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[2020-08-11] Break It Down: Spirit of Radio by Rush - THUMB

Break It Down: 'Spirit of Radio' by Rush

08/12/2020 12:00 PM

By Leila Abdul-Rauf

Rush -- Canada's greatest power trio of all time – enjoyed a career spanning five decades, ever evolving their unique style of technical progressive rock. Neil Peart transformed the drums into a lead instrument, front-and-center with the guitar and bass. It's also unusual for a non-singing drummer to be a band's primary lyricist, but that's what he became after he joined Rush in 1974.

Alex Lifeson live in Toronto, 2010

Rush -- comprised of vocalist and bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart -- took no creative shortcuts, always straying from the standard rock-and-roll formulal. They built their career on longer songs with many riffs in quickly changing time signatures, and sounded more like a six-piece instead of a trio. In the 80s, Rush's sound evolved into a more progressive-infused pop style. Their 1980 hit "The Spirit of Radio" topped charts in the US, UK and Canada and eventually made it into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll in 2010.

Clocking in at almost six minutes ¬(on the short side for a Rush song!), "The Spirit of Radio" starts with a solo guitar riff containing a series of sixteenth notes that repeat over several measures, in E Mixolydian. Mixolydian is a mode, a type of scale dating back to the Middle Ages and based upon the music theory of Ancient Greece. E Mixolydian is basically an E major scale with the 7th flatted:

E F# G# A B C# D(natural) E

The rhythm section makes its impressive appearance after a few repetitions of the guitar intro, the bass and drums riffing so tightly together note-for-note on a heavily syncopated lead, they sound as one. Next, all three band members join together to play the most recognizable riff of the song at 0:36, a blues-based rock groove, until the verse section comes in with the following chords:

E B G#/E A A-B

Geddy Lee's voice makes its introduction, his signature mezzo-soprano, almost bell-like, singing lyrics ¬– penned by Peart, of course – lamenting about the free days of radio and how it changed to a more commercialized format.

Geddy Lee live in St. Paul, 2008

Following the chorus section (E D E D E), an instrumental bridge enters at 3:12 shifting the meter from 4/4 to 7/8 to shake things up a bit, before returning to the chorus and guitar intro. A reggae breakdown suddenly comes in at 4:09, drastically changing the mood. Here, the lyrics make some clever play on words ("profits" instead of "prophets"): "For the words of the profits were written on the studio wall, concert hall and echoes with the sounds of salesmen, of salesmen, of salesmen."

The reggae section and blues-rock groove move seamlessly back and forth until a raging guitar solo closes the song. The slower tempo here makes the ending all the more epic. Rush's compositional style doesn't easily lend itself to the pop format, but they nailed it with "The Spirit of Radio."

Leila Abdul-Rauf is a multi-instrumentalist and composer based in Oakland, CA. Leila is guitarist and vocalist for metal bands Vastum, Hammers of Misfortune, and ethereal post-punk band Terebellum. She also composes and produces ambient music under her own name, with electronic trio Ionophore, and with synth-folk duo Fyrhtu. She has toured internationally and is a private guitar and voice teacher in her spare time.

"Neil Peart" by Weatherman90 at en.wikipedia is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

"Alex Lifeson" by Clalansingh is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

"Geddy Lee" by Weatherman90 at en.wikipedia is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

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