Hi Everybody! This week Robert is taking a break from Deep Tracks. Instead, he is delving into an awesome topic – 80’s songs that feature a saxophone. Along with the synthesizer, I feel that the sax gives songs that classic ’80s signature sound. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that just about the only new song I’ve liked in recent years is “The Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga. The late, great Big Man, Clarence Clemons (of E-Street Band fame) has a sax solo in that song.
This will be a two-part series, with 5 songs each day. Take it away, Robert
It has been a tough few weeks for fans of ‘70s and ‘80s pop culture. The recent deaths of David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and Glenn Frey have taken many of us by surprise. We have all read about the lives and careers of these great artists, so I am not going to rehash all of that information. As I have been thinking about these three, I keep coming back to Glenn Frey, both his solo work and the music he created with the Eagles. For years I have enjoyed the great songs that he created on his own or with the legendary band. I vividly remember buying the Eagles single “New Kid in Town” and listening to it over and over again, each time feeling sadder and sadder for the new kid. As I moved into high school and college I gained a huge love and respect for all of the Eagles’ music. Frey’s solo work was also outstanding. Songs like “The Heat is On” and “Smuggler’s Blues” were on dozens of mixtapes that I made- forcing my friends to listen to these great songs.
Over the past week I have listened to many of Frey’s songs and have rediscovered two of my favorites, “The One You Love” and “You Belong to the City.” I also remembered that one of the reasons I love these songs is the use of the saxophone. Naturally, this lead me to thinking about other ‘80s songs that have the prominent use of a saxophone. It took some deep trips into my memory and a little research, but I have come up with my ten favorite ‘80s hits that feature the smooth sounds of the sax; I am defining “feature” as having, at minimum, a sax solo. This is by no means meant to be a comprehensive list, just my favorites and a nod to Glenn Frey whose music got me thinking about it. So here they are – in no particular order, my favorite ten ‘80s song with a clear saxophone element being used.
“The One You Love” by Glenn Frey
I begin this list with the song and artist that is the inspiration for this list. This is my favorite solo hit by Frey and comes from his debut solo album No Fun Allowed in 1982. The song reached #15 on the AT 40 and, while that is a respectable chart position, it does not really capture the full quality of this song. The saxophones are played by two musicians; the repeating theme in the song is played by Ernie Watts and the solo sax at the end of the song is played by Jim Horn (no, this is not a pun). This is a slow paced, somber tune that depicts a moral dilemma. The woman in the song is trapped between two men and must make a choice that is going to have a profound effect on both men, “Someone’s going to cry when they’ve learned they lost you / Someone’s going to thank the stars above.” Each man speaks to a different side of the woman which makes her decision extremely difficult. One of the men has hurt her before and the one she is with now treats her well, but she is not crazy in love with him. The chorus ask the question that is perfectly captures her choice: “Are you going back to the one who loves you / Or are you going to stay with the one you love?” There is no easy answer to this difficult situation, but we do know that this song gets Frey’s solo career off to an excellent start.
“Fortress Around Your Heart” by Sting
I will confess to being a huge fan of the Police and Sting due to the songwriting. My English teacher self loves Sting’s lyrics full of symbolism, imagery, and metaphors – call me a literary geek if you want, I will fully acknowledge and accept the label. On Sting’s first two solo albums, Dream of the Blue Turtles and Nothing Like the Sun, he seems to be trying to stylistically separate himself from the Police. He has abandoned the reggae influences for a more jazz based sound, hence the prominence of the horns. The saxophone on this track is played by the incomparable Branford Marsalis. The sax is spread throughout the song and blends nicely with Sting’s bass and guitar work. This will always be my favorite Sting song because of the lyrics. He takes an unusual twist and uses war imagery to capture a man who is regretting the way he has handled the relationship with his love. He wants to protect her, but he may have taken this to an extreme and now feel remorseful, “I recognize the walls that I once made / Had to stop in my tracks for fear of walking on the mines I’ve laid.” I believe his intentions were good, he just let things get out of hand. The chorus captures both this and his regret in doing so: “And if I built this fortress around your heart / Encircled you in trenches and barbed wire / Let me build a bridge, for I cannot fill the chasm / Let me set the battlements on fire.” I have always been a huge fan of Sting’s songwriting and this song is a prime example of this. I am looking forward to seeing him at the NBA All-Star game in a few weeks.
