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Neil Peart’s Solos Ranked

by Omar on February 20, 2009

in Drummers, Editorials

source:  Snakes & Arrows tourbook

source: Snakes & Arrows tourbook

Who doesn't like drum solos? Well, maybe some people don't. If drummers these days dare to solo during their band's show, they run the risk of the 'beer break' syndrome: the boring part of the concert where the drummer is just rambling on (on the drums, that is), and it's a good time for a break from the music (I'll have a Corona)! These days, solos are not as integral to a band's concert as in days of yore, but in those days, everybody was doing them! Even if the drummer wasn't that good, a drum solo was expected. Not necessarily so these days. However, there's at least one drummer who, when his solo's up, no one leaves for beer. It's actually one of the highlights of the show. And that drummer, of course, is Neil Peart.

Sometimes I wonder that Mr. Peart (can I call him Neil?) is somewhat of an enigma in the drumming world. He's not the fastest drummer (nor I don't think he ever was), he's not the most technical drummer (nor I don't think he ever was), but for some reason, you can't take your eyes off anything he does. He has such a commanding presence. You cannot take your eyes off of him, especially when he's about to go into his solo. Your eyes widen and your jaw drops when he goes into his double-handed crossover pattern. Yes, other drummers do this, but when he does it, there's something different.

I believe in part that it's because you never know what he's going to do next. There are some aspects of his solos that have always been there, and there are always new things he throws in. Being that the case, you never know how he's decided to arrange his solos this time around. If you listen to his solos straight through (an exhausting exercise!), they always seem to graduate from the previous in some way. They just get better and better.

Well, here we all are, in 2009. Rush has published, either via LP/CD and/or DVD, eight of Neil's solos from 1976 to 2007. Here they are, in order of appearance:

Thank goodness the Anatomy of a Drum Solo DVD included the drum solo from the Counterparts tour, because that was a gem.

These solos are all great, but how do they rank against each other? You'd figure that the drum solo in, say 1998 would be better than the one in 1976, right? But is that necessarily so?

Well, I believe it's time someone put these solos in their proper context. The Paradiddler is going to take it upon himself to rank the solos, from worst to first, in a series of articles exclusively on Mind you, none of these solos are bad at all. They are excellent. But after closer examination, I found that, yes, the order of appearance does not necessarily determine the quality of the solo. There are other circumstances, other factors, that have to be considered in order to determine which solo is better than the other. It's not only the technical complexity of the solo that determines the ranking, but also how 'on' Neil was that night.

"Now wait a minute!" you may say. "Don't the band pick out, at least for the CD's, which drum solo, and which song's from the tour, to include in the CD? Don't they pick the best one?" Well, you would think so. But in my opinion, there was at least one instance where they didn't pick the best one of the tour, and I'll explain why when I get to that one. That may have affected the ranking of that particular solo.

Now I have to impose a caveat. I'm not in Neil's head (obviously!). When he reads this series of articles (well, I hope he reads it!), I don't want him to think that I know what he was thinking each time. This is from my perspective, a fan, who's followed his career, and I have a pretty good idea of how to judge his solos, comparing them to each other. Maybe he'll agree with the whole list!

Let me tell you what this list will not include: solos outside of Rush. I'm limiting it strictly to solos published within the context of a Rush concert. We all know of his performances for Burning for Buddy and, more recently, the Buddy Rich Memorial Concert held back in October of 2008. Those were pretty good solos too, but we're excluding those for this exercise. Bootleg-released solos also are excluded.

The next series of articles will break down each solo, and the reason why it ranks where it does. Not broken down like in Anatomy of a Drum Solo, of course - Neil's already done that! There will be some surprises to some, I'm sure, but I think I have it right. Everyone, of course, is invited to comment, especially you, Neil! Agree, disagree, whatever. Lists, rankings like these tend to be somewhat subjective, so I want to know what you have to say. Stay tuned! You won't want to miss this series.

Number 8

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