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Neil Peart Solo Number 4 – Exit… Stage Left, 1981

by Omar on March 19, 2009

in Drummers, Editorials

source:  Exit... Stage Left DVD

source: Exit... Stage Left DVD

The Sentimental Favorite

Coming in at number four on the countdown towards Neil Peart's best solo is from "YYZ" recorded on Exit... Stage Left (ESL) (1981). This performance occurred on March 27, 1981 at The Forum in Montreal, Quebec (yes, that's Canada).

Now, this ranking may cause a bit of an uproar. Poll after poll (that I've started in various places on the Internet, and comments that the fans have made) shows that this particular solo seems to be a favorite among Rush fans. The word 'best' seems to be thrown in there frequently as well. I do have my theories on this. But as I always do, I will reveal why this solo ranks fourth on the countdown.

I contend that a large percentage of Rush fans became fans during the Moving Pictures era. Moving Pictures to this day remains one of Rush's most successful releases, so it makes sense that many Rush fans relate to that era. Geddy Lee in an interview once mentioned that Rush fans tend to like most the era in which they became Rush fans (even though for the band, the best era is usually the latest one!). In a previous article entitled "The Best Drummer In the World Is...", I mentioned that I too was introduced to Rush during the Moving Pictures era. Kiss was my favorite band at the time, but once I finished hearing "Tom Sawyer" that put an end to that! It only took one song. And it only took some of the greatest drumming I'd ever heard.

And then along came ESL, and I was even more hooked. I loved the sound of the drums and bass. I loved how the guitar was not overbearing, as is typical in a lot of rock, but was blended just right within the context of the songs. I just couldn't get enough of ESL, particularly, of course, the drum solo! This version of "YYZ" might be the best recorded version of them all, even if it didn't include the drum solo; but the fact that it did just makes it that much more enjoyable to listen to (the shortened version found on the CD/DVD Grace Under Pressure concert may come in second - arguably).

This was one of those nights where Neil had it, whatever it is. It was flawless. The single-stroke accented roll at the beginning was spot-on - no mishaps, very fluid, articulate, and fast. Neil's youth was definitely on display that night (I believe he was 28 years old then. Where were we in our lives when we were 28?). What I particularly liked about this section of the solo was when he transitioned from the roll to then adding the bass drums, he lost no speed or accuracy -he just kept going. Here's a sample:

Snare to Bass intro

As a young lad, I was very impressed by the way Neil made the drums sound like you were at a horse track - the first time I'd heard anyone do that:

Horse Track 'Trumpet' Fanfare

He did go on to use it again in a future solo (on Different Stages), but this one was way better.

Now here's something that may have gone completely unnoticed by most everyone, except me (well, maybe Neil)! Very much later, on his Anatomy of a Drum Solo instructional DVD, Neil mentions the 'floating snare'. He demonstrated how he, while keeping a steady beat with the bass drum, plays seemingly random-like all over the toms, while intermittently striking the snare. It seems like he's always playing the snare while simultaneously playing the toms, implying a sort of 'floating snare' sound - no matter what tom he's hitting, the snare just seems to always be 'there' somehow. In the ESL solo, we start to hear the beginnings of what later Neil would term the 'floating snare'. It's subtle, but it's there (floating!). Have a listen:

Birth of the Floating Snare

No Neil Peart solo would be complete without having him go crazy at some point. Well, he does it here as well - it's one of my favorite passages of any of his solos:

Organized Chaos

This solo is chock-full of little goodies, from a young Neil Peart that seemed beyond his years, delivering a classic solo that's revered to this day. It's definitely one of my favorites, and of many others as well. Alas, much to many fans' chagrin, it is not the best solo by Mr. Peart. Why, pray tell?

Well, for starters, this solo's short. It's the shortest solo on the countdown, clocking in at about 3:13. That doesn't leave much room for exploration. However, the solo was within the context of a song (unlike "Der Trommler", which was all by itself), so that reason's practically a wash. But in comparison with the remaining solos on the countdown, its length (or lack thereof) prevents it from having the grandness that the remaining solos have. This solo's statement was more like, "Here's my submission to the 'world elite drummers club'. I'm a force to be reckoned with." The solos remaining make even bigger, bolder statements, as you'll see when we get to them. Technically speaking, though, this solo is as good as any on the countdown (and better than at least four of them!). But as Neil himself will attest, it's not just about chops, or technical ability. A solo is almost like a song; a story of sorts. It's lyrical. When a drummer can make a drum solo lyrical, it truly is something to behold. The ESL solo just barely lacks in this department, hence it rates no higher than fourth. But a very respectable fourth at that!

Be that as it may, the countdown's getting just fierce with the remaining three. Stay tuned! The best is yet to come.

Number 5 | Number 3

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

KW GEORGE August 13, 2013 at 10:06 pm

1981 YYZ Drum Solo is one for the record books….. I’ve yet to hear anyone create such an awesome masterpiece…not saying that there aren’t other great drummers out there but this solo is the king of solos in everyway hands down. Neil Peart is “The professor” on the drum kit indeed.


Frederick Lukens May 5, 2010 at 2:59 pm

It’s a phenomenal solo, but I still like the “Working Man” solo off “All the World’s a Stage” better – just listen to Neil back then, he can’t top it now. I mean I know he’s been through a lot and all but he was so much better before. I’m sure he’s capable of doing what he did before again.


Skip Daly June 19, 2009 at 12:33 pm

This is my #1. What a solo…


Omar June 19, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Hey Skip.

This for a long time was my favorite solo. In fact, I’m one of the multitudes of Rush fans that became so during this era. Although I think Neil has put out better solos (objectively speaking), this solo holds a special place in my heart (subjectively speaking).


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