“Careless Whisper” by Wham! featuring George Michael
I have absolutely no problem in declaring my love for Wham!’s album Make It Big. It was one of my favorites in high school and my best friends and I nearly wore the grooves off of the record. This particular song ended up as the #1 song of 1985 (“Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” was #3) and I have always been fascinated with the raw emotions of the lyrics. The gorgeous saxophone is played by Steve Gregory and truly carries this somber song. When people think of this song Gregory’s excellent sounding horn comes to mind immediately. While this song is from the Make It Big album, it is a solo effort by George Michael and it clearly played an instrumental role in him embarking on a solo career soon after it’s success. The song is one of regret. The speaker has made an enormous mistake and lost his love, “Should have known better than to cheat a friend / And waste the chance that I have been given.” Now he is realizing that he has lost a very special relationship and realizing he can never get it back, “I’m never going to dance again / These guilty feeling got no rhythm . . . So I’m never going to dance again the way I danced with you.” The chorus is agonizing and full of guilt and hopelessness – he know he has lost her forever because of something he did. I am always caught by the bridge in this song, “Maybe it’s better this way / We’ve hurt each other with the things we want to say / We could have been so good together / We could have lived this dance forever / Now who’s going to dance with me.” As an adult who married his high school sweetheart, this song has always stayed with me and serves as reminder of being true to the one who is most important in my life.
“True” by Spandau Ballet
This 1983 hit may now be best remembered for making an appearance in Sixteen Candles – remember the dance scene?
This is Spandau Ballet’s only significant hit in the U.S., putting this song on the category of one hit wonder. If you only get one hit, it might as well be a memorable one like “True” that still makes us stop, listen, and reflect on our high school days. This slow jam of a song is a perfect fit for and a staple of high school dances in the ‘80s. I have fond memories of standing up against the wall, too embarrassed to dance to the fast songs and way too scared to ask anyone to dance to this one. Most memorable are the smooth vocals by Tony Hadley, the simple and repeating guitar plucks and the sax by Steve Norman. There is not much about the lyrics that has not been said, so I offer you a challenge: play this song sometime soon and try not to sway back and forth and hit those “dunt dunt (pause) dunt dunt” sounds. You can’t resist – and neither can I.
“Urgent” by Foreigner
I love Foreigner and the album 4 that this song comes from is one of the major reasons why. There are truly no bad songs anywhere on this album. This album, released in 1981, had five AT 40 hits with “Urgent” hitting #4. This is a great rock song with great guitar work by Mick Jones and Lou Gramm’s signature vocal style. The unforgettable sax solo is played by Junior Walker while the rest of the sax is played by Mark Rivera (although the video does not suggest this). The song as about a woman who just seems to have a burning need to be with the speaker. This is never meant to be a long term relationship, rather a quick-hit whenever needed. I have always enjoyed the pace of this song, lyrics included. I love the way they phrase lines like, “You play trick on my mind / You’re everywhere but you’re so hard to find / You’re not warm, you’re sentimental / You’re so extreme, you can be so temperamental.” This is a fantastic song that played a large role in getting me into music. Years later (1986) when I started dating my future wife, I quickly discovered that we do not have the same passion for or taste in music – except for this album. “Urgent” and 4 was one of the first albums we listened to together and, when it comes on now, we both really get into it.
If you were alive 30 years ago today, then you were glued to MTV right now. This was our generation’s Woodstock. Or was Woodstock the hippie generation’s bong-watered down version of Live Aid? In any case, just about every great artist from ’80s, for all genres, performed today in either England or Philadelphia. There was also somebody who played live in both places. Here are some great quotes from that day, that I found on imdb. And we will close out with one of the greatest performances of all-time. I’m sure you already know what it is before you even scroll down.
