In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week: Songs with “radio” in the title.
It was a Cleveland, Ohio radio station (WMMS) and DJ Donna Halper that helped push Rush into the limelight by playing “Working Man,” a song that resonated with blue-collar hard-rock fans, and eventually led to a reissue of the band’s 1974 debut album that included a special thank you to Halper. Six years later, when it came time to pen an ode to the medium, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart stuck with their Canadian roots, reportedly grabbing the title “The Spirit Of Radio” from Toronto’s CFNY slogan. Regardless, the song speaks volumes of all radio and the comforts it brings, from the very start of one’s day—“Begin the day with a friendly voice / A companion unobtrusive / Plays the song that’s so elusive / And the magic music makes your morning mood.” Lee goes on to sing “Invisible airwaves crackle with life / Bright antennae bristle with the energy / Emotional feedback on timeless wavelength / Bearing a gift beyond price, almost free,” but the song takes radio to task as much as it venerates it, as lyricist Peart explained to Billboard in 2004:
“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!’
And despite its argument against the music industry that “glittering prizes and endless compromises shatter the illusion of integrity,” “The Spirit Of Radio” did push the popularity of the band to new heights, reaching record success in the U.K., before later being named one of The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock And Roll. This can probably be attributed to the single’s radio-friendly structure, which was slightly less progressive than Rush’s earlier work, as evident in the ending tempo change where “The Spirit Of Radio” slows down to a rock-ska mix, and it being just shy of five minutes long.
With “The Spirit Of Radio,” Rush was able to honestly comment on radio and the band’s approach to music, and that’s a commendable showing of the spirit of music.