broken, when I heard those eloquent lyrics, atop a spartan arrangement of keyboards, that left me devastated.
Detached and subdivided in the mass production zone / Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone.
Conform or be cast out.
Any escape might help to smooth the unattractive truth / But the suburbs have no charms to
soothe the restless dreams of youth.
For once it actually felt like I had an ally. Things slowly got better after that.
Favourite song: “2112”
A giant among epics and an epic among giants, “2112” was the song that made me a Rush fan. The second of seven parts, “The Temples of Syrinx,” stands as the most perfectly metallic moment in Rush’s catalogue. However, the song as a whole deserves recognition for its stunning and perfectly timed alternation between restraint and explosion. And oh, those explosions, those explosions that leave an indelible mark upon mind and body alike. Somehow, Rush sews what should be a Frankenstein monster of metal, classic rock, and progressive rock into an alien creature of exotic beauty that bears within its exquisite shell a science fiction fable warning of the consequences of stifling human creativity. My kind of monster. “2112” is twenty of the finest moments in music
Favourite song: “YYZ”
What is there not to love about YYZ? It uses morse code, it’s fun to play on guitar hero, and it kind of reminds me of Spinal Tap’s Jazz Odyssey. But unlike Tap’s “new direction,” YYZ gets a big thumbs up. It’s fun, funky, and features absolutely amazing musical performances by all three members. The guitar geek in me loves the atypical modes and scales, as well as the precise, logical structure. I can’t help but tap along with the dit-dit-dahs as the song spells out Y-Y-Z over and over again.
Listening to YYZ makes me want to cruise around small-town Canada with the windows rolled down and the stereo cranked up to 11. Obnoxious as hell, but the world needs to hear it. Besides, everybody loves this song.
Favourite song: “Working Man”
Fucking alarm clock screeches and you stare at the clock and think “Jesus H. Christ, again with this shit?!” With all the force of your will, you drag yourself out of the sack and under the shower, dreamily wondering how you’re gonna slog through another day doing whatever the hell it is you do to keep the bills paid; could be fixing cars, punching a keyboard, flipping burgers – whatever. Still damp and hardly awake, you slouch into your monkey suit/uniform/hairnet, and slink off out the door, to another day of robotic teeth-gritting/ass-kissing for The Man. Day after day, you somehow get through it and drag your tired ass home. If you’re lucky, there’s (at least ‘a’) (cold) Pilsner in the fridge and you grab one and guzzle it down like it’s the last potable liquid on Earth, and as the chill hits your fillings, you can finally stop thinking for a minute and all is right with the world – for a little while. Sure, there may not be a lot else going on right now, but at least you got through another day of shoveling shit without wrecking yourself or anybody else.
Man, somebody oughtta write a song about that. And not some wimpy, commie-pinko ballad, either. You know- a kick-ass song, the kind with riffs out the ying-yang, a locked-in stone groove like nobody’s business, hell, even throw in an over-the-top wailin’ guitar solo smack dead in the middle to tie the whole thing together. I guarantee you that song would be a hit. Actually, scratch that – that song would be an anthem.
Favourite song: “By-Tor and the Snow Dog”
“Let the fray begin!” Rush proved their chemistry and potential on “By-Tor…” which banished the “Hey, baby” Zeppelinisms of the debut forever. They began forging something entirely their own—the Roman numeraled “chapters” (and sub-chapters!) are the first tip-off. The nine-minute ebb-and-flow of this often ferocious song marked ground zero for many fantastical Rush epics to come (it’s also, I’d argue, the birthplace of prog metal), with our three heroes going for it in a big way, deliriously exercising their new-found powers on this thrilling battle saga. It’s vital, exciting, and, in common with the debut, it flat-out rocks.
