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16 August 2006



I make no bones about being a Billy Joel fan, and "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" and "New York State of Mind" (Richie Cannata, saxophone) are among my favourite rock saxophone solos. There's a couple of good ones on Bruce Hornsby's live record, Here Come The Noisemakers (Bobby Read, saxophones).

This question also supposes we're leaving the Motown and the rhythm & blues guys (King Curtis, Louis Jordan, all the bar-walking tenor players) out of the equation. Lots of good jumpin' stuff there.



The thing is, you are young enough to have escaped being traumatized by wall-to wall bad sax solos on the radio during your formative years. (Weren't you, like, six years old when Nevermind came out?) This may have led to a somewhat more indulgent attitude on your part.

And yes, we are limiting ourselves to rock -- R&B and, for that matter, rock 'n roll, are ineligible due to the vastly higher tolerability on that side of the fence. Pitting King Curtis and Louis Jordan against, say, Dick Parry (of Pink Floyd) is just plain mean.

Chris H

Isn't that Sonny Rollins on the Stones' "Waiting on a Friend"? Pretty good in my book.


Yes, that's Sonny, although the producer does his best to bury him in cavernous reverb with, paradoxically, really loud keyslap noise.

It's definitely in the tolerable range (especially his blowing on the outro), but we all know Sonny's capable of much better. I wish his approach had been less "here's my impression of a rock tenor player" and more something that allowed his own personality to shine through. Still, it's clearly head and shoulders (and chest and torso and thighs and ankles) above the competition.

The Bad Plus

Obviously, we are delighted with this post! That website of 80's solos is jaw-dropping--just what the internet is for.


I'd just like to give some props to Steve Berlin, whom I saw countless times with Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs, the Plugz, the Flesheaters, Phast Preddie and Thee Precisions, the Blasters (though Lee Allen generally took the actual solos with them), and, of course, Los Lobos. I'm afraid I'll have to cop out on nominating individual recorded solos, because I feel that my collection is too limited, but the man is damn good at what he does.


The Plugz on youtube.


...of which only Young and On Fire has particularly good sax (yeah, I know, it's only rock'n'roll, but...)



I'm afraid the only band you mention above that I've even heard of is Los Lobos, and even there I have only the most surface acquaintance with their music. (I keep meaning to delve deeper at some point, but their recorded output is so vast...)

But yeah, if that clip is any indication, Steve Berlin certainly deserves to be inducted into the elite ranks of Tolerable Rock Sax Players.


Well, I'm sure the Bad Plus have heard of Top Jimmy, anyway...


Speaking of Sonny Rollins, there's this clip of him playing with Leonard Cohen on David Sanborn's TV show.

Otherwise, like David, I'm too young (and too out out-of-reach of pop music, anyway) to have been traumatised by rock saxophone solos.


BTW, according to that Springsteen doc that goes along with that Hammersmith concert they show on PBS whenever they're shnoring, that Jungleland solo was spliced together from the results of an 18-hour session with Bruce guiding Clarence, which is even more astounding when you hear how simple the thing is. I've never been a Springsteen fan especially, though I did enjoy that film a lot (never been a huge Cohen fan either, though I've developed a deeper appreciation upon learning how much Darcy dislikes him).


I actually like the Leonard Cohen songs used in McCabe and Mrs. Miller well enough -- or at least, I like the way they work in that film.

Better than that, though, I like the reaction of some of the Leonard Cohen fans in the comments to the video Mwanji linked to.

Peter  grant

Brecker on Don't Let me Be Lonely Tonight By James Taylor.Not rock i guess but a good solo.


Finally got to listen to your top 4. The only two I find tolerable are the top 2...

"Walk On The Wild Side"'s is a bit of a cop-out, though, since the context allows him to pretty much play a jazz solo.

I'd never even heard of Morphine before. The song's video video is on YouTube. I like it (the song) a lot. The parts where the baritone supports the voice reminds me of one of your compositions (can't remember the title) that has a lot of duelling/interlocking low horns.


I messed up the YouTube link. Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yP8QhblSkRI.


I'd never even heard of Morphine before.

Oh, man. Cure For Pain is one of the best records of the 1990's. Check it out, you won't be disappointed.


I like The sorts. I am not sure if that group is still "Rock" or already entering "way" Jazz. But I thought their Sax absolutely kills. This was my first rock with sax that I thought worth listening over and over.


(they have one sample track, the ninth wonder)

Carlo Cennamo - alto sax
Vin Novara - electric piano, percussion, synth
Ken Schweitzer - congas

Amanda Marcotte

What about the X-Ray Spex? The sax is central to their sound.