Richard Skinner: It’s 12 noon in London, 7am in Philadelphia, and around the world it’s time for Live Aid. Wembley welcomes their Royal Highnesses, the Prince and Princess of Wales.
Adam Ant: There are many of my heroes here. People I’ve worshiped from afar.
Ozzy Osbourne: I came here to play music, and I didn’t really realize the full extent and magnitude of what it is all about. Now I’m here, it’s the greatest event ever.
Tina Turner: It was the most electrifying feeling, being there – no other reason than the cause. I wish I could do even more.
Mike Jagger: I came to play in Philadelphia because of the cause, because of Live Aid, of course. But I also came to have myself a good time. And I’ve sure as hell done that.
Dionne Warwick: They say the entertainment industry can never get together. Fooled them again, didn’t we?
Sting: This is what rock and roll is all about. It’s an event as much as its music.
Bryan Adams: I’m just proud to be here. I’m a Canadian and tears are not enough. Let’s all do what we can for Live Aid.
Tom Petty: Two minutes before we came on stage, we decided to play “American Girl”, since this is, after all, JFK stadium.
Phil Collins: I was in England this afternoon… funny old world, innit?
Bob Geldof: I’ve just realized that today is the best day of my life. Now I’m going home to sleep.
And we’ll close out with one of the best performances by one of the best bands ever. There is no current artist alive today that can hold the world in the palm of his or her hand like Freddie did that day. Here is the full performance. Enjoy!
Hi Everybody! Robert is back again to continue the ‘Going Solo’ series! We have an interesting one today. I do like most of the songs The Police did. But, I was never a big fan of his solo stuff. There are only a few songs that I like from his solo years. So, I was looking forward to Robert’s take on these songs, and he does not disappoint! He got me thinking about, and listening to these songs differently. There are even a couple of songs on here that I had never heard before, and enjoyed. Maybe the same will happen to you. Enjoy!
Sting – English Teacher, Famous Band, Solo Superstar
When I was in eighth grade, a family friend, who was also a DJ for Armed Forces Radio (AFN) gave me an album. This was not an unusual occurrence because he knew I loved music and had brought albums to me before. This one was different – it started my love for an amazing songwriter and a group of supremely talented musicians. The album was Synchronicity by the Police. I was to learn later that this would be their last studio album together and that the vocalist, Sting, was about to launch an impressive solo career that is still going today.
As the main lyricist and vocalist, Sting with the Police had a very successful, albeit short lived career. The Police were formed by Sting, whose real name is Gordon Sumner (vocals and bass), Stewart Copeland (drums), and Andy Summers (guitar) in 1977 and recorded their first album in 1978, Outlandos D’Amour. This album spawned no hit singles in the United States, but does contain the now famous song “Roxanne” that was beautifully performed by Eddie Murphy in his first film 48 Hours. The Police would soon become staples on the American charts. Their second album Reggatta de Blanc did not have any hit singles in the States either, but the album did reach #25 on Billboard’s album charts. In 1980 they released Zenyatta Mondatta which reached #5 on the album charts and had the hits singles “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” and “De Do Do Do De Da Da Da.” They followed this with The Ghost in the Machine (1981) and the iconic Synchronicity (1983). The hits singles “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic”, “King of Pain”, “Wrapped Around Your Finger”, and the mega-smash hit “Every Breath You Take” all come from these two albums. The Police have sold over 100 million albums worldwide – 22 million in the United States alone.
Despite this, the band and lead singer Sting seemed less than content. After a failed attempt at a follow up to Synchronicity, Sting decided to part ways with the band and embark on a solo career. Sting, who began his adult life as an English teacher, was always the main lyricist for the Police. He was never short on ideas and continued to write songs. In 1985 Sting released his first solo album Dream of the Blue Turtles. This album reached #2 on Billboard’s album charts and sold 3 million copies – not a bad debut. In addition to receiving several Grammy nominations, the album contained four top 40 hits: “If You Love Someone Set Them Free” #3, “Love is the Seventh Wave” #17 “Fortress Around Your Heart” #8, and “Russians” #16. It is safe to say that with this album, Sting was able to maintain the success that he achieved with the Police.