Favourite song: “Subdivisions”
This is probably one of the hardest tasks for me to pin point, with so many outstanding tracks on their first eight or nine killer studio albums. I would probably pick “Subdivisions” from their 1982 album Signals. This album is for me the last of their great masterpieces. The tune still sounds fresh almost 30 years later; if this song were released today it would be ?a smash. Few songs are timeless, this is one of them. Love the synth sound! In the beginning, it’s? cool, but shifts to majestic and moody during the solos. I remember this video back in the days when MTV used to be strictly an all music video channel. Rush was my number one band back in high school, and I still love them until today.
Favourite song: “Distant Early Warning”
This track may be an unconventional fave for many who have followed Rush throughout their extensive career, but it certainly is mine. The musicality is so varied with the intertwining talent of every member and serious undertones of eighties New Wave. Neil Peart once described the writing process of the song, stating that the main theme revolved around many aspects of life including world issues, relationships and the overall chaos of an ever-evolving world. It is highly emotive and the connection I feel towards this piece is strong because the lyrics can be applied to absolutely any form of struggle. “Distant Early Warning” is both versatile and honest, reflecting the entity of Rush from 1968 to present day.
Favorite Song: “Red Barchetta”
One of my favourite Rush songs is “Red Barchetta.” I’ve always loved the fact that, following the arena rocker that is “Tom Sawyer,” Moving Pictures’ second track begins with calming harmonic guitar plucks and a rising synth that morphs into a steady musical groove. Over top the music itself is a science fiction tale about a near future without cars (perhaps more relevant than ever these days), and one character’s drive (pardon the pun) to defy the government regulations about motor vehicle use. The song’s bridge, with its cutting power chords and start-and-stop singing, fits the lyric content perfectly. As one of the tracks on what is thought of as one of Rush’s most canonical albums, it shows the versatility and imagination that the band has long offered.
Favourite song: “Closer To The Heart”
“Closer To The Heart” because Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys and I have to agree on something. Plus, it’s the only complete Rush song I ever bothered to learn on guitar.
Favourite Song: “Tom Sawyer”
Hands down the first song that comes to mind when I think of Rush is Tom Sawyer. I know, it’s played on the radio constantly and it is not incredibly representative of the band but…I like it. It was also the first Rush song I remember hearing. I had it on one of those old hits compilations from the 80’s…on 8-Track. I honestly can’t remember what else was on the tape, (probably Journey and REO Speedwagon) but I do remember hearing that first keyboard burst and thinking ‘what the heck is this?! It’s awesome!’. In ‘Tom Sawyer’, I think the band has pulled off a great ‘Coles Notes’ version of what they are all about. The guitar solo at the 2 minute mark, Neil Peart’s drum solo at 2:30, Neil’s high brow lyrics through Geddy’s high voice, a commanding bass thump, the keyboard wash to close out the song…everything is there. And dammit, the song makes me smile. At least it’s not that awful ‘Roll The Bones’ with the crappy rap part in it…
Laura Wiebe Taylor
Favourite song: “2112”
Clocking in at over 20 minutes, “2112” is more than just a song, ranking high among the earliest and most ambitious fusions of science fiction themes and metal. I can forgive the band their Ayn Rand inspiration for the musical narrative that comes out of it. This seven-part composition depicts a futuristic dystopia ruled by a totalitarian theocracy, one that’s not big on creativity or artistic freedom. The dark starry sky on the cover art sets the spacey stage, and a prologue in the liner notes introduces the story. But even without the visual and printed cues, the sf theme is clear right away from the sound effects that kick off this opening track. The instrumental “Overture” further develops the atmosphere, culminating in an explosion, and though the first vocal line – “the meek shall inherit the earth” – is clichéd and a little cheesy, by this point I’m too captivated to care. Lee’s grating high-pitched tones usher in one of the heaviest and best parts of the album as he shouts “we are the priests of the Temple of Syrinx” and though it’s maybe not so heavy in a contemporary context this must have sounded killer in its day, and there’s still an intensity here that makes it timelessly powerful. Driving rock gives way to experimental acoustic in the following movements, coursing into and through progressive rock, a reprise of the “Temples of Syrinx” theme, and even a power ballad-style section. It all comes to a climactic close, thematically dark – with a soulless mechanical voice announcing that the government has taken control – but musically triumphant, as if the band’s performance transcends any attempt to suppress their art.
