Courtney Love’s dismissive comments about the sax in rock called out the late Clarence Clemons in particular, but the E Street Band's late MVP has a host of saxophone solos that prove her wrong. Obviously, his "Born To Run" bit juiced up an already rocking song, and his “Jungleland” piece is a lengthy, spine-tingling 2-plus minutes of pure awesomeness.
But If you want indisputable proof that saxophones belong in rock n' roll, check out the video above of Springsteen and the E Street Band performing “Badlands” at Hyde Park in 2009. The bridge sees one of the Boss' rough, aggressive guitar solos followed immediately by a Clemons sax solo. In this rare case of the two going toe-to-toe, Clemons’ part not only holds its own, but might actually be more iconic and important to the song.
Not only do saxophones belong in rock, but they very specifically belong in punk rock, something a vicious rock singer of Courtney's caliber should appreciate.
Steve Mackay made the best case for the saxophone as an instrument of rock n' roll destruction on the Stooges' landmark protopunk album Fun House. Mackay's sax blares throughout the entire title track, playing along with the bass groove and against the song's melody (as it were). It's libidinous, bluesy, chaotic and dangerous… in short, this sax is 100% rock.
Sax is expertly deployed on Deerhunter’s “Coronado” off 2010’s Halcyon Digest.
It’s unexpected and tasteful, unlike the jubilant sax solos that steamrolled
many a '80s pop song. Frontman Bradford Cox said
Just as Eddie Murphy enthralled us as the star of Beverly Hills Cop, the saxophone wins top billing in Glenn Frey’s 1984 soundtrack standout. The driving sax riffs are way more rock than the equally iconic, steamier sax on Frey’s “You Belong to the City.” It's the rare song that makes the air sax as much fun as the air guitar.
Put this song on your iPod and you’ll instantly transform a boring walk down the street into a riotous, action-packed montage in which you’re rolling across a car hood with your finger-gun pointed at the sky.
Roxy Music's Andy Mackay—no relation to Stooges sax player Steve Mackay—is this song's MVP. The 1972 art-rock track boasts a solo featuring three separate instruments: Sax, synthesizer and guitar. But the squealing bop sax riff takes precedence, nearly careening out of control and proving the wildest rock doesn't come exclusively from guitars.
As warm and buoyant as later Bowie would be cool and detached, this ode to BoHo youth set to a pastiche of Philly soul is pitch perfect. Bowie's staccato vocals, piano, congas and the sassy, spirited backing girls are essential to the track, but so is jazzman David Sanborn's indelible sax. Whether bleating in the background or taking a solo turn at the 2:15 mark, this will convert even the most sax-resistant among us.
Did someone say bohemian? Not coincidentally, the late Lou's signature song—the most iconic hit about the seedy, seductive '70s—was co-produced by David Bowie. And it so happens that the very man who taught Bowie to play sax, Ronnie Ross, provides the horn line here. It comes at the end, after all those tales of Holly, Candy and Joe and their hustling ways. It's a wobbly, fractured play out to a long-ago time and place.
One of the best songs from New Wave hitmakers Duran Duran also has one of the sickest sax interludes in rock history. The 40-second sax solo from session player Andy Hamilton builds in staccato intensity until it nearly breaks the entire song wide open.