Geddy Lee and the bass guitar are a match made in heaven and, reflecting on his work, one of his best performances of the two working in tandem comes through the instrumental ‘YYZ’—a track in which Lee puts on a bass masterclass. It’s the kind of song that can act as judge and jury when discussing who would take the title of rock’s greatest bassist.
Lee, widely regarded as one of the most inventive bass players of all time, has helped prove that the instrument is much more than a background addition. By pushing it to the forefront of the band and Neil Peart’s dynamic drumming that was central to Rush’s unique sound.
‘YYZ’ is the perfect example of Rush’s brilliance and sees Lee steal the show with his bass performance that is likely his finest moment on a four-string. 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, and growing, 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.” It’s a unique proposition for a song.
Without needing to use lyrics, the band still managed to achieve what they set out to do and create that feeling of reunion without saying any words at all. This is truly a testament to their incredible skillset, and that feeling is remarkably reached with Lee’s bass alone — proving he’s one of the best ever to pick up the instrument with every single plucked note.
Check it out, below.