In the annals of rock history, there aren’t too many bands who polarise opinion quite so dramatically as Canadian power trio Rush. Depending on who you talk to, they’re either a boring old prog rock band, or the greatest and single most underrated act in musical history – and there never seems to be much middle ground between these opinions.
Rush never got much kudos from the music press, and no one could ever accuse them of being hip. Even so, the band sold many millions of albums over the course of almost five decades, influencing generations of musicians and building a fanbase which borders on the truly fanatical: Rolling Stone magazine once dubbed Rush fans “the Trekkies of rock.”
Here are some fascinating facts you might not have known about these singularly divisive rock legends.
20. They started out with John Rutsey on drums
- Credit: Rush.com
The definitive line-up of Rush is Geddy Lee on bass and lead vocals, Alex Lifeson on guitar, and the late, great Neil Peart on drums.
However, Peart didn’t actually join Rush until after the band had recorded their self-titled 1974 debut album.
This album features the band’s original drummer John Rutsey, a founding member who’d been playing with Lee and Lifeson since the band formed in 1968.
Rutsey’s premature departure from Rush was due to medical issues which impeded his ability to tour.
Rutsey suffered from diabetes, and concerns about his health saw him amicably quit the band only four months after the Rush album was released.
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Musical differences were also a factor: Lee and Lifeson were keen to explore progressive rock, whereas Rutsey preferred the more straightforward rock’n’roll of their first album.
Sadly, complications from diabetes would ultimately lead to Rutsey’s death in 2008, aged just 55.
19. They’ve been called the most technically proficient band ever
Admirers of Rush have long insisted that, in terms of musicianship, there’s never been a better band.
Their technical skill is hard to dispute, particularly when you watch a video of them playing live: they produce a huge sound, with only the three of them on stage.
Particular praise has always been heaped on bassist and vocalist Geddy Lee, and drummer Neil Peart.
Lee provides distinctively high-pitched vocals whilst playing complex bass lines, plus keyboard parts (often via the use of pedals, as in the live video above).
Peart, meanwhile, is often called the single greatest rock drummer of all time, noted for using a kit several times larger than a standard drum set-up.
- Credit: Fin Costello/Redferns/Getty Images
In 1983, Peart (then aged 30) was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame, making him the youngest drummer ever given this honour at the time.
This is not to say guitarist Alex Lifeson isn’t also highly thought of; it’s been reported that Eddie Van Halen once called Lifeson the greatest guitar player in the world.
18. Drummer Neil Peart wrote most of the band’s lyrics
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On top of their virtuoso musicianship and complex song structures, Rush are also noted for their often astonishingly verbose lyrics.
From second album Fly By Night onwards, the bulk of the band’s lyrical content was provided by drummer Neil Peart.
- Credit: Igor Vidyashev/Rex/Shutterstock
A major bookworm, Peart drew heavily on his interests in philosophy and sci-fi fantasy fiction.
As the years went on, Peart branched out to lyrics exploring psychology, history, politics and science.
1980’s The Spirit of Radio contains one of Peart’s most famous/infamous lyrical mouthfuls: “One likes to believe in the freedom of music, but glittering prizes and endless compromises shatter the illusion of integrity.”
These ostentatious, extravagant lyrics are a key part of what makes Rush’s music so divisive.
Peart’s name has popped up in as many ‘worst lyricist’ lists as it has ‘best lyricist’ lists over the decades.
17. They first broke through as an opening act for Kiss
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Rush are often celebrated as probably the most intellectual and sophisticated of all stadium rock bands.
It’s perhaps ironic, then, that early on they toured as the support band for Kiss.
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With their make-up, pyrotechnic stage show and simple sound, Kiss were considerably less high-reaching than Rush.
This cartoonish, mainstream-friendly approach paid off for the New York glam rockers, making them the biggest-selling US rock act of the 70s.
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Reflecting on their time working with Kiss, Rush’s Geddy Lee has said, “there was no harder-working band than Kiss, and there was no band more determined to put on a spectacular show and give people their money’s worth.”
In recent years, Kiss lead singer and guitarist Paul Stanley named Rush his personal favourite of all the bands who ever opened for them.
