RUSH – RANKED! All the albums in order, by LeBrain #2 of 2

Jonathan was so psyched for these lists that he wrote almost 8000 words. Me, I could barely get to 1500. For that I apologise. It has nothing to with the subject at hand, that being the ranking of all 20 Rush studio albums. It’s simply a matter of being burned out after 10 years of writing every single day. So here’s my list — not as comprehensive as Jonathan’s but hopefully enjoyable for you to compare and contrast.

My history with Rush goes back to 1994 and starting at the Record Store. I had been wanting to get into Rush since the 1990 release of the Chronicles compilation, but found the back catalogue intimidating. Finally I bought Counterparts, my first Rush and followed it with Chronicles, Signals, 2112 and Roll the Bones. I was off to the Rush Races. After some reflection, here’s how I feel about the Rush catalogue today. This list is very fluid and might be different by this time next year — but the bottom five are likely to remain there forever.

Let’s do this!

Jonathan’s list can be found by clicking here.


20. FEEDBACK (2004) This covers mini-album is one I never go back to. I remember being super psyched hearing “Summertime Blues” blasting from my car radio on a summer evening in 1994. After the initial blast subsided and I heard the EP, I was simply underwhelmed by Rush’s covers of classic rock influences. “Summertime Blues” is only the tune that I really liked. One interesting thing that I remember clearly: once we sold out of the initial shipment of Feedback EPs, it took weeks to get restocked by the distributor. This led us to wonder if the EP was a limited edition and was already sold out. Fortunately that was not the case, but clearly they didn’t print enough CDs to fill demand.

19. TEST FOR ECHO (1996) On the day of release in 1996, one of our customers purchased Test For Echo, hated it, and attempted to return it a few hours later. One problem: he had destroyed the disc in the meantime. Don’t ask me how. But that disc was hammered and he was furious we wouldn’t take it back after such abuse. He was a little wiener but despite his shitty demeanor, he didn’t get his money back. We offered him an exchange for another copy, but he hated the album so much, he declined and departed my store swearing never to shop there again. Good riddance, but I did have to agree with him that the album sucked. The only difference was, as an actual Rush fan, I kept my copy. Shite: “Dog Years”.

18. PRESTO (1989) This album was considered a bit of a return to form after so much synth on Signals through to Hold Your Fire, a span of four albums (not counting the unassailable Moving Pictures). Sure sure, I get why fans were happy to hear the jazzy-rock of “Show Don’t Tell” without a lot of keyboards clogging up the works. I find Presto to be a collection of mostly unmemorable material. “The Pass” is a total keeper, but I don’t need the rest.

17. CARESS OF STEEL (1975) Apologies all around. It’s impossible to rank Rush album without ruffling a few feathers. Something has to go at 17. Caress is a heavily harsh listen; fight me. It’s simply a matter of taste. You either love this complex brutality, or you prefer something else. No big deal. I find Geddy’s vocals to be a bit too far on the harsh side here, and the music is pretty impenetrable without putting in the work.

16. POWER WINDOWS (1985) An album that just never grabbed me. Loved “Marathon”, disliked “Big Money”. Found it a little herky-jerky, though the music video was undeniably cool. “Manhattan Project” is majestic and “Mystic Rhythms” is classic but I never come back craving the rest. With most of these songs present on various Rush compilations, Power Windows tends to gather dust.

15. HEMISPEHERES (1978) “Rush have songs about trees talking to each other, how different parts of the brain works and outer space bullshit,” said Ricky from the Trailer Park Boys. That could be a Rolling Stone magazine review as well. It’s not bad but it certainly is difficult to penetrate. This is probably Rush at their most progressive though mileage will vary.

14. RUSH (1974) John Rutsey, doomed to underappreciation under the shadow of Neil Peart, but special in his own way. The original Rush was less progressive and more jammy, to the delight of all who own their debut album Rush. “What You’re Doing” was a pissed off middle finger made even more so by Skid Row’s cover in the 1990s. Of course it also contains the monolithic “Working Man”, one of the most massive pieces of granite that Rush ever chiseled out of the Canadian shield. A monster!

