The Spirit Of Radio
by Rush

Album: Permanent Waves (1980)
Charted: 13 51

Songfacts®:

  • Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart explained this song in an interview with Billboard magazine: "'The Spirit Of Radio' was actually written as a tribute to all that was good about radio, celebrating my appreciation of magical moments I'd had since childhood, of hearing 'the right song at the right time.' However, [the song's] celebration of the ideals of radio necessarily seemed like an attack on the reality - on the formulaic, mercenary programming of most radio stations, with music the last of anyone's concerns. And yes, it was really ironic that such a song became popular on radio, though it was a kind of litmus test. Some radio guys who 'got it' could hear the song and think, 'That's the way it ought to be,' while others - the shallow, swaggering salesmen-of-the-air - could be oblivious to the song's meaning and proudly applaud themselves, 'That's about me!'" >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Mike - Mountlake Terrace, Washington
  • A key line in this song comes when Geddy Lee sings about concert halls that echo with "the sound of salesmen." Neil Peart came up with the line after hearing stage patter from bands Rush would tour with; these bands would give the same spiel night after night, often telling the audience that their particular city was the greatest in the world or had the best fans. Peart found this disingenuous and manipulative.

    Rush was never a band that pandered to their fans, and they were very careful when it came to marketing, as their ethos of free thought doesn't jibe with most promotional efforts that tell folks what to think. Peart cites Kiss as a "salesmen" group that markets the band as a lifestyle (you can even get buried in a Kiss Kasket when you die). Rush opened for Kiss on a series of shows in 1974. The bands got along very well, but it was clear they had very different ideas on how to present their product.
  • The unusual guitar heard at the beginning of this track sounds like Alex Lifeson was using a hammer-on technique, but he was really picking the strings very quickly.
  • This was a rare hit single for Rush. Most of their songs at this stage of their career were meant to be heard within the context of an album, but this was short enough to get airplay and could stand on it's own as a single.
  • In the last verse, the line "The words of the profits are written on the studio wall" is a play on words. Rush drummer and lyricist Neil Peart wrote it as "profits" rather than "prophets" to expose the money-grubbing side of the music industry. The lyrics were included in the album and the CD.
  • Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound Of Silence" contains the lyrics: "For the words of the prophets were written on the subway walls, and tenement halls... and echo with the sound of silence."

    These are parodied by Neil Peart into, "For the words of the prophets are written on the studio wall, and concert halls.... and echo with the sound... of salesmen." Rush has been accused of taking themselves too seriously, but references like this show how they were slyly aware of the context in which they performed. That they could take themselves lightly was further borne out by their 2008 appearance on The Colbert Report. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Tom - Chicago, IL
  • This song is heavily referenced on an episode of the cartoon Aqua Teen Hunger Force, where Master Shake, the actual Zakk Wylde, and a mock voice of Geddy Lee create a new version of the birthday song much to the liking of Rush's long, epic songs. One of the main characters, Meatwad, sings the main riff of this song on the way home, until seeing Geddy Lee's private jet (which is shaped like a bass guitar) and screams Geddy's line from this song "OF SALESMEN!" to try to get his attention. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Bert - Pueblo, NM
  • Permanent Waves was released on January 1, 1980. This is the first track on the album, making it arguably the first song released in the '80s. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Joe - Philadelphia, PA
  • The part where the song returns to the main riff is meant to imitate the sound of turning a radio dial. On analog dials, for a brief moment in between stations you can catch multiple stations/sounds at once.
  • The song is Rush's only entry on The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. Rush wasn't inducted into the Hall until 2013; they were first eligible in 1999.
  • The controversial talk show host Rush Limbaugh used this song during a verbal attack on Georgetown student activist Sandra Fluke, who demanded that contraception be provided by her Catholic university - something President Obama's healthcare reform ordered. Rush (the band) were unhappy with the use of their song in Limbaugh's rant, in which he called the girl "slut," "prostitute" and "round-heeled."