Favourite song: “2112”
Alright. I’ll admit it. I’m not a big RUSH fan. While I can’t deny the impact that they’ve had on countless bands, many of which I admire, the Canadian trio has just never clicked with me. With vocalists making or breaking bands for me, I’ve never seen eye-to-eye with frontman, Geddy Lee, and his unique vocal styling. Throughout many times that I’ve tried re-introducing myself to their catalogue, I stumble upon moments of sheer brilliance, which only lead into passages where I feel they (Geddy) are completely holding back.
Then I heard 2112. Particularly, “The Temples of Syrinx”. Geddy lets it all hang out in one of the few moments where I think he shines as a vocalist. Abandoning his usual calm and collective delivery in favour of a powerful banshee scream, Lee leads the charge through this 20 minute musical journey. 2112 captures perfectly my ideal vision of RUSH – terrific musicianship, flowing, progressive tendencies, rich lyrical concepts, and a vocal style I only wish they used more.
Favourite Rush Song: “Limelight”
I know that this is cliche as all hell, but I love it. I love the blatant Shakespeare references; I love the slight, lilting melancholy that infuses both the tone and the lyrics; I love the way Geddy Lee’s voice sounds simultaneously celebratory and scared shitless. This song is infinitely re-playable, and infinitely coverable. It reminds me of riding around Calgary in a friend’s beat-up Silver Volkswagon bug, eating chicken wings and scream-singing at the top of my lungs. Also, I am fairly certain that one of my boyfriends in high school asked me out solely because I knew every single one of the lyrics to this song.
Favourite song: “Subdivisions” or “Red Sector A”
Usually a toss-up between “Subdivisions” and “Red Sector A” depending on the day or when you ask me. “Subdivisions” has the best Neil Peart drumming performance on any Rush song as the drums on this track are like riffs, speaking out melodies along with rhythms that carry the weight of the song forward . I’ve never heard drumming, in all of rock, carry such a song as brilliantly as Peart does in “Subdivisions”. Plus along with the drumming on “Subdivisions” the synth work on this song is genius. “Red Sector A” on the other hand pretty much contains the greatest chorus in any Rush song. Ever. Musically and lyrically. And it also helps that the drumming during and preceding the chorus on “Red Sector A” is also some of Neil Peart’s best drumming on any Rush song. Even though it’s a catchy track, there is a cool dark undercurrent and vibe running throughout this song that’s quite special; it’s the most apocalyptic Rush song the band have ever written.
Chris Bruni is the owner of Profound Lore Records.
Favourite song: “Spindrift”
Ok. I’ve known about Rush for like, forever. But even though I owned Moving Pictures in college, and got high to 2112 a few times, it never really clicked until I saw the R:30 tour. But before you scream “poser”, let’s dignify the fact that I now sport a Rush back-patch on my Levi jacket, carry a Rush keychain in my pocket, and write non-ironic articles about the band for a variety of magazines and weeklies. I may have come to the game late, but I am a BELIEVER. Fast forward to 2007, the first time I was able to participate in the anticipation of a new Rush album as a devout fan. Lo and behold, Snakes & Arrows is a great work. In my opinion, it’s the best Rush album since Signals. Far Cry was the first single, and the one that stuck. But track 5, Spindrift was also released as a single… though it failed to catch on. That’s a bummer because not only is it one of Rush’s heaviest tunes ever, it really ought to capture the imagination of Sonic Youth and Radiohead fans. The riff is serpentine, rhythmic, and eerily melodic. Even better is the live version, as the band coaxes even more weight and dynamics from this tune, and slows the ending down, down, down … “Where are the words that will make you see that what I believe is true?”