13. SNAKES & ARROWS (2007) Though a fine late period Rush album with beautiful acoustic passages, Snakes & Arrows has a lot to compete with. It ranks lower than those other albums due to its length. Rush went in without limitations, utilized three instrumentals, and ended with an album that might have been able to lose a couple songs. “Armor and Sword” is a clear highlight, as is closer dynamo “We Hold On”. Rush have some of the best closing songs!

12. HOLD YOUR FIRE (1987) I love most of Hold Your Fire, but man this album just overstays its welcome. It’s not the keyboards, it’s the last couple songs. “Tai Shan”, “High Water”, no perhaps those could have been left for B-sides. “Mission” is amazing, “Time Stand Still” is a delight (as is Aimee Mann) and “Prime Mover” kicks. The synths are at their peak here, but that’s not an intrinsically bad thing. Alex got to come back into focus on the later albums with some incredible guitar work. Ultimately this was as far as Rush could go in that direction before experimenting once again.

11. VAPOR TRAILS (2002) Another album that a few disgruntled customers returned, but not due to the quality of the music. This time it was the production they hated; the brickwalled mix. This album is overblown to the point of near-distortion, and so was actually remixed a few years later in an alternate version. That version is probably your preferred listen, but there is something to be said about the sheer brutality of Vapor Trails. Rush’s heaviest album, overall? Peart’s triumph, after suffering so much loss in his life, that much is certain. A long album again, but there is a lot to love here including “Ghost Rider”, “Vapor Trail”, “Secret Touch” and closer “Out of the Cradle”. A very important album for if Rush weren’t feeling it anymore, that would have been the end.

10. FLY BY NIGHT (1975) I’m a sucker for “Rivendell”. Geeky goodness all around. It feels young, naive and innocent and that only lasts a moment in a lifetime. “Bytor” is a wicked ride through the arctic frost. “Anthem” needs no introduction or explanation. While not flawless there is so much to love on Fly By Night. There’s even a 5.1 mix to check out, one of several Rush albums released in surround sound.

9. CLOCKWORK ANGELS (2012) What a final album by a band; any band for that matter. Rush’s first true concept album from start to finish, with an accompanying novel? Why hadn’t somebody thought of this before! “The Wreckers” and “Headlong Flight” are absolute masterpieces, with the latter recalling early Rush circa “By-tor”. Many people point to album closer “The Garden”, with full orchestra, to be one of the band’s all time unsung best moments. It is quite a shame that it had to be the final Rush album ever, but so few bands go out on highs like this.

8. ROLL THE BONES (1991) Simply terrific album that succeeded where Presto failed: delivering great, memorable Rush songs. The playing was still dexterous complexity to the power of three, but the songs were better honed. Highlights included “Dreamline”, “Bravado”, “Ghost of a Chance” and the title track. Regardless of the rapping. Did you know they considered getting John Clease to do that “Jack, relax, get busy with the facts” rap? I might have liked that.

7. GRACE UNDER PRESSURE (1984) A natural evolution from Signals (1982), this followup had a chillier ambience but plenty more great synth-tinged rock. Upon first hearing it, I was obsessed with the cybernetic “Red Sector A”. I still am. There is much to love on this 80s afterimage. A looming iceberg of 80s progressive rock, Grace Under Pressure is essential to my collection.

6. PERMANENT WAVES (1980) With hindsight, sort of a transitional album. The last of the long epic songs, for a long time. Four stone cold classics: “The Spirit of Radio”, “Freewill”, “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Natural Science”. “The Spirit of Radio” really foreshadows the direction Rush would go in the near future. A fantastic album, and easy to fall for quickly.

5. A FAREWELL TO KINGS (1977) Two words monumental and majestic. Those words come up a lot, but look! “Closer to the Heart”! “Xanadu”! “A Farewell to Kings”! “Cygnus X-1”! Rush were challenging themselves and the listener. A Farewell to Kings must rank in the Rush top five for the sheer magnitude of its song for song firepower.

