With the release of Rush’s brilliant new album “Clockwork Angels”, there seems to be no better time to take a look at the body of work this Canadian progressive rock trio has given us over the course of 20 studio albums and four decades. Making such a list for a band as substantial as Rush is no easy feat. For there exist a massive following of fans who came of age during Rush’s commercial years. On the other side, there are the true diehard, lifelong Rush fans who would scoff at many of the band’s most “popular” albums being at the top of a ranked list. With that in mind the Boise Music Examiner will endeavor to rank all 20 of the band’s studio albums based on merit rather than bias. This list does not include the band’s numerous live albums.
1. 2112 (1976) – The band’s fourth studio record and arguably their most seminal work. The title track is a 20-and-a-half minute opus that makes a declarative statement of exactly who Rush were and, in fact, still are. This is a career defining album that also included the monumental tracks “A Passage to Bangkok” and “Twilight Zone”. If one were to listen to only one Rush record, “2112” would be that album. Best song: “2112”.
2. Moving Pictures (1981) – This disc launched the second stage of the trio’s incredible career. This is Rush’s most popular record to date and certainly its most commercial. Where the album “2112” was perhaps the seminal work for diehard fans, “Moving Pictures” became the signature album for the band. It is chock-full of memorable anthems such as “Tom Sawyer”, “Limelight”, “YYZ”, and “Red Barchetta”. Best song: “Vital Signs”.
3. Signals (1982) – Trying to follow-up 1981’s “Moving Pictures” was no easy task, but Rush did a phenomenal job of continuing to define its 80s sound. The radio hit “New World Man” sat side-by-side, quite naturally, with tracks like “Countdown”, and the reggae-tinged “Digital Man”. Peart penned some of his best lyrics for the song, “Losing It”. Best song: “Subdivisions”.
4. Permanent Waves (1980) – This is the band’s “hinge” record. It marked the point between the trio’s progressive hard rock sound of the 70s, and what would become its more accessible 80s signature. Half of the album displayed the group’s epic song format (“Natural Science”, “Jacob’s Ladder”), while the other half of the album showed Rush creating shorter, more refined radio-friendly songs, such as “Freewill” and “The Spirit of Radio”. Best song: “Natural Science”.
5. Hemispheres (1978) – “La Villa Strangiato (An Exercise in Self-Indulgence)” marked the band’s first complete instrumental; a near 10 minute opus that defiantly displays the extreme musicianship of bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart. The entire album is undeniably brilliant. Best song: “The Trees”.
6. Clockwork Angels (2012) – Is the band’s newest album, released this month, but clearly shows the trio reconnecting with its storied past. This is an album that showcases a modern kinetic wonderment, while tapping into the glory of the band’s early career edginess. “Clockwork Angels” is sophisticated and inspired, and defines the term, “a modern classic.” Best song: “The Wreckers”. Read our review.
7. A Farewell To Kings (1977) – With its fifth album, Rush continued to refine its songwriting process. There seem to be more focus and clarity with this record, and a hint of what was to come for the trio. The record featured the hit “Closer to the Heart”, which remains among the band’s most recognizable songs. Best song: Xanadu.
8. Fly By Night (1975) – This was the band’s sophomore effort and the first to feature drummer Peart. The title song is one of the earliest moments to define the genius of Rush, and “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” is an undeniable classic. Best song: “Fly By Night”.
9. Grace Under Pressure (1984) – The band’s tenth studio album saw the continuation and expansion of synthesizer use, much to the disdain of some long time Rush purists. It also marked a parting of the ways with longtime producer Terry Brown. Often overlooked because of the record’s experimental and modern feel, it still offered some of the band’s best songwriting. Best song: “Distant Early Warning”.
10. Caress of Steel (1975) – The band’s third album is also one of its most overlooked. Featuring the classic track “Bastille Day”, “Caress of Steel” was an album that required repeated listening to really capture the inspired intelligence the band created. “Best song: “Necromancer”.
11. Counterparts (1993) – From the opening track, “Animate”, Rushgave its fifteenth studio album a dark and weighty feel. “Leave That Thing Alone” earned a Grammy nomination for best instrumental. The track “Stick It Out” offered a glimpse at a leaner, grittier turn for the band. A return to its roots. Best song: “Between Sun & Moon”.
12. Vapor Trails (2002) – Rush’s heaviest album since the early 70s. The band presented a stripped back, straightforward sound, unfettered by synthesizers and over-processing. The only drawback to this record was that the production volume was so loud that it gave the entire disc a somewhat distorted quality. Best song: “Secret Touch”.
13. Test for Echo (1996) – This marked the band’s first album in years not to feature any synthesizers. It would also mark the final studio album for eight years, due to a sabbatical after tragic losses in Peart’s personal life. “Test for Echo” contains some of the band’s best performances in years. Best song: “Test For Echo”.
14. Roll the Bones (1991) – The band’s first top-five album in a 10 years. This is another transitional record for Rush, as the unit moves into a new decade and changing musical scene. It featured the instrumental, “Where’s My Thing?”, which received a Grammy nomination. Best song: “Ghost of a Chance”.
15. Hold Your Fire (1987) – Every band of any significant career and stature seems to have an album in its catalog that fans either love or hate. For Rush that album is “Hold Your Fire”. The trio continued to expand its sound, with a certain amount of Asian flavor seeping through on this album. Best song: “Time Stand Still”.
16. Power Windows (1985) – This may mark the apex of the band’s synthesizer use, which for Rush purists may mark the trio’s low point as well. Still there were some great songs including “Manhattan Project” and “Marathon”. Best song: “The Big Money”.
17. Snakes & Arrows (2007) – While some hailed the record as return to form, most tabbed it as an “okay” album that does not live up the band’s mighty songwriting abilities. The band received yet another Grammy nomination for the instrumental track “Malignant Narcissism”. Best song: “Armor and Sword”.
18. Rush (1974) – The band’s eponymous debut displayed a trio of musician’s trying to identify a signature sound. A wonderful classic rock record, and the only Rush album not to feature Peart on drums. That alone drops this album down the list. Best song: “Working Man”.
19. Presto (1989) – At the time this record was recorded, Lee had publicly voiced his desire to move away from computerized and synthesized musical elements. Many fans have been torn over this recording, with purists delighting in its return to traditional rock and roll, while 80s fans often felt the band had passed them by. Rush found a number one song in the single, “Show Don’t Tell”. Best song: “The Pass”.
20. Feedback (2004) – At only 27 minutes in length, this is really an EP, rather than a full album. It features eight songs from the 1960s that influenced the members of Rush. An incredible covers album, with songs wisely chosen, and performed with honesty and grace. Don’t let this last place finish fool you. It’s among the band’s best works, but resides here simply because the material is not original work. In truth it could move up 10 spots easily. Best song: “For What It’s Worth”.
Boise’s own KJOT “Variety Rocks” is currently airing a podcast on its website, Inside Rush: Clockwork Angels. “Get an inside look at the new Rush album, “Clockwork Angels”, in this special online program hosted by Billy Corigan of The Smashing Pumpkins.”
Do you agree with our Rush rankings? What would you change, and which album is number one in your heart?