    The band filed a cease-and-desist letter, asking the radio personality to stop playing their music on his show. Some other musicians, including Peter Gabriel, also demanded that Limbaugh stop using their music on his show.
  • Dream Theater percussionist Mike Portnoy views "The Spirit of Radio" as the first song hinting at a new musical direction for Rush, one that struck the perfect balance between the band's epic ambitions and a more listener-friendly brevity.
  • The moment Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett heard this song, he and his friend grabbed their guitars and started practicing the intro.
  • Rush released a new animated video for the song on June 12, 2020 in celebration of the 40th anniversary of Permanent Waves. The conceptual clip references milestones and influential broadcasters in FM rock radio history, including an homage to the pioneering Italian radio inventor Guglielmo Marconi. It closes with a personal tribute to the late Rush drummer Neil Peart, who died in January 2020. Fantoons.tv created the visual along with producer Linda Otero and directors David Calcano and Alberto Hadyar.

Comments: 46

  • Doc Rhon from MississaugaWhile the song is certainly about CFNY 102.1 The Spirit of the Radio, it is highly unlikely that the station helped launch their career. Rush was already a mainstay in the late 70s when 102.1 changed their format - introducing the youth of the time to punk, new wave, and alternative music.
  • Paul from Niagara Falls, OnJosh...Your mostly right...The song SPIRIT OF RADIO was written about a rebel station that refused to follow the mainstream, and carved out it's own spot in the radio world. It was written as a tribute to not only the station, but in thanks for that station helping to launch their career. The proof of this is on the label which reads on the label 102.1.......Which was, at the THE SPIRIT OF RADIO.....
  • Jimmy from Belfast, United KingdomIntegrity is very much the theme of the album with of course the dig at the press in that newspaper on the record sleeve. The infamous Dewie v Truman election when the newspaper got the result wrong. I noticed too Peart starting to use a lot of alliteration in the lyrics. Examples being 'shifting shafts of shining' in Jacob's ladder and 'magic music makes your morning mood' in Spirit. There are quite a few examples through the album if you can spot them and how many RUSH tracks are there where the title of the song doesn't appear anywhere in the lyrics?
  • James from Norfolk, VaIncongruity between the music and lyrics is a hallmark for some of Rush's biggest hits like Limelight and this one. The music is uplifting but the lyrics deal with the integrity of music radio stations worldwide. There's a lot of manipulation involved in deciding what gets played on the radio list. DJs go the "bread & circuses" route when they should be exposing listeners to more experimental expression in music. There is a wide girth in enjoyable ,music, but DJs stick to what was hugely popular on the charts and avoiding playing the more obscure music. Rush would know ; they only had 1 song in the top 40 and 3 others in the top 100.
  • Willie from Scottsdale, AzThis was the first song run by Dave Pratt on the mornings on KUPD in Guadalupe/Phoenix during his morning show run in the 80s and 90s, every morning at 6:00 a.m. local time. Woke up to this for years!
  • James from Crescent City, CaI believe Geddy sang "freedom of Baseball" throughout the Signals tour. I remember hearing it waaaaay back then and it is on every bootleg I have of that tour.
  • Jones from San Antonio, TxWhenever I hear this song, I smile and go crazy!!!
    -But I also agree with bert from Pueblo that it is funny & weird when MEATWAD yells "OF SALESMEN!"
  • Jaakko from Pudasjärvi, FinlandThis song just yells out "SUMMER!" Listen to it when the sun is just about to rise on a cloudless summer night/morning (kinda depends). One of those experiences you don't have every day.
  • Steve from Philadelphia, PaI remember listening to this for the very first time with a great friend while out driving and partying as a young adult. Thats the great thing about music it can transport you in time. So many of Rush songs are full of meaning and they tie me to a place in time. Two other fantastic songs are "Limelight" and "Time Stand Still". If you like Spirt of Radio you will like those as well.
  • Dom from Sagamore Beach, MaMan, I've always loved this song, but I just realized yesterday HOW awesome it really is. One of my favorite songs for sure. I'm lucky enough to be seeing them tonight as well :D This is the song I'm looking forward to the most, with "A Passage to Bangkok" coming in at a close second.
