Listen to Alex Lifeson’s sublime isolated guitar from Rush ‘YYZ’
Geddy Lee and the late Neil Peart more often than not take the lion’s share of plaudits when it comes to Rush’s excellence, but one key component that is somewhat taken for granted is Alex Lifeson’s sublime guitar skills—a factor which is a complete joy to behold, especially on this isolated version of the iconic ‘YYZ’.
Lifeson was the only one out of the trio who was there from the start with Lee joining a month later before Peart took the group to another level following his recruitment in 1974. The guitarist often is cruelly left off the list of the best guitarists of all time but his influence on the group can’t be underestimated and he is a truly pioneering player.
‘YYZ’ is the perfect example of Rush’s brilliance with Peart, Lee and Lifeson all putting in a performance that’s up there with the best that they ever made during their reign together, a time that saw the group become one of the most well-loved groups on the planet. The guitarist is on excellent form on this number which sounds even better when it is isolated and Lifeson’s brilliance is brought to the forefront of ‘YYZ’.
The track, which featured on the band’s 1981 album Moving Pictures, wouldn’t take long before the number became a real live favourite among the group’s avid fanbase. The title ‘YYZ’ comes from the IATA airport identification code of Toronto Pearson International Airport, near Rush’s hometown.
A VHF omnidirectional range system at the airport broadcasts the YYZ identifier code in Morse Code which Alex Lifeson introduced to his bandmates. Peart later explained in interviews that the rhythm stuck with them and became part of their creativity. The piece’s introduction is played in a time signature of 10/8, repeatedly stating ‘Y-Y-Z’ in Morse Code using different musical arrangements.
“Talk about an organic release, that came when we were flying in one time and hearing from the cockpit this morse code rhythm and I said wouldn’t that be a neat introduction,” said the late Neil Peart in 2012 on the behemoth of a track.
He then continued: “This song is an instrumental but it’s about YYZ airport, it’s about airports so we have these exotic moods shifting around and then the gigantic emotional crescendo of people being reunited and being separated, so it was very consciously a cinematic twist on an airport.” It might seem odd to write a song about airports but that’s exactly the kind of band Rush were.
Peart explained to CBC that although the song was about airports, it was the functional side of things that appealed to them, it was “the bustling part, the very emotional part of it, you know, re-greeting each other, and all the laments. That was a conscious thing, to try to weave in some of the moods of airports into the song.”
Without needing to use lyrics, the band still managed to create that sense of reunion they set out to reach for without needing to say any words at all. This is truly a testament to their incredible skillset of all three of them but Lifeson’s guitar alone plays a pivotal role in Rush creating that sonic feeling.