Pop Life

The Saxophone: 8 Songs That Show Off Rock's Underappreciated Horn

Bruce Springsteen is currently in the middle of a world tour with E Street Band, their first without saxophonist Clarence Clemons. "The Big Man" passed away one year ago today from complications resulting from an earlier stroke.

His death was sad for many reasons, but the reasons most relevant to the world of rock and pop were that we lost a great sax player, one of the great sidemen in classic rock, and one of the few people in the latter half of the 20th century to make playing the saxophone look cool.

After the core rock instruments of guitar, drums, and bass, no instrument is more rock and roll than the saxophone. The piano is cool and versatile, but when you need something different for your song -- be it a different sonic texture or an alternate to the typical guitar solo -- the sax brings something to the party few instruments can rival.

Whether it's giving a song a quiet, smooth pad or rivaling the guitar for roughness and grit, the saxophone gives a song a link to the primal roots of rock music and reminds us that no matter the genre it all starts somewhere.

This isn't a list of the definitive history of the sax or the greatest sax performances of all time. More than anything it's a reflection of the sax's place in music, a place that Clemons certainly had his hand in building.

8. Bruce Springsteen, "Jungleland" "Born To Run" may be the anthem, but for my money the best moment of the album is when "Jungleland" slows down to let The Big Man take the spotlight for over 2 minutes of pure emotion bursting forth from his sax.

Piano and violin may set the mood, vocals may tell the story, drums may push the song forward, and the guitar may get its moment in the sun, but the heart of the song lay in what Clemons lays down. Springsteen may have always been destined for stardom, but it's hard to imagine his classic '70s output without Clemons by his side.

7. Pink Floyd, "Us and Them": Everyone knows the bombastic sax solo in "Money", but a more interesting version of the sax arrives later in the album. For all the talk about how progressive Floyd was for their use of synths of Dark Side of the Moon I find it fascinating that two of the songs on the album take time for sax solos.

Of course, the synth and the sax play essentially the same role on the album, creating an atmosphere that highlights the messages of the individual songs. In "Us and Them" the sax plays the part of the calm before the storm and the fury of its arrival.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Cory Garcia is a Contributing Editor for the Houston Press. He once won an award for his writing, but he doesn't like to brag about it. If you're reading this sentence, odds are good it's because he wrote a concert review you don't like or he wanted to talk pro wrestling.
Contact: Cory Garcia