Classic Chords #5 – Rush Limelight

As I mentioned, in Classic Chord #1 in my early teens I was chasing the dream of being the next Alex Lifeson, picking out the pseudo-classical intros to songs like “Panacea”, “A Farewell to Kings” and “The Trees”, later “Broon’s Bane” from Exit…stage left and rocking out (on a nylon string guitar!) to “Working Man”, “Bastille Day” and “Circumstances”.

One recurring theme in Lifeson’s playing is the chorused ringing sound of his big open chords where he leaves the B and high E strings open and chiming but roots the chord with the bottom strings. It adds an ethereal tone to the cleaner arpeggiated sounds, such as the big F-shaped chords in “Xanadu” and “Hemispheres”, and brightens up the likes of his E5 power chords adding harmonic timbre that isn’t present if you just play the E-B-E on the bottom strings or even just the E and B as you might in more traditional heavy rock riffage.

He used this to great effect in the classic “Limelight” from Moving Pictures where he descends through a B to the open A string and the E string, but keeps his pinkie on the G-string fretted at the B and lets the open B and E strings carry the harmonics. Playing an E5 like this cuts out the often dischordant G# that you’d expect in the E-major chord, and if the pitching of that open B string against the fretted B on the G-string isn’t perfect you get some degree of phasing and beating as you do with a 12-string.


In the descending run on the “and what you say about his company” sections of Tom Sawyer from the same album, he uses a B-major shape rather than the E-major in this position and lets the bass notes descend (B-A-F#-G) across those ringing B-B-E notes on the top three strings. An arpeggiated version of that shape but shifted up a semitone to the C is used by Manic Street Preaches in their song “A Design for Life”. More Classic Chords can be found in the series, here including The Hemispheres chord, the famous Hendrix Chord from Purple Haze and many more. Meanwhile, check out some of my own music influenced to no small degree by Rush, the Manics, and dozens of others over the years.

Here’s me playing a bit of the intro riff to “Limelight” that showcases this E5 chord followed my an undistorted chorused strum or two.