Album: Permanent Waves
. . .
While one might assume that calling your album Permanent Waves might be a dig at what folks called “new wave” music, Rush would spend much of the 1980s making records that were their spin on new wave as surely as their earlier records were their spins on metal and prog.
That said, very few new wave bands — the Police, yeah, X possibly, Hüsker Dü or the Minutemen probably — had the chops to mix all of the different time signatures that Rush crammed into a song like “Freewill,” which, on Permanent Waves, spins out from “The Spirit of Radio” with a cool Alex Lifeson opening that lands into the main guitar riff for the song.
Geddy Lee — who started singing in a lower register on Permanent Waves — with the exception of the final verse of this song — is mixed a little bit lower in “Freewill,” and so I never memorized the words of the verses the way did some of their other records, but I’ve always loved the chorus.
You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears, and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear, I will choose free will
Not gonna lie, while I’ve been making jokes that are parodies of “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice” for over four decades now, I really love that line, especially after I found out that the original line was the much worse “if you choose not to decide, you cannot have made a choice.”
Besides the chorus, the other thing I love about “Freewill” is the instrumental break, which spins out from the second chorus with a big fat Geddy Lee bass riff and some jazzy drumming from Neal Peart. One of the things that Rush stopped doing around this time was over dubbing rhythm guitar over the solos, which gives the guitar solos a more organic feel, like they just happened.
And that’s certainly the case in “Freewill,” which Alex Lifeson has said just kinda happened as they were recording the song — it was his reaction to the off-kilter, jazzy stuff that Lee and Peart were playing. And so he starts off with rude scraping noises followed up by some serious shredding, and then duets with himself alternating riffs and licks, all popping in and out of the mix. It’s fantastic.
While “Freewill” doesn’t seem to have been a single, per se, it got played on the radio a shitton of times, and that — plus the buzz Rush had built up with their relentless touring and the evangelization by Rush Guys from coast-to-coast — was one of the reasons that Permanent Waves was Rush’s big breakthrough in the U.S., making it all the way to #4 on the album charts when the best any of their previous records had done was A Farewell to Kings, which stalled out #33.
The hitherto unprecedented success of Permanent Waves meant that all of the “eyes” would be on whatever Rush did next, though there was no way that their next album — their eighth studio album in seven years, for those of you keeping score at home — could possibly top it, right?
“Freewill” Live in Montreal, 1981
“Freewill” live in Rotterdam, 2007
“Freewill” Live in Cleveland, 2011
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