Serving up sax to the max

Horns make any piece of music exponentially better. There, I said it. What was once very en vogue (see ’70s southern rock to glam rock, ’80s soft rock and even some lingering ’90s alternative cuts) has made a welcomed comeback this century, and that’s the saxophone solo.

We asked WNXP listeners for favorite use of sax in songs and got some great tips, plus I dredged up some of my favorites from the last 20 years amid my own vinyl collection. Stream the March 3 #ThematicStatic 👇🏼 and weigh in (on Instagram, Twitter or via voice memo) to request a song for next week’s theme: badass ladies from all over the globe in celebration of International Women’s Day!

#ThematicStatic Playlist

The Stooges – “Fun House” – The title track from this seminal band’s 1970 LP Fun House is a skronking ~8 minutes of sax-filled early punk glory. Thanks to Tony Gonzalez at WPLN News for this revival! Iggy Pop had this to say about his saxophonist upon Steve Mackay’s passing in 2015:

Steve was a classic 1960s American guy, full of generosity and love for anyone he met. Everytime he put his sax to his lips and honked, he lightened my load and brightened the whole world. He was a credit to his group and his generation. To know him was to love him.

Iggy Pop on Twitter, 10/11/15

David Byrne & St. Vincent – “Who” – Track 1 from one of my favorite collaborations in recent memory — Love This Giant, released in 2012 — showcases this duo’s appreciation for and emphasis on the brass and woodwind instruments they took on tour in a stunning stage production that graced The Ryman stage that same year.

Cautious Clay – “Strange Love” – Multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and producer Joshua Karpeh, who records and performs as Cautious Clay, released his debut full length Deadpan Love last summer (it was our #RecordoftheWeek) and this track featuring rapper Saba ends with a clear and ethereal sax solo.

Morphine – “Honey White” – You just cannot exclude Morphine when talking rock band sax inclusion. Dana Cooley, surviving founding member of these 1990s alt-rock cult favorites from Massachusetts, carries on the tradition with band Vapors of Morphine (clever).

Japanese Breakfast – “Slide Tackle” – The original inspiration for this show’s theme was the 2021 record Jubilee, which features perfectly placed saxophone on a few songs including this one. In this track-by-track discussion of the record for Stereogum, Michelle Zauner shouts out Adam Schatz as the sax man and says this about “Slide Tackle”:

It became this weird song where layer by layer you have this crazy, very intricate guitar line and then this sax solo and this big, crunchy drum fill… It’s a bizarre song and I really like it now, but it took a long time for me to get it.

Michelle Zauner on Japanese Breakfast song “Slide Tackle”

Don’t miss WNXP weekend morning captain Adam Culver’s review of Jubilee, another former #RecordoftheWeek!

Nik Kershaw – “Wouldn’t It Be Good” – Not unlike George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” (sorry I didn’t fit that one in, Ximena!), this 1980s hit has the saxophone on almost duet duty, like a second vocal. It’s essential. It’s sexy as hell. #sorrynotsorry

Rubblebucket – “Donna” – This Brooklyn outfit dubbed “art-pop” (what does that even mean, ain’t all pop music art? Anyway…) puts its horn section center stage quite literally: vocalist Kalmia Traver plays the sax and bandleader Alex Toth rocks the trumpet. This track first released on 2017 EP If U C My Enemies, with an infectious disco drive to it, proves a great introduction to the happy noise made by Rubblebucket.

My Morning Jacket – “Dondante – Emily is seeing MMJ several times this week at One Big Holiday, the KY-TN band’s Caribbean festival, and it’s fine. GOOD FOR HER. I dared to air the 7-minute, slow-burnin’ closer of my favorite start-to-finish Jacket record Z, which winds down with Carl Broemel’s sultry saxophone. (The Nashville based sax-and-ax man didn’t sport his woodwinds at our RCA Studio A session with the band, but you should probably watch those songs, too, now that you’re in the spirit.)

David Bowie – “Soul Love” – Third Man Records piped up on Instagram, and you simply gotta answer that call. A lovely cut from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust employs saxophone to add warmth to the subject matter that feels heartbreakingly poignant this week, as we continue casting our eyes and our love to the people of Ukraine:

Stone love, she kneels before the grave
A brave son, who gave his life
To save the slogans
That hovers between the headstone and her eyes
For they penetrate her grieving

“Stone Love”

Hold That Note

Sax-y stuff we didn’t fit into the 9 o’clock hour:

  • Marian Hill – “Got It” – Requested by Galvie
  • Slow Pulp – “Preoccupied” – Requested by Phill
    Joe Jackson – “Nineteen Forever” – Requested by Evan
    INXS – “Mediate” – Requested by Mark
  • David Bowie – “Modern Love” – Chris, I’ll play this before too long, I promise.
    Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – “Jungleland” – Are you mad that I played The Stooges and MMJ but not this one, Whitney and Amanda? Don’t give up on me. Here’s a live version!