Mix Six: “Sax in the ’80s”


About once a month I’ll send off an email to Ted with suggestions for Mix Sixes. Usually he incorporates them into his post, which I greatly appreciate. This past Friday I came up with something ludicrous and sent it with the message, “Ted, here’s a Mix Six for when you’re really desperate.” Little did I know that my good friend Mr. Asregadoo was going to take some time off. His email back was “Hey this would be fun, Scott, why don’t you do it up for next week?”  To me it read, “Great job, Scott, I’m on my way out the door so… whydon’tyoudotheMixSixformenextweekseeya.” Door slams!

Thanks, Ted.

So now you’re all stuck with my lame-ass “Sax in the ’80s” Mix. Enjoy!

Oh, and I apologize for not having the true mix up for y’all. I don’t have the software to do things up properly.–Scott

Before Dave Matthews made the saxophone cool again (RIP Mr. Moore), several of bands in the 1980s (mostly early ’80s) were incorporating the famous woodwind instrument into their sound, and I’m not just talking about a certain dude from Jersey (or that other dude from Jersey who sounds just like the first dude from Jersey and whose music was used for a cult film called Eddie and the Cruisers). In fact, several modern rock bands had sax in them as a central part to their makeup. Today we look at some of those acts and their well-known songs.

Men at Work

“Who Can It be Now?” Men at Work (download)

Why not start with the Grammy Award-winning act from down under? Men at Work’s sax player, Greg Ham, was a multi-instrumentalist who also played flute, organ and synths. This song is defined by the opening sax lick. The minute you hear it you know immediately that it’s Men at Work from their debut album, Business as Usual. This is one of the good ones from the early ’80s. It holds up despite being overplayed in its day. I still crack up at the sight of lead singer Colin Hay getting startled while he sits at the kitchen table in the video. Okay, enough yapping. Here’s the song that was an international hit and featured in one of my favorite movies, Valley Girl.


“Remember the Nights,” the Motels (download)

I’m sure you were expecting a different Motels song that made them a lot of money. However, “Only the Lonely” from 1982 was a little too obvious (what, and “Who Can It Be Now?” and “Harden My Heart” aren’t?). I’ve always loved this song, the second single from the Motels’ 1983 album, Little Robbers. Martha Davis has such a great, bluesy voice, and sax player Marty Jourard  brings an urgency and passion to his playing that matches Davis note for note. Unfortunately you never hear this song on the radio, even though it was a top 40 hit.  On a side note, my dad is a sax player and he once appeared on stage with one of my brother’s garage bands to play the part for “Only the Lonely.” Still didn’t make me want to put that song in this Mix Six. Live with it.


“Trouble in Paradise (live),” Huey Lewis & the News (download)

If you ask me, there were two reasons to buy the We are the World besides the money going to charity. No, not the syrupy Michael Jackson/Lionel Richie song, but the unreleased track by that Jersey boy, “Trapped” (featuring some mean sax by the Big Man) and this fine live song by Huey Lewis & the News, who were on their way to the height of their fame when it was released. Never really a proper single, “Trouble in Paradise” received plenty of airplay thanks to the catchy chorus and a fine, fine solo by Johnny Colla (“Johnny!”). Since its initial release in 1985, “Trouble in Paradise” has appeared on every Huey Lewis & The News compilation, including this 2006 Greatest Hits CD.


“The One Thing,” INXS (download)

Here’s a band that I’ve always liked. One of the great rock dance bands of their era. New wave rock and roll that had flair, drive and one of the greatest lead singers of all time in the late Michael Hutchence. Oh, and band member Kirk Pengilly played sax. “The One Thing” was the breakthrough song for the band, from their 1982 album, Shabooh, Shoobah. I believe the video was on constant rotation at MTV for a while. It gave the band some heat and a couple years later they exploded.  I never quite understood why INXS had a saxophone, must be something about being from Australia. I hear Midnight Oil wanted to have their own sax player once, but there was too much glare from the metal horn and Peter Garrett’s bald head so it didn’t work out. I jest. Please don’t send Peter Garrett after me, he’s a scary dude.