  • Eric from Beaverton, OrSome people have said this song seems to be about censorship.. I think this song is about the freedom and possibilities of radio as a medium, and also the reality: the use of radio for advertising and making money.
  • Melanie from Seattle, Waahhhhh this song is so cool, I love the riff at the beginning.
  • Frank from Brampton, Ontario, CanadaThis awesome tune gives you such a rush of adrenaline when listening to it!! It's the kind of tune that makes you wanna go into your car and head out onto the freeway at full speed!
  • Kent Lyle from Cincinnati, OhThe steel drums were played by Erwig Chuapchuaduah. Is that name for real?
  • Matt from Detroit Rock City, MiI'm not a big Rush fan, but this is a pretty good song.
  • Tyler from Chillicothe, OhThe opening riff to this song was lifted from a progressive-Era Journey song called "Nickel & Dime."
  • Michael from San Diego, Ca"One likes to believe in the freedom of music, but glittering prizes & endless compromises shatter the illusion of intergity!" Rush always fills their songs with honest, intelligent lyrics that force a person to look in a mirror and truly account for the reflection they see.
  • Guz from San Antonio, TxThat is 1 of ny favorite songs
  • Guz from San Antonio, TxIS SOMEBODY SAYING THAT RUSH CAN"T PLAY?
  • Randy from Colerain Twp., Oh I don't care how many times you may attend a RUSH concert and this song is performed, when Geddy sings the line "Concert halls" and the lights are shined at the audience, you can't help yourself, but to cheer loudly. The same goes for other actions, such as displaying the flame from a cigarette lighter for some songs, like the intro of 'Closer to the Heart'.
  • James from Vancouver, CanadaAnyone else find the opening lines similar to Boston's "More Than A Feeling"?... the opening lines of both songs talk about a sort of waking up and hearing that perfect, elusive song and kind of slipping away... I'm not accusing Rush of theft, just thought it was an interesting similarity.
  • Dave from Cardiff, WalesMark from Nailsea - it's interesting you say that. "The Spirit of Radio" was a surprise hit for Rush in March 1980 in the UK, peaking at No. 13 in the charts. But, in fact, contrary to popular belief at the time, it wasn't Rush's first hit, as they had previously hit No. 36 in the UK in 1978 with "Closer To The Heart". On the strength of the single, Rush's subsequent 1980 album "Permanent Waves" sold healthily in Britain, peaking at No. 3 in the UK album charts and getting excellent reviews from the critics, who assumed they were newcomers to the music industry becuase they has apparently scored a huge hit from out of nowhere. But although the album was, for many people in Europe, their first point of contact with Rush, it was in fact their eighth album. Few at the time realised that Rush had actually formed back in 1968 and released their bebut album in 1974! Since Rush's music was generally not Top 40 material in the UK it got little radio airplay. Sadly, this has dogged all their releases since then. "Subdivisions" from the 1982 album "Signals" for instance, had 'hit single' written large all over it, but was largely ignored by radio in the UK for no other reason than it was over 5 minutes long... Without such barriers, Rush might have gone on to bigger things, though in a way it's a good thing they failed to repeat their commercial success of the early 1980s, as they may have lost their way as a consequence...
  • Alex from Dallas, TxHah what a coincidence i live in dallas texas and we have a 102.1 The Edge but it plays crappy modern music like KoRn and all those gay bands. I wish i lived in canada cause they probobly play Rush alot on the radio...Greatest band of all time but no air time =(
  • Bert from Pueblo, NmAnyone seen the Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode with Geddy Lee and Zakk Wydle guest voicing? I just think its really funny when Meatwad yells the line from this song "OF SALESMAN!"
  • Manuel from Puerto Rico, United StatesThe song takes an ambiguous viewpoint. It talks about the positive and negative. Radio back then was different, when AM radio had the music, they would play entire albums on a station. When the question of honesty part comes into play, it means wether the radio's objective is to put out good music or to make money.I imagine that every member of Rush would obviously take the station that plays good music as the honest one they talk about.
  • Trevor from Walton-on-thames, EnglandThe cheering on the Studio album is sampled from a Max Webster concert. Kim Mitchell was approach by Geddy (I think) and was asked if he had any recordings of crowd noise.
    Apparently this was confirmed by Kim on his Q107 radio show.
  • Mike from Sayville, NyThis song was covered as a violin piece by Rachel Barton, and translates amazingly well from rock staple to classical orchestra.

