Alex Lifeson Breaks Down The Haunting, Legendary Solo On Rush’s “Limelight”
On the first episode of the new podcast series Shred With Shifty, which features host and Foo Fighters guitarist Chris Shiflett getting a front-row lesson from our favorite guitar heroes, Shiflett learns the solo from Rush’s “Limelight” with a little help from the man who wrote it, Alex Lifeson. According to Shiflett, Lifeson’s lead on the song “does exactly what a great solo should do. It’s a scene change, it’s kind of emotional, it builds, and yes, it shreds.”
Shiflett recalls that in context, both “Limelight” and Moving Pictures, the 1981 Rush record that featured the track, were stylistic and structural departures from the rock ‘n’ roll fare of the day. Compared to Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, and KISS, the Canadian prog-rock trio were practically avant-garde.
Lifeson joins Shiflett from a meticulously maintained studio den he built in his apartment (“I’m a virgo,” Lifeson admits), and talks about early influences like Allan Holdsworth, Jeff Beck, and Andy Summers. The first solo he learned was from Cream’s “Spoonful,” but even after Rush’s international success, he says he never felt confident in his ability. “I’ve always been a little bit insecure about my playing,” he says. “I always felt like I could be better than I was.” And despite Rush’s infamously complex arrangements and each member’s dazzling technicality, Lifeson remembers that there were occasionally some “trainwrecks” onstage. “With our music, if you got lost, boy, it was hard to get back,” he grins.
While memories of the “Limelight” sessions are imperfect (“That was 43 years ago. I can’t remember things from 40 minutes ago,” Lifeson quips), the guitarist recalls using a modded Stratocaster with a vibrato arm to record the song’s solo in five or six takes, which bassist and vocalist Geddy Lee and producer Terry Brown then comped into the final version. The idea was to create a solo that reflected the isolation and fragility of “living in the limelight.” “The solo I really wanted to echo that feeling and that sense of loneliness,” he says.
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