Rush released their self-titled debut album in 1974 and today retains legions of fans who remain devoted to their music.
The biggest cult band in the world, routinely dismissed by mainstream music critics, seemed to finally get the respect they deserved on the tail-end of their career. Regardless, you don’t have to like Rush to at least recognize their influence in rock music. And, arguably, their effect in the lives of fans has no equal nor knows no bounds.
Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart indeed became a permanent presence for those who got them. Every few years an album followed by a tour. Almost like clockwork. If the future was looking dark, at least a new Rush album was in the works. But time doesn’t stand still…
Rush last performed on Aug. 1, 2015 in what some suspected was their last but many hoped simply drew a close to the long touring schedule and the band would eventually take the stage again. Unfortunately, Peart’s death on Jan. 7, 2020 ended all dreams for a new album and/or scaled down show or even residency. Though Lee and Lifeson have not ruled out making music together or playing Rush songs again, both seem content with new adventures.
As such, Rush ends their career with 20 studio albums.
Ranking Rush albums in order presents no easy task. Take 100 different fans, expect 100 different lists. Though some might agree on the least of them, and on the best of them, you might as well roll the bones when ranking all others in between. Multiple factors come into play when ranking a band’s best albums including sales figures and critical reception, if you so choose. That’s easy.
Often, the album or year introduction to a band weighs heavily as well as circumstances in life upon an album’s release. But in the end it all comes down to the music and personal preference accompanied by an acknowledgement that Rush continually developed as the years went by.
Rush Albums Ranked
20. Feedback (2004)
Released: June 29, 2004
The only Rush covers album. Hardly a bad album, in fact, Rush exceeded some of the originals, but Feedback takes the caboose on ranking Rush albums because they didn’t write any of it.
Highlights: Summertime Blues, The Seeker, Crossroads
19. Caress of Steel (1975)
Released: September 24, 1975
If you dial in to what Rush was trying to accomplish, this one belongs further up on this list but from a purely passive listening experience, Caress of Steel ranks predictably 19th. The weird voice over at the start of “The Necromancer” probably lifted the needle for many back then and many more when the voice over returned later. Taking all things into consideration, Rush’s third album doesn’t hold the full melodic weight of all the rest. And besides, this one almost ended their run. Here’s a question: When introducing someone to Rush would you start with Caress of Steel?
Highlights: Bastille Day, Lakeside Park, Didacts and Narpets
18. Rush – Debut Album (1974)
Released: March 1, 1974
The self-titled debut album featured drummer John Rutsey. Loud and sometimes raw, Rush embraced 70s hard rock in a very strong first album for the band.
Highlights: Working Man, In the Mood, Finding My Way
17. Test for Echo (1996)
Released: September 10, 1996
Probably not a surprise Test for Echo ranks so low but also a surprise it ranks so high! Not a lot of Rush fans enjoyed Test for Echo but this one initially placed 19th then jumped two spots. I don’t think it’s a bad album, especially if you leave it aside for a while and return for a fresh listen. The first half is astoundingly good and “Resist” pulls on the heartstrings. Some of the songs like “Carve Away the Stone,” and the folksy “Totem” won’t make any “Best of” lists and if you enjoy diving into lyrics avoid “Dog Years.”
Highlights: Test for Echo, Driven, Half the World, Resist
16. Roll the Bones (1991)
Released: September 3, 1991
If you’re just tuning in to Rush, they rap on this album. Well, sort of. Somehow, the “rap” section in the title track never got old nor did several other songs. Roll the Bones also started a string of albums featuring an instrumental. This one also book-ended a pretty trying time for me starting with the release of the album and ending with a concert.
Highlights: Dreamline, Bravado, Roll the Bones, Heresy
15. Presto (1989)
Released: November 21, 1989
Rush closed the 80s, their busiest decade featuring seven albums, with Presto and an outstanding cover. By now, Rush set aside the heavy keyboard use from earlier in the decade and settled into their style of rock music. Lots of time signature changes, a bold sound and an impassioned plea against suicide.
Highlights: Show Don’t Tell, The Pass, Scars, Superconductor, Available Light
14. Hold Your Fire (1987)
Released: September 8, 1987
You can hear some of Rush’s best songs on Hold Your Fire but also a couple, few if anyone, would include on a “Best of” list. Another album that brings forth charming memories allowing me to freeze the moment just a little bit longer.
Highlights: Force Ten, Time Stand Still, Prime Mover, Lock and Key
13. Fly By Night
Released: February 15, 1975
The band’s second album and first with Peart. “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” gave you a glimpse of what was to come in lengthy prog rock songs but Fly By Night also brought a focus to the band’s sound and prevented the sophomore slump many bands experience after their debut. An overlooked Rush record in this complete 70s rock album.
Highlights: Fly By Night, By-Tor and the Snow Dog, In the End
12. Hemispheres (1978)
Released: October 29, 1978
Hemispheres picked up where A Farewell to Kings left off with the Cygnus series opening with the 18 minute six-part Cygnus X-2 a sequel to Cygnus X-1. Now, four straight albums with a lengthy prog rock saga, the second half dialed in on more traditional rock including their first instrumental.
Highlights: Circumstances, The Trees, La Villa Strangiato
11. A Farewell to Kings (1977)
Released: September 1, 1977
With the success of 2112, Rush continued with what worked and what worked was not what the record labels wanted with A Farewell to Kings. Two songs more than 10 minutes long, one of those another with an overarching storyline resolved on the next album Hemispheres, and two songs less than three minutes, including one of the few Rush songs endeared by their massive female fan base.
