Five Beautiful Neil Peart Drumming Moments

Neil Peart, Stewart Copeland and John Bonham often sit atop the lists of the three greatest rock drummers of the '70s and '80s.

Few compare to Bonham's powerful grooves, Copeland's off-kilter beats, or Peart's complex runs. But today isn't about ranking them haphazardly. or trying to get a debate going.

Today is Neil's birthday, the first we've had to experience without him, the heart of Rush's unique sound. So let's spotlight five great drumming moments he brought to the rich tapestry of rock.

"YYZ" - Exit Stage Left version (1981)

YYZ - the airport code of the Toronto International Airport, and also Rush's first instrumental to be nominated for a Grammy

Back in the day live albums were beloved because they sometimes revealed slightly different versions, extended takes, longer guitar solos, or in the case of "YYZ," a chance to see if Neil was really capable of performing all the witchcraft live that we were treated to on the original Moving Pictures studio version. Peart upped the ante and added to his legend on the live track, adding even more complexity to the already impossible-to-airdrum number.

Of note: "YYZ" begins in 10/8 time so as to tap out the morse code of the letters YYZ (-.-- -.-- --..) making one wonder if Rush were truly that nerdy, wicked showoffs, or the biggest patriots Canada has had since Bob & Doug McKenzie.

The studio version earned Rush their first Grammy nom for Best Rock Instrumental Performance which they lost to The Police's "Behind My Camel," a song 2/3 of the Brits hated.

Cygnus X-1 Book II of Hemispheres (1978)

There's this viral video of a prank where two brothers "gave" a pool house to a young man. When the actual owner of the house, the father of the brothers, started screaming for everyone to leave, a third stranger, a person with long hair and a beard said, "daddy, chill."

The father paused for a second to keep his brain from exploding and yelled WHAT DA HELL IS EVEN THAT?

One could only imagine that was a direct quote from radio executives worldwide when they heard the 33 minute album, more than half of which was the incomparable "Cygnus X-1 Book II." It was not "Closer to the Heart from the previous album nor was it "The Temples of Syrinx" from 1977's 2112. But it wasn't that far from the albums those radio hits came from.

The beautiful thing about Rush was that they could create album-side magic like "Cygnus" and incorporate a deep and yet radio-friendly tune like "The Trees" that would help it fly off the shelves. But once a listener paid attention to the musicianship, led here by the drummer, they would always remain a fan of the Canadian trio.

First known live drum solo with Rush, 12/16/74, Cleveland, OH

Yes this recording is historic because it is the first one to capture an early show of Rush after Neil replaced its original drummer.

But we also get to hear Geddy Lee introduce Mr. Peart with the proper pronunciation: pɪərt (like ear).

Neil Ellwood Peart was just 24 years old at this show in Cleveland. "Working Man" had already put Rush on the map, and he came in to take the band to the next level both lyrically and behind that (then-) humble kit. The snare probably isn't micced. They'd already played a full set. And yet there's Neil with power and touch to spare.

Drum Solo, 9/24/2004, Frankfort, Germany

Peart's creativity was expressed just as wonderfully in his lyrics as in his solos. To celebrate their 30th anniversary, Rush toured the world and in Germany set up a camera crew to record their show in Festhalle.

The drum solo Neil did, on basically two drum kits, electric percussion, and a floor tom that sounds like a garbage can full of thunder, is unlike you've probably ever heard before.

The R30 show in Frankfort that was turned into a DVD.

But then Neil does the unexpected by mixing it with big band jazz, not usually the headspace many progressive players immediately jump to. But there it is and it matches wonderfully.

Last drum solo, The Forum, Inglewood (August 1, 2015)

Neil's last song with Geddy and Alex was "Working Man" but before that, a little earlier in the set, he played his last drum solo for "Cygnus X-1" : a six-minute masterpiece of precision and technique.

Not only was it beautiful to watch and listen to, but you can see how his style has changed since he originally recorded it decades previously.

The pressure must have been intense as he knew physically he was no longer in top condition, the band was celebrating it's 40th anniversary after all. But also in the audience were amazing peers including Stewart Copeland, Taylor Hawkins, Doane Perry, and Chad Smith.

Plus he was quietly fighting brain cancer. But, as always, Neil came through and amazed us all.

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