When we previously ranked every Rush song, we overlooked the heaviest moment in the band’s catalog: a slowed-down fan edit of “Working Man.” With its creeping tempo, colossal distortion and creepily detuned vocals, it sounds like proto-stoner metal jam — a path left untaken for the revered prog trio.
Of course, Rush fans craving heaviness need not resort to studio trickery — the Canadian trio delivered the goods on every album. That fact makes this list more challenging to assemble than, say, our previous entries on Yes or Genesis — you could assemble 40 track candidates with minimal effort, but what do you cut?
10. “Far Cry”
Even Neil Peart‘s lyrics are heavy on this Snakes & Arrows standout, with Geddy Lee yelping apocalyptic imagery of “Pariah dogs and wandering madmen / Barking at strangers and speaking in tongues.” But the riffs alone are enough to seal the deal on their own: Alex Lifeson piles on bone-crunching distortion and wah-washed leads — a bit ’90s, a bit ’70s, but also very modern.
9. “Bastille Day”
“I don’t think it really stands up,” Peart told Classic Rock in 2004, noting a perceived failure of the band’s third LP, Caress of Steel. “It is all over the shop, and it is experimental, and it’s only real virtue is its sincerity, but at least that’s something.” There’s some truth in that assessment, but “Bastille Day” should have been excluded — it’s the most forceful moment on an album defined by charmingly naive long-form prog. Documenting the storming of the Bastille, part of the French Revolution, Lee roars about “bloodstained velvet” and “choirs of cacophony” over distorted power chords that drop like guillotines.
Is there such thing as too much Geddy Lee? Of course not, as proved by this aggressive Test for Echo single. “I wrote that song with three tracks of bass,” Lee told Canadian Musician in 1996. “I brought it to Alex and said, ‘Here’s the song. I did three tracks of bass but I just did it to fill in for the guitar,’ and he said, ‘Let’s keep it with the three basses.’ So I said, ‘I love you.'” The chorus is admittedly a bit sweet and strummy for this list’s purposes, but the verses are next-level heavy — those harmonized bass lines could easily be mistaken for Tool.
7. “One Little Victory”
“We went back and forth on the running order [of 2002’s Vapor Trails] quite a few times, and the one thing that we never questioned was the opening of the album with ‘One Little Victory,'” Lee told CNN. “It always seemed natural to me to start [it] off with the most positive spirit on the album. And, especially, starting off with the drums, which featured [Peart] playing in such a furious way.” The drummer’s crushing kicks and snares power this tribute to “celebrat[ing] the moment,” and his bandmates match that mood with verses of slippery blues-rock riffs. Around 3:59, Lifeson even throws in a noisy solo full of bent-note leads.
6. “Cygnus X-1 Book One – The Voyage”
It isn’t easy to head-bang in weird time signatures, but it’s impossible not to try during “Cygnus X-1 Book One – The Voyage,” the 10-minute closer to A Farewell to Kings. The sci-fi concept is intriguing, but everything here revolves around the stripped-down interplay among the holy trinity — the riffs arrive in rapid-fire succession, often just teasing ideas that could have spawned entire songs. The heaviest, though, could be the early hard-blues section that alternates between 6, 7 and 8.
This Clockwork Angels deep cut opens with one of Lifeson’s gnarliest moments: a hard-psych guitar pattern that echoes the intensity of Soundgarden‘s “My Wave.” (The guitarist had other reference points in mind: “I love the opening riff with the cool harmonics,” he told Music Radar. ‘It’s got a little bit of Hendrix or Robin Trower.”) Lee steers toward cleaner waters on the chorus, but Rush continually return to crunch.
4. “What You’re Doing”
For those first two top-string notes, you might think you’ve played Led Zeppelin’s “Heartbreaker” by mistake. Not exactly, but this early-days banger brings the kind of gusto you need to ape so shamelessly. No one should consider this an elite Rush song, but it’s certainly one of their heaviest — for more proof, consult the descending, chromatic riff at 1:07.
“Alex and I had written this riff … back in the day when [drummer John] Rutsey was in the band, and Rutsey wasn’t into playing it,” Lee told Rolling Stone in 2013, reflecting on the initial 7/8 sprint of “Anthem.” He added: “Among the other things, we jammed with Neil the first day we met him on this opening riff. When he started playing, we looked at each other and were like, “Yeah, this is the guy. He can play. He’ll do.” Indeed. This song, like its parent album, showcased the band’s evolution from hard rock into hard prog — but even metal fans can appreciate Lee’s wordless, ascending shrieks and Lifeson’s spasms of shredding.
2. “Stick It Out”
Rush really leaned into the whole grunge thing with “Stick It Out,” so it’s fitting that their equally dark music video got roasted on Beavis and Butt-Head. “This guitar sounds kinda cool,” Beavis says. “Yeah,” adds Butt-Head, “if you happen to be a wuss.”) Peart, who noted to Modern Drummer that the song “verges on parody for [Rush],” sought to bring a “touch of elegance” through Latin and jazz-fusion accents. But the riffs are all brooding ’90s riff-rock: lots of feedback, gobs of dissonance, plenty of attitude.
1. “Working Man”
Lee was roughly 20 years old when Rush recorded “Working Man” — barely a grown man himself — so it’s kinda hilarious to picture him writing this tribute to working-class life, with its 9-5 schedule and evenings of “ice-cold beer.” Nonetheless, he delivered the song with a perfect swagger, and his instrumental communion with Lifeson had already crystallized at this early stage. As if the bruising main riff wasn’t enough, their bouncing, two-note chorus phrases elevate the song to classic status.
Rush Albums Ranked
We examine Rush’s 19 studio albums, from 1974’s muscular self-titled release to a series of remarkable late-career triumphs.