4. COUNTERPARTS (1993) Huge feels for this early 90s triumph. Rush seemed to be honing in on a sound, starting with Presto. Roll the Bones got them closer to the mark. Counterparts was it, the target. Bullseye. “Animate” is a top tier Rush track, as is “Nobody’s Hero” based on a number of true stories. “Double Agent” is different and grooving, and “Everyday Glory is another magnificent Rush album closer. Nothing bad can be said about Counterparts except that it was a difficult album to top, as Test For Echo proved.

3. 2112 (1976) Sci-fi metal? Don’t mind if I do! 2112 is Rush’s most coherent concept, though only half an album’s worth. The story is well executed and nearly all highlight. The rest of the album ain’t bad either with “A Passage to Bankok” being a masterful example. A Rush album that should find a home in every household with taste. I received this as a gift for my 23rd birthday.

2. MOVING PICTURES (1981) If you were going to point to one album as “the” Rush album, it would have to be Moving Pictures. “Tom Sawyer” is “the” Rush song, and one cannot live to the fullest without “Vital Signs” and “Limelight”. If that wasn’t enough, get some “Red Barchetta”, “Witch Hunt”, “The Camera Eye” and immortal instrumental “YYZ”. Just a magnificent

1. SIGNALS (1982) With “Subdivisions” as my gateway to the holy trinity, this #1 pick should come as no surprise. Signals was an early Rush purchase of mine, after Counterparts, 2112, and Roll the Bones. This album has some serious rich synth songs such as “Countdown” and “Losing It” with some good old fashioned Rush gallop on “The Analog Kid”. Not to be underestimated is “The Weapon”, with synth ticking like clockwork. Everything on this album rules, no filler, and if you don’t like synth then just stop buying Rush after, like 1979. The end.

33 comments

  1. Hemispheres at 15? You’re both insane! I need to make my own list.

    I don’t like Vapor Trails remixed. The original mix was better, it was just mastered too loud. Take off the compression and limiting during the mastering stage and you’re golden.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Signals would be my #1 as well. Good stuff man as its hard to rank this stuff as its massive and another strong showing for Counterparts! I could do a RUSH TOP 5 and thats it as my head would hurt from overthinking the rankings lol
    Great stuff man

    Like

  3. Really enjoyed this one Mike. A great read. Way more that I agree with than disagree with… but Counterparts is going dooowwnnn! Power Windows I used to rank quite low too but in recent years it’s shot up. Nice to see Roll The Bones and Vapor Trails in the upper half too.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I do like Counterparts. I just have it fairly low. There’s just some stuff on it that kinda bugs me. But I love Animate, that’s a belter. Maybe worth a revisit. Test For Echo never really registered at all apart from the title track and Driven.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m missing 2 official Live albums: Grace Under Pressure Live and R30. Are they worth getting? How would u rate their live albums?

    Listening to Working Men at the moment…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Working Men is a really good sampler of 3 live albums plus one bonus track. However I prefer earlier live Rush so I would go with Grace!

      Of course you cannot go wrong with Exit Stage Left which I would rank #1, with Rush In Rio being another high water mark.

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      1. Hi Mike, I’d argue you CAN go wrong with Exit Stage Left, now that we have the live material from the 40th Anniversary editions of Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures. I like the less-processed sound of those tracks better. My studio album rankings are different than yours. In particular, I seem to be the one person who likes Test For Echo, and I think I have more support in liking Caress of Steel a LOT.

        Since I haven’t commented in a while, I’m taking this opportunity to say I appreciate your Kiss soundboard reviews. I wasn’t aware of the series until seeing your mentions. I bought the Des Moines on your recommendation, and it’s made Alive II obsolete and unnecessary for me (a bit like with Exit Stage Left!).

        Cheers!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi Marc! I still have to give those a listen. So for me, Exit still has all that glow of the nostalgia of many dozens of listens. I will get caught up on those Rush boxes soon. Permanent Waves is here waiting to be unboxed.

          Thanks on the Kiss. I’m sad to tell you that after so many years, I’m burned out and am stopping reviews.

          Cheers!

          Like

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