The Spirit of Radio

Almost one year ago, I published a blog post on the 1981 single “Limelight” by the Canadian band Rush, and shared a little of the band’s history I had either recalled or read up on. Today, I’m sharing a song they released 43 years ago next month.

I still remember the buzz the song created when “The Spirit of Radio” hit the airwaves; other than listening to vinyl records or cassette tapes (sometimes known as compact cassettes) and the soon-to-be-phased out eight-track tape, radio was one of the primary ways to consume music in the early 1980s, before compact discs (or CDs, first manufactured in late 1982), and well before the internet and streaming services. For car audio, in those days, many people recorded vinyl albums onto blank cassette tapes; I did that a lot to enjoy my record collection in the car, using premium cassette tapes like the Maxell XLII-S to maximize sound quality for playback. I felt it wasn’t piracy as long as it was personal use of an album I owned. I still have a lot of those old tapes kicking around…

Today’s selection begins with the cheery narrative of a start to the day that is accompanied with a song on the radio. Later in the piece, lyricist Neil Peart (1952-2020) writes more cynically about the record industry and its obsession with profits and artistic control, which, as a June 2021 article from Classic Rock magazine points out, eroded the sense of “adventure” in radio and, in Rush’s case, put pressure on the band to produce shorter, more radio chart-friendly pieces. (In response, in 1976, Rush recorded a 20-minute title track for the album 2112.)

“The Spirit of Radio” is a high-energy, upbeat, catchy tune, and the hardest-working threesome in rock music — drummer Peart, guitarist Alex Lifeson (b. 1953) and lead singer/bassist Geddy Lee — churns out a ton of sounds on it.

“Off on your way
Hit the open road
There is magic at your fingers
For the Spirit ever lingers
Undemanding contact
In your happy solitude.

Invisible airwaves
Crackle with life
Bright antennae bristle
With the energy
Emotional feedback
On a timeless wavelength
Bearing a gift beyond price –
Almost free…

All this machinery
Making modern music
Can still be open-hearted
Not so coldly charted
It’s really just a question
Of your honesty

One likes to believe
In the freedom of music
But glittering prizes
And endless compromises
Shatter the illusion
Of integrity

‘For the words of the profits,
Are written on the studio wall,
Concert hall –
Echoes with the sounds…
Of salesmen.’”

“The Spirit of Radio,” by Neil Peart, Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee.
Official lyrics retrieved from the Rush website.

“The Spirit of Radio” is the opening track from Rush’s seventh studio album, Permanent Waves (1980). The band released the song as a single in February of that year.

Below you’ll find the official video for the song from Rush’s YouTube channel. The animated film was released in 2020, about six months after Peart’s death and contains an in-memoriam dedication at the end. The video is filled with radio-themed imagery and is quite a clever production.

And for those who enjoy a live performance, here’s an unofficial video from a 1984 show in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, which was the band’s home city.

With my best wishes,

Steve

PS: On rare occasions, and for some unknown reason, email subscribers may see a “video not available” message after clicking “play” on the video pane in the email message. If this happens, please follow the link at the bottom of the message to visit the website post and you will be able to play it from there.

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