Across their 40 year career, Rush did pretty much everything right.
Especially when it came to the multifarious approach to writing their music.
Most bands generally do not partake in recording instrumentals. Those who do, like Joe Satriani, make instrumental songs their primary style which work very well, but sometimes when others leave the well-used lyric notebook in the control room the result might leave some scratching their heads while mentally encouraging the band to bring back the vocals and stick with what works.
Rush, however, managed to make their instrumentals something to behold. A sometimes awe inducing sonic achievement especially when performed live. All that sound from just three players. But, despite Rush’s reputation in writing and recording instrumentals, the band actually did not have that many.
Granted as a whole, Rush produced many instrumentals, but remove the live albums and stick with the instrumental songs appearing on studio albums, Rush only recorded eight instrumentals with three coming on one album and six of the eight released in the latter half of the band’s career. Indeed, the instrumental was a highlight for fans but also for bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart as well. Lee described recording instrumentals like “recess” for the Toronto based trio.
Hard to make a Top 10 Best Rush Instrumentals list with only eight songs! So the best you can do is rank them in order from the “worst” to the best Rush instrumental. And, don’t confuse worst with bad. Rush did have some, um, bad songs however none of the instrumentals make that list. Indeed, some of them certainly have the muscle to compete for a spot in the Top 10 Best Rush Songs list.
8. Limbo – Test for Echo (1997)
I forgot “Limbo” was an instrumental! After reviewing Test for Echo and getting reacquainted, of course it all came back. “Limbo” suffers a bit for its placement on one of Rush’s most maligned albums but ultimately does not rise to the level of the rest and sounds more like the band fooling around but still holds down solid play and some varying arrangements.
7. Hope – Snakes & Arrows (2007)
All Alex Lifeson. But “Hope” qualifies because it appears on Snakes & Arrows as a Rush song. So good. Technically proficient and maybe some hope that Mr. Lifeson gives those of us craving just a little bit of Rush an album of original material sometime again in the near future. Sweet and soothing, “Hope” might send you into an sentimental swirl before it ends way too quickly.
6. Malignant Narcissism – Snakes & Arrows (2007)
If only…it were a bit longer. “Malignant Narcissism” rocks heavy & hard but in many respects feels “dropped in” almost like a last minute B side addition to Snakes and Arrows. A bit of a departure sonically, “Malignant Narcissim” sounds like an inner thread bridging the story line for a concept album.
5. Leave That Thing Alone – Counterparts (1993)
“Leave That Thing Alone,” “Where’s My Thing.” The names throw me off every time as to which one is which. Case in point: I briefly mixed them up for this overview. Plus I think Rush used a similar structure for both. Not that they sound the same, but more like fraternal twins. Rush uses a backing track as a foundation for “Leave That Thing Alone” off 1993’s Counterparts before they each chime in on their respective instruments producing a heavier yet methodical approach coupled with some commanding guitar chords then Lifeson busting out the beautiful solo work at the 1:53 mark.
4. Where’s My Thing – Roll the Bones (1991)
Generally the guitar takes over the mic on instrumentals, but Lee’s bass joins in as co-singer, if you will, with some systematic punches. “Where’s My Thing” ended a decade’s long instrumental drought for Rush and started a three album stretch featuring a song sans any lyrics. Crisp and energetic, “Where’s My Thing” closes the first half of Roll the Bones on a high note with a proggers delight.
3. YYZ – Moving Pictures (1981)
Owning one of the coolest openings ever to a song, Peart taps out Toronto International Airport’s code Y-Y-Z in Morse code to start Rush’s second instrumental. “YYZ” received more acclaim when Peart implemented his live drum solo midway through during the Moving Pictures Tour as heard on Exit…Stage Left. Regardless, “YYZ” put fans and musicians on notice that Rush had much up their sleeves leaving many wondering, what are they going to come up with next? Despite the expectation of instrumentals in forthcoming albums, Rush made us wait 10 years and five albums for a follow-up instrumental.
2. La Villa Strangiato – Hemispheres (1978)
Nine minutes and 35 seconds of delicious goodness. “La Villa Strangiato” closed the four-song-long album Hemispheres coming in half the length of the (somewhat) eponymous Side 1 of the album. If this song didn’t make you a fan of Rush in the late 70s then you were a hopeless cause. A very close call but without resorting to a tie I went with…
1. The Main Monkey Business – Snakes & Arrows (2007)
Simply the best Rush instrumental. So much going on with tempo changes, complex arrangements and fluid melodies. If you ever wanted to hear a song where three players sound like one then take this one in. Their united jam that crescendos into Lifeson proving why he is one of the all-time great guitarists as his soaring lead at the 2:50 mark sends you flying then dialing back for the slow build-up to those heavy rock chords at 3:40. And it’s not even over yet!
And not one Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.