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Rush’s Neil Peart: 12 Essential Songs

From “2112” to “Tom Sawyer,” we look back at some of the legendary drummer-lyricist’s high-tech highlights

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“Neil Peart, that’s a whole other animal, another species of drummer,” Dave Grohl told Rolling Stone in 2018, responding to a question about whether he could ever sit behind the kit for Rush. It’s a sentiment pretty much unanimously agreed upon in the rock world: Peart’s feats on his instrument, the way he powered Rush’s brain-bending songs for 40 years, with a combination of jaw-dropping technicality and artful eccentricity, did make him seem downright superhuman. Add in his lyrical gifts, which fueled both the band’s conceptual prog-era epics and its heartfelt hits in the Eighties and beyond, and you have a polymathic talent with no real peers in his field.

It would take dozens of tracks to represent the full scope of Neil Peart’s genius as a percussionist and wordsmith, but consider these 12 — which stretch from the first Rush album he appeared on in 1975 to the trio’s final LP close to four decades later — as an invitation into the wider world of the man they called the Professor.

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Neil Peart performs on stage at Ahoy, Rotterdam, on May 3rd, 1992.

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“Stick It Out” (1993)

After their synth-heavy mid-Eighties phase, echoes of which lingered in well-written but brittle-sounding albums like 1989’s Presto and 1991’s Roll the Bones, the hard-rock Rush roared back on 1993’s Counterparts, one of the heaviest records of the band’s entire career. Lead single “Stick It Out” flaunted a dark, imposing heft that seemed perfectly in step with the grungy Nineties. And Peart was up to his old tricks, syncopating his hi-hat part in the intro to throw the listener off and then crashing in with a thunderous backbeat. His lyrics, which caution against burying your true emotions, round out a track that epitomizes the band’s leaner, meaner modern incarnation. Peart himself, a musician seemingly allergic to rock machismo, saw the track a little differently: “That song, I would say, both lyrically and musically, verges on parody,” he said.

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Neil Peart performs during a sold-out show at the MGM Grand Garden Arena September 21, 2002 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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“One Little Victory” (2002)

Rush took an unplanned five-year break in the late Nineties and early 2000s after their drummer suffered a pair unimaginable losses: the deaths of his daughter and common-law wife within the span less than a year. Peart later wrote that, at the time, he told his bandmates “consider me retired,” but after a long, cathartic motorcycle journey, he returned to the band. His first notes on record after his hiatus — a thrash-metal-worthy double-kick-drum barrage, topped off by nimble snare accents — showed that at age 50, he was still a seemingly superhuman force behind the kit, a sensation driven home by the song’s carpe diem lyrics. During the writing of “One Little Victory,” Peart initially had a subtler drumming approach in mind, but his bandmates encouraged him to come out swinging. “I’d been working on that tune and came up with that double bass part,” Peart told Modern Drummer. “I thought it worked perfectly for the end of the song. But Geddy said, ‘That’s a great part. You ought to open the song with it. That would just kill.’ Frankly, I wouldn’t have done it that way — I don’t think I would have been so assertive — but Geddy suggested it and I said, ‘OK, I’ll try it.’”

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Drummer Neil Peart of Rush performs in concert at the AT&T Center on November 30, 2012 in San Antonio, Texas.

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“BU2B” (2012)

In retrospect, the end of Rush, both in the studio and onstage, seems like a master class in how to wind down a legendary rock career with dignity fully intact. Their last album, 2012’s Clockwork Angels, fused the punch of their Nineties and 2000s catalog with the epic narrative sweep of their Seventies masterpieces. “BU2B” was a clear standout: a bruising hard-rocker driven by a steely, determined Peart groove. As monolithic as his drumming felt here, you could also hear his beats breathing more, reflecting the influence of his mid-career mentor Freddie Gruber, who he paid tribute to on Clockwork Angels track “Headlong Flight.” Lyrically, “BU2B” (an abbreviation for “brought up to believe”) found Peart championing freewill and rejecting the idea of blind faith, notions that captivated him throughout his career. The album’s steampunk-esque setting was new for the band, but the basic theme — the individual’s struggle against conformity — stretched all the way back to the “Anthem” days. “This is more about his personal upbringing and values that were instilled into this character,” Lee said of how “BU2B” laid out the background of the album’s protagonist, “and this is what you find when he goes out and faces this world that is not so cool.”