16. The Police tried to start a feud with them – but they failed, because Rush didn’t mind
In the early 80s, when Rush moved away from prog rock to explore elements of new wave music, not everyone was impressed.
One party who had some issue with it was The Police, another hugely successful power trio of the time.
By Rush’s own admission, The Police were a huge influence on their early 80s work, in particular their use of reggae and African-inspired rhythms.
The Police drummer Stewart Copeland recalls that the band started talking trash about Rush – but it didn’t work, because Rush didn’t retaliate.
Copeland explained in 2018, at the time The Police were “trying to make noise and cause attention and throwing bombs wherever we could. Rush? That’s some place where we threw bombs.”
“And years later, it turns out Rush – [the] guys in the band, Neil Peart – is so Canadian that he didn’t even mind… And we became really great friends in spite of the fact that we used to criticize his band when we were just trying to get attention.”
15. They were asked to record a commercial fourth album, but made ambitious concept record 2112 instead
After the release of their second and third albums Fly by Night and Caress of Steel, Rush were in trouble.
These records saw the band move in a more experimental, progressive direction than on their more traditionally rock-oriented debut.
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Sales were low, and the band were under pressure from label Mercury Records to release something more radio-friendly, or they were in danger of being dropped.
Defiantly, Rush stuck to their guns and decided that if they were going to fail, they would at least do so on their own terms.
To this end they produced 2112, an ambitious sci-fi-themed concept album opening with the 20-minute title track.
To everyone’s surprise, the album proved a massive hit, and gave Rush’s career a new lease of life.
2112 is still considered one of the band’s definitive works, and the back cover’s ‘Starman’ logo has become the band’s signature image.
14. They sparked controversy by dedicating 2112 to Ayn Rand
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As a voracious reader, Neil Peart was an admirer of Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead.
Peart drew on this in the lyrics for 2112, and the album’s liner notes give ‘acknowledgement to the genius of Ayn Rand.’
This sparked outrage in some corners, as Rand and her writings are the basis of the controversial Objectivist movement.
Objectivism, which promotes self-interest as a virtue and condemns charity, has been widely criticised for its far-right leanings.
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This philosophy makes its presence felt in a number of Peart’s earliest Rush tracks, notably Fly By Night’s opening song Anthem.
In the years that followed, Rush would distance themselves from Objectivism and the cult of Rand; Peart stressed in a 2004 fan Q&A, “I am no one’s disciple.”
13. They’ve sold 40 million albums, making them one of the biggest rock bands ever
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With career album sales of 40 million worldwide, Rush are among the biggest-selling rock bands ever.
They’ve shifted 25 million units in the US alone, which makes them one of the 30 highest selling rock acts in American history.
The biggest selling Rush album of the lot is 1981’s Moving Pictures, which many consider their masterpiece.
Following on from their previous record Permanent Waves, Moving Pictures saw Rush develop a more mainstream sound, with shorter songs and extensive use of synthesisers.
Moving Pictures is famed for opening with probably their most celebrated song, Tom Sawyer. It also features the much-loved tracks Limelight, Red Barchetta, Vital Signs and YYZ.
To date, Moving Pictures has gone quadruple platinum in the US, selling over four million copies.
The band’s second-biggest selling album is 2112, which at present has gone double platinum in the US.
12. Recording 1978 album Hemispheres was so exhausting they subsequently abandoned epic prog-rock
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After the success of 2112, Rush’s credo was clear: the longer and more complex they could make their songs, the better.
The band continued on this progressive path with fifth album A Farewell to Kings, notable for featuring 11-minute epic Xanadu.
With sixth album Hemispheres, Rush set out to make their most technically accomplished work yet – but this took its toll on the band physically and emotionally.
Hemispheres contains only four songs – 18-minute opener Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres, shorter tracks Circumstances and The Trees, and nine-minute instrumental closer La Villa Strangiato.
However, the album took the band two and a half months to record; longer than 2112 and A Farewell to Kings had taken put together.
Geddy Lee says that he and his bandmates “greatly underestimated the level of overachievement that we were shooting for.”
The band were so exhausted after making Hemispheres that they resolved to shift gears and tone things down; the Rush albums that followed would sport shorter, comparatively simpler compositions.