Hey! I thought I said no punk snobs in here! (You're making the jazz snobs feel uncomfortable.)

Amanda is right, of course. I totally forgot about Lora Logic, but not only does she contribute heavily to that band's quirkiness quotient, her genuinely raw punkrock assault is a refreshing antidote to the fake plastic rawness adopted by all those awful 80's rock sax players. She doesn't exactly "solo" -- but of course, that wouldn't be very punk.

The other thing is that on "Germfree Adolescents" (definitely my favorite X-Ray Spex song), Lora's sound is so heavily modified that when she first comes in, it takes you a few seconds to figure out what the hell it is.


"fake plastic rawness"

Why is the rock sax solo saxophone *sound* (nearly) always so bad? I think that's their #1 crime.


Meanwhile, I find myself watching those Plugz videos again and again and again and again. And I've found a page that will stream their entire "Better Luck " album - www.myspace.com/losplugz (or you could just shell out $125 for a used copy through Amazon). I'm afraid I'm smitten.


James Chance! His sax is fun.



Recent post at words and music on James Chance, with mp3s. I like James Chance, but it should be noted that there's not evidence that he actually knew how to play the saxophone...


Oh, on the proto-punk sax thing, there's also Steve MacKay of the Stooges and the Violent Femmes.


I post few John Zorn tracks (and bunch of filler). Admitedly was in the mood listening to his album after reading this thread.



More proto/post/plain-old/punk (if you're gonna conflate, then conflate, dammit!): Theater of Hate (effective use of amateur, out-of-tune sax on their early punky stuff, like "Legion"; later morphed into a slightly-better-than-average '80s Limey Dahnce Pop group called Spear of Destiny, sometimes with professional, in-tune sax - there's a fair amount on youtube, little of which seems to have aged very well...), Blurt (sort of a British James Chance thang), the Pop Group (post-punk reggae/funk/free jazz thang, with heavy dub production, by some quasi-famous guy whose name escapes me, very effectively compensating for their crappy musicianship, although I read on one of the Internets that their killer first single "We Are All Prostitutes," [which I have on an old Rough Trade compilation] had some respected new-music free-jazz dude on, I believe cello ; the more obscure of the 2 Pop Group albums I own has a track with the sax player simultaneously honking on his horn and screaming things like "Because he liked his playing, but my interests went deeper! My interests went deeper!"

None of which has much to do with Tolerable Rock Sax, if we are going to assume that to mean "minimally competent" (which I don't even want to get into), or even "well-played" which gets me back to Mr. Berlin, which in turn gets me back to that Plugz site, 'cause I wanted to note (even if only for my own convenience), that a couple of the songs that are screwed up on the audio stream are available on this blog post (though only one of these tracks has sax, though).

Oh, year, Psychedelic Furs had sax. They were alright.


... and, lastly, I think I'll say something about Los Lobos. I saw them once or twice in their early days (before Berlin joined), when they were essentially playing their Mexican wedding repertoire for Circle Jerks crowds, again as part of L.A.'s notoriously ill-planned Y2K fiesta (I really wanted to go see Ozomatli in Pedro, but no...), and, in betwixt, a show with several Lobos backing up Top Jimmy at the Ukranian Cultural center (about which I mainly recall that the guitarist started playing "The Lemon Song" during warm-up.

The only record I have is "Will the Wolf Survive," which I like maybe half of, and I'm also familiar with "Collosal Head" which has really only one or two track that I like much.

My impression was that Kiko is generally considered their best album, and that does seem to be the consensus on Amazon. The experimental spin-off group Latin Playboys is also supposed to be good, but (appropos the topic of this post), no sax on that apparently.

I looked on youtube, and all the Lobos videos had Berlin relegated to almost-inaudible keyboards except Set Me Free, Rosa Lee, which is a pretty lame song, except for the sax solo, which is actually pretty good (I didn't look at the numerous La Bamba videos, although I don't think that has sax; anyway, it should be no surprise that I prefer the Plugz version


Ooh, ooh! I just thought of an example of what you were apparently looking for with this post! Lowrider by War. Good song! Good sax solo! Simple, but good ! So there!


Mel Collins sax on "Ladies on the road" by King Crimson and Dick Parry's solo on Money are noteworthy exclusions.


err... That's "money" from Pink Floyd...



Thanks for your comment. 'Fraid I'm not wild about Parry's turn on "Money," though -- I don't much dig his tone or time, and to me he sounds very uncomfortable with the 7/4.

I was never such a huge King Crimson head, so I unfortunately I haven't heard that track. I'll try to check it out at some point.


