YYZ (pronounced Y-Y-Z) 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 compositionEdit

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 5/4, repeatedly renders the letters "Y-Y-Z" in Morse Code using various musical arrangements.

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

"YYZ" is structured in the following arrangement: 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 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". The synthesizer melody played over this arrangement is an example of the Locrian mode. 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 guitarist, bassist, and drummer playing up- and down-scale runs for three measures (the first and third in common time and the second in two-four time), in unison. The first two measures of this section demonstrate the use of a C# natural minor scale juxtaposed against a C tonic so as to create a hybrid octatonic scale effect (i.e., the first, second and (flat) third degrees of C# natural minor—C#, D# and E -- functioning as the b2 (Db), #2 (D#) and 3 (E) of the C half-whole diminished scale; the fifth, (flat) sixth and (flat) seventh degrees of C# natural minor—G#, A and B -- functioning as the #5 (G#), 6 (A) and 7 (B) of the C whole-half diminished scale; the 4 (F#) of C# natural minor functions as the tri-tone (#4/b5) of both octatonic—i.e., half-whole diminished and whole-half diminished—scales. Notably, this two-bar phrase begins with, and resolves to, C. The third and final bar of this section constitutes a brief modulation to F# Lydian. The next pattern follows a verse structure, going from an F#m9 chord to a Am9 chord, then back to an F#m9, then to a Am9 again. Alex Lifeson plays another riff along with a F#m9 chord, where the bassist plays supporting bass notes. The chord structure goes from a F#m9, to a C altered dominant chord. This cycle of riffs repeats twice.

In the next section (C), the guitar provides structure with rhythmic B major and C7 chords, with the bass and drum trading fills at the end of each cycle. After the final, extended drum fill, the guitar plays an oriental scale oriented solo in B Phrygian dominant. The solo climaxes with a guitar run, followed by a synthesizer break. Following this section, the song returns to the arrangement established earlier in the song, after which it ends in a musical run combining bass and drums (with the guitar sustaining its last note from the previous section), a short reprise of the tritone section from the beginning held at the end according to a fermata, and finally, a short run in unison by bass, guitar, and drums 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 nominationsEdit

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

Performances by other artistsEdit

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'.

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