“Harden My Heart,” Quarterflash (download)

Let’s see, it’s the early ’80s. Hmmm. Poppy, mainstream rock. Check. Lead singer is cute and looks kind of like Pat Benatar. Check. Cute lead singer lugs around a saxophone while she pours her heart out into the microphone. Check. Hubba wha? Rindy Ross, the attractive lead singer for Quarterflash was also their horn player and the band, which also included her husband Marv on lead guitar, had a huge hit with this song from the self-titled debut album in 1981. It went all the way to number 3 on the Billboard charts. “Harden My Heart” is another number that starts with a distinct sax part that identifies the song immediately.


“Set Me Free (Rosa Lee),” Los Lobos (download)

What better way to end things than with one of the most critically acclaimed, commercially unsuccessful groups of all time? I’m going to say this right now: Los Lobos should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Period. Classy, consummate musicians and songwriters, no matter what type of music they record, they never shy away from their East L.A. Chicano roots. But I’m not here to stand on a soapbox; I’m here to give you one of the great songs from By the Light of the Moon, Los Lobos’s stunning 1987 album that earned them a spot opening for U2 on their Joshua Tree tour. Great album. Even greater band. And hey, I bet you didn’t realize that Steve Berlin, the man laying down these killer sax licks, wasn’t even an original member of Los Lobos. Well, now you do.

That’s all from me. Have a great week and if you have any suggestions for Mix Sixes, I dare you to email them to Ted. Be forewarned: he may hand the reins over to you.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

  • jack

    I also lump Gerry Rafferty's “Baker Street” in there, even though it was a 1978 release. Maybe it should be considered the father of “Sax in the '80s” since it caused “a jump in saxophone sales, and a noticeable increase in the use of the instrument in mainstream pop music and TV advertising.”


  • http://www.bullz-eye.com DavidMedsker

    Too funny. I made a comment in tomorrow's White Label Wednesday piece about how sax solos were required by law back then. Thankfully the song I wrote up is not one of the songs you listed here.

  • http://www.popdose.com Ted

    I know we did a Phil Collins mix a few weeks ago, but “One More Night” certainly would have fit as a “set closer.”

    Thanks for stepping up this week, Scott! I enjoyed this mix quite a lot — even though I have to hear two out of the six songs almost every day at work.

  • Matt

    Here's the complete mix for anyone that geeks out on the actual mixes like I do!


  • kingpervus

    The Psychedelic Furs were kind of innovative in using the sax as an additional layer of noise (and not just ersatz guitar) in their earlier records, kind of like Morphine a decade or so later.

    Also, the sax on the Cure's “Night like this” was an unexpected, but pretty pedestrian addition to that particular cut.

    I have noticed that some bands on the casino/state fair circuit actually replace the old sax solo with a guitar. Apparently sticking another guy on the tour (or practicing your chops) just to blow a few notes just ain't worth the trouble.

    It could also be noted that any slumming 80s saxaphonist (like that guy with the muscles in the Tima Turner videos) can maybe score a gig in a ska band, where horns are always appreciated.

  • http://playitandbedamned.blogspot.com/ rob

    Instead of “Trouble in Paradise,” why not put in “Small World” (the instrumental version) by Huey Lewis and the News. The song is nothing special, but the sax solo is killer, blown by none other than Stan Getz, then a Stanford music instructor who played on the record to return a favor to Mr . Lewis.

    On my blog a while back, I actually did a really nice mix of great jazz saxophonists who played on pop records. Stan the Man. Art Pepper. Joshua Redman. James Carter. Joe Henderson. Wayne Shorter. Branford Marsalis. And even one of the top British saxophonists of the 60s, Ronnie Scott, who once played on a song by a band fronted by four guys named John, Paul, George and Ringo.


    One day (if I ever revive this damn blog) I'll do a top ten list of the greatest sax solos of the 70s. “Year of the Cat”, “Baker Street,” “Aja,” “Jazzman,” “Young Americans” etc.

    Although I play trumpet (lousily), I really wanted to learn to play the sax. Which is why I love it so much.

    Thanks for the mix!

  • Matt

    I'll agree, that is a killer solo on Small World, but man, I love Trouble in Paradise…..one of the most underrated songs in the Huey catalog, in my opinion, and it has to be the live version.

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    Stan Getz played on a Huey Lewis record. A-fuckin'-mazing. Thanks for turning my world upside down, Rob.

  • http://harpandthistle.blogspot.com RLB

    This post gives me a chance to spread this link, which made me laugh quite a bit when I stumbled across it: http://imacomputa.org/sax/

  • Matt

    That's because Huey is the man. Pretty sure Sinatra did background vocals on The Heart of Rock and Roll.

