I love a great saxophone solo. Whether that’s in jazz or pop music, there’s something that just feels fantastic when the blaring notes of a saxophone rip through a song at just the right moment. While the greatness of the saxophone solo in mainstream pop music came to prominence in the 1980s, it’s been making its mark on music in the years before and the decades after.
The following 15 songs have fantastic saxophone solos that elevate them to the next level. From the cheesy to the pitch perfect, each of these saxophone solos are just right for any fan of the instrument and music in general. And if you don’t love saxophone solos, then I just have pity for you.
We Don’t Need Another Hero – Tina Turner
Tina Turner’s 1985 hit single from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome is a fun, soaring piece of pop anthem music. Filled with Turner’s power vocals and a driving, yet minimalistic composition of drums, bass, woodwinds, and sparse guitar, “We Don’t Need Another Hero” is a showcase for Turner’s vocals. And the sudden kick of a saxophone solo really helps drive it into ‘80s glory, followed by the haunting children’s chorus that follows. The sax solo may be among the shortest on this list, but it’s effective in the scope of this awesome bit of ‘80s power.
Midnight City – M83
A paragon of modern pop reinvigorating the sonic, synth-focused sounds of the ‘80s, M83 uses heavy atmosphere and haunting shoegaze style lyrics to evoke a dreamy sci-fi fantasy world. “Midnight City” is just one of the bands many evocative and atmospheric wonders, but it’s bouncy synth work and climactic saxophone solo make it one of their most captivating. As “Midnight City” shifts between dreamy chorus and dance-focused refrain, the song slowing builds power until it explodes in James King’s jazzy, exquisite saxophone solo. It’s incredibly captivating and tanatalizing, begging you to replay the song as soon as it ends.
Baker Street – Gerry Rafferty
This may be THE song that most people think of when the idea of pop music saxophone is brought to mind. And with good cause. “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty is built on top of a massive saxophone riff by Raphael Ravenscroft. It certainly helps that the rest of the song is fantastic, but all you really need is that incredible solo played again and again. This alto saxophone riff became burned into the brains of countless listeners and is often credited for the instrument’s resurgence in mainstream music. Its echoes can be seen in most of the songs on this list. It’s bold, beautiful, plaintiff, and haunting. It’s everything a sax solo should be.
Careless Whisper – Wham!
Yes, this is the “Sexy Sax Man Song.” But Wham! Needs no cover. So cheesy, so brutally honest, so strange seeing George Michael with a woman in this music video. Michael’s vocals are just the right kind of breathy plaintive pain for these broken-hearted silly lyrics. But would this song be anything special without that simple yet iconic sax solo by Steve Gregory? No. You want that solo. You need that solo. It’s just the right kind of bold yet uncomplicated musical refrain that any great pop song needs to stick in the memory. And “Careless Whisper” is still stuck in the mainstream memory, as evidenced by its great inclusion in 2016’s Deadpool.
Paradise Warfare – Carpenter Brut
The newest song on this list is a standout retrowave track by Carpenter Brut, who dives deep into the synth atmosphere of the ‘80s for propulsive throwback beats. On “Paradise Warfare,” Carpenter Brut leans away from the heavy focus on horror film soundtrack sounds that inform much of his other work for a generally lighter yet still propulsive song that would feel at home in both an action film of the ‘80s and a modern indie video game. There’s something bright, beautiful, and breezy about the entire song that comes from the artist’s strong grasp on atmosphere. Of course, the inclusion of a sax solo a minute into the track helps plant the sounds firmly in the decade that inspired it, giving it a soaring, eye-popping vibe that feels good with every listen.
I Want a New Drug – Huey Lewis & The News
Is there any ‘80s band that walks the line between actual quality and fun ‘80s camp more than Huey Lewis & the News? Bold and raspy lead singer, random wailing guitars, vamping synths, and, of course, gratuitous saxophone solos. They’re all here in “I Want a New Drug.” Like most of the band’s output, it’s a song that never quite hits a standout high, but is still tons of fun from start to finish. The swaggering saxophone that kicks in by the song’s midpoint helps bring some extra charm and joy to it all. Also, Ray Parker, Jr. definitely ripped this song off for “Ghostbusters.”
