It’s happened again. We’ve lost yet another giant from the rock world. And, not just any giant, but arguably the greatest drummer of all-time, Rush’s Neil Peart. Peart has been long held alongside Buddy Rich and The Who’s Keith Moon as the three greatest drummers ever. And as great as those men were, Peart was actually a man with no peer, as he took what those other two men accomplished, mastered their techniques, amalgamated them, and took them light years beyond. As many have stated in their own tributes to the man, Neil Peart was the Maestro.
As all rock know, Peart was not the original drummer of Rush. No, that honor belonged to John Rutsey. But, when Rutsey abruptly bolted the band due to health reasons after the first album, guitarist Alex Lifeson and bassist Geddy Lee regrouped with Peart before the second album, and the rest was history. Finally, Rush had a drummer who could push the others sonically and lyrically, allowing the band to bridge the gap between hard rock, heavy metal, progressive rock and jazz.
Just like most people my age, I discovered Rush during the summer of 1976 when a friend of mine told me about their album 2112. Personally, I was blown away by the science fiction lyrics, as I was a science fiction nerd at the time. The playing was like a cross between Yes and Led Zeppelin, making it doubly cool to a teenage boy. Sure, I recognized the lyrically allusions to Ayn Rand’s writings, as I was reading her stuff too. Now, every teen is totally moved by the fact that they feel as though every adult is trying to stifle them, so Rand’s writing should appeal to them. And, when a band’s lyrical content is based upon her philosophy, then you gotta listen to them.
Now, as I got older and studied more and more literature, history and science, I noticed the major faults in Rand’s philosophy, as did lyricist Neil Peart. So, as the years passed, the band’s music and lyrics moved onward. Sure, Peart remained a libertarian as such, but the band’s musicianship continued to evolve. Now, I am no Rush fanatic, just a rock fan who admired the band’s evolution from prog metalists to prog pop/rockers to prog synth rockers back to prog metal gods. Their evolution has been one of the more fascinating travels in rock history, and all along they maintained their rabid fan base in addition to their integrity. And, for that, the band should be respected.
Now, in retrospect, I fully understand why Peart said at the end of the band’s last tour that he was retiring, although Lee tried to say otherwise. At the time, I thought Peart was simply ready to move on toward other life goals, when in reality he was beginning his last stand against brain cancer. Unfortunately for us, his drum set has been silenced.
Now, to really get a full appreciation of Peart’s abilities, go back and listen to any of the band’s hundred or so live albums, all of which have yet another example of his drum solos. But, to get a full overview of his important place within Rush, I present my 25 favorite Rush songs in honor of the Maestro. Oh, and Rush fanatics, please give me a break for not placing your favorite piece on my list.
25. “Roll the Bone” (Roll the Bone, 1991)
24. “Clockwork Angels” (Clockwork Angels, 2012)
23. “Distant Early Warning” (Grace Under Pressure, 1984)
22. “Anthem” (Fly by Night, 1975)
21. “Workin’ Them Angels” (Snakes & Angels, 2007)
20. “Nobody’s Hero” (Counterparts, 1994)
19. “Fly by Night” (Fly by Night, 1975)
18. “Finding My Way” (Rush, 1974)
17. “YYZ” (Moving Pictures, 1981)
16. “Subdivisions” (Signals, 1982)
15. “A Passage to Bangkok” (2112, 1976)
14. “Time Stand Still (with Aimee Mann)” (Hold Your Fire, 1987)
13. “Freewill” (Permanent Waves, 1980)
12. “Far Cry” (Snakes & Arrows, 2007)
11. “Jacob’s Ladder” (Permanent Waves, 1980)
10. “Working Man” (Rush, 1974). The song that started everything for the band. May have taken a couple of years, but the rest is history.
9. “The Trees” (Hemispheres, 1978). This lyrical allegory for the cession movement of Quebec from Canada back in the Seventies is the start of Rush applying their sound to pop structures.
8. “Red Barchetta” (Moving Pictures, 1980). Once again, this song about a car carries a much deep meaning about one’s self as well as society.
7. “Closer to the Heart” (A Farewell to Kings, 1977). This song should have been a big pop hit, even with all the prog rock flourishes it contains.
6. “New World Man” (Signals, 1982). The great thing about Rush is how while they were musically embracing new technologies, lyrically their were displaying skepticism in those same technologies.
5. “Tom Sawyer” (Moving Pictures, 1981). Mark Twain’s most famous title-character is the perfect lyrical starting point for Rush. In the fantastic band documentary, Beyond the Lighted Stage, Peart even admitted that this song was a nightly challenge for him to play perfectly. Imagine that! And, it sounds so easy.
4. “Limelight” (Moving Pictures, 1981). Once again, a seemingly brilliant pop song has a complex musical arrangement along with lyrics that bare Peart’s uneasy toleration of being a rock star. After nearly 40 years, this song is still so perfect.
3. “La Villa Strangiato” (Hemispheres, 1978). This song (or is it a suite?) was the culmination of Rush’s most prog rock tendencies taken to its ultimate conclusion in the studio. Once again, according to Beyond the Lighted Stage, the band recorded this song in three parts and spliced it together. Then, they had to learn to play it live, with all of those crazy changes in time signatures. This just might be the band’s ultimate calling card.
2. “2112: Overture/The Temple of Syrinx/Discovery” (2112, 1976). 44 years after the fact, how could one band made of three musicians ever create this? This song blew away all of my preconceptions of what rock could be and could do. Rush may have started this whole prog Zeppelin thing on “By-Torr and the Snowdog” and perfected it on “La Villa Strangiato,” but this became the band’s mission statement of sorts.
1. “The Spirit of Radio” (Permanent Waves, 1980). Now, if you cannot sit through a whole side of a Rush suite and want to hear the band’s sound distilled to the length of a radio pop song, then this is the song for you. You get everything that makes Rush great: crazy time changes, prog rock posturing, lyrics that only a middle class suburbanite kid could understand and a not one, but two hooks within one song. You get the whole Rush vision in a song too short for a radio DJ to take a restroom break. It doesn’t get any better than that!