Well, I know what "exclusion" means, Moka :)


...and love your blog, BTW.


Well, I know what "exclusion" means, Moka

Well, I assume what Moka meant was "noteworthy (unjustified) exclusions from my 'tolerable' list"...


Yeah, that makes sense (especially since the post over there cites the Crimson song, which I don't know either), but I agree with you about Money, anyways.


I'm sorry, is "exclusion" not an english word? My english lexic may not be that good... I meant left out from the tolerable list.

Actually the thing I love about "Money" is the bass and didnt thought the sax was bad either but you're right there's a point where the jazz seems to slip away from the overall tone so we might "exclude" that one.

"Ladies on the road" follows the experimental thread so come to think of it, you may not find it that tolerable... I think it's a damn sexy tune.

I particulary agree with your first and second positions and would disagree with springsteen, I've always found his songs too fey, like attempting to sound "arty" or something and I definitely can't tolerate him.


No, no, it was clear, that's just what happens when I try to catch Darcy in a goof, but I'll keep trying. I guess I halucinated a subjunctive, and then when I saw Crimson, I just skipped over the title, and thought about the notorious 20th Century Schizoid Man, whose sax solo I think doesn't quite qualify as tolerable, although he at least has decent time and tone. I've heard some live Floyd where they used a slick studio cat, who sounded OK, though.


And sorry for my continuing obtusity but what do you mean "follows the experimental thread?" 'Cause I think everybody here likes "experimental," even "arty" music of one sort or another.


...and "love your blog" was directed to Moka of course. Maybe we should avoid 2nd and 3rd person pronouns in a crowded room.


"... too fey,
Posted by: Moka | 21 August 2006 at 09:23 PM"

First time I hear you use that word. This is a major revelation.


" 'Cause I think everybody here likes "experimental," even "arty" music of one sort or another.

Posted by: godoggo | 21 August 2006 at 10:10 PM "

uhm, yer putting ideas in her head. lol...

It'll be "weird and exotic electronica for sexing up yer significant other" week at MdM for sure.

I will not participate in experimental music background for sex event. It's not healthy. It ruins bodily rythm.

(btw, for those who are unfamiliar, there are several larger project that MdM likes to fall back to. downtempo, indietronica, and the erotic side of it all are the main one. just tangential background)


No, no, it was clear, that's just what happens when I try to catch Darcy in a goof

Well, I'm glad that the Secret Society blog has attained enough visibility to attract its own amateur ombudsman.

Olavo Lupia

All your preferences are great. I love Springsteen's first 3 albums and I love long songs. Needless to say, I adore Jungleland. The solo is absolutely perfect and clinical, so worked-up it was. And yes, the biggest responsable is Bruce himself, leading Clemmons all the way through it.
Dana Colley is excellent and I love his work on a song of dEUS debut album "Worst Case Scenario", called "First Draft (of a w.c.s.)"
A suggestion: what do you think of the sax work (and solo) on the live version of "Telephone Call From Instanbul", by Tom Waits? The one included on 1988's "Big Time"? Thought it would be a fine pick... It works great in the 2nd and 3rd chorus and I love the solo.



It's so nice to finally have another Springsteen fan in this thread...

Anyway, "Telephone Call From Istanbul" is a great song, and that honkin' solo from the live version definitely works well in context.

Seth Gordon

Oh, man... Darcy... you dissed Aja - we're havin' words next time I see you, my man...

Back in the day when I ran a music store we broke the human race into two distinct categories: Pro-Clemons and Anti-Clemons. Put me in the latter camp. I don't care if he's one of the Most Important People In The World (I hope I'm not the only person in the room who gets that reference...) - his solos are like being locked in a carnival outhouse in August with someone running rusty nails across a blackboard. It's terrible, too, on account of I love The Boss. I mean, like, LOVE. But CC is the sole reason Nebraska gets the #1 spot over BTR.

That said, I always thought Jungleland stood up better than most of CC's work. Somehow or another, it doesn't annoy me. So I'll give you that.

I'm surprised that no one has brought up Ian Underwood - granted he played, like, thirty different instruments or something, but his sax work with Zappa from 69-71 (for my money FZ's best period) is tremendous. It's hard to pick one particular solo or song, but I always felt he was one of the best at putting really free-form shit into a rock context, without it ever sounding wanky or out of place.

Mel Collins. Like him with Crimson - on Poseidon and especially Lizard he really kicks it. Red has some great work too, probably his best IMHO but unfortunately he's totally overshadowed by Robin Miller (Greatest. Rock Oboe Player. Ever.) on that one. Collins is hard to judge overall for me. He has great moments, but he was sooooo prolific in the seventies it's difficult to winnow them out. He was on something like 80 albums from 75-79 - he may have even out-gigged Sanborn. And, like Sanborn, there's a lot of generic fluff in there. Well-played generic fluff, but generic nonetheless.

