18 Best Saxophone Songs and Solos

The saxophone has transcended its roots in jazz to become a staple in pop music, imprinting its distinctive sound across some of the genre’s most celebrated tracks. It has not only added depth and character to pop songs but occasionally grabbed the limelight and become a hallmark of the song! Memorable saxophone moments have elevated pop songs to iconic status, and certain tracks owe much of their acclaim to the instrument’s charismatic resonance.

So here’s our pick of the best saxophone songs (or songs with strong sax solos).

“Careless Whisper” by George Michael

Sax solos don’t come much more famous than the one in “Careless Whisper.” George Michael dreamed up the melody (he’s even on record saying it’s his proudest contribution to music). His search for the perfect rendition led to numerous auditions until he encountered Steve Gregory, whose talents aligned with Michael’s exacting standards. Due to the complexity of the solo in its original key, the piece was recorded slightly lower and then adjusted to the desired pitch. This recording trick helped produce the timeless sound that defines the song.

“Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty

“Baker Street” includes another famous sax solo. Performed by saxophonist Raphael Ravenscroft, the solo’s slight flatness is often perceived by trained musicians. This unique sound quality has defined the song so much that a perfectly pitched rendition might seem slightly “off” to listeners accustomed to the original recording. Despite its technical imperfection, the solo remains a favorite, recognized by both lay listeners and saxophonists alike.

“Money” by Pink Floyd

In the realm of op classics, Pink Floyd’s “Money” might not be the most famous, but it’s undeniably a standout piece. Dick Parry lent his saxophone prowess to the track, his playing echoing the legendary styles of Earl Bostic and Cannonball Adderley. The saxophone trills in this song are amazing, featuring a slapback delay that introduces a unique depth to the sound stage. The solo is tinged with a particular quality, a wavering of pitch that comes from the tape it was recorded on, creating an intriguing, somewhat disconcerting effect.

“Moondance” by Van Morrison

“Moondance” stands out in Van Morrison’s discography, not only as one of his most recognized songs but also for its distinctive saxophone solo. While Morrison himself is proficient with the saxophone, the memorable solo in “Moondance” was masterfully executed by musician Jack Schroer. His contribution injected the piece with a robust and lively energy that remains the hallmark of the song.

Related: Van the Man’s biggest songs

“Just The Way You Are” by Billy Joel

Billy Joel’s iconic track “Just The Way You Are” marked a significant milestone in his career as it became his first single to attain gold status in the 1970s. The song garnered attention not only for Joel’s compelling lyrics and melody but also for including Phil Woods, an esteemed saxophonist with deep roots in jazz history. Woods, known for having performed with jazz legends like Dizzy Gillespie, Buddy Rich, and Benny Goodman since the 1950s, lent his expertise to the track. At the time, jazz connoisseurs were skeptical about Woods venturing into the domain of popular music. Nevertheless, this blend of jazz and pop transcended boundaries, bringing the artistry of Woods’ saxophone to a broader audience.

“Just The Two Of Us” by Bill Withers

Renowned soul artist Bill Withers collaborated with the iconic smooth jazz saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. to create the memorable tune “Just The Two Of Us.” The track is distinguished by a saxophone solo that radiates a unique warmth and depth. Astute listeners may discern that the solo’s pitch is subtly flat, which could be a result of the recording’s mastering process or a deliberate artistic decision. This quality contributes to the composition’s rich, dark tone, which echoes the style of celebrated jazz musician Michael Brecker, especially in the lower ranges of the saxophone.

“Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones

Released in 1971, “Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones immediately captivated audiences with its raw energy and controversial lyrics. Still, it’s the compelling saxophone solo that truly gives this track its enduring appeal. The saxophone player Bobby Keys imbues the song with a sequence of powerful notes that exemplify the instrument’s potential in rock and roll. The saxophone’s inclusion in this track is not an isolated incident; it demonstrates a wider trend throughout pop and rock history where the instrument has been utilized to add an extra layer of depth and character to numerous hits. The fusion of Bobby Keys’ saxophone into the texture of “Brown Sugar” helped to solidify this synergy between rock music and what’s traditionally been seen as a jazz instrument.

“Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen

Clarence Clemons, a celebrated saxophonist in the E Street Band, lent his iconic sound to Bruce Springsteen’s track “Born to Run.” Though brief, his saxophone interlude is a powerful exhibition of his rich and robust tonal quality. This particular solo later became emblematic of the saxophone’s presence in pop music, especially prevalent throughout the 1980s.

Related: More Springsteen songs

“Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” by Katy Perry

“Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” is distinguished by its unique saxophone sounds, which were modified with various audio effects. Although the music video features a cameo by Kenny G, it is actually Lenny Pickett from Tower of Power who delivers the saxophone solo. Pickett is known for his exceptional mastery of the altissimo range of the saxophone.

“Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga

“Edge of Glory” features a powerful saxophone interlude played by Clarence Clemons. Gaga’s choice to incorporate saxophone in the track underscores a sense of nostalgia in an otherwise synth-heavy track. The saxophone’s emotive quality enhances the song’s intensity, demonstrating its capability to convey a narrative and evoke a strong connection with listeners. The solo itself is not only iconic because of Clemons’ reputable musicianship but also because it showcases the versatility and timeless appeal of the saxophone within the pop music landscape.

“Simply The Best” by Tina Turner

Edgar Winter’s saxophone skills graced this signature Tina Turner track. The song spurred dozens of lackluster marketing teams to position their brand as “Simply the best [insert product].” Nevertheless, it’s a genius bit of sax playing, which added some sizzle to the track.

Related: Tina Turner’s biggest songs

“Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed

“Walk on the Wild Side” includes a fantastic baritone saxophone solo performed by Ronnie Ross, who delivers a sultry, moody sound that perfectly complements the song’s laid-back groove and Reed’s narrative style. The saxophone playing evokes a jazzy, smoky timbre that transports the listener to a big apples jazz clubs that were part of the cultural backdrop to the song’s tales of New York City’s fringe characters.

Related: Lou Reed’s greatest hits

“Modern Love” by David Bowie

In the colorful pop music landscape, the saxophone often breathes life into melodies, bringing a jazzy flair to the genre. Among the pantheon of songs enriched by this brass instrument, David Bowie’s “Modern Love” is way up there. Bowie, a maestro known for inventive musical experiments, leverages the sax in this track to create a brilliant rock-steady vibe. Bowie’s application of the saxophone underscores his versatility as an artist and his ability to blend diverse musical elements. It also illustrates the sax’s power as a tool for emotional expression within the realm of pop music.

“Turn the Page” by Bob Seger

The classic rock hit “Turn the Page” is a memorable track, particularly for its expressive saxophone solo. The saxophone is wielded here not merely as an instrument but as a voice in its own right, accentuating the weariness and solitude conveyed through the lyrics. Saxophone solos in pop and rock music often serve as emotional peaks within a song’s structure, harnessing the saxophone’s inherent qualities to evoke a wide range of feelings, from melancholy to exuberance. Using the saxophone, “Turn the Page” illustrates the broader trend of integrating jazz and blues elements into popular music.

Related: Bob Seger’s biggest songs

“Midnight City” by M83

The saxophone interlude in M83’s “Midnight City” is a standout moment within pop music, compelling listeners with its energetic mix of quick phrasing and rhythmic variation. This powerful solo, delivered with passion by James Kings, resonates with the spirit of bebop. Kings’s performance shines through with striking melodic richness. Its place in “Midnight City” demonstrates the timelessness of a classic sax-pop intervention, revealing just how much a tenor sax solo can elevate a modern pop canon.

“True” by Spandau Ballet

When discussing iconic saxophone solos within pop music, the one featured in Spandau Ballet’s “True” is never far away. The melody, performed with a sense of warmth and poignant expressiveness, punctuates the song’s romantic facade. Released in 1983, this track epitomizes the synergy between a smooth saxophone line and the ambient rhythms of 80s pop. Saxophonist Steve Norman employed simplicity and effortless elegance, avoiding overly complex or flashy techniques, which allowed the solo to perfectly complement the song’s mellow groove. The instrumental bridge featuring the saxophone emerges not only as a highlight of the track but also as a signature moment that fans and casual listeners alike can instantly recognize.

“(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” by Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes

This 1987 hit is a favorite at weddings and karaoke bars and includes a notable saxophone solo by Gary Herbig. While it appears deceptively simple to the ear, the solo’s complexity is masked by challenging harmonics and a notoriously tough altissimo G#.

Related: Dirty Dancing soundtrack

“Urgent” by Foreigner

Foreigner’s “Urgent” is another classic example of the sax’s pivotal role in pop music. The track was a seminal piece from their 1981 album “4” and is particularly celebrated for Junior Walker’s striking saxophone solo. This instrumental break illustrates how the saxophone can transform a song and enhance its emotional impact. The inclusion of Walker’s saxophone solo was a decision that added an element of surprise and vitality to “Urgent.” It complemented Lou Gramm’s impassioned vocal delivery, reinforcing the song’s theme of intense desire. The sax’s fluid and dynamic sound bridged the gap between rock and blues, contributing to Foreigner’s crossover appeal that attracted a broad audience. In the broader context of pop music, solos like this underscore the instrument’s versatility and the unique flavor it can bring to a track. As in “Urgent,” a well-executed saxophone solo can become as memorable as the song’s chorus, demonstrating that strategic instrumentation is often crucial in making a timeless hit.

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About Ged Richardson

Ged Richardson is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of ZingInstruments.com. He has been featured in Entrepreneur, PremierGuitar, Hallmark, Wanderlust, CreativeLive, and other major publications. As an avid music fan, he spends his time researching and writing about new and old music, as well as testing and reviewing music-related products. He's played guitar in various bands, from rock to gypsy jazz. Be sure to check out his YouTube channel, where he geeks out about his favorite bands.

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