Favourite song: “Xanadu”
Xanadu is still my favorite Rush song because it’s one of their over-the-top epics that has completely stood the test of time, and over the space of its eleven minutes all the major Rush hallmarks can stand and be counted: memorable riffs, well-planned structure, the usual high-flying musicianship, and of course, the really high-pitched vocals and really high-minded lyrics that really annoy the haters. In honor of Canada Day I’d like to share a moment that occurred courtesy of the live version of “Xanadu” from Exit Stage Left: A couple Decembers ago I found myself on a road trip in the Canadian Rockies, and I was making the short but legendary drive on Spray Avenue that leads from downtown Banff up to the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. It was early afternoon on a perfect Alberta winter day and a foot of fresh snow (and more drifting down) had reduced driving to crawl speed. And at the exact moment when that single, sustained mini-Moog note transitions “The Trees” into “Xanadu”, the massive, castle-like hotel drifted into view as I rounded a bend. It took a full three or four minutes to travel those last few hundred meters to the hotel as the Alex-led intro played, and not only was it one of the two or three best occurrences of Car-Stereo-Astounding Sounds-Amazing-Views-Synchronicity I’ve ever experienced, the moment was as quintessentially Canadian as Iginla to Crosby for the gold.
Andrew Carter is an entertainment attorney and a former editor of Terrorizer Magazine. He will be crossing one of his “must do’s” off his list when he flies from Los Angeles to Toronto to see Rush play the Air Canada Centre on July 17th.
Favourite Rush song: “Closer To The Heart”
The idea of Rush being on the radio, especially Top 40 radio, was pretty remote where I came from in 1977. We’re talking down east, Fredericton, New Brunswick, a place still without any commercial FM stations at this point, and only two AM stations. The policy at one, as I learned later when I ended up working there, was that no song with an electric guitar solo was allowed on the playlist. That certainly eliminated our boys. Sorry Alex.
So it was left to the new, more teen-oriented station. My sixteen-year old ears wanted something other than “You Light Up My Life” and “Afternoon Delight”. After all, we were rocking in our own homes, or playing our 8-tracks in the car. We’d just about given up on radio. So it was a double-barreled seismic shift when the new station played harder rock, and Rush…RUSH! made a single. Certainly nothing off 2112 could ever have made the Top 40.
Neil Peart has told me the group had never even dreamed of writing a single, even thought their label had begged them. Peart was simply trying to come up with something other than the epic fantasy of 2112 for their followup album, A Farewell To Kings. His friend, poet Pete Talbot, had written a verse about an engraving of a blacksmith that had hung on his grandmother’s wall, that was captioned “mould it closer to the heart”. Peart expanded on that bucolic image, which fit in with his Ontario farm boy upbringing. The band, in a rare instance of brevity, turned in a tight, soaring number that actually could make it on some airwaves.
Sorry, I was never a big guitar fan, or a guy that could appreciate the best technique. I liked, and still like, hooks that made me smile, and if it was on the radio, even better. This one did it all, and proved Rush could and would do a lot more than album-long sci-fi fantasy. It sounded darn good in Fredericton.
Favourite song: “Finding My Way” or “In The Mood”
2 songs really stood out from that record….FINDING MY WAY ( due to that maniacal Zeppelin-esque start) and WHAT YOU’RE DOING ( a great groove that pushed soooo hard!!!) Everytime I think of that record, I always think of those 2 songs. There are so many other cool musical moments that happen on that record….WORKING MAN as well as……. IN THE MOOD…(possibly my 3rd favourite CANADIAN single, next to Nothin’ by The Ugly Ducklings, and Picture My Face from Teenage Head).
I love the fact that everything on that record is pushed to the max on a recording basis. Prototypically, I think that the 1st Rush record has been a big brother to so many other bands who have wanted to emulate the sounds from that 1974 recording.
