This week’s Cheap Tunes Tuesday post is dedicated to the memory of Neil Peart. The world-renowned drummer passed away last week from an aggressive form of brain cancer. RIP Neil, 1952-2020.
Neil was the drummer for the Canadian rock band Rush, which formed in the late 1960’s. The first incarnation of the band performed in 1971 and the group was managed by a man who simply attended their shows. Peart however, didn’t join until 1974—just two weeks prior to their first U.S. tour. His first gig was opening for Uriah Heep and Manfred Mann at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh in front of over 11,000 people. Little did the band know, adding Peart would change the course of Rush history forever.
Peart began taking over the lyricist duties—something lead singer Geddy Lee had very little interest in doing. Because of the shift in operations, Lee and guitarist Alex Lifeson could focus solely on the music. They began to move the group’s sound to one with a much different progressive rock touch that would end up being the absolute signature for the band. Peart began writing lyrics about his love of fantasy and science-fiction, and quickly Rush was finding their path into a new-found success.
With the change in direction, they began creating music with chapters—almost as though they were trying to play out a novel in music form. Most the of songs had an atmospheric quality to them and focused on story-telling, not just the simple rock standards from their early work. When their first album using this approach failed to sell, the label wasn’t so sure about the new recipe. Rush ignored the doubters though, and released 2112 in April of 1976.
Mercury Records considered dropping the band when presented with the effort, but they ultimately backed it, following negotiations with their manager. The centerpiece is the 20-minute title track, a futuristic science-fiction work that took up the entire first side of the vinyl upon release. The response was immediately positive and it outsold the previous album within months. It would end up being Rush’s breakthrough in the U.S. market, selling nearly five million copies here to date. Many consider it to be the top prog rock album of all time and it’s listed on various other “top” lists across all media.
Listening to 2112 today in the year 2020, it’s obvious this was such a risk and an incredible departure from what mainstream music was like back in this time. Unlike typical offerings in 1976, this would have been such an amazing album to put on, and just sit back and enjoy the amazing arrangements and its melodic nature.
Everything about 2112 comes together so well, it’s truly a piece of music history—but Peart’s drumming shines through across all 40ish minutes. Neil always had state-of-the-art drum kits and more than 40 different drums were not out of the norm. He had a very precise playing style and on-stage showmanship. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing Rush live, you’d swear Neil had an extra four or five arms, just because the drumming sounds were absolutely relentless. You’d be certain there was more than one man on that riser whaling away.
I can’t think of any better way to pay tribute to an absolute music legend than listening to a little 2112 today. Coincidentally, the album is only $5.99 right now, which is one of the happiest accidents this blog has ever seen. Neil was unquestionably one of (if not the) best drummer of all-time. If not this album, toss on your favorite Rush record today in honor of a legend.
Top 3 Tracks: