I love a good sax solo! I have expressed my love for good sax solos in two of my previous blog posts about two years back, only then, I listed random pieces and described them. As time has gone by, I have found time to listen to some more solos and broaden my horizons on songs with a moment for a sax solo. Now, I plan to create a countdown of the ten best sax solos. Now keep in mind that my mood tends to change, so these are my ten favorite sax solos as of March 24, 2013, and hopefully this mindset remains consistent until for some reason I have a change of heart or I hear another solo that I like so much that I add that one to the list.
Many of the songs on the list are from the 70s and 80s, as this was the time period that the saxophone was hottest in rock and roll music.While there are still instances while the saxophone plays a part or is included, it is not playing as large a role as it did during previous decades.
This was a challenging list to create, but the challenge was met, and here are my top ten...
#10: "Funkytown" by Lipps Inc. (Solo was likely by Cynthia Johnson)- "Funkytown" was known for coming about toward the end of the disco era in 1980 (unless you want to deem July 12, 1979, the day of "Disco Demolition Night," as the end of the era) and an example as to disco artists still hitting the charts. The song has to do with a group of ladies wanting to move to an area that suited their needs a bit better than where they were. Midway through the song comes one of the strongest sax solos to accompany disco (perhaps alongside the one for Alicia Bridges' "I Love The Nightlife"). The solo sounded so funky that it fit perfectly with the song and capitalized on a lasting image.
#9: "Edge of Glory" by Lady Gaga (Solo by Clarence Clemons)- For the record, I am not a fan of Lady Gaga's. Much of her music is hard to listen to, especially "Poker Face," because I am an avid Texas Hold 'Em player and having her associated with a favorite game of mine is highly inappropriate. "The Gambler" by Kenny Rogers is a REAL poker song. One thing she DID do right is team up with Clarence Clemons for what was his final sax solo in "Edge of Glory." The song was just an ordinary Lady Gaga song where she sang and posed in one of her outlandish costumes, but when the Big Man took the stage, he was spectacular. It proves that he could still play at the age of 69. Unfortunately, we lost him too soon from a stroke. Clemons has performed in plenty of songs besides those by Bruce Springsteen. These include, "The Freeway Of Love" by Aretha Franklin, "We'll Take The Night" by Roy Orbison, and even a special performance of "That's All You Got To Do" by Brenda Lee. The sax solo midway through the song and toward the end is the key reason I'll keep this Lady Gaga song on while it's on the radio.
#8: "In Your Soul" by Corey Hart (Solo by Mel Collins)- Cheesy song, mesmerizing video, spectacular sax solo. I never heard of Corey Hart or his music before I was listening to sax solo samples and came across this one, which was just excellent. I loved the power as the solo played along and then seeing Mel Collins performing it on the city streets at night just made it all the better. I could imagine myself hearing this song in my head while I'm out and it's night.
#7: "How Sweet It Is" by James Taylor (Solo by David Sanborn)- "How Sweet It Is" was originally performed by Marvin Gaye in 1964. James Taylor performed a cover in 1975 in one of the rare instances where it happened to be better than the original. Taylor's vocals and the melody seem to play a good fit to the song, but it was David Sanborn, who is one of the best saxophonists of his era, that really put this song over the top. The Marvin Gaye version just has background music playing during the opening that Gaye isn't singing. The James Taylor version fills the opening with Sanborn's sax solo, providing it with a jazzy bridge between lyrics. It makes the song incredibly comforting and appropriate for the contemporary genre. Granted, James Taylor already has the vocal chops and musical arrangement to execute the songs he performs.
#6: "Young Americans" by David Bowie (Solo by David Sanborn)- I was torn between which Sanborn songs I wanted to include on this list, the other two being "How Sweet It Is," which is #7 and "Let Me Be Your Pirate" by German sensation Nena (who's the soothing, mesmerizing voice behind "99 Red Balloons). I went with "Young Americans," because it really fit well with the beginning of the song and made it so that the rest of the song would be enjoyable. That isn't to say anything about David Bowie, because he is already an excellent, flashy singer. The sax solo at the beginning and then throughout the song provides creativity and just an assertiveness to the true message of the song.
