The 1970s saw Rush undertake a voyage of self-discovery. Where their self-titled debut album wore its Zeppelin/Cream influences on its sleeves, they soon began branching out, experimenting with longer and more complex songs as they positioned themselves within the burgeoning prog rock scene. But it wasn’t until 1976’s 2112 that their career truly took off, setting the scene for the worldwide success that would come next. These are the 10 songs that built their career in our view – and if you disagree, let us know in the comments…
10. Lakeside Park, 1975
Geddy Lee once admitted that this track from Caress Of Steel made him “cringe” hearing it years later but guitarist Alex Lifeson and the fans feel very differently indeed. With lyrics penned by Neil Peart about a greenery in Port Dalhousie, Ontario, Lakeside Park showed the lighter side of Rush, in stark contrast to the complexity that would often follow.
9. Cygnus X-1 Book II Hemispheres, 1979
Containing just four tracks, Rush’s sixth studio release was to prove a real Marmite album. Occupying the whole of side one of the old vinyl format, this 18-minute piece continued the previous record’s weighty tale of the spaceship Rocinante and its journey towards the black hole of Cyngus X-1. Broken down into six glorious parts, it sums up the band’s utter unapologetic brilliance during this era.
8. Anthem, 1975
Anthem documented the first appearance of Neil Peart on a Rush album, opening the new-look trio’s sophomore release, Fly By Night, in a flurry of interwoven power-chords. With its instruction to: ‘Live for yourself, there’s no one else/More worth living for’, Peart’s more cerebral approach to the art of lyric composition was also immediately apparent.
7. Working Man, 1974
Last year Geddy Lee admitted to your correspondent that Rush “emulated” the bands they were listening to circa their debut album, including “Humble Pie and early Zeppelin”. Based around a pummelling yet deliciously slow riff from its undoubted star Alex Lifeson, the album’s final track set the drudgery of everyday employment to an electrified soundtrack.
6. By-Tor And The Snow Dog, 1976
From the second album, Fly By Night, By-Tor And The Snow Dog provided a showcase for Alex Lifeson, especially so in extended form on the double live set All The Worlds A Stage. Its unusual title came via Rush’s road manager who had attended a party in the presence of a fierce German shepherd (By-Tor… biter) and a smaller, more docile white animal (The Snow Dog).
5. Bastille Day, 1975
This selection from Caress Of Steel reminds us of Rush’s precious duality. Inspired by the storming of the Bastille and the start of the French Revolution in 1789 and punctuated with references to guillotines, dungeons and, tellingly, ‘lessons taught but never learned’, its highbrow subject matter is awarded a high quality hard rock soundtrack.
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4. The Trees, 1979
You won’t find many better examples of the usage of metaphor in rock music than The Trees. On the face of it, Neil Peart told of innocent conflict between maple and oak trees jostling for sunlight, but its final line of keeping them equal ‘By hatchet, axe and saw’
3. Closer To The Heart, 1977
One of the more concise tracks from the fifth album, A Farewell To Kings, this sensitively melodic song would provide Rush with a debut UK hit single. Closer To The Heart, a plea for everyone from politicians to blacksmiths and ploughmen to ‘Mould a new reality’, was also the band’s first song to be co-written with an outsider, Peter Talbot, a friend of Peart.
2. Xanadu, 1977
Ushered in by wind chimes, synths, and a wall of melodic feedback, Xanadu takes its time before getting into the nitty gritty of Peart’s interpretation of the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem Kubla Khan. As its subject attains immortality thousands of years later he goes bonkers. Rush detractors might say Xanadu exerts the same effect, yet the song presents the group at their prog-rock pinnacle.
1. 2112, 1976
2112 is Rush’s great masterpiece. Trying times demand extreme measures and with head placed firmly on the chopping block following lacklustre sales of three previous records the trio responded with a kimono-tastic, side-long futuristic tale based upon a novel by the controversial author Ayn Rand. 2112 saved Rush’s bacon and remains the finest 20 minutes and 34 seconds they ever pressed to vinyl.