Dick Parry: never been a big fan. He was there during that transitional period when Floyd went from Astoundingly Cool to Tremendously Uncool. Though I guess Dark Side and WYWH were good the first 80,000 times I heard them. Still, for that era of Floyd Animals is probably my favorite, and maybe it's on account of that's the one without Dick Parry. I dunno.

Steve Berlin is WAY up there for me - I've seen him with LL I dunno how many times now - at least a dozen - and he always delivers. He has a real "producer's ear" - he plays for the song and not for his own spotlight. And he's one of those guys who's managed to develop his own sound to the point that it takes maybe two notes for me to know it's him. He also - to me at least - uses effects (as in pedals and such) better than any other sax player. I'm with the Amazon consensus on "Kiko" - not so much as a display of sax prowess but just as a great album. One great folk-pop song after another. There's good reason it always appears on those "10 greatest albums you've never heard" lists that pop up every so often. But some of their discs fall into the half killer / half filler trap, it's true.

Speaking of albums you've never heard (with good sax playing) - I'm pretty sure I'm the only person in the world who's heard Brian Davison's Every Which Way. A dollar-bin record I picked up on account of I had heard the drummer (Davison) and was a little curious. There's a great sax/flute player named Geoff Peach on it who I've never heard anything else from. The whole thing has an early Traffic vibe with a little Soft Machine thrown in. Long out of print, but worth picking up if you come across it (and like Trafficy / Soft Machine-y sounds)

Okay - I'm having flashbacks of my record shop days now... the danger of putting "musicians" and "lists" together is they'll never stop listing things... Wasn't there a list in "Hi Fidelity" of Greatest Non-Guitar Solos or something?

Anyway... my $0.02...


Oh, man... Darcy... you dissed Aja - we're havin' words next time I see you, my man...

Seth, I'm surprised you didn't just write me an open letter...

Good call on Ian Underwood, though -- I should probably do a "tolerable addendum" at some point that includes stuff from the King Crimson/Zappa/Beefheart wing.


Cheers from an ex-Springsteen junkie. Saw him 7 times between '78-'84, and will always have a soft spot for Clarence's solo in "Jungleland," as well as Steve Berlin's playing in Los Lobos' "I Got Loaded."

Wonderful selections! My all-timer is Essential Logic's "Aerosol Burns" (feat. Lora Logic, mentioned earlier). A few other thoughts: whoever plays on Kleenex's "Split" (although there's no solo), Joe Henry's "Richard Pryor Addresses A Tearful Nation," the Crazy 8's "Johnny Q," NY Dolls' "Human Being."


I mentioned that Joe Henry song over at Moka's thread - that's Ornette on sax, of course, and it's crazy beatiful. "Human Being" is a great song, and the sax is perfect for it - raw and garage-y, but soulful.

Steve Berlin fans need to check out the Plugz links I've scattered about while skipping through this thread, but I was wondering, is the Lobos song "Elizabeth" the same one that's on that Plugz video on youtube (The chorus goes "Hey, Elizabeth/ get out, get out, Elizabeth/ Hey, Elizabeth/ go places)?


Great post/thread. Just wanted to add a shout-out to my man Andrew Mackay of Roxy Music (no relation to Steve MacKay, afaik). He could drift ever-so-close to that bad rock sax sound, as noted by Mwanji back up toward the top, but generally stayed on the right side of the line. Not so much a solo guy, as someone who added color to the overall picture. "Both Ends Burning" is a great track; latter half of "Sentimental Fool," as well.

Also, while I'm here, I can't keep from nodding in the direction of Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street," which probably colored my notions of sax solo prowess (not to mention guitar prowess) for many years after I bought the 45. Gawd, I loved that song.

