Don't Blow It: 10 Great Songs Nearly Ruined By Saxophone
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"Bad Sax Megamix" by Josh Modell
1. David Bowie, "Young Americans"
In pop and rock music, saxophone should be used like cayenne pepper: Sprinkle a bit on, and you'll get a spicy jolt. Add even a bit too much, and an otherwise-delicious dish will sink into pain. In the carefree '70s, David Bowie got soulful with the album Young Americans, but he wasn't proficient enough to realize that pouring sax on the title track would drown it. It'd be easy to argue that the sax actually makes "Young Americans," but imagine the greatness it could've achieved without the constant nagging and yipping.
2. The Cure, "A Night Like This"
Robert Smith has been known to overstretch, but nearly all of The Cure's 1985 classic The Head On The Door is pretty untouchable. Until, that is, the lovely lament "A Night Like This" heads into its final 90 seconds. A sax solo straight out of a rainy movie interrupts the weeping, adding purely fake emotion and an ugly air of professionalism to a song that didn't need it. Only the sax's final bleat—which sounds a bit like an accident—makes sense in this context. In the song's video, the sax player doesn't even show up, and the band looks uncomfortable.
3. Broken Social Scene, "Almost Crimes"
Broken Social Scene's kitchen-sink approach to songwriting is part of what makes the Canadian band so intriguing, and "Almost Crimes" packs in fuzzy radio sounds, distant voices, and insistent rhythms. During one forceful breakdown, though, BSS gives in to free-sax madness, interrupting the mood completely. If the bleating were any more prominent, it might derail things completely, but it's thankfully pretty buried.
4. The Hold Steady, "Hostile, Mass."
In its quest to be the new-millennial E Street Band (or at least the world's greatest bar band), The Hold Steady injected sax into this defining track from Almost Killed Me. It definitely delivers the "Hey, we're not a regular indie band!" message, but it runs so far the other way—and competes so gruffly in the mix with churning guitars—that it feels like overcompensation. Save it for the places it makes sense, gents—don't use it just because it's there. A great live in-studio session (readily available on YouTube) leaves the sax at home, and the track is better for it.
5. Bruce Springsteen, "Jungleland"
It wouldn't be a saxophone list without Clarence Clemons, the beating heart of The E Street Band—so much so that Bruce tended to overuse him. The first half of the incredibly lengthy solo in "Jungleland" adds depth to a pretty incredible song, but then everything just devolves into a strutting cheese factory. The song itself is able to recover, but maybe The Boss shouldn't have been so demanding of Mr. Clemons, and just let the man stop when things were still going well.
6. Radiohead, "The National Anthem"
Radiohead in experimental mode is every bit as exciting and compelling as Radiohead in pop-leaning mode, and this Kid A track exemplifies the things that go right when the band leaves hooks behind. There's a monster bassline, a semi-nonsensical lyric delivered through echoey effects, and a general sense of dread. Then comes the baritone sax, nearly turning things into a skronky jam fest. Proof that it's questionable: The song inspired a group called Radiohead Jam Band.
7. Madness, "It Must Be Love"
Here's another case of a band trying to get its money's worth from a sax player: The honking is tasteful and integrated throughout most of this sweet little piano-driven song, but like so many bands on the radio in the '80s, Madness apparently felt the need for a solo. Blame Duran Duran. At least this one is mercifully short.
8. The Replacements, "I Don't Know"
The tasteful two-note sax bit that repeats throughout this snarler from Pleased To Meet Me isn't the problem; it's when The Replacements let the sax-man do his own thing that it gets ugly (and incongruously mainstream). Live, The Replacements didn't bother bringing the sax player. (Or being sober.)
9. Galaxie 500, "Blue Thunder (With Sax)"
The warning is right there in the title. "Blue Thunder" is a magnificent example of the evils of saxophone, because both versions—with and without—are readily available. One is a majestic precursor to the slowcore movement, ambling along gently. The other is like a bucket of cold water dumped on an unsuspecting dreamer.
10. Swervedriver, "Never Lose That Feeling/Never Learn"
A sadly forgotten hero of the shoegazer movement that never really fit the mold, Swervedriver added gauze to songs that rocked far more directly than contemporaries like Ride. "Never Lose That Feeling/Never Learn," the final track from 1993's mega Mezcal Head, would be one of the band's greatest accomplishments, if only Swervedriver had let it end at the five-minute mark. Instead, it stretches out to nearly 12 minutes, filled with wandering saxophone that gets more annoying as time elapses. The band apparently knew something wasn't completely right, too: An edit of the song, called simply "Never Lose That Feeling," is the one that made it to the greatest-hits collection.