There are many reasons why Rush are one of the most well-respected bands of all time. Primarily, you could argue that this is because each of its three members, frontman and bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and late drummer Neil Peart were all virtuosos in their own right. Duly, they rank among the most influential musicians in their respective fields.
As a bassist, Geddy Lee is one of the finest rock has ever seen and makes a strong claim for being the best in everything that rocks and rolls. He fused hard rock with jazz, and in playing his bass akin to a lead guitar, he dovetailed with Lifeson creating a punchy sound, that many have tried and failed to imitate.
As for Lifeson, his licks have inspired legions and continue to do so today. Arguably the first alt-metal guitarist, the names he can count as disciples are mindblowing. This stellar list includes James Hetfield of Metallica, Jim Martin of Faith No More, John Petrucci of Dream Theater and Steven Wilson. Technically proficient and able to straddle numerous different styles in one song, Lifeson gave Rush the frills that they needed to take their music to truly stratospheric levels.
Then we have Neil Peart. Perhaps the most significant drummer of all time aside from John Bonham and Ginger Baker, it’s no coincidence that his skills are still what young drummers aspire to emulate nearly 50 years after Rush first broke through. Leaning from the best, such as Gene Krupa, Buddy Guy and Ginger Baker, Peart formed his own dextrous style and gave Rush that dynamic edge that made them stand out from the crowd.
Together, this genius trio created some of the most iconic rock tracks of all time, cementing their place in the vast annals of history.
One of their most enduring pieces is ‘The Spirit of Radio’ from 1980’s Permanent Waves. The song has permeated film and TV since its release, most notably featuring in the 2009’s Paul Rudd and Jason Segal comedy I Love You, Man, bringing the band to a new generation of hapless stoners.
Starting with Alex Lifeson’s most instantly recognisable riff, it remained a key part of Rush’s live shows until their split in 2018. Of the riff, Lifeson told Classic Rock in 2006: “I just wanted to give it something that gave it a sense of static – radio waves bouncing around, very electric. We had that sequence going underneath, and it was just really to try and get something that was sitting on top of it, that gave it that movement.”
Whilst Lee and Peart shine on the song, it is Lifeson who steals the show. Listening to the isolated guitar track, you really get a measure of just how brilliant his part is. Drenched in chorus and phase, the opening riff is made even more mindblowing by the absence of the other instruments. That lick he does before it moves into the main riff is also a thing of beauty, echoing the swagger of Hendrix and Page as he slides up.
During the opening section, one thing is made instantly clear. Alex Lifeson knows the notes on a fretboard like the back of his hand. Furthermore, the jangly chords that he lets ring out during the chorus are also some of his best; they garner such an emotive response. Then, as it segues into the reggae part, his solo, aided by the use of wah, confirms that Lifeson is the most constantly surprising guitarist of the era.
There are many parts floating in and out, and all are a testament to his skill and concentration levels. It’s a masterclass in how to use the guitar to full effect.
Listen to the isolated guitar for ‘The Spirit of Radio’ below.