#5: "The Logical Song" by Supertramp (Solo by John Helliwell)- This is one strange song from 1979, but it's also a great song. It's very theatrical and random to the point that it could pop up on today's Top 100 downloads if it really wanted to ("Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey is an 80s song that has done such). The sax appears toward the end of the song and provides an assertiveness to the point that it could be deemed as aggressive, but so is the singer's mental state in the song. I'm sure that anybody that gives this song a listen would come out of it thinking, "I don't know what the heck I just listened to and I have no idea what this song was about, but this was freakin' fantastic!" The sax wraps up the song quite well.
#4: "Harden My Heart" by Quarterflash (Solo by Rindy Ross)- Okay, this is one of the cheesiest songs of the 1980s. Maybe the mental equivalent to the hard Provolone cheese that smells like feet. However, and a big however, that Provolone cheese happens to taste quite good when you're in the mood for it. This song happens to be a good one, too. The lyrics may be quite dramatic and it has to do with a woman reacting to a relationship emotionally before having to tell herself that she's going to woman up and walk away. The sax solo, at the beginning and midway through the song, is quite the treat. I enjoy it, it plays along in your head, and it won't go away. This solo from 1980 is quite the treat, like a walk on a midsummer night.
#3: "The Border" by America (Solo by Raphael Ravenscroft)- America was known for 70s hits such as "A Horse With No Name," "Sister Golden Hair," and "Ventura Highway," all of which were excellent hits, supporting the cause that they were an excellent band. They continued to remain relevant into the 80s with hits such as "You Can Do Magic" and this hit, "The Border." The song had to do with meeting their partner (most likely a woman) at the border, though the video, appropriate for the album "Your Move," had a lot of elements from the game of Chinese Checkers. The sax solo was just excellent, as it flowed through my head like water in the stream, and it was light but noticeable. When doing research, I learned that it was Raphael Ravenscroft, who I will discuss more with my #2 selection, that performed the solo for "The Border." Just an underrated hit that should gain some recognition.
#2: "Baker Street" by Gerry Rafferty (Solo by Raphael Ravenscroft)- After Clarence Clemons, Raphael Ravenscroft is the greatest saxophone player in rock and roll and incredibly underrated, too. While you may not be able to recall Baker Street, chances are that at some point in time, you have recalled the sax solo to "Baker Street," which appears at the beginning, middle, and end of the song, and makes the song worth listening to. In this Gerry Rafferty song, someone with a drinking problem and a down and out life wants to start new and with a clean slate. Rafferty considers this to be him moving into a solo career from the band he was with. Ravenscroft's solo was what put the song over the top, with its power and bluesy, but incredibly appropriate for rock and roll riff that really defined the trend of using the sax to accompany such music. This is an example of a job well done filling in the empty gaps that some songs have to offer.
#1: "Jungleland" by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band (Solo by Clarence Clemons)- If you think about sax solos and rock and roll, the first artist you would think of is Clarence Clemons and the first performance is "Jungleland," where the Big Man had a three minute solo in which he just brought us to another place and invaded our state of mind for a few minutes. The power that was put into the performance was just something that few can ever do and the Big Man happens to be one of them. Just a great instrumental arrangement. The solo is much better live, when it's performed slower, which is a rare instance of such a performance in my mind. Clemons had so other great solos with Bruce Springsteen in songs like "Trapped," "I'm Going Down," "Born To Run," and their Christmas cover of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town." "Jungleland," however, is the longest and most memorable of the solos and this is what Clarence Clemons should be remembered for if anything.
It was unfortunate that I had to leave some others off of the list, but it was indeed a task to do so. Eddie Money's "Take Me Home Tonight" had a powerful solo, even if it was only a couple of seconds. "Only The Lonely" by The Motels and with a solo by Marty Jourard had a strong solo, but that too was shorter. Alto Reed's work was hard to leave off, especially since "Old Time Rock and Roll" is one of my favorite rock songs, though I will say that his saxophone performance of the Star Spangled Banner at the Detroit Lions Thanksgiving game against the Texans last year was the best I have heard.
The trend of angels playing harps at the pearly gates of Heaven has been going around for years and years. Has anyone ever put into consideration playing the sax at the pearly gates. Maybe "Jungleland" or "Baker Street," or even a more appropriate song like "Amazing Grace." Regardless, the sax solo has been a nourishing element to rock and roll. While it's not as common as it was in previous decades, it still has left its mark with the captivation of a few minutes or even seconds of our time.
If anyone would like to share some of their own favorites, feel free to do so. If there's anything I may have missed, I would be happy to check it out as I did right before I wrote this.