Decibrity Playlist: “Best of” Rush (Part 1)

We may not write about these Canadians very often, but it’s undeniable that Rush has had a profound effect on legions of artists that we do cover. So to celebrate next week’s release of the ubiquitous band’s 19th (!) full-length studio album, we compiled a “best of” Rush playlist that features tracks hand-picked by some of the many musicians who have been slappin’ da bass over the years.
If we learned one thing, it’s that most of the artists below had a difficult time only picking one song. Just ask Anthrax’s Joey Belladonna, who managed to whittle his list down to three: “‘Fly By Night’ is the first Rush song I ever sang. ‘Tom Sawyer’, I got to play drums in my own band and sing at the same time—great fun, killer song! ‘Lakeside Park’—when I got the live album, I was so into that record from top to bottom.” As you’ll see from the explanations below, however, it’s pretty clear that everyone who participated agreed with the frontman’s ultimate conclusion: “I love Rush!” As usual, we’ve compiled the picks (which run in chronological order based on album release date) into a Spotify playlist.

“Anthem” (from 1976’s All the World’s a Stage)
I choose “Anthem” because it was one of my all time favorite songs on All the World’s A Stage. I would play drums along with that record—it really shaped the drummer I would later become. I’ve been a diehard Rush fan for quite a long time now, they still give me chills when I hear or see them live. It would be hard to choose a favorite Rush record—I love so many—but my favorites would be Hemispheres, A Farewell To Kings, Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures. (Charlie Benante, Anthrax)

“Xanadu” (from 1977’s A Farewell to Kings)
This has all the elements of Rush and what they do in one song. It has the classic 7/8 Rush rhythm in it, an insanely epic intro and all three guys playing awesome parts that make this song so interesting and catchy every time I hear it. I like how once the song gets going, you get to hear the arrangement basically three times. Live, they would multitask to make it happen with both Alex and Geddy playing 12 strings, synths, etc.—performing this song live gave us those classic photos of them playing the doublenecks. Lyrically, it’s a classic literary reference to a famous poem, but what I get out of it is be careful for what you wish for, because it might come true. The person in the story becomes immortal but then finds himself waiting for the world to end. And for anyone into mystical stuff, the album version is 11:11 minutes long. (Shane Clark, 3 Inches Of Blood)

I was watching Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert on TV way back in the day. I had never heard of Rush, then the band played “Xanadu” live! It fucked me up for life! That song has everything great about non-commercial songwriting—it gives me goosebumps and makes me feel good inside. I really don’t know why, maybe for me it was the first prog tune that wasn’t dark and chaotic. All of the parts really flowed together as opposed to the normal mathematical prog trainwrecks within the same magnum opus that I was accustomed to and loved. The bass lines are very moving and Geddy was singing with a lot of soul. Love that band. King’s X was managed by their manager Ray Daniels for a few years back in the day, but we never got to tour with them—contrary to the rumor that we did. I wish! (dUg Pinnick, King’s X)

“The Trees” (from 1978’s Hemispheres)
Such an amazing journey this tune takes you on—from the classical guitar intro to the turbulent meat of the tune, shifting from 4/4 to 6/8, then on to a nice analog breakdown. It’s epic, truly one of the most fun to play! (Sean Reinert, Cynic)

“Cygnus X-1 Book II” (from 1978’s Hemispheres)
There are truly too many great things to say about the record Hemispheres as a whole, but since I am restricted to the song, I’ll have to pick the first track, “Cygnus X-1 Book II”. This song has the technicality that really exceeded anything they had written at the time, and is timeless. I love that with this song, they showed they were reaching for new heights in their songwriting and arranging, and the outcome was pure magic. Geddy’s vocals are incredible, he truly went balls-out on tracking this tune. It still gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. (Chris Corey, Last Chance to Reason

“Freewill” (from 1980’s Permanent Waves)
To me, “Freewill” marks the perfect link between where Rush had been and where they were going. For example, Geddy starts out singing in a register that was low for him at the time but would become his comfort zone later on, while in the bridge of the song, he reaches some notes that are his highest ever, recalling the bands early to mid-’70s material. The presence of keyboards creates a more textural atmosphere than earlier guitar driven tunes like “Anthem” and “Fly By Night”, but retains the energy of that period (the next album, Moving Pictures, would have more keys, paving the way for the band to delve into a far more polished, keyboard-based sound in the mid-’80s). This track’s riffs are very clever, yet not so much that they go over listeners’ heads and the band’s playing is stellar. But it is Neil Peart’s lyrics that are my favorite element of the song. At a time when hard rock lyrics were more along the lines of “Pull the trigger of my love gun” and “Let me cut your cake with my knife” (with respect to Kiss and AC/DC), here was a song about listening to your inner voice, questioning authority, finding your own truth and not blindly buying into beliefs, religious or otherwise. (Alex Skolnick, Testament)

“The Spirit of Radio” (from 1980’s Permanent Waves)
“The Spirit of Radio” was the first time I had heard of Rush. I was only six when Permanent Waves came out in 1980, so it was probably a few years later when I gave it a proper listen. I loved the intro, which seemed totally crazy to me at the time with the bass stabs and drum fills on weird accents. It has all the sensibilities of a radio-friendly pop song, and then just when you think it’s entered the “safe” zone, it reminds you what sort of a band Rush really are: complex, melodic and above all, a band that has always written music on its own terms. I always heard the guitar arpeggio phrase that repeats as a keyboard line, but maybe Alex Lifeson took it on guitar because Geddy couldn’t play it with his feet… (Adam Wakeman, Headspace/Ozzy Osbourne)

*Stay tuned for the second half of our “best of” Rush playlist next week. Special thanks to Ed Stenger!

**We update one Spotify playlist for each new Decibrity entry, so feel free to subscribe to that here. Past entries include:

Shadows Fall
Greg Mackintosh (Paradise Lost) (Part 1) (Part 2)
“Best of” Meshuggah
Barren Earth
Shane Embury (Napalm Death) (Part 1) (Part 2)