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YYZ (pronounced Y-Y-Zed) is an instrumental rock piece from the 1981 album Moving Pictures. Following its initial release, it became one of the band's most popular pieces and has been a staple of the band's live performances. It appears on all live concert video recordings following its release (except R30 where it was performed during that show, but omitted from the DVD, and "Exit...Stage Left" concert DVD, where the song is not performed live, but rather used as a backdrop during a brief talk set by the band.) On both the live album Exit...Stage Left (1981), and the concert video recording A Show of Hands (1989), a version of the track is played with drummer Neil Peart integrating his full-length drum solo.

Title and composition[]

YYZ is the IATA airport identification code for Toronto Pearson International Airport, of Rush's native area of Toronto. It is common practice for air navigation aids to broadcast their identifier code in Morse code using VHF omnidirectional range (VOR). A plane using VOR equipment would then always know it's tracking the right station. The song's introduction, played in a time signature of 10/8 (not 5/4 as the eighth note clearly is receiving the beat, not the quarter note), repeatedly renders the letters "Y-Y-Z" in Morse Code using various musical arrangements.

"YYZ" rendered in Morse code
- . - - - . - - - - . .

"YYZ" is structured on the sectional arrangement of A-B-C-B-A (with each of these sections containing smaller subsections). The song starts with the YYZ Morse Code played by Peart on the crotales (A). The guitar and bass join this pattern, using the dissonant interval of the tritone (also known as the augmented 4th or diminished 5th) to distinguish Morse Code dots and dashes. The guitar and bass render the code by playing the root note of C for the "dashes" and the tritone F# for the "dots". In live performances, the synthesizer part is played by bassist/keyboardist Geddy Lee using a pedal MIDI controller (Korg MPK-130 & Roland PK-5) while he simultaneously plays the bass part. After two cycles of the melody, the synth ceases, and the bass drops one octave, the introduction ending on the guitar, bass, and drummer making hits on only the "dashes". A brief (one measure of two-four time; i.e., a half-note rest) pause follows, before the next section.

The next section features the guitar, bass, and drums playing stop time scale runs for three measures in melodic and rhythmic unison. The first two measures of this section follow scale patterns in several keys, before resolving to set up the key of the following section. The next pattern follows a verse structure, going from an F#m (F# blues scale) tonality to a Am (A blues scale) tonality and back again. Alex Lifeson then introduces another theme, this time in a B mixolydian tonaliity, while Geddy plays supporting bass notes which follows the new chord progression. The chord progression is B7 to C major with each player's part interacting with the other melodically and rhythmically.

In the next section (C), the guitar provides structure with rhythmic B7 and C7 chords, with the bass and drum trading fills at the end of each section. After the final, extended drum fill, the guitar solo is based on the 5th mode of E Harmonic Minor, sometimes called B Phrygian dominant, amongst other names. As the B major and C major chords are the V and bVI chords of the key of E minor this is a brilliant musical deduction on Alex's part, as using this scale helps him to achieve a seamless integrated tonality in the solo (and quite exotic sounding too), rather than basing his solo lines on a more jagged, tonally clashing approach, such as basing his lines on alternating B mixolydian and C mixolydian (He does this, interestingly enough on his solo in The Camera Eye, although using Db and C major/mixolydian scale lines, to great, seamless success). The solo climaxes with a legato, descending guitar lick followed by a soaring synthesizer break accompanied by equally soaring guitar lines. Following this section, the song returns to the earlier sections introduced in the song, after which it ends in a musical run with rhythmically synchronized bass and drums (with the guitar sustaining its last note from the previous section), a short reprise of the odd time tritone intro, and finally- by using the F# note in the tritone riff as a dominant (V) of sorts- the song's final cadence is a 4-note descending B minor pentatonic scale in unison by bass, guitar, and rhythmically by drums, ending on a B note to close the song.


Drummer and lyricist Neil Peart has said, in reference to the airport code, "It's always a happy day when YYZ appears on our luggage tags."

Awards and nominations[]

'YYZ' was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Rock Instrumental category in 1982. YYZ somehow lost to 'Behind My Camel', by The Police, from their album Zenyatta Mondatta.

Performances by other artists[]

The song has been covered in whole or in part by:

  • Godsmack (in 'Batalla De Los Tambores' on the Changes live DVD),
  • Primus (in the performance of 'John the Fisherman' released on their 1989 live album Suck on This and in full during other concerts). Also by Primus, in the beginning of their song 'To Defy the Laws of Tradition', a triangle is played to the rhythm.
  • Umphrey's McGee,
  • Dream Theater (as Majesty),
  • Armia (on Soul Side Story live album, titled Yyzz).
  • Muse (during live performances in Canadian cities)

YYZ has also been featured as a playable encore song in the video game Guitar Hero II, as a downloadable song in the Rock Band game series, and is featured in the recent Guitar Hero: Smash Hits game as the only instrumental on the game. Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson performed the song with Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins during a concert at Toronto's Air Canada Centre in March 2008. The metal band Atheist has stated that their upcoming album will include a cover of 'YYZ'.