One of the most heavily praise-gilded cult bands you will ever stumble across, Rush are the Canadian kings of prog rock. The gorup’s expansive sound has seen them become the go-to group for millennial “I don’t suppose you’ve heard of this band..” frivolity. A triumvirate of influential musicians, Geddy Lee on bass is a revelation, while Alex Lifeson is an understated guitar hero. However, no further discussion can be necessary on the band’s undoubted leader — their drummer Neil Peart.
Despite joining the band last, Peart quickly rose to not only be the gorup’s chief lyricist and one of its foremost composers but also saw ‘The Professor’ be regarded as one of the most pivotal rock percussionists of all time. If you needed any proof of such a bold claim, then revisit his iconic drum solo from ‘YYZ’ back in 1988 below for all the required evidence.
Peart was treasured for being an incredible drummer and for being the creative driving force behind much of Rush’s glory years, with him taking up the duty for also writing the majority of the band’s lyrics, something which resonated with their adoring fan base. However, with ‘YYZ’ being an instrumental track, it lets Peart off his leash, and his insane drumming performance sounds is perfected in his landmark solo.
The track would feature on their 1981 album Moving Pictures and it wouldn’t take long before the track became an absolute live favourite among the band’s avid fanbase. The title ‘YYZ’ is actually 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 said in interviews that the rhythm stuck with them. 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.
In a 2012 interview in which Peart went 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.” 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.”
That’s what the band did, using their musical chops, they somehow managed not only to convey the ideas and notions that swirl around somewhere like an airport but capture the emotions of the people inside them. The fact that Peart can almost do this exact same thing with just his drum kit is proof of why he’s one of the greatest.
Check out Neil Peart’s mesmerisingly brilliant drum solo during Rush classic song ‘YYZ’ back in 1988.