Tuesday, May 10, 2011

In honour of Lady Gaga: Top Five Sax Solos

Last night, Lady Gaga released the cheese-a-licious Edge Of Glory, the latest teaser track from her third LP, Born This Way. With one hand on the irony engine, she steers a course through the choppy waters of 1980s Hi-NRG disco, arriving triumphantly at an extended, two-minute saxophone solo.

It's brilliant. It's bollocks. It's brillocks.

Lady Gaga - Edge Of Glory

Sadly, the saxophone is a much-maligned instrument. Once a hallmark of sophisticated urban cool, it's image was sullied by schmaltzy guffmeisters like Kenny G and Curtis Stigers.

Nonetheless, recorded music gives us a few truly great sax scenes (sorry) to savour. Here are five of them. After sampling them, you too will live in the hope that Lady Gaga has resurrected the instrument forever.

1) Rolling Stones - Brown Sugar
Bobby Keys is responsible for this blistering solo on record. I've no idea whether it's actually him playing with the Stones on this vinage Top Of The Pops clip, because the director decided to focus on Mick Jagger mincing around in a pink suit.

A pink suit.

2) INXS - Never Tear Us Apart
They had shaggy hair. They wore women's jeans. They were the kings of cheddar.

They were INXS, and Never Tear Us Apart was the big ballad from their career-defining LP, Kick. The sax solo comes from the lavishly-named Kirk Pengilly. Wikipedia calls it "cathartic".

3) Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run
FACT: The E Street Band's Clarence Clemens has been playing a sax solo continuously since 1983. His cheeks are held together by Band Aids and string. He eats through a special tube in his abdomen, and his lips have formed an unbreakable fleshy seal around the reed of his instrument.

Born To Run features one of his earlier, more compact, 16-bar solos. The brevity does nothing to lessen it's joyous, freewheeling ebullience. If you're impressed by it, you should also search YouTube for live versions of Springsteen's Jungleland. Clemens' solo changes every night, but it's always a masterpiece.

4) Guru Josh - Infinity
Only joking.

4) James Brown - Super Bad
Totally insane. Robert McCollough's solo is not so much music as an uncontrolled release of energy. Brown famously intones "Blow me some trane, brother" as the track fades. I think McCullough has actually blown his lungs inside out.

5) George Michael - Careless Whisper
Steve Gregory - a former musician with Fleetwood Mac and the Rolling Stones - had his work cut out with this one: It starts with the very top note on an alto sax, so you need a hell of a lot of puff to get it right. Gregory nailed it, and the iconic opening of George Michael's first solo single overtook Baker Street as the sax riff of choice.

It is improved one hundred-fold when it's played repeatedly in a mall by a shirtless man with a mullet.

The End.

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