  • Malchus

    I was trying to stick with bands that featured actual members playing the sax. I agree, “Small World” has a great sax solo by Getz.

    I almost put some solo Sting in the mix, but hell, Sting doesn't need any more exposure. So I went with Los Lobos.

  • Malchus

    You rock, Matt! Thanks!

  • Malchus

    I'm glad to hear that the Los Lobos and The Motels are getting a lot of airplay in your neck of the woods, Ted. Ha, ha.

  • jamesballenger

    If that is true, I feel a music geek aneurysm.

  • http://playitandbedamned.blogspot.com/ rob

    Having closely listened to Sting's first two solo albums (the ones with Branford featured prominently), I can say that in most songs, the sax is an afterthought. All Branford is doing most of the time is echoing Sting's vocals. Which in my book isn't very innovative and is downright criminal, in terms of utilizing Mr. Marsalis' considerable talents.

    That's why I selected Shanice's “I Love Your Smile.” Great pop confection. And though Branford's solo isn't very long, it's pretty tasty. Plus she shouts out to him.

  • http://playitandbedamned.blogspot.com/ rob

    Glad I blew your mind, Jeff. Always nice when I can share a bit of pop culture that is not already in your limitless brain.

    How about another “blow your mind” moment?

    Stan with Cybill Shepherd. Playing an Antonio Carlos Jobim tune, no less.


  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    It's like Rembrandt drawing Garfield cartoons. Goddammit.

  • http://www.popdose.com jefito

    If you've got enough of these, we can start a new series about brilliant artists slumming on suspect tracks…

  • http://playitandbedamned.blogspot.com/ rob

    I'll have to think about that one, but right now I'm in a sax frame of mind.

    Actually, one of my blog readers pointed one out to me the other day. “A Night in New York” by Elbow Bones and the Racketeers has nice little alto sax solo. The band was a front for August Darnelll (Kid Creole and the Coconuts). This reader got in touch with one of Kid Creole's regular sax players and confirmed that well-known jazzbo Paquito D'Rivera played the solo.

    And of course, as almost everyone here knows, Richie Connata couldn't quite pull off the iconic solo on Billy Joel's “Just the Way You Are.” So Phil Ramone (who, in one of his first jobs, was the engineer on the classic Getz/Gilberto album) called in jazz saxophonist Phil Woods to do the duty. I often wonder if he was tempted to try to get Getz — who several years later did a killer job on Diane Schuur's cover of “New York State of Mind.” What a combination that would have been.

  • claudewc

    What I remember from hearing “Baker Street” in '78 is that it, along with the stuff on Dylan's _Street Legal_, seemed a response to Clarence Clemons's recent elevation to icon status. (Springsteen moved Miami Steve, his old foil, off to the side and put the Big Man next to him.) See the cover of _Born to Run_ (or this: http://images.apple.com/ca/pro/profiles/preston…) for a perfect rendition of what Leslie Fiedler was trying to get at in his bromantic essays.

    Looking at it from this far along, it's easy to tell that Clemons is an all right but not great saxophonist, but man could he ever stand next to his employer and strike a pose that said, “Rock&roll.”

  • Bob

    You're kidding, right Jeff? Have you forgotten that you could do an entire “slumming series” featuring only McD.?

  • Bob

    Great mix, Scott.

    Too bad you couldn't include two INXS selections; Not only does “Never Tear Us Apart” have a great little sax solo, but in the video, it's done in a graveyard!


  • Malchus

    If I chose a Sting song, it would have been “Englishman in New York.” While I agree with what you said, Rob, I feel that that song, with it's beautiful soprano sax part and magnificent solo is a timeless piece of music.

  • http://playitandbedamned.blogspot.com/ rob

    I would have agreed with your selection.Of all the Sting/Branford combinations, this was by far the best.

  • http://playitandbedamned.blogspot.com/ rob

    I would have agreed with your selection.Of all the Sting/Branford combinations, this was by far the best.

  • http://playitandbedamned.blogspot.com/ rob

    I would have agreed with your selection.Of all the Sting/Branford combinations, this was by far the best.

  • Pingback: Latest how to play saxophone news - Mix Six: “Sax in the ’80s” | Popdose | The Good Sax Guide()