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RUSH - The Instrumentals

Updated on January 31, 2011

Great lyrics, but it's their music that I love

Over the years, Rush has put out some great music. Most of the time, they add some lyrics - good lyrics, no doubt - but for me it was their music that drew me in. And keeps me coming back. Listening to songs like Working Man, By-Tor and the Snowdog, 2112, the music keeps the story going when the words end.

And then, there were the instrumentals.

The first time I heard La Villa Strangiato, wow. And then YYZ. And after many long years, all the rest leading up to 3 instrumentals on Snakes and Arrows. And let's not forget the lyrical songs that they took and performed live as instrumentals, either on their own or in a medley (R30 Overture, anyone).

This lens is my celebration of all of Rush's instrumentals. As I go along, I'll also look at each song in more depth with a lens of its own, but for now I hope you enjoy this quick overview.

While you're here, take a moment to vote on your favorite Rush instrumental and share your thoughts and stories on this great music.

La Villa Strangiato - Hemispheres (1978)

It is nearly impossible to choose a single favorite Rush song, but if forced to make that choice I would to choose their first instrumental, La Villa Strangiato from Hemispheres. The studio recording is incredible in its own right, and the band takes it even further when they record it live. The performance on Rush In Rio is just fantastic.

Here's what Neil had to say about recording La Villa Strangiato for Hemispheres, and playing it live, in a series of articles in Modern Drummer (pulled from the Power Windows fan site archives):

[The value of editing in the studio] was brought home to me sharply during the recording of "La Villa Strangiato" for our album Hemispheres. For four endless days and nights we played that very long and difficult instrumental again and again! We wouldn't give up. Over and over we played it until our fingers were raw and swollen and our minds were drained and dark. We were determined to get the whole thing perfect, but in the end I just couldn't do it, and we ended up putting it together from a few different takes.

Three years and hundreds of performances later, it continues to change and improve tour after tour, and remains very enjoyable, challenging and satisfying to play. Sometimes it's a case of ambition overreaching ability.

YYZ - Moving Pictures (1981)

The first time I heard YYZ I was just blown away. From the opening sequence on the crotales by drummer Neil Peart all the way through to the end, I was hooked. It was only later that I learned that the title, YYZ, comes from the airport identification code of the Toronto airport and that the opening sequence I loved was the title as played in Morse Code: -.-- -.-- --.. (for a geek like me, that just made it even better!)

Like La Villa Strangiato, YYZ is a great live song. In fact, it has been featured on every live album released since YYZ was released. In some of the earlier concerts, such as in Exit...Stage Left, Neil's drum solo happens right in the middle. Talk about a great combination.

Moving Pictures [Remastered]
Moving Pictures [Remastered]

...but if you want this entire incredible album, you should go ahead and get it!


Live versions

The original studio recording is outstanding, but you haven't really heard YYZ until you've heard it live. My personal favorite is as the final song on Different Stages (disc 2). Unfortunately, it doesn't look like you can get anything from Different Stages as an mp3 from Amazon. (But that's OK, all three discs are worth having!)

What's your favorite live version?

Where's My Thing? - Roll The Bones (1991)

To slightly understate it a bit, I was very happy when Rush included Where's My Thing?, their first instrumental in nearly 10 years, on Roll The Bones. It went on to receive Rush's second Grammy nomination, though they would ultimately lose to Eric Johnson and his fantastic "Cliffs of Dover".

Leave That Thing Alone - Counterparts (1993)

If I was happy that Roll the Bones included an instrumental, I was almost giddy (no, not Geddy) when Counterparts showed up with Leave That Thing Alone. A great song on it's own, it also served as the introduction to Neil's drum solo on several tours and can be heard on the Different Stages and Rush In Rio concert albums. Leave That Thing Alone was the third Rush song to be nominated for a Grammy in the Best Rock Instrumental category. Sadly, it was also the third Rush song to not win the Grammy, losing in 1994 to Pink Floyd's "Marooned".

Rush vs. Pink Floyd - Best Rock Instrumental - 1994

No doubt, Pink Floyd is a great band with some great music. There is nothing quite like a David Gilmour guitar solo, and "Marooned" has plenty of his great work. But "Leave That Thing Alone" is a classic Rush work, not only standing strong on Counterparts, but serving duty on tour as the intro to Neil Peart's drum solos.

Hard choice.

Which song would you have voted for to win Best Rock Instrumental Grammy

Limbo - Test for Echo (1996)

Limbo, from Test For Echo, is another excellent instrumental from Rush. On this one, they got a bit playful and included some samples from the classic, "The Monster Mash". On his instructional drumming video A Work in Progress, in which Neil details the writing and performing of the songs on "Test For Echo", he describes the drum part as a collection of various bits and pieces, riffs and routines, that he had played around with throughout the recording sessions. I, for one, think it turned out fine.

The Main Monkey Business - Snakes and Arrows (2007)

Malignant Narcissism - Snakes and Arrows (2007)

Hope - Snakes and Arrows (2007)

Vote for your favorite Rush instrumental

Rush in the studio, recording YYZ maybe?
Rush in the studio, recording YYZ maybe?

What is your favorite Rush instrumental?

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