the hockey theme

#808: Remembering Neil – Ten of his Best

Forever I’ll be grateful for Neil Peart.  If there was ever one shining example of a rock star you’d want to emulate, it was Neil Peart.  He was a giant.  Musically he was untouchable.  Considering Rush have 19 studio albums and other odds and ends in their discography, it’s a daunting task to make a list of the best.

Probably half the list fell together immediately.  The other half was agonizing.  Focusing on songs, not necessarily solos, made it a simpler task.  Any one of Neil’s big live solos are essential listening anyway.  “The Rhythm Method” on Different Stages comes highly recommended.

At one point I had nine tracks and needed one more.  I asked Facebook for help.  Facebook responded with so many great runners-up that I have to list them.

  • “War Paint” (T-Rev)
  • “The Pass” (Leo)
  • “Afterimage” (Leo)
  • “The Body Electric” (Jamie)
  • “Xanadu” (Jamie)
  • “Mystic Rhythms” (Jamie)
  • “Animate” (Jamie)
  • “Between the Wheels” (HMO)
  • All of Hemispheres (Uncle Meat)
  • “Natural Science” (Scotty G)

A good showing for Presto tunes there, notably.  T-Rev always loved that album.  Ultimately I used none of these suggestions and completed the list below.  A list that I believe are the 10 best songs to represent Neil Peart.

All of these songs (above and below) will enrich your lives.  Enjoy.  And rest in peace, Neil Peart OC (Order of Canada), one of our proudest native sons.


Novelty #11: 

The Hockey Theme

I use the term “novelty” with a caveat: really, only because the song is 70 seconds long.  Neil’s arrangement of the classic Hockey Night in Canada theme written by Dolores Claman deserves note as one of very few tracks credited to him as a solo artist.  This track shows off his roots and his ability to make anything sound heavy!  Yet dig in and listen to his meticulously arranged drum part.  He put just as much creativity into this as he did any of Rush’s originals.


#10:

“One Little Victory”

A victory indeed!  Neil suffered immeasurable tragedy in the late 1990s when he lost both his wife and daughter.  He disappeared on a motorcycle, remaining out of sight for five years, the wind on his back as he sought healing.  His return was “One Little Victory” from Vapor Trails with a crescendo of power drumming.  It’s Rush saying, “He’s back, baby.  The Professor is back!”


#9:

“Bravado”

This track from Roll the Bones is a personal favourite.  Well, they all are, but this one is for just one moment in time. At 3:50 of the song, Peart performs a drum roll that I can only describe as pure ecstasy.

And if the music stops, there’s only the sound of the rain.


#8:

“Red Sector A”

80s Rush rules! Neil was using more and more electronic percussion, but to no less lethal effect. Give this number from Grace Under Pressure a spin.  The programmed pulse of synth topped by the crashing clank of Neil’s electronic drums give this track a digital, otherworldly feeling.  By this time, Peart’s cymbal work was just as interesting as what he was doing elsewhere on the kit.  Listen to him ride that beat and accent it with the perfect touch.


#7:

“The Spirit of Radio”

This enduring track from Permanent Waves is a lyrical and rhythmic triumph.  It’s easy for cynics to mock descriptive phrases like “Invisible airwaves crackle with life, bright antennae bristle with the energy.”  But there is no denying the truth that is “Emotional feedback on a timeless wavelength, bearing a gift beyond price, almost free.”  Music.


#6:

“Cygnus X-1”

A Farewell to Kings was Rush during their progressive peak, a stream of albums with side-long concepts.  “Cygnus X-1” utilises such Peart favourites as bells.  And it’s 11 minutes about a black hole.


#5:

“Cotton Tail”

In 1994, Neil Peart organized the Buddy Rich tribute album Burning For Buddy, uniting the Buddy Rich Big Band with drummers such as Dave Weckl, Steve Smith, Matt Sorum, Simon Phillips, and of course Neil with his debut in the jazz section.  His groove on “Cotton Tail” is unlike anything he’s done in Rush. It’s unreal that he could master both rock and jazz like this.


#4:

“Vital Signs”

80s Rush rules!  Introducing reggae vibes seems natural in hindsight given Neil’s willingness to explore new rhythms.  Peart’s creativity knew no bounds.  His delicate touch on the Police-like “Vital Signs” (from Moving Pictures) is so good that it should probably be higher on this list.  But there are some key tracks still to come.


#3:

“YYZ”

Rush’s most famous instrumental.  This number showcases all three of Rush’s members.  Of course Neil Peart’s drums are in integral part of it all.  And there’s a reason they call him “The Professor”.  According to minds more musical than mine, “The piece’s introduction, played in a time signature of 10/8, repeatedly renders “Y-Y-Z” in Morse Code using various musical arrangements.”


#2:

“Subdivisions”

This track from Signals exemplifies Neil’s philosophy of drums as an active part of the composition of a song.  Every beat matters; everything the stick hits is a hook.  Never before have the drums been so integral a part of what makes a song truly great.


#1:

“Tom Sawyer”

The quintessential Neil Peart song.  Iconic, untouchable.  Barenaked Ladies even quoted his famous drum part in their song “Grade Nine”. When people think of Rush 100 years from now, it’ll be the image of them jamming “Tom Sawyer” at Le Studio, with Neil framed by that big window and snowy landscape behind.

 

 


Epilogue:  Meanwhile, in England…

Sarge from the piercing shop Metal Fatigue in Bournemouth tells us “I have been listening to Rush…ALL DAY.  Really loud.  He added, “I did 40-odd piercings today with that soundtrack!!”  Absolutely brilliant.

REVIEW: Neil Peart – “The Hockey Theme” (2010 single)

NEIL PEART – “The Hockey Theme” (2010 single, iTunes)

For my international friends and readers, you’re just going to have to take my word for it that this little tune is one of the most iconic pieces of music in our nation’s great history.  Mike Myers called it “Canada’s second anthem”.  If you’re home on a Saturday night, it’s a given that any true hoser is watching Hockey Night In Canada.  That theme song was the anthem that said, “Alright fans, go get your beer and your jerseys, the action starts now.”

I won’t get into the details of why this song isn’t the theme to Hockey Night In Canada anymore, but the song was picked up by another network, and it still kicks off hockey games every week — just not on Hockey Night in Canada.

In 2010, Neil Peart did a drum and horns version of the theme song, and put it up for sale on iTunes.  People bitched that they had to pay $1.29 for a song that was barely over a minute long.  All I can say to those people is, don’t buy it.  It you’re really huffing and puffing about paying $1.29 for a simply incredible piece of music by the world’s greatest drummer, then it is possible that you may in fact have no soul.

If you’re familiar with Neil’s work on the Burning For Buddy albums, then you already know that he tends to really kick traditional arrangements in the nuts.  And that’s what he does here.  He turns “The Hockey Theme” into a stomping, fill-laden anthem that is perfect for kicking off just about any mix CD that you have in mind.

Now, if we could only get an actual hockey season happening this year, we’d be talkin’!

5/5 stars