Toronto Pearson International Airport, Toronto

YYZ by Rush

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Named in honor of the late Canadian Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Lester Bowles Pearson, Toronto International Airport is located 14 miles Northwest of downtown Toronto, the city from which progressive hard rock band Rush originates. Operating since 1939, Toronto International is the largest and busiest airport in Canada, handling almost half a million aircraft movements per year. The IATA code, the identifying code that appears on passenger luggage and that is used by pilots during navigation, is YYZ. It is after this code that the band has named one of their most famous tracks, the eponymous "YYZ."

Richard Serra's Tilted Spheres inside Pearson International Airport Photo: <a href="" target="_blank">Ian Muttoo</a>, via Flickr, CC 2.0Richard Serra's Tilted Spheres inside Pearson International Airport Photo: Ian Muttoo, via Flickr, CC 2.0
"It's always a happy day when YYZ appears on our luggage tags," says Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist for the band.

"YYZ" was first released on the band's 1981 album, Moving Pictures. This, the band's eighth studio album, became the band's most successful album, rising to #3 on the Billboard Charts in the US. It has remained one of the band's most popular albums and sold more than four million copies by 1995. Moving Pictures was also one of two Rush albums to be included in the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die catalogue. "YYZ" is a four and a half minute instrumental track that has become one of the band's most popular songs, frequently featured in live shows and now even available for wannabe rock stars to perform on Guitar Hero II, Rock Band and Guitar Hero: Smash Hits. Whether this is Rush cashing in on their song, or testament to the public's affection for "YYZ," fans of the band can now enjoy mastering the song on their gaming consoles.

"YYZ" begins in less common 5/4 time with an iteration of the IATA code, chimed in Morse Code on the crotales (antique cymbals made of bronze or brass). The song structure relies heavily on this Morse Code motif made apparent by the use of dissonant intervals between guitar and bass to signal the difference between dots and dashes. The structure of the song is very specific, never straying far from the YYZ Morse Code interplay between the notes of the tritone, C and F#. Despite the technical, almost mathematical precision of the song, "YYZ" remains a great example of instrumental metal with driving drum beats and screaming guitar riffs intrinsic to the style, while incorporating synthesizer melodies and other unique instrumentation. The crashing sounds heard during the guitar solo are in fact wind-chimes being slapped against a wooden table.

In 1982, "YYZ" was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Rock Instrumental category. Although it lost to The Police, the popularity and commercial success of "YYZ" has ensured Rush's continued fame into the 21st Century with covers of "YYZ" performed by rock legends like Godsmack and Dream Theatre. Most recently, indie rock megastars, Muse, have taken to performing "YYZ" between songs during their live performances, particularly during those shows performed in Canada.

Formed in 1968, Rush have outlived many of their contemporaries and continue to release albums and tour the globe today, as popular as ever, due in part, perhaps, to 13 year old Guitar Hero fans who are now dedicated Rush fans. Innovative in the developing days of heavy metal and progressive rock, Rush have maintained their ingenious and complex compositional style while still managing to appeal to a large audience. Third in most consecutive gold or platinum albums sold by a rock band, behind only The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, the Canadians have never forgotten their roots, continuing to perform "YYZ" perhaps as a reminder of their humble beginnings in their home town, Toronto.

Suzanne van Rooyen
April 13, 2013
Thanks to Carl Scarpulla for suggesting this Songplace.

Suzanne is a tattooed storyteller from South Africa. Although she has a Master's degree in music, Suzanne prefers conjuring strange worlds and creating quirky characters. Her published novels include Dragon's Teeth, Obscura Burning, and The Other Me.
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Comments: 1

  • Rik Between Pns And Vps from Navarre, FlGreat little article about one of my favorite songs by my very favorite band. I will be flying to YYZ for the first time in July '16. Looking forward to seeing that code on my luggage tags. It will be a happy day, indeed.
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