If one band could stake a claim to be comprised of the most gifted musicians in rock music then Rush would be that band. Not only did they have the mercurial wizard of bass in Geddy Lee, nor the axeman Alex Lifeson, but they also had ‘The Professor’ himself, Neil Peart. Today we celebrate the legendary percussionist by bringing you five isolated drum tracks that prove he’s a genius.
Sadly gone too soon, passing away a year ago today, Peart was famed for being the powerhouse creative drive behind much of Rush’s prog-rock glory. The drummer became synonymous with expert musicianship and meticulous artistry. In the myriad of sonics that often accompanies Rush’s songs, there is no better way to see this skill than in these stunning isolated drum tracks from some of the band’s biggest songs including ‘Tom Sawyer’, ‘2112’ and ‘YYZ’.
Peart’s contribution to music is undeniable. Not only was he a creative songwriter but his precision when drumming showed off to a whole generation why sitting behind the kit wasn’t all Bonham-style power and Moon-style animalism. It was something that could be measured and profound at the same time.
After Peart passed away, Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl led tributes saying: “An inspiration to millions with an unmistakable sound who spawned generations of musicians (like myself) to pick up two sticks and chase a dream. A kind, thoughtful, brilliant man who ruled our radios and turntables not only with his drumming but also his beautiful words.
“I still vividly remember my first listen of ‘2112′ when I was young,” Grohl added. “It was the first time I really listened to a drummer. And since that day, music has never been the same. His power, precision, and composition was incomparable. He was called ‘The Professor’ for a reason: we all learned from him.” He was then asked what he would say if he was offered the chance to take Peart’s place for a show, to which he replied: “I’d say ‘I’m not physically or musically capable, but thanks for the offer.’ Neil Peart, that’s a whole other animal, another species of drummer.”
It is that species of drummer which can be heard in the tracks below as we dive into five isolated drum tracks which hands down prove Peart’s genius.
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Peart was treasured for not only being an incredible drummer but also for being the driving creative force behind much of Rush’s glory years, with him taking up the duty for also writing the majority of the band’s lyrics which resonated greatly with their adoring fan base. However, with ‘YYZ’ being an instrumental track, it lets Peart be able to be let off his leash and his insane drumming performance sounds even better isolated.
The track would feature on their 1981 album Moving Pictures and it wouldn’t take long before the track became a real live favourite among the band’s avid fanbase. In a 2012 interview in which Peart goes through the seminal album track-by-track and said this on the monster ‘YYZ’: “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.”
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.”
‘Spirit of the Radio’
The song, taken from 1980’s Permanent Waves, was created out of not only CFNY’s motto at the time: “The spirit of radio” but a deliberate attempt to match up to the radio. Peart told CBC about the track: “I remember coming home very late and CFNY Radio was on the air, and as I was cresting the escarpment with all of the lights below of Hamilton and the Niagara Peninsula, where I lived at the time, with a fantastic combination of music that was on at the time,” he confirmed.
He added: “The song itself, musically, is switching between radio stations, with a reggae section at the end, the second verse is new waves, I’m playing like a punk drummer there, and that was all intentional.”
It makes the track one of the band’s most difficult to perform live but, judging by the isolated drums below, Peart didn’t find it too straining as he shows off his powerful command of percussion. The Professor’s ability to make ghost notes land as loudly as those enlivened with his trademark precision means this performance may well be one of Peart’s most impressive.
“We made three albums in 18 months from the time I joined the band,” Peart once said when discussing the song. “By the time we did 2112, we had a whole month to write, rehearse and record that album, so it was done under the rawest of circumstances but with such conviction and enthusiasm. We were so angry at that time.”
While the commercial world was apparently demanding a snappier and more stripped back affair, ‘2112’ would prove them all wrong: “The tale happens to be about the individual against oppression, and that was us, it’s how we felt. And it worked, it was our commercial breakthrough with a 20-minute song on one side. It spoke.”
In the clip below, it’s possible to hear not only the anger and frustration of the band but the struggle at the heart of the song’s sentiment. The fact that we can hear these nuances through Peart’s performance on a drum kit is truly magical. While countless bands and drummers have tried to emulate him, it’s damn near impossible to match-up with a true great.
‘La Villa Strangiato’
The track, as much of Rush’s back catalogue, is a nine-minute instrumental piece designed to engage the brain’s imagination and allow the audience to make their own poetry. It’s archetypal Rush and, perhaps more pertinently, it’s the ultimate showing of Peart’s unbelievable patterns.
To be a rock a drummer one must have a certain sense of panache, an aggressive power only ever a moment’s deliberation away and the ultimate metronomic timing. Peart manages to not only encapsulate all three on this piece but also create vivid sonic landscapes while he’s doing it.
The song features on the band’s 1978 album Hemispheres and has the revealing subtitle of ‘An Exercise in Self-Indulgence’. The track was recorded in around 40 takes and saw Peart and Geddy Lee work tirelessly to capture the perfect sound. The pair often joked that the recording of the song took longer than Fly By Night in its entirety.
One of the band’s most iconic tracks was also born in the most natural ways, it’s conception almost immaculate. After Peart had worked with Pye Dubois and Max Webster on the lyrics, next was the drumbeat, which Peart, along with the rest of the band, improvised through providing a keen vision of his dynamic mind.
The drummer told CBC of the song’s composition, “That song finds us at a time of such confidence that we were learning to make a song that was only six minutes instead of 12, 15, and use the same standards of arrangement.”
Adding: “The drum is so detailed, but when we go into the middle to the odd time part, it was improvised. I got lost and I punched my way out of it and somehow came back to the one. And that improvisation became a new part…. It’s one of those key parts that I love and it was absolutely a mistake that I just got lucky and got out of.”