The saxophone has been an incredible instrument for longer than most of us has been alive, from its roots in early Jazz to its entrance into modern pop charts. There’s no doubt that it’s the sexiest instrument, but a lot of people don’t realise how universal its sound and appeal is. There are countless songs that can boast a sax solo, even more which use it as a backing instrument; but how many of them do you really know?
Most of us know the famous Marks & Spencer’s advert that utilised the saxophone from Groove Armada’s ‘At The River’. I hope every one of us knows the iconic introduction to George Michael’s ‘Careless Whisper‘ and some of us might even remember the floating solo in Duran Duran’s ‘Rio‘. When it comes to popular culture, the saxophone penetrates every level and genre of music; but how many of the below did you know were among the list?
Lou Reed – Walk on the Wild Side
This was one of the most successful radio songs of the 1970s, but the popular edit often cut out the final section of the song. You’ll remember the “Do do-do do-do-do-do” section, but you might not remember the impressive saxophone solo at the end. It was performed by Ronnie Ross, an incredible pop instrumentalist who also has the credit of teaching a teenage Bowie how to play the sax. Listen to the full version of ‘Wild Side’ to appreciate the beautiful warmth that Ross brings to the controversial track.
Lady Gaga – The Edge of Glory
This track makes the list simply because most fans of Lady Gaga won’t be looking for individual instruments. Pop music is known for mixing an eclectic collection of instruments to produce a sound that is almost unrecognisable in its individual elements. Another reason that this track makes the list is the identity of the saxophone player, the one and only Clarence Clemons. Responsible for the incredible solos in Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band, Clemons was head and shoulders above his 1980s counterparts. Lady Gaga gave him the recognition he deserved in her music video and he got a generous section in which to work his brass magic toward the end of the song. If you managed to avoid this song’s 345,657 plays on the radio during 2011, go and check it out for Clemons’ masterpiece.
Katy Perry – Last Friday Night
Another recent pop song and this one has a genuine entry on this list, the saxophone goes almost unnoticed. Despite featuring in the video and playing during a drop in the music, the effects on it are so dialled up that it loses its magic. I’m always thrilled to see the sax making appearances across the pop charts, but I wish it was given more prominence in a track that sold millions and smashed the charts around the world.
Gerry Rafferty – Baker Street
Back to positive mentions for the final track on the list and before you bite my head off, I know that Baker Street is one of the most famous songs associated with the saxophone. However, Baker Street was also one of the most famous songs on the rock charts a few years ago thanks to a Foo Fighters cover. Criminally, Dave Grohl and his band mates decided to replace the infamous sax intro to this iconic track with electric guitar. The original Rafferty track is the epitome of beautiful Alto sax in a popular song, bringing its incredible sexual appeal and dynamic sound to the music. Grohl’s decision to remove this was much to the detriment of his version and this track makes the list simply to educate Foo Fighters fans to the original, superior version.