After its release on Mercury Records and PolyGram, it reached number 25 in the U.K. singles chart in October as the follow-up to the band’s breakthrough hit, The Spirit of Radio, which was released only a year and a half earlier. In the U.S., it reached number 44 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 8 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. In 2009, it was named the 19th greatest hard rock song of all time by VH1. The song was also featured on several Rush compilations, such as “Chronicles” (1990).
Tom Sawyer, titled after Mark Twain’s literary character, was co-written with Canadian lyricist Pye Dubois, lyricist of rock band Max Webster. During a rehearsal one summer on a farm just outside Ontario, Peart was presented with a poem of Dubois’ entitled “Louis the Lawyer” (Louis the Warrior), which he later modified and, with the help of Lee and Lifeson, set to music. According to Peart, the original lyrics were “a portrait of a modern-day rebel, a free-spirited individualist striding through the world wide-eyed and purposeful.” He stated that “the themes of reconciling the boy and man within and the difference between what people are and what others perceive them to be,” were later added by him.
Tom Sawyer has been featured in several movies such as “The Waterboy” (1998), “Rob Zombie’s Halloween” (2007), “Fanboys” (2008), and “I Love You, Man” (2009), as well as television shows such as “Chuck”, “Family Guy”, “Trailer Park Boys”, “Freaks and Geeks” and “Futurama”. On July 16, 2008, the band made its first American television appearance in 33 years, performing the song during an airing of The Colbert Report.
A cover version of the song is included in the popular video game Rock Band.