Highlights: A Farewell to Kings, Xanadu, Closer to the Heart, Cygnus X-1
10. Moving Pictures (1981)
Released: February 12, 1981
Rush’s biggest selling album brought the band mainstream success and you pretty much only hear songs off this album on radio today. Shows you the power of Moving Pictures but also the stupidity of radio. Familiarity breeds a bit of contempt though and Rush isn’t just this album. I originally put this album at #8 but I’ll pop it right smack in the middle even if just to irritate the hyper rapid Rush fan who likes to beat down others with their resume as to why they are the better Rush fan aka The Resume Rush Fan.
I went to college with a guy who told me Geddy, Alex and Neil would like him better. I. Kid. You. Not.
Highlights: The First Song, Red Barchetta, YYZ, Limelight, The Camera Eye
9. Signals (1982)
Released: September 9, 1982
Of all the Rush albums needing fully remastered, Signals ranks #1. Coming after the hard rock masterpiece of Moving Pictures (despite ranking as the band’s 10th best album), Signals represented the beginning of the end for some fans. Heavy on the keyboards, Lifeson’s magical guitar anywhere, anywhere but here, and a some type of nebula on the master tapes, Signals initially fell short of 1982’s expectations, again for some, but eventually became a beloved album and not just because of the dog.
Highlights: Subdivisions, The Analog Kid, The Weapon, New World Man, Losing It, Countdown
8. Vapor Trails (Remixed) (2002)
Released: May 14, 2002
They’re back! Neil Peart lost his wife and daughter a few years earlier and the once in-doubt future of Rush came roaring back with this stellar album. “One Little Victory” would be my walk-on music if I played baseball and, arguably a bit bloated (13 songs!), Rush pours on some emotion and continues to raise the bar playing to their potential. By the way, the 2013 remixed version of Vapor Trails is the preferred choice.
Highlights: One Little Victory, Ghost Rider, Secret Touch, Earthshine, Sweet Miracle
7. Power Windows (1985)
Released: October 14, 1985
I think Power Windows accompanied me everywhere upon its release. I have a memory of riding in the backseat of the car, Walkman in hand and this album playing through my headphones. Much to my surprise and delight, Rush nearly doubled the Clockwork Angels Tour as the Power Windows tour since they played four off their 1985 album including “Middletown Dreams.”
Highlights: The Big Money, Manhattan Project, Middletown Dreams, Emotion Detector
6. Grace Under Pressure (1984)
Released: April 12, 1984
I could retell my story about this Grace Under Pressure but if you’re really interested, read my review. By now, Rush had created their own music genre, so to speak. While hair bands of the 80s dished about drugs and women, Rush talked radar systems and the holocaust. Rush was the band you could take home to mom and even though my mom didn’t care for Rush, I was more than happy to point out a Biblical reference in “Distant Early Warning” and World War II in “Red Sector A.”
Highlights: Distant Early Warning, Red Sector A, The Body Electric, Kid Gloves, Between the Wheels
5. Snakes & Arrows (2007)
Released: May 1, 2007
On the day Snakes & Arrows was released I would have ranked this album last on this list. It took listen after listen after listen to get this one dialed in. Now a Top 5 Rush album, Snakes & Arrows features the best Rush instrumental, two more instrumentals, a stellar first half and thanks to this tour, one of the best Rush concerts ever at The Gorge.
Highlights: Far Cry, Armor and Sword, Workin’ Them Angels, The Larger Bowl, The Main Monkey Business, Hope, Malignant Narcissism
4. Permanent Waves (1980)
Released: January 14, 1980
Rock music at its finest, Permanent Waves left the epic story telling behind but kept lengthy tracks intact while offering some of the most melodious songs, one of the finest guitar solos and in a rare occurrence, Geddy Lee penned a piece that showed the band’s softer side and some self-reflection.
Highlights: The Spirit of Radio, Freewill, Jacob’s Ladder, Entre Nous, Natural Science
3. 2112 (1976)
Released: April 1, 1976
The breakthrough album and arguably without 2112 Rush would not have gone on to record 17 more albums giving this one a much-deserved place in the Top 3 Rush albums. I’ll never forget buying an import LP that featured all the lyrics, finally taking a moment and listening to “2112” in its entirety while reading the story. Extraordinary. Another unforgettable moment in my history with the band.
Highlights: 2112, Lessons, Something for Nothing
2. Counterparts (1993)
Released: October 19, 1993
The highest charting Rush album, Counterparts reached #2 and a week earlier release probably would have scored the band their only #1 album, but an over-hyped band from Seattle took the top spot. Probably a surprise for many, but Counterparts has the #1 Rush song, the stripped down hard rock approach doesn’t get the credit it deserves and this one came out during a pretty cool time in my life.
Highlights: Everyday Glory, Animate, Stick It Out, Nobody’s Hero, Between Sun & Moon
Best Rush Album
1. Clockwork Angels (2012)
Released: June 12, 2012
Little did we know, Rush laid it all out on the table for their final album. Geddy Lee once said he’d consider calling it a day with Rush once they released the perfect album and in an unfortunate twist of fate, Clockwork Angels tops the Best Rush Albums list. The band’s only full-length concept album, Clockwork Angels had Rush continue playing in their prime nearly 40 years after their start.
Highlights: Caravan, Clockwork Angels, Halo Effect, The Wreckers, Headlong Flight, The Garden
A subjective list if there ever was one. Clearly, implementing specific parameters results in vastly different rankings making this list much easier to compile or perhaps even harder. Considering I switched around albums multiple times throughout this process I could easily post a second Rush albums ranking next week.
The next time I listen to Moving Pictures, maybe, just maybe, I’ll reconsider its ranking.
And place it back in its rightful spot at #8.