Urgent – Foreigner
A funky piece of rock and roll with an echoing synth backing, “Urgent” by Foreigner works so well thanks to singer Mick Jones’ empassioned vocals and a scorching solo by Motown saxophonist Junior Walker. Those two elements make this relatively simple number into something fiery and exciting. Walker’s solo is brassy and powerful, echoing the lusty nature of the song’s lyrics and helping the track stand out from the rest of Foreigner’s discography.
Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen
This is easily one of the all-time great rock and roll sax solos. No list would be complete without it. It’s fast. It’s hot. It’s executed perfectly and it acts as the crescendo of a barn burner of a song. In a song that’s all about bursting free of society’s constraints, the late Clarence Clemons’ tenor sax solo feels like the culmination of everything the song means. It comes fast and unrelenting, but for being such a short section of the song, it’s undeniably defining. “Born to Run” is like a mad dash from start to finish, with Clemons’ solo being the extra burst of adrenaline it needs to succeed.
Touch Me – The Doors
The Doors’ “Touch Me” bounces with a crazy energy thanks to its exchange of horns and Jim Morrison’s unmistakable vocals in order to be one of the band’s signature songs. Saxophonist Curtis Amy gives “Touch Me” a wailing, wild flair as the song closes out. And while the song features a heavy use of brass and string, The Doors consistently freshened up their sound from album to album. Here, the wild eyed sax feels right in a song about passion.
Maneater – Hall & Oates
The very beginning of “Maneater” by Hall & Oates reminds me of the Duck Tales theme. That has nothing to do with the saxophone in this song. I just wanted to mention that. After all the pompadour and mustache-powered echoing vocals and barely played guitars, a smooth saxophone solo sweeps in that would feel at home playing across a sweltering Miami night in the ‘80s. Which it probably did on many occasions. I don’t know. Let’s move on.
Never Tear Us Apart – INXS
A moody, gothic piece from INXS features the late Michael Hutchence belting out his signature mournful romantic vocals in a synthy waltz. “Never Tear Us Apart” feels like blend of blues, rock, and classical music, creating something strangely pretty and simultaneously timeless and very ‘80s. The mournful, cathartic sax solo by Kirk Pengilly acts like a release for all the tension and sadness built up throughout the song, giving it a memorable close.
Us And Them – Pink Floyd
Pink Floyd knew the value of a perfectly placed saxophone and used it to great effect in numerous songs. In “Us and Them,” two sax solos take place, helping to establish the jazzy, reflective mood at the very beginning and reinforcing the mournful nature of the song at its end. Played by Dick Parry on tenor saxophone, these lonesome and pained pieces reflect the elegiac, violence-centered mourning of the song. Like the rest of the song, they’re exquisitely beautiful and downright depressing in just the right way.
Caribbean Queen – Billy Ocean
Even on a list full of weird ‘80s hits, Billy Ocean’s “Caribbean Queen (No More Love On The Run)” still classifies as a guilty pleasure. Billy’s voice is great, even when working through a strangely placid love ballad. But that funny little chorus still works like gangbusters. But let’s get to the saxophone. Played by Vernon Jeffrey Smith, it’s fun and just a little breathy, which keeps it in line with this silly little low key love number. What does this song even mean? Who knows. But it’s great in that uniquely ‘80s way.
Modern Love – David Bowie
Part of Bowie’s reinvention with his 1983 album Let’s Dance, “Modern Love” is a fast and fun dance number that features his signature vocals, deep lyrics that contrast with the fun tone, and a great jazzy saxophone solo that helps cap breakneck speed track. Robert Aaron played the sax here, with the instrument never overwhelming Bowie’s vocal refrain as the song comes to a close, but still making an impression on listeners. “Modern Love” is an essential Bowie track. Aren’t they all?
#41 – Dave Matthews Band
Most of the best Dave Matthews Band songs featured a heavy sax presence from the late great LeRoi Moore. #41 is one of the best. It’s tripping, whimsical bit of aching love (a description that can be applied to a lot of the band’s songs), but there’s something very special about the way the band gels here in every moment, switching from jamming to sections that highlight each of the member’s talents. Through it all, Moore’s saxophone provides the through line, occasionally bursting to the forefront for some truly great soloing. But really, you could substitute any great, sax-heavy DMB song here on the list, just as long as it shows Moore a little deserved love.
Do you have a favorite saxophone solo? Let us know in the comments!