Rush‘s first side-long epic was 1975’s “The Fountain of Lamneth,” a 20-minute fantasy-adventure piece with a rambling narrative, choppy musical structure and randomly inserted drum solo.
It was undoubtedly a bold move at the time — before Caress of Steel, Canada’s prog kings had largely trafficked in virtuoso hard rock. But in retrospect, it was only a warm-up for the long-form journeys on 2112, A Farewell to Kings and Hemispheres. In other words: For Rush, not all that weird!
Then again, this band’s “normal” shifted substantially over the decades — by the mid-’80s, Geddy Lee‘s once-untamable shriek had largely mellowed, and it wasn’t unusual for fans to encounter reggae riffs (“Digital Man”), synth pads (basically everything from that period) or Aimee Mann collaborations (“Time Stand Still”).
But certain moments stand out as unusual for any Rush era, whether it’s a head-scratching lyric or an arrangement that would be mental for any band.
10. “I Think I’m Going Bald” (from 1975’s Caress of Steel)
The title alone makes the argument. Neil Peart wrote lyrics about grand subjects — from youthful alienation to individual freedom to the detachment that comes with fame. For this crunchy, pedestrian blues-rocker, he explored the horrors of losing “a few more hairs.” Peart sneaks in some depth toward the end (“My life is slipping away / I’m aging every day / But even when I’m grey / I’ll still be grey my way”), but it remains deeply weird to hear Lee yelp about male-pattern baldness.
9. “Natural Science” (from 1980’s Permanent Waves)
One of Lee’s favorite Rush songs, “Natural Science” is structured into three distinct sections — in totality, a maze with some fascinating twists and turns. The reflective opener, “Tide Pools,” sounds unlike anything else in their catalog, with Lee’s gentle vocal and Alex Lifeson‘s strummed guitar illuminated by splashing water and natural echo from the mountains near Le Studio in Morin-Heights, Quebec. Meanwhile, the rhythms of “Permanent Waves” bounce gleefully in near-constant movement.
8. “Leave That Thing Alone” (from 1993’s Counterparts)
The weirdness is subtle on this Counterparts banger, which earned Rush their third Grammy nomination for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Lee and Peart weren’t total strangers to funkiness and their rhythms here are deeply groovy — but they’re an odd match for the pulsing organ chords and Lifeson’s dramatic, squealing guitar solos.
7. “Red Lenses” (from 1984’s Grace Under Pressure)
Too disjointed to feel like a proper epic but too intriguing to dismiss, “Red Lenses” is a classic “throw ideas against the wall and see what sticks” song. Peart aimed for a kind of structured nonsense with his lyrics, which hint at Cold War paranoia, but they wind up just sounding flimsy (“I see red / And it hurts my head / Guess it must be something / That I read”), while Lee’s overly affected, un-melodic delivery dulls the intended effect. Musically, “Red Lenses” also hops all over the place: bluesy riffs, spooky synths, brief bursts of chanting and electronic drumming.
6. “Tai Shan” (from 1987’s Hold Your Fire)
“You’re supposed to be crappy when you make your first three or four records,” Lee told Blender in 2009, “but even in our middle period, we did this song called ‘Tai Shan’ using a poem Neil wrote about climbing a mountain in China. When I listen to that, it’s like, Bzzt. Error. We should have known better.” The lyrics alone are abnormally cheesy for Peart (“I stood at the top of the mountain / And China sang to me / In the peaceful haze of harvest time / A song of eternity”), and the song’s attempt to mimic traditional Asian sounds is even more atypical: We really could have done without Lifeson’s lute-like pentatonic plucking.
5. “Scars” (from 1989’s Presto)
Most Rush bass lines refuse to sit still, continuously weaving in new melodic phrases and rhythmic feels. The repetitive groove in “Scars” does the opposite, however, repeating and repeating one thin-sounding lick via a sequencer. The drums, meanwhile, contrast in complexity — but not with Peart’s signature prog showmanship. His playing here cleverly builds from an African rhythm, though anchored with a pounding kick drum that often pushes the track into dance-rock territory.
4. “The Necromancer” (from 1975’s Caress of Steel)
“As grey traces of dawn tinge the eastern sky / The three travelers, men of Willowdale / Emerge from the forest shadow,” a deep, pitch-shifted voice intones. Just like that, thousands of teenage boys around the world turned on their black lights, sparked up joints and nestled into their beanbag chairs. That stoner-friendly narration adds a layer of overt weirdness to “The Necromancer,” a 12-minute fantasy epic that alternates somewhat jarringly between sweetness and heaviness.
3. “Bravest Face” (from 2007’s Snakes & Arrows)
Peart was immediately struck by the melancholy “Bravest Face,” which offers a spin on the 21st-century Rush vibe with uneasy falsetto leaps, soulful vocal vibrato and jazz-blues vibes during the guitar solo. “I was especially excited by how different [it was] from anything we had done before,” Peart later wrote. He described the song as “fresh and vital, yet rooted in some deeper musical streams.”
2. “Double Agent” (from 1993’s Counterparts)
“We were losing our minds, is what we were doing!” Lee once said, while describing Rush’s mindset for this “complete exercise in self-indulgence.” He said “we just wanted to kind of get our yah-yahs out and just have a bit of a rave. And really, it’s one of the goofiest songs I think we’ve ever written.” After a fairly conventional intro, the track erupts into rabid funk-metal riffs and noir-tinted spoken-word poetry — one of the most unusual combos in the entire Rush catalog.
1. “Roll the Bones” (from 1991’s Roll the Bones)
More commonly known as “the one where Geddy raps.” Nothing else is that noteworthy about “Roll the Bones”: There’s some rarely utilized organ, and Peart does attack his kit with a funk-metal intensity. But all roads lead to Lee’s mercilessly mocked attempt at spitting bars. Even with the low pitch-shifting, no musician has ever sounded more uncomfortable using the word “homeboy,” and … well, then there’s this: “Jack, relax / Get busy with the facts / No zodiacs or almanacs / No maniacs in polyester slacks / Just the facts / Gonna kick some gluteus max.”
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