Freewill (song)

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Song by Rush
from the album Permanent Waves and Exit...Stage Left
A-side "Closer to the Heart" (live)[1]
Released October 29, 1981
Format 7" vinyl
Recorded 1979, Le Studio, Quebec
Genre Progressive rock, hard rock
Length 5:23
Label Mercury
Songwriter(s) Neil Peart, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson
Producer(s) Rush and Terry Brown
Permanent Waves track listing
"The Spirit of Radio"
"Jacob's Ladder"
Exit...Stage Left track listing
"Tom Sawyer"

"Freewill" is the second track on the 1980 album Permanent Waves by Canadian progressive rock band Rush. The song's music was composed by Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, and its lyrics written by Neil Peart.[2] In a 2016 review of Rush discography for Ultimate Classic Rock, Eduardo Rivadavia described Freewill as a "cerebral but remarkably radio-friendly" song.[3] Lee has stated that the final verse of "Freewill" is at the highest part of his vocal range.[4]

The song is included in several of the band's compilation albums, including Retrospective I,[5] The Spirit of Radio: Greatest Hits 1974–1987,[6] Gold,[7] and Time Stand Still: The Collection.[8] It is now a staple of album-oriented rock stations.[9] It was one of six songs in Rush's set for the Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto (colloquially referred to as "SARStock").[10][a]


In mid July 1979, the band began writing songs for Permanent Waves,[11] with Freewill completed within the first few days.[12] An early version of the song was first performed at Varsity Stadium in Toronto on 2 September 1979.[2] This version was mostly complete, but its "familiar melody" had not yet been written.[2] It was introduced to attending concertgoers as a song planned for the band's upcoming album, along with "The Spirit of Radio", both of which the band was testing before recording.[13] The songs were performed three weeks later at a concert in Stafford, England before the band went to Le Studio in Morin Heights, Quebec to record Permanent Waves.[14] It was the first time Rush had performed a song in concert before recording it in studio.[15]

Composition and structure[edit]

Lifeson says the guitar solo in the song is a "really hard solo to play", describing it as "frenetic and exciting" and "one of the most ambitious pieces of music Rush has ever done".[16] In his book Rush, Rock Music and the Middle Class: Dreaming in Middletown, Chris Macdonald describes Lifeson's play as a "searing, rapid-fire" guitar solo.[17]

The song was also the last time Lee would sing with the piercing vocals in a studio recording.[17] This represented a significant change in Rush's sound, as the strained "shrieking high range" of Lee's vocals were characteristic of the band's style from the 1970s.[18] Macdonald states that the song's last verse featuring Lee's high-pitched vocals is a "farewell to Rush's early style".[18]

The song increases in complexity as it progresses.[19] It features odd time signatures, with most of the song using 13/4[20] (6+7), but also employing 15/4 (4+4+4+3) in parts.[21] The chorus has a 3/4 time signature, shifting from a single sixteenth note in the first beat to triplets in the next two beats.[19] The interlude with the bass and drums and subsequent guitar solo both have a 12/8 time signature,[19] and other parts of the song use 4/4.[20]


The song's lyrics deal with the subject of free will; in a December 1989 interview on Rockline, Lee stated that "the song is about freedom of choice and free will, and you believing in what you decide you believe in".[22] In a 2015 article for Rolling Stone, Brian Hiatt describes Freewill as an "explicitly atheistic" song that mocks those who believe in a god, exemplified by the lyrics "choose a ready guide in some celestial voice".[23] In his book Rush: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Excellence, Robert Freedman states that this reprises thematic elements from the song "Tom Sawyer" on the album Moving Pictures, which promotes individualism.[24] The libertarian and individualistic themes between the two songs are also noted in The 100 Greatest Bands of All Time: A Guide to the Legends Who Rocked the World .[21] According to Brett Barnett, Freewill more explicitly explores the theme of individualism than earlier works of Rush such as "Closer to the Heart", particularly with respect to an individual's control over destiny.[25] Peart stated that in reality, exercising free will may not lead to self-determination in some circumstances.[26]

The band has received questions from fans asking which version of the lyrics are correct: those on the album sleeve, or those recited by Lee during concerts. Peart stated that the two are the same, with the band taking "great care to make the lyric sheets accurate", but that fans sometime mis-hear the lyrics and believe the printed lyrics are incorrect.[27] It was later discovered that the US printing of the album sleeve lyrics were incorrect, but that the Canadian printing contained the correct lyrics.[28]


The song reached number 103 on the Billboard pop charts.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The setlist was Tom Sawyer, Limelight, Dreamline, YYZ, Freewill, Closer to the Heart, and The Spirit of Radio. The band had opened their set with a jazzy cover version of the Rolling Stones song Paint It Black.[10]
  1. ^ Lemieux 2015, p. 88.
  2. ^ a b c Lemieux 2015, p. 70.
  3. ^ Rivadavia 2016.
  4. ^ Buttner.
  5. ^ Lemieux 2015, p. 170-171.
  6. ^ Lemieux 2015, p. 192.
  7. ^ Lemieux 2015, p. 204.
  8. ^ Lemieux 2015, p. 225.
  9. ^ Downing.
  10. ^ a b Popoff 2004, p. 217.
  11. ^ Lemieux 2015, p. 68.
  12. ^ Lemieux 2015, p. 69.
  13. ^ Popoff 2004, p. 81.
  14. ^ Lemieux 2015, p. 70-71.
  15. ^ Peart.
  16. ^ Bosso 2009.
  17. ^ a b Macdonald 2009, p. 134.
  18. ^ a b Macdonald 2009, p. 134-135.
  19. ^ a b c Hal Leonard Corporation 2015, Freewill.
  20. ^ a b Popoff 2004, p. 76.
  21. ^ a b Moskowitz 2015, p. 575.
  22. ^ Kaelber, 76: What is "Free Will" about?.
  23. ^ Hiatt 2015.
  24. ^ Freedman 2014, p. 68.
  25. ^ Barnett 2016, p. 11.
  26. ^ Mack 1992, p. 57.
  27. ^ Kaelber, 77: In "Free Will" which lyrics are correct (the ones on the album sleeve or the ones Geddy sings)?.
  28. ^ Kaelber, 78: But I'm *sure* that what the lyric sheet says isn't what Geddy sings!.
  29. ^ Popoff 2016, p. 54, Permanent Waves, by Andrew Earles.


Further reading[edit]