I played the saxophone in my high school band. I don’t know that I was ever exceptional at it, but I enjoyed it enough. I mostly enjoyed sitting next to my friend Ingrid, talking when we weren’t supposed to be and making fun of the squawking clarinet section. Don’t get me wrong – clarinets can make a beautiful sound when played correctly, but the random squeak or squawk never failed to entertain us. It’s appropriate that I played the saxophone for most of the 80s because really, it was the golden age of the saxophone solo in pop/rock music. Any good song was instantly made great by a sax solo. Inexplicably, the sax solo dropped off the musical landscape for the most part, but it was also brilliantly resurrected a couple years ago by none other than Lady Gaga. So what better time than now to round up seven of my favorite pop songs with prominent sax solos? Let’s get to it.
Smooth Operator / Sade
I can’t listen to this song without thinking of my dad. He always says that this is his theme song – especially the line “Moves in space with minimum waste, maximum joy.” Not only is there a great sax solo, but the saxophone is prominent pretty much throughout the song. Sure it’s an 80s song through and through, but there’s no one classier than Sade.
We Don’t Need Another Hero / Tina Turner
I thought about including Tina’s 1986 hit “Typical Male” which has a great sax solo in it, but when it comes right down to it, “We Don’t Need Another Hero” has a better one. This is Tina at the peak of her comeback powers. And Lord, but those earrings! No wonder she doesn’t move much in this video.
The Edge Of Glory / Lady Gaga
Leave it to Gaga to bring back not only the sax solo but a Clarence Clemons sax solo. Easily one of the better songs on the top heavy Born This Way album, too bad the video wasn’t better.
Who Can It Be Now? / Men At Work
Much like “Smooth Operator”, “Who Can It Be Now” opens with a sax solo and has one in the middle.
The Logical Song / Supertramp
When I was compiling this list, I kept thinking “I have to find something that’s not an 80s song besides Gaga.” This is the best I could do and it’s 1979. And now that I’ve settled on this list, I realize I could have picked Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street.” Oh well, that’s only slightly older having been released in 1978.
Freeway Of Love / Aretha Franklin
The 80s were full of unlikely career comebacks – Tina Turner, Cher and Aretha Franklin. Sure this is low hanging fruit, but it’s easily one of my favorite Franklin songs. And surprise surprise, it’s Clarence Clemons! Again!
You’re A Friend Of Mine / Clarence Clemons & Jackson Browne
I figured that since Clemons factored into several of these songs, I had to close with his one notable solo single. I have a serious SERIOUS soft spot for this song, mostly because I’m sappy and sentimental and I like songs about friendship and I especially like how it’s a male duet. It’s just not something you see every day. “Years may come and go/Here’s one thing I know/All my life/You’re a friend of mine.” This song just makes me want to go hug someone.
What did I miss? I know I missed some good ones.