Favourite song: “Natural Science”
This can vary depending on my mood, what’s going on in my life at the time, or just because I’m in the mood to hear something off an album I haven’t heard in a while. But if forced to choose just one song, I’d have to say it’s got to be “Natural Science” off of Permanent Waves. I remember being about 14-15 years old putting the needle back at the beginning of the song over and over again. There I was, sitting in my room trying to learn to play guitar and hearing all those different changes in the music, and I remember being blown away that someone could actually play all of it– much less write it in the first place! And the lyrics– oh my! “Natural Science” was the first time I had ever heard the word “quantum” in my life, which of course got me breaking out encyclopedias and dictionaries. Any song that can make you do that, is awesome in my book. But “Natural” Science did more than inspire trips to the bookcase. It inspired me to try my hand at writing lyrics and being far more consice and descriptive in my own writings in class. In fact, later that year my sophomore English teacher said he liked my writing style and asked who my influences were. I cited all the usual suspects like Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe and there was Neil Peart. He, of course, had no idea who Neil was, so I brought in my vinyl copy of Permanent Waves and showed him. Much to my surprise, he asked to borrow it and I said, “I don’t expect you to listen to it if you don’t want to, but you’ve got to check out the lyrics.” He took it home over a weekend and on Monday, brought it back and said, “Wow. You weren’t kidding. This is amazing! Loved it so much I bought my own copy.” As a young kid, being able to share something like that with an adult, it felt great! To this day, that song still gives me the chills.
Judy Staley is the executive director of Rush Con, which is happening in Toronto this July (see the ad on the site of the page)
Favourite song: “2112”
The best Rush album? That’s a tough one — based on impact, consistency and sheer hits per pound, it’s probably gotta be Moving Pictures. But my favourite Rush album (and song)? That’s easy: 2112. Some of that is admittedly based on old-man nostalgia: I saw them play the 20-minute title cut in its entirety back in 1976 (and yes, Geddy was wearing a sarong). And some of it is sheer drummer envy: I spent many an hour in the basement trying to master the cascading concert tom-tom fills Neil Peart tosses off so casually in The Temple of Syrinx. But mostly, I love it because of all their epic tracks, 2112 is simultaneously the cheesiest, the heaviest and the one that hangs together best. Sure, you can snigger at the hoary concept (guy with guitar goes up against evil music-hating overlords), the silly sound effects and the SF trappings (“Attention all planets of the Solar Federation! We have assumed control!”).
But Alex Lifeson’s craggy chunks of old-school guitar riffage and blistering solos (especially the one at the end of Presentation) are no laughing matter. And Geddy Lee’s high-angle wailing has seldom been so unhinged and intense. They would go on to make far more complex, ambitious, subtle and fully realized works, but for my money, they would never again rock quite like this. (The rest of the disc is no slouch either, thanks to the druggy travelogue A Passage to Bangkok, the hazy Twilight Zone, the Zeppish Lessons and the Something for Nothing; the only fly in the ointment is the drippy balladTears.) Put on your sarong, crank it up, and you’ll understand why the Starman forever adorns Peart’s bass drums.
Darryl Sterdan is the main music critic for the Sun Media Chain in Canada. You can read his album reviews in the Sunday Sun nationwide.
Favourite song “Cygnus X-1”
If a song is a journey, then “Cygnus X-1” is an extended vacation to the further reaches of space. The cosmic sound effects it begins with, heard throughout the song, show the band embracing the synth technology of the day. Those sounds from the vacuum of space introduce a punchy, ominous bass line that appears slowly from the void. Peart’s precision drums join up with the bass. A guitar mirrors the bass line, and suddenly it’s an explosion of some of the most epic 1970s proto-metal. It’s an early peak moment in a song with many highlights. Lifeson’s open-string chords are both menacing and majestic. Geddy’s voice emits struggle, fear and hysteria (and what better voice to convey all that?). The 10+ minute song moves through a variety of tempos and textures, revealing influence from the prog rock bands they were heavily into at the time. Squishy Moog gives further depth to our journey down the black hole, while the song’s final minutes roll out in gripping cosmic drama. It’s a completely fascinating trip from the first second to the last. Not so much a song to listen to, as a journey to embark upon.
Jeff Wagner is the author of “Mean Deviation: Four Decades of Progressive Heavy Metal”, set for release on Bazillion Points later this summer. He is also a former editor-in-chief of Metal Maniacs.