Because the sound of Geddy Lee's voice can feel like heated glass shards in my brain, I haven't done much listening to Canadian power trio Rush over the last 15 years. Even so, I've never even tried to build an argument that the group's dense compositions aren't musically impressive or that the band's songwriting does not present intriguing lyrics and highly listenable melodies. There is plenty to appreciate here, and so it remains my solemn duty to take a close look at the '80s output of this beloved and tremendously consistent rock band. Here's my personal list of favorites, presented in chronological order.
Boasting one of classic rock's most kick-ass blends of instrumental virtuosity and guitar melodicism, the opening moments of this track from 1980's Permanent Waves clearly set the stage for a progressive hard rock tour de force. That's exactly what follows, a bombastic but genuinely energizing tune built solidly upon Alex Lifeson's imaginative riffing and a handful of tempo and style changes that can dazzle the attentive listener. Of course, in enjoying this song, one must also endure Lee's keyboard flourishes and considerations of salesmen, of salesmen! If that's not a problem for you, then this carefully crafted recording probably stands out as one of Rush's most intriguing, rocking and accessible anthems of its illustrious career.
1981's Moving Pictures certainly produced the most famous Rush track of all in "Tom Sawyer," but that alone does not earn the song a spot on this list. Factoring in the number of times I've heard that particular song on classic rock radio and in other places too numerous to mention, I've grown to lose all of whatever thin level of tolerance I ever had for it. This track, on the other hand, does a far better job of crystallizing the musical strengths of the band while simultaneously minimizing the silly, quasi-mythical pretension that sometimes becomes dominant in a Rush composition. If nothing else, the sheer dynamism of the rhythm section of Lee and drummer Neil Peart always makes for an interesting listen for the musically curious.
Rush continued its early-'80s flirtation with bona fide pop accessibility on this rousing track from 1982's Signals, an impressive mid-tempo rocker that again showcases the best of Lifeson's gift for fluid, inspired riffing. Meanwhile, Lee certainly shines as one of rock's few bassists legitimately capable of bringing the instrument to a lead level of prominence. I've always appreciated Rush lyrics in much the same way that I regard a lot of science fiction film and television. Interesting concepts, a certain mystique most definitely, but not necessarily a whole lot that really stays with me. Backhanded compliments aside, this is one of a handful of Rush songs - along with "Working Man" and "Fly By Night" - that I always enjoy hearing.
Lifeson had already begun playing with reggae rhythms on Rush's earliest '80s offerings, but never has this Canadian trio echoed another popular contemporary trio, the Police, more than in this textured epic. 1984's Grace Under Pressure was the band's fourth hit album in as many years, but beyond that established clout, this tune demonstrates the versatility of the Rush sound even as it remained uniquely distinctive. The memorable chorus ("The world weighs on my shoulders, but what am I to do?") works exceptionally well as a propulsive, melodic example of rock substance, even if there's never a shortage of dire earnestness in the progressive lyrical concerns of Rush ("There's no swimming in the heavy water, no singing in the acid rain").