Frank McHale

"Speaking of albums you've never heard (with good sax playing) - I'm pretty sure I'm the only person in the world who's heard Brian Davison's Every Which Way. A dollar-bin record I picked up on account of I had heard the drummer (Davison) and was a little curious. There's a great sax/flute player named Geoff Peach on it who I've never heard anything else from. The whole thing has an early Traffic vibe with a little Soft Machine thrown in. Long out of print, but worth picking up if you come across it (and like Trafficy / Soft Machine-y sounds)"

Hi got really excited when I saw this posted. Geoff Peach is a really good friend of mine an continues to blow his horn for my band Deltanine (a alt-prog-ish outfit)in the North West of England. All huge fans of everything floyd & zappa with occasional trips into the world of jazz. Geoff is a major influence on us all and the real reason we continue to play. A wonderful person with a great heart. Just felt the need to share that with you. xx

Josh Forbes

FINALLY! I've been making this argument for years and everyone gives me stinkeye. Are there instances where the sax has delighted? Sure. My contention is that is has on the whole done more harm than good, and that the world would be a better place if someone hopped in a time machine and crushed the head of Dr. Sax (or whoever invented the infernal contraption).

geoffrey peach

hi- i'm the peach- where is josh forbes head at?saxophones & more importantly saxophonists have given so much pleasure to so many people, the list of these guys is endless,JOHN COLTRANE,ERIC DOLPHY,JAN GARBERECK,BOB BERG,MICHAEL BRECKER,SONNY ROLLINS,PETER CHRISTLIEB to name a few and loads of young guys playing fantastic stuff
cheers peachy


Hey Geoff,

Thanks for stopping by, and don't pay Josh Forbes no mind. We are objectively pro-saxophone here. But like it says at the top, we're talking about ROCK sax in this thread. I don't think Trane and Dolphy ever recorded any solos on rock tunes (unless you know something I don't!). We talked about Sonny's solo on "Waiting on a Friend" upthread. The guys you mention are all unquestionably great players, but most of their best work was/is done in a jazz or jazz-like context, and that's not what this particular thread is about.

geoffrey peach

i'm o k with that-lets rock with saxophones

Mike Sirkin

Check out Edgar Winter's Alto Sax solo in "Bubbles" from Joe Walsh's "The Confessor". Screamin!
Also, if you like it rough, check out the band "Bottom 12". From Los Angeles, they are now defunct, but I think you can still find their music around,and they have a MySpace site. This is the most aggressive music I've ever heard with a horn section in it. Heavy metal/Punk with horns. Not the regular blues-based horn riffs on most rock songs.

herman permentier

Dear Geoffrey Peach
can you contact off -line me about van der graaf . I'm looking for you for 20 years. I wanted to ask you something about vdgg

vdggph at hotmail.com

Allen Smmith

Did the same guy that played the sax solo on Hungry eyes play the "soul glow" song in coming to america with eddie murphy. god I hate that sound.

Charles S.

I am only 3 years behind in reading my blogs, but 1. I can't believe I read all those comments and 2. I can't believe nobody put Fear's "New York is alright if you like saxophones" on this list.



nate m

ornette on joe henry's "richard pryor addresses a tearful nation" is the best thing ever. nuff said.

Mark Weiss

Wow its sort of an honor and maybe intimidating to be the sixtieth first person to comment or argue here, and I am inspired to do this based on the link from Ethan Iverson, and I am probably talking out of school here but I recall Marty Ehrlich describing an audition for the Rolling Stones in which he got dinged because he played the head of a song and not the solo, like as if they thought because he could not recall or never transcribed someone else's solo he could not learn it or add an equal or better one if needs be. His loss and Tim Ries gain perhaps but I would also like to shout out to Mac MacCaughan of Superchunk and Merge Records and a tiny jazz label called Wobbly Rail which features a Steve Lacy solo set but more to point he also hires Ken Vandermark for a song called "hello hawk" on Superchunk rock album. Maybe it was David Sanborn's solo. Saw the Stones in 1981 at Candlestick park and loved it but have turned down the chance to see them probably 10 times since and meanwhile have seen 500 jazz shows better use of my time and ear training. God bless Morphine as well. Also, and this is perhaps grautitous, was pleased to realize (because of ink in local paper and photo) that new indie band Mumlers here in Bay Area have a horn section, ala Devotcha oh yeah I also saw Cake rock band here with trumpet player Vince DiFiore who would actually be a clinical psychologist if not for his chart-making rock band before he would be a jazzbo, but that was really not the question.

Mark Weiss

I comment below, and I admit I may be out of my league here, about Marty Ehrlich and the Rolling Stones, and he just as well may have been talking about Mel Collins solo on "Miss You" i.e. something that is not obvious or well-known, a writer here mentions Sonny Rollins, for example, I mention somewhat blindly David Sanborn, when he describes being asked to do something that is not typical of his experience as a jazz musician when interacting with the rock or arena rock tour management people. But it is out of respect and not disparaging that I would try to bring him up. And my topic I admit is a twist on and not adhering strictly to the main topic: what is it like for a jazz player to be asked to be the horn section or reed section for a rock project and not which known solos resonate with the trained ears of the contemporary jazz players and bloggers.

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