Progressive rock music is often referred to as a “thinking man's” music, not only for its complicated instrumentation, but also for its penchant to tackle high concept, and sometimes fantastical, lyrical content. Among progressive rockers, Rush is considered one of the most lyrically literate bands in the world. Drummer and primary lyricist Neil Peart has tackled everything from politics to philosophy to religion in the band's 40 year career. That makes choosing just five lyrics from the band's massive catalog a tall task. But these five lyrics represent a wide range of Rush's most popular and thought provoking works.
One of the great ironies of Rush's career is that one of the handful of the band's songs that gets heavy classic rock radio airplay is their lambasting of modern corporate radio practices. The song, from 1980's Permanent Waves album begins as almost an ode to radio, speaking of friendly voices and unobtrusive companions that make your morning mood. But as the song winds on, the view of radio becomes more cynical, until the final verse ends with one of rock's most scathing indictments.
“One likes to believe in the freedom of music
But glittering prizes and endless compromises
Shatter the illusion of integrity.”
A fan favorite since it debuted back in 1975 on their third album Caress of Steel. The album not only solidified the band's hard progressive rock sound, it found Peart experimenting more with looking into historical events for lyrical inspiration. Here Rush retells the storming of the Bastille, which began the French Revolution, but many of the lyrics seemed very topical to many in the era of Vietnam and Watergate.
“Lessons taught but never learned.
All around us anger burns.
Guide the future by the past.
Long ago the mold was cast.”
Like many bands, Rush's early works tend to get more attention than their later ones. But some of their most cerebral lyrics can be found on their later albums. The best example is “Nobody's Hero”, from 1993's Counterparts album. The '80s and early '90s were the era of the movie action hero and Peart gets maximum impact from those tropes, contrasting everyday people struggling with personal and societal demons with the “heroes” who are the “handsome actor who plays the hero's role.”
“I knew he was different in his sexuality.
I went to his parties a straight minority.
It never seemed a threat to my masculinity.
It only introduced me to a wider reality.”
A minor hit for Rush from Permanent Waves, “Freewill” has long been a fan favorite. Neil Peart has always been a bit obsessed with individualism, and the concept album 2112 even toyed a bit with Objectivism, but “Freewill” is a fairly straightforward shot across the bow at people who blame fate, God, or bad luck for their fortunes.
“A planet of playthings
We dance on a string
Of powers we cannot perceive.
The stars aren't aligned
Or the god are malign.
Blame is better to give than receive.”
Considering Peart's many lyrics concerning individuality, it's no surprise that he is no fan of the sprawling conformist havens that are suburbs. Fortunately for Rush's fans, the subject brought about Rush's best lyrical song in “Subdivision.” Despite only being a minor hit when released as a single from 1982's Signals album, the song's anti-conformist message has resonated with generations of music fans and it is not only a concert staple for the band but one of their most frequently played on classic rock radio.
“Any escape might help to smooth
the unattractive truth.
But the suburbs hold no charms to soothe
the restless dreams of youth.”