It’s easy to forget the contribution of Alex Lifeson, Rush’s sensational guitarist. With Geddy Lee as the bassist and Neil Peart as the drummer, the prog-rock giants are some of the most widely revered musicians in rock meaning Lifeson is sometimes overlooked as a pivotal part of that set-up. But when you isolate his guitar sounds, you get a searing reminder of his insane talent.
The unique truth of Rush, of course, is that Lifeson was the only one out of the trio who was there from the start. While Lee joined a month later before Peart took the group to another level following his recruitment in 1974, Lifeson has been the beating heart for decades. The guitarist is often cruelly left off the list of the best guitarists of all time, for no reason we can really see, but his influence on the group can’t be underestimated and he is a truly pioneering player. On ‘Limelight’, he really shows his chops.
The song arrived as part of Rush’s 1981 album Moving Pictures and is widely regarded as one of the finest songs on the record. While the lyrics came straight from ‘The Professor’ Neil Peart and the music came from his counterpart, Geddy Lee, it is Lifeson’s guitar sound that takes the track to new heights. Those heights would peak at number four in the charts and remain one of the band’s most popular songs in a rich canon.
In a 1988 interview, Geddy Lee shed some light on the track and its origins in the nucleus of fame: “‘Limelight’ was probably more of Neil’s song than a lot of the songs on that album in the sense that his feelings about being in the limelight and his difficulty with coming to grips with fame and autograph seekers and a sudden lack of privacy and sudden demands on his time…he was having a very difficult time dealing with.”
While Lifeson and Lee were better equipped to deal with fame, Peart struggled with autograph hunters and the like. “Being very much a person who needs that solitude,” continued Lee, “To have someone coming up to you constantly and asking for your autograph is a major interruption in your own little world.”
It may well be one of Peart’s more personal songs but there is no doubt that the best moment of the track comes from Alex Lifeson and his amazing solo, it’s a piece which Lifeson enjoyed immensely too. “It’s funny,” he recalled, “After all these years, the solo to ‘Limelight’ is my favourite to play live. There’s something very sad and lonely about it; it exists in its own little world. And I think, in its own way, it reflects the nature of the song’s lyrics—feeling isolated amidst chaos and adulation.”
Lifeson manages to achieve this sound with his hallowed ‘Hentor Sportscaster’, a Frankenstein guitar — a modified Fender Strat with a Floyd Rose vibrato arm — to create his archetypal tone. It is this performance which critics point to when asked to define the sound of Rush. While Lee and Peart are incredibly important to the band’s success, to overlook Alex Lifeson’s contribution is a gigantic mistake.
Below, get a reminder of Alex Lifeson’s talent with the isolated guitar track for Rush’s song ‘Limelight’.