Rush Songs for Beginners

By: Karl Stern (@dragonkingkarl, @wiwcool,

As a huge fan of the Canadian rock (or prog-rock or whatever) band Rush, I am often asked by people unfamiliar with them, "What are some good songs to be introduced to the band with?"  I will be the first to admit that Rush is not for everybody.  It's not music you can dance to.  It is (mostly) not music that is particularly radio friendly.  To enjoy Rush you need to enjoy music's various complexities.  You need to enjoy deep thinking.  Rush appeals to musicians, intellectuals, and nerds (I use that word with it's positive iteration) far more than it does pop music fans and those with only a "sing along in the car" interest.

If you wanted to encourage someone to read, you might hand them a short, popular paperback about a genre they are interested in.  Handing Rush to a pop music fan is essentially like handing a college textbook to someone looking for a quick action or romance novel.  

But those who "get it" really "GET IT" if you gather my meaning.  So, perhaps you know someone who might possibly like Rush.  Maybe they are a musician looking to indulge in their craft or someone with a high IQ looking for a lyrical challenge.  If so, then here are a few Rush songs I recommend for the uninitiated.

If they like hard rock they might like Tom Sawyer.

Tom Sawyer is probably the most popular and well known Rush song in pop culture.  It's short enough to get radio play and the guitar riff and keyboard "growl" are catchy enough to be mainstream.  The drumming is ferocious and probably will appeal to the musician as well.  The lyrics are thematic and heady so your smart friend will probably like it too.


If they like heavy metal they might like 2112.

A little faster and thrashier than Tom Sawyer, this song came out several years earlier.  Yes, it is much too long to have gotten radio play but thrash metal fans aren't generally too invested in radio play anyway.  The lyrics are sci-fi and fantasy based so heavy metal fans might not be turned off by that either.  Again, the drum part by Neil Peart is out of this world and the guitar playing by Alex Lifeson is perfect for the song.  This is also Geddy Lee at his screeching greatest from this era and heavy metal fans used to the likes of Rob Halford might actually enjoy it.


If they like 1980's-90's mainstream music they might like The Pass

"Radio friendly" is a term not generally associated with Rush but The Pass, from the 1989 album Presto, might be the most mainstream palatable song in their library.  Even the members of the band admit they like this song and count it among their favorites.  While far from their most complex or hard rocking, The Pass is solid lyrically and structurally and covering the topic of suicide is a rare turn from science, fantasy, philosophy, and pragmatism toward emotion for the band.


If they are history nerds they might like Manhattan Project

I don't like much about Millennials but I do like the fact that they have made the words "nerd" and "geek" socially positive instead of negative.  I am a history nerd.  I like reading about things that influenced or changed history, seeing things that influenced or changed history, or listening to people talk about history.  In this 1980's era Rush song, my favorite band sings about the historic impact of the creation and use of the atomic bomb in World War 2.  Honestly, your kid will probably learn more about the creation and use of atomic weapons from this song than he ever will remember from school - the name of the aircraft, the month of the year, where it was created, and the historic nature of it.


If they feel outcast or marginalized then they might like Subdivisions

I have already written a lengthy article about this song here- Subdivisions.  While hardcore Rush fans have been very critical of Rush musically in the post- Moving Pictures 1980's, this song usually gets a pass because it is so impactful lyrically.  It tells the story of growing up in a world where you don't fit in and rings true to many people.


If they are a music nerd then they might like La Villa Strangiato

This is an instrumental from the 1970's and if you think instrumentals from the 1970's are supposed to sound like Edgar Winter's Frankenstein or the Allman Brothers' Jessica then you are in for something else altogether.  For drummers this is a lesson in stamina and timing.  For guitarist this is a lesson in atmosphere and mood.  For bass players this is a lesson holding up the bottom of a complex masterpiece.


If they like radio FM rock music from the 1970's or 80's they might like Limelight

Another of their straight-forward, radio friendly rock songs, Limelight has just enough rock to appeal to harder rock fans and just enough melody to appeal to the average listener.  From the 1981 album Moving Pictures (the same as Tom Sawyer).  Introverts will love this song as it is essentially an introverts anthem.  Musicians will like it as it is sufficiently complex to satisfy them too.


If they like slower tempo, thought provoking music they might like The Garden

The last song on perhaps the last studio album that Rush may ever put out.  It was a great song to exit on.  The Garden has become a personal favorite of mine and the thought provoking lyrics are esoteric enough to appeal to the fan of loftier writing and Alex Lifeson's guitar solo near the end of the song is perhaps the best and most atmospheric of his career.  This song is on Rush's last studio album - Clockwork Angels.


If you found this article interesting consider becoming a Patreon supporter.  That is how When It Was Cool keeps our website and podcasts online, plus you get lots of bonus content including extra and extended podcasts, articles, digital comics, ebooks, and much more.  Check out our Patreon Page to see what's up!

If you don't want to use Patreon but still want to support When It Was Cool then how about a one time $5 PayPal donation? Thank you!