For millions of Rush fans old and new, it’s a pleasure to see the world’s greatest power-trio riding as high today as they did back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, when they first catapulted to arena rock superstardom on the heels of such classic albums as 2112, Hemispheres, Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures. And over the years, each of the three members have established themselves as iconic figures on their instruments. Many consider Neil Peart the greatest rock drummer alive – if not ever – while Geddy Lee’s skills on the bass are remarkable (even more so when you see that he plays like that while singing!)
Then we have guitarist-extraordinaire Alex Lifeson, who has carved out his own estimable and indelible niche in the pantheon of guitar heroes. In a band known for its intricate detail and complex musical landscapes, Lifeson’s guitar work is the paintbrush that completes the portrait.
From Rush’s 1981 Moving Pictures album, “YYZ,” which gets its name from the identification code for the Toronto Pearson International Airport (Rush’s hometown), is an instrumental piece that lets all three members shine. Lifeson’s solo, in particularly, is a wonderfully meandering, almost schizophrenic dance, not unlike the frazzled flight of a bumblebee that’s just been sprayed with Raid and is frantically trying, and failing, to maintain altitude until it crashes to the ground.
Of his solo on “Freewill,” Lifeson told Gibson.com "It's a really hard solo to play. I think I feel a certain amount of pride in that fact alone. Every time I play it, I'm amazed I got through it. It's so frenetic and exciting… Recording it, I didn't have anything planned; I was just responding to what the other guys did. Basically, I was just trying to keep up! But I think it worked out pretty well. I'm rather happy with it, and I can usually find fault with everything I do."
8. “Kid Gloves”
From Rush’s 1984 album Grace Under Pressure, Lifeson spoke about his solo on “Kid Gloves”: “It's got a hip, kind of slinky attitude, a little goofy humor. When I play it, I feel a certain confidence, also like a prankster, which is not the way I am in real life at all. What's funny about it, too, is that it has a plot to it, and I only realized that after I recorded it for the first time — I never have a plot in mind when I'm recording solos; I always just kind of wing them. The “Kid Gloves” solo guided me; it's like it knew what it wanted to be, and I just had to allow myself to follow."
7. “The Trees”
Starting with a classical guitar prelude (and often preceded in concert by the classical piece “Broon’s Bane”), Lifeson takes us on a diverse musical journey, soft and plaintiff at first, then utterly bone-crunching until he humanely takes the foot off the pedal for a mid-song respite just so we might catch our breath. His solo, though relatively brief, is sublime and perfectly moves the narrative forward.
6. “Closer to the Heart”
Released in 1977 from their A Farewell to Kings album, Lifeson’s guitar work on “Closer to the Heart” is inspiring and uplifting, from the first indelible and beautiful acoustic riff to the monolithic thunder-crunch of his transition to electric. His solo captivates with a soaring ascension up the fretboard. Lifeson’s full skills are on display here.
When “Xanadu” fades in, like an otherworldly fog enveloping you without your notice, Lifeson hypnotizes you with a series of ethereal and random notes that eventually coalesce into a string of six eerily repeated notes. Soon your eyes are fixed and dilated, and you are fully receptive to any and all suggestion. His spell on you is complete. Enjoy the ride.
4. “Fly By Night”
Along with Geddy Lee’s amazing vocals, the foundational guitar riff throughout “Fly By Night” is the fuel that propels this classic Rush song. But the real revelation is Lifeson’s piercing and emotive solo, which is refreshingly spiced with a healthy dollop of driving Texas blues-rock.
“I love the elasticity of the solo,” Lifeson told Gibson.com “It’s a very emotional piece of music for me to play. The song is about loneliness and isolation, and I think the solo reflects that. There’s a lot of heart in it. Even now it’s my favorite solo to perform live. I never get tired of it.”
2. “Spirit of Radio”
From 1980’s Permanent Waves album, Lifeson delivers unto the rock world one of the most amazing, original and enduring opening riffs in rock history. That riff alone warrants inclusion on this list, but the icing on this Rush confection is Lifeson’s acidic and screaming Wah-fueled solo that drives the song home.
1. “La Villa Stangiato”
Epic. From the first few delicate notes of Lifeson’s classical guitar, notes that quickly cascade into a frenetic and blistering pace – and that’s in just the first 20 seconds – “La Villa Strangiato” is at times beautiful, other times haunting and sinister. However you define Rush, this is the penultimate Rush song. Operatic and dazzling, this is Lifeson’s greatest and most dynamic guitar moment.