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Top 7 Rush Songs of the '80s


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.

1. "The Spirit of Radio"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of Island Mercury

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.

2. "Freewill"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Island Def Jam
Although the entrance of Rush into the '80s immediately began to spotlight the band's pop leanings - shrouded so much before by thundering hard rock or baffling prog exploration - this accessible tune packed in plenty of virtuosic density to please Rush purists. Arguably, Lee goes a bit overboard with his otherworldly yelping here, but the songwriting demonstrates a healthy understanding of the keyboard/guitar marriage that had particularly come into vogue with new wave. Lyrically, "If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice" remains a meaningful summation of the confusing environment in which the human race still finds itself. If that doesn't do it for you, then Lifeson's chiming guitars and blazing leads should satisfy.

3. "Limelight"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Island Def Jam

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.

4. "New World Man"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of Island Mercury

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.

5. "Subdivisions"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Island Def Jam
A highly memorable keyboard riff fuels this typically busy track, but it's also known for its mechanized musical satire of late 20th Century suburban life. Rush has always had a tendency to write about alienation of one kind or another, and the group's collective intellect has always been substantial enough to take on esoteric and yet also immediate subjects. Overall, the tune makes for a mesmerizing, even intentionally numbing experience from its keyboard layers to Lifeson's precise yet anguished lead guitars. Sometimes it's a very bad thing for a rock band to sound mechanized, but in this case the clear intention to offer commentary on the the disturbingly bland elements of modern, "civilized" society comes through loud and clear.

6. "Distant Early Warning"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Island Def Jam

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").

7. "Time Stand Still"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Island Def Jam
Rush grew less prolific as the '80s wore on, releasing only three studio albums between 1985-1989 after a flurry of activity to start the decade. The band's popularity refused to wane then and continues to provide the group with a large group of loyal, even rabid fans. Such Rush fanatics may disapprove of the relatively short nature of this list given the band's hearty output, but I'm doing my best to temper the aspects of this music I don't particularly favor on a personal level with the undeniably major status of Rush in rock history. So, I'm happy to make my parting shot here a positive one, as this track from 1987's Hold Your Fire stands out as one of the group's most melodically appealing tunes, especially during the soaring chorus.
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