11. Their live shows featured props including giant popcorn machines and inflatable rabbits
Rush were acclaimed as one of the best live bands of their time, but their presentation was often a bit on the strange side.
Early on, the band were influenced by their peers Kiss to try out pyrotechnics and outlandish costumes.
By their own admission, some of their stage clothes (often involving silk kimonos and cloaks) were pretty hideous.
However, even when Rush took to dressing more casually on stage, they chose some rather outlandish stage decorations.
These included oversized washing machines, popcorn makers and inflatable rabbits emerging from giant hats.
The band members took to referring to these bizarre stage show props as ‘diversions.’
10. Alex Lifeson said nothing but “blah blah blah” when Rush were inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame
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In April 2013, fans were delighted when Rush were inducted into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame.
The band were enthusiastically introduced by two of their most notable fans, Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters.
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The Foo Fighters also played live with the band on a rendition of the 2112 overture.
Grohl has since described the experience as one of the greatest moments of his life, professionally and personally.
In accepting the honour, Neil Peart and Geddy Lee gave articulate and grateful speeches – but Alex Lifeson gave an insight into his bizarre sense of humour.
The guitarist gave a lengthy speech in which he said nothing but the words ‘blah blah blah’ with varying inflexions of emotion.
Lifeson admitted afterwards that he had actually written a speech but he couldn’t commit it to memory, so he decided ‘blah blah blah’ would say it all.
9. The internet was once duped by a rumour that Neil Peart would be replaced by Meg White of The White Stripes
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Rush completed their last tour in 2015, and quietly retired in light of drummer Neil Peart’s ailing health.
The following year, social media was lit up with reports that Rush were poised to tour again, with Peart’s seat taken by Meg White of The White Stripes.
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While some rock fans appear to have taken this news seriously, it in fact originated from a satirical website.
White has long had to endure widespread mockery for her simple drumming style, which is a far cry from the complexity of Peart’s work.
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Rush didn’t officially announce their split until 2018, when Geddy Lee told Rolling Stone they would not tour again.
This was sadly made final when Neil Peart died in January 2020 from brain cancer.
8. Their song YYZ is based on the identification code of Toronto Airport
Rush, as we’ve established, always tended towards more eccentric and unexpected sources of inspiration for their music.
This was never more true than on probably the band’s most celebrated instrumental track, YYZ.
YYZ is the IATA airport identification code of Toronto Pearson International Airport, into which Rush would regularly fly when returning home.
The band said that the song echoed the happiness they always felt on getting back home at the end of a tour.
The song opens with Neil Peart playing that very code, YYZ, in Morse code on the chimes.
The ambitious track is considered one of Rush’s signature works, and was Grammy-nominated for Best Rock Instrumental.
In live performances, the song also became celebrated for featuring a lengthy and extravagant drum solo from Neil Peart.
7. They almost broke up in the late 90s after Neil Peart’s wife and daughter died
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In 1997, drummer Neil Peart was struck by a terrible tragedy when his daughter died in a car accident.
Soon thereafter his wife Jackie was struck down with cancer, which would also claim her life by summer 1998.
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In the wake of these harrowing events, the future of Rush as a band was uncertain.
Peart had reportedly told Lee and Lifeson, “consider me retired.” The drummer then embarked on a lengthy motorcycle road trip.
Peart would later document this journey in travelogue Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road, one of several travel books written by the drummer.
Eventually, Peart reached out to his bandmates in 2001 to see if they could try making new music again.
The result was Rush’s well-received 2002 album Vapor Trails, in support of which the band embarked on a world tour.
6. Their album Signals was a key influence on Trent Reznor
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Even among the most diehard of Rush fans, opinions vary when it comes to the band’s use of synthesisers.
Geddy Lee had introduced keyboards into the band’s sound as early as 2112, but the instrument had taken centre stage by the mid-80s.
Hints of a new wave influence were apparent on Rush’s first albums of the 80s, Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures, and this was explored further on 1982’s Signals.
As indicated by the album’s opening track Subdivisions, Signals saw Lee’s use of keyboards become the real focal point of the music.
