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From George Michael to Sade: celebrate the saxophone’s place in pop music with our #stayhome playlist

Relive a time when the mighty saxophone ruled the charts

George Michael's classic song 'Careless Whisper' features a mournful saxophone. Getty Images 
George Michael's classic song 'Careless Whisper' features a mournful saxophone. Getty Images 

Let's talk about sax.

It is an instrument equally loved and loathed in pop music, thanks to its liberal use from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. You couldn’t turn the radio dial without hearing its quaking notes on countless hits, ranging from David Bowie and Billy Joel, to Sade and Quarterflash.

In the latest instalment of The National’s #stayhome playlist, we return to a time when the sax was king. In the following 13 songs, you will hear how the instrument was used by artists to add a variety of moods and textures to hook listeners in. It's an ideal soundtrack for a day spent working from home, or a chilled evening in.

The collection includes songs that critics have to come to appreciate as some of the greatest saxophone performances in pop music.

One of which is Baker Street by Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty. Released in 1978, the expansive tune is best known for its majestic eight bar sax riff (provided by session musician Raphael Ravenscroft) played between the verses.

The instrument made such an impression that not only did it make the song an international hit, but it also resulted in a resurgence in the sales of saxophones in the UK.

Where Baker Street showcased its dramatic flair, George Michael and Sade used the sax for its sensuality. Both Careless Whisper and Smooth Operator employ a mournful riff to augment both songs’ key theme of regret.

The sax was also used to give tracks a noir appeal. A good example is Glen Frey’s cinematic You Belong to the Night, which featured in crime drama Miami Vice.

When it came to David Bowie, just one saxophone wasn’t enough. His 1984 hit Modern Love was turbo charged by its use of three saxophonists playing the same arrangement. It sounded as loud and brash as any guitar.

While the instrument has continued to play a prominent role in pop music today, particularly in hip-hop, we have yet to see it return to the full glory of the past. Until then, enjoy this collection.

Published: April 2, 2020 10:03 AM

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