For years, critics viewed Rush as the poster boys for overblown, pretentious rock music. Their fans, on the other hand, had nothing but love for them – which continues stronger than ever to this day. As the member responsible for most of the band's lyrics, drummer Neil Peart always took his share of abuse. But there's more to his words than meets the eye – or rather, ear. Plus, he was a hell of a drummer. There weren't too many guys who could dominate the kit like the Professor, as you'll see in our list of the Top 10 Neil Peart Rush Songs.
'Cygnus X-1'From: 'A Farewell to Kings' (1977)
"Cygnus X-1" closes Rush's 1977 album A Farewell to Kings with wild time-signature changes, a complex arrangement and over-the-top playing. It's as if the band tried to stuff all the bravado of 2112 into a 10-minute voyage. But the high drama of "Cygnus X-1" was too much to contain in just one track, so Rush continued the song's theme on their next album, Hemispheres, where the story picks up for an additional 18 minutes. By the time the music hits the straightaway, all grandeur is tossed aside and the band veers into straightforward rock territory. But it's a short visit, as they quickly propel out of bounds with more mind-blowing playing.
'YYZ'From: 'Moving Pictures' (1981)
Rush's instrumental side has always been cherished by longtime fans, since it usually gives them the opportunity to cut loose. Check out "YYZ" from the 1981 milestone Moving Pictures, which ebbs, flows and shifts moods over the course of four and a half minutes. The trio is at the top of its game here, with Peart providing some killer fills.
'Far Cry'From: 'Snakes and Arrows' (2007)
"Far Cry" sticks to the template used in many of Rush's post-Moving Pictures work, balancing the band's creative side with its commercial one. There's a very catchy chorus elevated by brilliant playing and an arresting arrangement. Peart's drumming is tops, and his lyrics touch on everyday frustrations: "It's a far cry from the world we thought we'd inherit / One day I feel I'm on top of the world, and the next it's falling in on me."
'Distant Early Warning'From: 'Grace Under Pressure' (1984)
By the time of their 1984 album Grace Under Pressure, Rush had altered their style and sound to reflect the times. There's more gloss in the production, and keyboards are more prominent. "Distant Early Warning" is one of the band's great lost tracks from the era. Peart's admiration for the way Police drummer Stewart Copeland worked his way in and out of the rhythm served as a reference point during this period.
'Tom Sawyer'From: 'Moving Pictures' (1981)
In many ways, "Tom Sawyer" is the dividing line between Rush's cult status and the superstar band they became. More than 30 years later, the classic song has lost none of its zest. Peart's drumming is its own form of songwriting here. Who hasn't played air drums to this monster song? It practically begs for it.
"2112" is high-concept rock at its most kitchen-sink-plus. Rush had finally found their identity on their fourth album, and it remains one of the most important pieces of their puzzle. The playing is stellar, the arrangement is totally inventive and the story Peart tells is ultimately a triumphant one.
'Xanadu'From: 'A Farewell to Kings' (1977)
Throughout the '70s, Peart continued to add more instruments to his ever-growing arsenal. By 1977 and Rush's fifth album, A Farewell to Kings, woodblocks, tubular bells, chimes and a bell tree were making appearances in songs like "Xanadu." Peart is virtually a mini orchestra here. And while even the band pokes fun at the song's lyrics – "For I have dined on honey dew and drunk the milk of paradise" – they're ultimately almost another instrument.
'La Villa Strangiato'From: 'Hemispheres' (1978)
Like "YYZ" (see No. 9 on our list of the Top 10 Neil Peart Rush Songs), "La Villa Strangiato" is a blazing and complex instrumental. The band tried to record the track in one take, but it proved too much, so Rush had to piece it together section by section. Still, "La Villa Strangiato" flows as they lock into a groove that takes multiple twists and turns along the way.
'Working Man'From: 'All the World's a Stage' (1977)
Rush's 1974 self-titled debut album featured the steady, solid drumming of the late John Rutsey. But once Peart joined the band for their next album, things headed into more powerful territory. He bent and twisted the straightforward "Working Man" into new shapes in concert. The song also served as Peart's nightly spotlight for his drum solo. Taking cues from kit legends like Buddy Rich, Peart builds his "Working Man" solo from the ground up and makes it much more than mere flash and bravado on the live album All the World's a Stage.
'By-Tor and the Snow Dog'From: 'Fly by Night' (1975)
The centerpiece of Rush's second album Fly by Night, "By-Tor and the Snow Dog" encompasses everything the band represented at the time and provided a template for the next few years. The song storms out of the gate with Neil Peart driving, steering it through dangerous curves and the occasional bumps. He's solid, but also not afraid to go off on tangents from time to time. The track's instrumental passage takes one wild detour.