It lacks the goofiness of embedding Morse code in a song, but I think that any Rush fan who can't instantly recognize the opening riff for this song deserves to get kicked out of the club.
My lack of musical talent starts with a tin ear. I have a very poor sense of pitch and I tend to get it muddled together with other aspects of sound. On the flip side, I think that makes me a little more conscious of the way electronics can shape the sound of an instrument. Alex and Geddy had their stacks dialed in just so for this song. I don't know for sure that Alex used a Les Paul, but it sounds like it to me, and I love the fuzz he uses. Geddy gets so much growl out of his bass that I almost wonder if he was using a Jazz in the studio instead of the Rickenbacker that I associate with this era, but either way, I adore the way he captures a good deep fundamental but also brings out the sound of strings rubbing against the wood and (yes, Julie, I'm going to say it) frets.
So anyway, music, right? This song makes for a refreshing break from the frantic embellishment of YYZ; I used to able to play this song and sing at the same time, making myself that much more like (one tenth of) Geddy Lee. In the chorus the change from a relaxed beat to a hard, driving sound halfway through makes for an intriguing counterpoint to the lyrics. In the verses the sound is almost wistful, lamenting the loss of a certain type of freedom; but at "those who wish to be," I think the music expresses Neil's determination to retain some of that freedom somehow.
The solo used to absolutely confound me. I can't remember the details anymore, but I'd be grooving along and then suddenly realize I was lost and had no idea how many bars in we were or where the time change was. Most bands find that objectionable in a bassist.
I sympathize with Neil on the issue of fan intrusion into a musician's life. I think his word choice ("keep oneself intact") reveals the degree to which he regretted having to push fans back. For a very long time the guy answered every letter written to him through Modern Drummer magazine, which pretty much proves he wasn't just a fan-hating bastard. At the same time, though, I think Neil's introversion comes out in a much more negative way in some of his books and later songs. I think that his efforts to take time for himself have occasionally turned into excessive self-regard and even outright arrogance. Perhaps people who take themselves seriously have trouble knowing then to stop. The stranger isn't a long-awaited friend, but every friend was a stranger once.