Musical Poll: Casual Sax

A lot of people who rail against popular music (hipsters, classical music snobs, etc.) will cite the mere presence of one or more saxophones in a song as evidence that it sucks, as if saxophones are inherently evil. I’ve never really understood this attitude, and wonder how widespread it is. Thus, a poll:

(The proximate cause of this was some clueless ranting on a pseudonymous LiveJournal, and the recent death of Clarence Clemons, but it’s something I’ve wondered about for a long while, and been keeping in reserve for a day when I needed a poll question.)


  1. #1 Miss MSE (@MissMSE)
    June 22, 2011

    Hit or miss, with the caveat that soprano sax is a 99% miss (see: Kenny G) and bari sax is a 99% hit.

  2. #2 hibob
    June 22, 2011

    As used by the band Morphine: good.

    As used for character development on TV: bad

  3. #3 J
    June 22, 2011

    Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street. Great solo.

  4. #4 Thony C.
    June 22, 2011

    In the right hands the saxophone is an enrichment in a good piece of rock music (I don’t listen to pop). I’m not a Springsteen fan but the Big Man was one of the best right up there with King Curtis and Junior Parker.

  5. #5 Bob O'H
    June 22, 2011

    In the right hands the saxophone is an enrichment in a good piece of rock music

    The right hands being those belonging to the drummer.

  6. #6 Thony C.
    June 22, 2011

    I don’t know many drumming sax players ;)

  7. #7 Tom
    June 22, 2011

    I almost went with #4, but my playlist (Explicit Sax and Other Horny Music) isn’t just sax solos.

    How do you feel about gratuitous violins?

  8. #8 smijer
    June 22, 2011

    Just the way you are by Billy Joel – am I a cretin for loving the sax solo in that? What about Floyd’s Shine On…? On Latest Trick from Dire Straits, the sax solo by itself is not great, but it sets the stage for the trumpet to play off, and is therefore indispensable. Oh well, at least I know I’m not a snob.

  9. #9 Eric Lund
    June 22, 2011

    There may be some hipsters who subscribe to the “sax = bad” school (the Popdose crew among them), but as someone who enjoys classical music, I have never heard this argument from classical music fans. In fact, I own several recordings of classical pieces which include one or more saxophone parts (among them one famous enough that you’ve probably heard it: Rhapsody in Blue). And I admit to some nostalgia for the days when popular music had a place for wind instruments. (FD: The clarinet is my instrument.)

    There are certainly bad popular songs with sax parts. But unless you’re in Kenny G territory, it’s not because of the sax part.

  10. #10 HP
    June 22, 2011

    smijer: You are not a cretin; you are perhaps a prodigy of taste. The saxophonist on Just the Way You Are is the legendary jazz musician Phil Woods. You should check some of his jazz records.

    (Guess who went with option 4?)

  11. #11 D. C. Sessions
    June 22, 2011

    @3: Raphael Ravenscroft is the awesome. Check out his other musical accomplishments (literally “wrote the book” on sax technique, to name one) and then try to diss his popular music contributions.

    Baker Street is OK — but the opening and closing sax passages are enough to bring tears for purity. (Anyone know if Ravenscroft did the similar passages for Seger’s Turn the Page?)

  12. #12 smijer
    June 22, 2011

    Thanks for the tip, HP!

  13. #13 Mike Kozlowski
    June 22, 2011

    Everyone has been trained over the years to never select the “Always”/”Never” choices in multiple choice, questions, but I think that once you factor out that desire for moderation, everyone who selected the “sometimes” choice actually agrees with the “Excruciatingly bad” position, which brings people who disagree down into the crazification factor range.

  14. #14 papango
    June 22, 2011

    Well, I’m totoally biased because my Dad is a saxophone player and a music teacher and he’s pretty awesome. But more than that, my mother started playing the baritone saxophone a couple of years ago (even though it’s almost as tall as she is) to help out my Dad with his cncert band teaching (it’s pretty hard to find school kids with enough omph to really get the best out of a baritone saxophone) and I think the music counds much much better with the rich bass notes coming through.

  15. #15 William
    June 22, 2011

    I voted for “sometimes good, sometimes bad”, but I feel like “sometimes awesome, sometimes terrible” is more accurate.

  16. #16 V. infernalis
    June 22, 2011

    In the case of Careless Whisper, awesome:

  17. #17 Sarcastico
    June 22, 2011

    Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side. Truly orgasmic sax

  18. #18 Braden
    June 23, 2011

    Honestly, I really don’t like the saxophone. It just sounds far too screechy for my tastes. Accordingly, I am not a Jazz fan, and when the topic arises I find myself wondering why anyone would enjoy that screechy sounding cacophony.

  19. #19 buddhacat
    June 23, 2011

    I instantly thought of Us and Them; have to go with the option 2.

  20. #20 James Davis
    June 23, 2011

    Honestly, I love the sax, it’s part of what makes bands like Electric Six and Oingo Boingo great.

    Besides, if you want it to be ‘real’ rock and roll, you need a sax.

  21. #21 Therese Norén
    June 23, 2011

    Yes, Baker Street has a great sax solo, but really, nothing’s better than the one in Die Mauer.

    (Despite the German title, it’s a Swedish song. A punk protest against the Berlin Wall.)

  22. #22 Pseudonym
    June 23, 2011

    Bolero by Maurice Ravel. Yes, saxophone appears in classical music.

  23. #23 CCPhysicist
    June 23, 2011

    I would answer #4 if the question was about jazz.

    The sax came into rock and jazz and blues because of a common origin in American music, so it has a rich heritage. Don’t throw out the good because of the bad. The same is true for live guitar and drum solos! If it is loud, it is excruciating when it is bad.

    Braden, you can’t step into something as evolved as the later work by John Coltrane without some serious preparation. (Similar example: late 20th century classical music.) Listen instead to the “birth of the cool” era of the Miles Davis quintet in the early 50s.

  24. #24 Mu
    June 23, 2011

    Baker Street made me buy a sax.

  25. #25 Lynxreign
    June 23, 2011

    Don’t forget Punk! Great bands like X-Ray Spex, Psychadellic Furs and many others used sax.

  26. #26 D. C. Sessions
    June 23, 2011

    Baker Street made me buy a sax.

    Awesome! Now you can buy the book by the guy who played that riff.

  27. #27 KeithB
    June 23, 2011

    I have always been partial to the sax solo in Ronstadt’s Blue Bayou. (Dave Sanborn, IIRC)

  28. #28 Alan
    June 23, 2011

    Pink Floyd, Lou Reed – Sax that’s better than sex.

  29. #29 -
    June 24, 2011

    poseur, oh bondage.
    mott (perhaps).

    but generally sax is one of the more difficult instruments.

  30. #30 -
    June 24, 2011

    “Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street. Great solo.”
    (({{p u k e}}))
    a well-known/infamous example of bad/criminal sax.
    “Don’t throw out the good because of the bad. The same is true for live guitar and drum solos anything bad! If it is loud [bad], it is excruciating when it is bad.”
    agree. also, almost any c r a p can be made good if properly sampled/remixed.

    the same can be said of wahwah, autotune, quantize, etc.

  31. #31 -
    June 24, 2011

    harmonica is another. almost as difficult to use as the kazoo.

  32. #32 Anna
    June 24, 2011

    Okay, whoever said ‘Walk on the Wild Side,’ I will admit, that is great. But that sax totally co-opted a jazz sound, which elevated it beyond pop music.

    Personally, I prefer a good bass line.

    And Auto-Tune is straight from the pits of hell.

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