    You can also hear major hints of this song in a South Park episode (the one where Timmy becomes the frontman for The Lords of the Underworld)
  • Brad from Toronto, CanadaSorry Robert (of Schaumburg, IL), Josh is very correct. The song is for 102.1 The Edge in Toronto. Their slogan at the time was "The Spirit of Radio" and this song was in response to the possibility that the station was shutting down because of financial pressures.
  • Wil from Milwaukee, WiThis song is EXACTLY about the freedom to play and record music of choice, and the Corporations that "rule" radio to tell the public what they want us to hear (obviously to appease the commercial sponsors)!!!
  • Joe Public from Anytown, AlThis song is absolutely fabulous. There's a message about censorship, and another message protesting how new equipment doesn't make music any less honest, and another message about radio and the companionship it offers, and another message about how music must connect with emotional energy to have a spirit. Music touches the soul. That's the core of this song. "Emotional feedback / On a timeless wavelength / Bearing a gift beyond price -- Almost free."
  • Kyle from Lancaster, PaLet's try this again....I'm sure everyone reading this knows this, but during live performances of this song, When Geddy Sings out "Concert halls" in the last verse the lights come up on the audience is expected to cheer. this can be heard in the live version.
  • Kyle from Lancaster, PaI'm sure everyone reading this nows this, but during live performances of this sond, When Geddy Sings out Concert halls in the last verse the lights come up on the audience, who is expected to cheer. this can be heard in the live version.
  • Glp from Pittsburg , PaI think this song is just about music in general.
  • Robert from Schaumburg, IlJosh I disagree it was actually for a radio station in Cleveland Ohio whom was the first to play Working Man on the air to help break the band in the U.S. leading up to there first show with Neil on drums in Pittsburgh PA
  • Robert from Schaumburg, La At a show at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, PA, Geddy sang " one like's to believe in the freedom of baseball" his favorite sport, thought you,d like to know.
  • Mark from NailseaThe song is outstanding but every time I hear it I feel sorry that so many people are not aware of their other material I grew up with. They are unmatched and musically brilliant. We all know material like theirs is not pop culture - and so much the better for it! It does puzzle me why people listenm to a 'hit' like The Spirit of Radio and don't listen to just some of the other stuff. Oh well.
  • Stefanie from Rock Hill, ScSong seems like it's about censorship. It's great!
  • Frodo from The ShireOne of the most recognizable opening riffs in classic rock.
  • Dee from Indianapolis, InNo words can describe how great this song is, but then thats true for many a Rush tune. As a huge music buff and radio listener this song is a lyrical symphony to my ears. No group will ever be able to duplicate their talent or vision that has spand the decades.
  • Phil from Niagara Falls, CanadaThe opening music for this song is AWESOME
  • Charlie from Thomaston, Ctsome sa this song is about the radio, some say it is about cencoreship, i think its both.
  • Dave from Cardiff, WalesThe Spirit Of Radio was the second, and biggest, of 5 UK Top 40 hits for Rush between 1978 and 1983 - it peaked at No.13 in March 1980, achieving the rare feat of a higher chart position in the UK than the US. Their eighth album, Permanent Waves, issued in 1980, was the record that finally saw Rush repeat their Stateside commercial success on the other side of the Atlantic.
  • James from Los Angeles, CaJeff from Haltom City is wrong and so is Josh from Oshawa. Geddy Lee (Bassist for RUSH) has said many times this isn't about listening to the radio. It's about the freedom of music being cut down by the government and censored.
  • Dave from Cardiff, WalesUK indie faves St. Etienne sampled the opening riff on "Conchita Martinez", a track on their critically acclaimed 1993 album, "So Tough", although they didn't directly namecheck Rush as the original artist in the album's credits
  • Mike from Mountlake Terrace, WashingtonNeil Peart about the lyrics:

    Asked about whether he was conscious of emulating Paul Simon:

    "This is where a sense of humor comes into it. I was sitting there thinking of the conclusion of the song and the parody came into my mind. And I thought, 'Well, either this is very stupid or it's very great.'

    "But all it says is...salesman as artists I can see as an ideal, but they have no place telling us what to play onstage and they have no place in the recording studio telling us how to write songs...any more than a car salesman.'"

  • Josh from Oshawa, CanadaThis song was actually written by Rush for 102.1 The Edge, one of the most innovative and progressive rock radio stations, based in Toronto, Canada. It appears on one of their new rock compilation albums.
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