This would have a formative influence on Trent Reznor, the musician who would go on to form pioneering industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails.
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Reznor has said that he considers Signals a groundbreaking album for demonstrating the potential of keyboards in rock music; territory which Nine Inch Nails and other acts would explore further in the 90s.
Keyboards would continue to be the focal point of Rush’s music throughout the 80s, often to the displeasure of their more rock-oriented fans.
5. Time Stand Still was the only time they played with a guest vocalist
Rush’s twelfth album, 1987’s Hold Your Fire, isn’t generally considered one of the high points of their career.
However, it does boast Time Stand Still, which many consider one of their best songs (even if the video they produced for it is unintentionally hilarious today).
Time Stand Still marked a significant departure for Rush for one key reason: it was their first and only collaboration with a guest vocalist.
Realising the song needed a female voice, the band enlisted Aimee Mann, then a member of new wave band ‘Til Tuesday.
Initially, Rush tried to get either Cyndi Lauper or Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, but neither were available.
This proved to be the first and only time another vocalist guested on a Rush record: Geddy Lee remarked years later that Mann’s contribution “really elevated the track.”
Aimee Mann would go on to solo success in the 1990s, most famously providing several songs for the acclaimed 1999 film Magnolia.
4. Neil Peart was unbearably shy around fans
As we’ve established, Rush’s Neil Peart had legions of admirers for his powerhouse drumming and poetic lyrics.
However, the man himself was infamous for his anxiety when confronted by adoring fans.
Admirers of Peart, including successful musicians, have spoken of how the drummer would quickly excuse himself whenever anyone began to shower praise on him.
Geddy Lee explained that Peart’s issue with gushing fans was “not a personal thing – it’s a shyness thing.”
Whilst Lee and Lifeson would appear at fan meet-and-greet appearances whilst touring, Peart would always avoid these.
Many commentators have noted that Peart’s lyrics to the song Limelight (“I can’t pretend a stranger is a long-awaited friend”) explain his anxiety.
3. They have so few unreleased tracks because they only focused on recording their best songs
Many rock bands wind up releasing massive compilations of previously unreleased tracks that didn’t quite make it onto their albums.
Rush have never done this, because they always went into their album sessions knowing which tracks they wanted to include.
Alex Lifeson explained to Rolling Stone, “That’s not how we’ve ever worked. The album is what it is.”
“We’re going to do eight songs. So let’s do those eight songs and concentrate on them and devote all of our time to them.”
“Why would you write 20 songs and pick the 12 best? Does that mean that the other eight are just bulls***? You were wasting your time!”
This explains why the bulk of Rush’s albums contain between four and eight tracks, although their later albums run a little longer with as many as 13 tracks.
2. They recorded 19 studio albums in 38 years
One of the things that Rush fans admire most about the band is their persistence.
Rush recorded their first 11 studio albums in as many years, from 1974’s Rush to 1985’s Power Windows.
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Never content to rest on their laurels, the band kept progressing and experimenting musically, and many fans believe their last few albums to rank among their very best.
Rush would ultimately bow out with their 19th album Clockwork Angels in 2012, although it wasn’t known this would be their last at the time.
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On top of their 19 original studio recordings, Rush also released 11 official live albums and 11 best-of compilations.
There was also 2004’s Feedback, an eight-track EP which was a change of pace for the band, made up of stripped-back cover versions of some of their favourite 60s rock songs.
1. Their famous fans include Paul Rudd and the creators of South Park
As we’ve established, Rush inspire rabid devotion among their fans, and many of those fans have gone on to huge success of their own.
Rush’s most famous fans include South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who have paid homage to the band in the animated series.
There’s also sci-fi author Ernest Cline, who devoted a large portion of his best-selling novel Ready Player One to discussing the band and their impact.
Perhaps the most famous Rush super-fans of them all are comedy actors Paul Rudd and Jason Segel.
The duo famously portrayed a pair of obsessive Rush fans in the movie I Love You, Man.
The actors would later explore this further in a Funny or Die sketch, in which the band themselves also appeared.
Nor is it just an act: Rudd and Segel are huge Rush fans in real life, and were among the first to pay tribute to Neil Peart following his death in 2020.