After Dream of the Blue Turtles, Sting continued to produce quality music as a solo artist and not as a member of the Police. Before his second solo album, Sting made appearances with Phil Collins the song “Long Long Way to Go” and with Dire Straits with the opening line,“I want my MTV” from “Money for Nothing.” Sting released his second album Nothing Like the Sun in 1987. This album increased Sting’s worldwide popularity with four more charting singles and being certified double platinum. Personally I love this album because the title is an allusion to a famous Shakespearean sonnet. Sting will continue to produce quality solo albums as well as write music for films and, most recently, a successful Broadway musical The Last Ship.
Sting has produced such an eclectic blend of music that some people find him hard to listen to on a regular basis. His first solo effort, Dream of the Blue Turtles, is a must for any fan of ‘80s music. He combines rock and reggae from his days with the Police, but he does not stop there; he writes meaningful lyrics and combines them with jazz, rock, reggae- you name it. Sting is a true artist and this album puts his talents on full display. I will do my best to not sound too much like an English teacher, but Sting is such a good writer that I am not sure I can avoid it.
The clearest memory I have of this song, other than liking it, is how much my girlfriend (now wife) hated this song. When I asked her why, her response was always, “It is just so stupid. You can’t just let go of someone you love. That’s dumb.” Clearly I disagree. Sting’s sentiment in this song is not original, he is just restating the idea that to see if you truly love someone, let them go; if they come back the love is true. Already in this first track, Sting’s way with words shows, “You can’t control an independent heart / Can’t tear the one you love apart / Forever conditioned to believe that we can’t live / We can’t live here and be happy with less / So many riches, so many souls / With everything we see we want to possess.” Sting is able to take an idea that is usually stated as a cliche and give it an original, well written slant. This is a great way to begin the first solo album.
Here is the first (of many) songs by Sting that needs a little explanation. A strange part of me has always liked to do research – I think this is part of why I became an English major. The title and chorus of this song refers to a sailor’s belief that, in a series of waves, the seventh one was always the strongest and would wash away anything in its path. Sting is being unusually optimistic when he writes, “Feel it rising in the cities / Feel it sweeping overland / Over border, over frontiers / Nothing will its power withstand.” Love is the force that will defeat all of the bad in the world. Sting experiments with musical styles throughout this album; this song has a clear reggae element to it.
I have very fond memories of the time I spent looking up all of the references in this song (and remember, these were pre-internet days). This song was all too real for a teenaged boy living on an army base in Germany only a few thousand miles away from our enemy (at the time) the Soviet Union. This song is another example from the ‘80s of our fear of nuclear war. This song, like the movie The Day After, captured American and European fears of Russia using nuclear weapons aggressively, placing all civilization at risk. The deep musical tone of the music (Sting credits Sergei Prokofiev) gives this song a haunting feel and the lyrics serve only to emphasize the fear of an impending nuclear holocaust, “How can I save my little boy / From Oppenheimer’s deadly toy / There is no monopoly of common sense / On either side of the political fence.” Our only hope lies in the chorus of the song, “ Believe me when I say to you, I hope the Russians love their children, too.”
Sting is not one to shy away from controversy and in this song, like “Russians”, Sting is very clear about his message. Most of the verses in this song are about the English soldiers who fought in World War I. England copied most countries and sent young men into battle. The poppies mentioned a number of times in this song are traditional symbols of death and are used today as a form of remembrance of any soldiers who have died in war. Sting does not hold back in criticizing the, “Corpulent generals safe behind lines / History’s lessons drowned in red wine” – typical Sting. The last verse makes a sudden change and draws on the idea of poppies being the source of opium and all of the young lives that are hurt by it. This is a powerful song that may polarize listeners.
