Top 10 Nerdiest Rush Songs
For much of their storied career, Rush weathered accusations that they were far too musically self-indulgent, lyrically intellectual and just plain uncool. In a word: nerds. But perceptions like these, once seen as derogatory, are now routinely praised among Rush’s distinguishing strengths; fundamental to what has made the band a unique phenomenon in rock history, from inception to their 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. Yes, it seems that nerds have indeed had their revenge and we are proud to count ourselves among them as we give to you the Top 10 Nerdiest Rush Songs.
What better way to start a countdown of the Top 10 Nerdiest Rush Songs than with a tune named ‘Countdown?' This closing number from 1982’s ‘Signals’ began taking shape when the members of Rush attended the launch of space shuttle Columbia — hence the Ground Control recordings heard in the background and the dedication to Columbia’s astronauts in the album’s liner notes.
Rush’s first (but hardly last) epic covering an entire side of vinyl, ‘The Fountain of Lamneth’ obviously boasts a nerd quotient of the highest magnitude. But the young group still lacked the songwriting and storytelling maturity to bring their grand ambitions to fruition, nearly sinking their fledgling career in the process. Luckily, they soon turned things around and broke the code with the following year’s ‘2112.’
1981’s watershed ‘Moving Pictures’ LP yielded lots of nerdy songs (‘Red Barchetta’ being a clear-cut example), but none quite as geeky as the instrumental ‘YYZ,’ which was based on the IATA airport identification code associated with the band’s hometown Toronto Pearson International. The song’s distinctive rhythm is basically what occurs when those three letters are repeatedly punched out in Morse code.
We’d give an arm and a leg to have been present at the band meeting where Neil Peart pitched his concept for 'The Trees' -- a song about maples and oaks arguing -- to Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee. Still, Peart defended it in an interview with Modern Drummer. "I was working on an entirely different thing when I saw a cartoon picture of these trees carrying on like fools," he said. "I thought, 'What if trees acted like people?' So I saw it as a cartoon really, and wrote it that way. I think that's the image that it conjures up to a listener or a reader. A very simple statement."
Edging out ‘Permanent Waves’’ gorgeously evocative ‘Jacob’s Ladder,’ that same album’s ‘Natural Science’ sees Rush trying to answer every question about life, the universe, and everything in under 10 minutes! From the very primordial soup out of which life first sprang (‘Tide Pools’), across man’s entire evolutionary arc, physical, spiritual and intellectual (‘Hyperspace’), and through to his inevitable extinction over the course of infinite time (‘Permanent Waves’), this is obviously a geek-tastic undertaking.
Some readers may have expected our list of the Top 10 Nerdiest Rush Songs to overlook this deeper ‘Presto’ cut, which exemplifies another side of lyricist Neil Peart’s ability to conjure up clever wordplay. True to its title, every line in ‘Anagram (for Mongo)’ contains a word that can be spelled out of the other words in that line. And the fact that Peart countered this sophisticated system with a reference to the Mongo character from the movie, ‘Blazing Saddles’ (“Candygram for Mongo!”) is just an ironic cherry on top.
We’re going to cheat a little and include both parts of the historically ambitious ‘Cygnus X-1’ suite. After taking up most of side two on 1977’s ‘A Farewell to Kings,’ Rush’s harrowing astronomical adventure into the heart of a black hole (Cygnus) was given a far more metaphysical (and even longer) sequel that sprawled across the entire first half of the following year’s ‘Hemispheres.’
No song better exemplifies Rush’s early career fetish for high fantasy than ‘Fly By Night’s’ fan-approved sword-and-sorcery classic ‘By-Tor & the Snow Dog.’ The title alone represents Rush’s rampant creativity at its most preposterous -- yet remarkably irresistible -- thereby justifying the thought process could have inspired Neil Peart to imagine his band mates as mortal enemies (Lifeson was the Snow Dog; Lee was By-Tor), waging battle with their musical instruments.
‘Subdivisions’ is a crucial entry in our list because, more so than dealing in typically geeky subjects, it literally addresses the societal pressures — particularly in highly stressful and competitive school environments — responsible for determining what it is to be a nerd. In doing so, Rush successfully bucked the traditional rock and roll mandate to act cool at any cost and embraced theirs, and their fans’, perceived un-coolness with open arms.
“And the meek shall inherit the Earth.” So begins '2112,' the inevitable No. 1 choice on our list of Top 10 Nerdiest Rush Songs.’ The track, which encompasses fully half of its titular album with an inspired blend of science fiction, philosophy, and, of course, exceptional music. Musically speaking, ‘2112’ epitomizes everything that’s lovably nerd-like about the one and only Rush.