This song is a cover of a song that Sting first recorded in 1980 as a member of the Police from the album Zenyatta Mondatta. The Police version is a slow, bass heavy, reggae influenced song. As a solo artist, Sting reinterprets this song and it becomes a jazz composition. He changes none of the lyrics, just the tempo and instrumentation, but it is a completely different song.
Here is another song where Sting speaks for the voiceless. This song captures the hardships of those who worked in coal mines for a living. The setting of this song is unclear, but that does not matter; the outcome for the workers is very clear, “Our blood has stained the coal / We tunneled deep inside the nation’s soul / We matter more than pound and pence / Your economic theory makes no sense.” This is not the last song in which Sting will defend the people that the mainstream media ignores. He draws our attention to a deserving situation, making us more aware of a group of people who have gone unnoticed for generations.
As the title suggests, this song has the simple appearance of a break up song. In typical Sting fashion, he does so with good writing that does not always make an appearance in contemporary music. To describe the break up, Sting uses this imagery, “Roses have thorns / Shining water’s mud / And cancer lurks deep / In the sweetest bud / Clouds and eclipses / Stain the moon and sun / And history reeks / Of the wrongs we have done.” Once again – just great writing.
I do not listen to instrumentals on a regular basis. In fact, off the top of my head I can name only a handful, but this is one of them. This track is an upbeat jazz composition that highlights the expert musicians that Sting surrounded himself with featuring the likes of Omar Hakim on drums, Kenny Kirkland on keyboards, and Branford Marsalis on the saxophone. This is a cool little song that will help listeners experience a little more jazz than normal.
This is another fascinating song whose lyrics I pored over and became fascinated with. With this song, Sting may have been a bit ahead of his time by beating the vampire craze by a few decades. As the title suggests, the setting of the song is New Orleans. The first person narrator is a vampire who is struggling with the curse laid upon him. His frustration lies in the isolation that life has forced upon him. He is in pursuit of a woman, but “I must love what I destroy and destroy the thing I love.” I have always liked this song and now when I listen to it I hear the haunting qualities that it possesses. The video is a live performance with the Berlin Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
Here is my favorite song from this album. This is a beautifully written love song that uses war imagery – not your typical romantic ballad. It seems as if the speaker in this song has spent some significant time in protecting his love – perhaps too much. He has been so concerned with ‘protecting’ her that he has lost sight of why she is important. He is now coming to terms with this and realizing that he may not be able to hold on to her. Sting writes, “I had to stop in my tracks for fear / Of walking on the mines I’ve laid.” The chorus continues, “If I’ve built this fortress around your heart / Encircled you with trenches and barbed wire / Then let me build a bridge / For I cannot fill the chasm / Let me set the battlements on fire.” He is hoping that it is not too late to save the relationship. I am not sure that there are many better written hits from the ‘80s.
The Police, soundtracks, pop, jazz, rock, reggae, Broadway, acting, member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – you name it and Sting has done it. It is rare that such a talented individual comes along. Even rarer that one is able to sustain a musical career over so many years. Sting is a unique artist who uses his music to entertain and draw attention to problems in the world. For some, this makes him unappealing. Your thoughts on Sting as a person or artist aside, Dream of the Blue Turtles is an excellent album from a decade of excellent albums. Sting’s solo work belongs on every ‘80s fan list of must haves.
I can see your face still shining through the window on the other side
Last Songs: “Synchronicity II” by the Police, “You Are My Lady” by Freddie Jackson, and “Feelings of Forever” by Tiffany. All three celebrated a birthday yesterday – Sting (62), Freddie Jackson (57), and Tiffany (42).
Great job Cooly, who got all three!!
Daddy only stares into the distance
There’s only so.much heartache he can take
Just say that you’ll stay with me
‘Cause our love was meant to be
I promise to love you
More each day
Far beneath the silver skies
there’s no one around
to chase this night away