Too much saxophone and you’re Huey Lewis. Not enough and you’re that high school battle of the bands runner-up with no saxophone. Just the right amount of sax though and a song can be transcendent. Yes, as the following list shows, when a saxophone comes out of nowhere —altering the tune’s vibe and forever changing the way you look at an artist— it’s almost always for the best. This is our list of the best track-enhancing sax parts in indie rock.
M83 – “Midnight City”
M83 aren’t exactly known for embracing organic sounds in their music, so their inclusion of a massive song-ending sax solo played by Fitz and The Tantrums’ James King was a shocker to say the least. While the first three minutes of the song find the Frenchmen firmly in their wheelhouse with the band’s usual combination of softly sung verses over expansive and distorted synth textures, once the three minute mark hits and the song gets saxed, it kicks into a whole other gear. With more than 42 million views so far on YouTube, the masses seem to approve.
Lykke Li – “Dance Dance Dance”
With nary a guitar or piano in sight, “Dance Dance Dance” is a case study in efficient minimalist pop. Riding the same throbbing two note bass line for the duration of the song over a simple brushed snare beat and a touch of cowbell for emphasis during the chorus, it’s the voice of Li that is the undeniable star here. That is, until the wild post-chorus sax solos start kicking in and adding a bit of messiness right when it’s needed in an otherwise sparse and rhythmic track.
Destroyer – “Suicide Note for Kara Walker”
Whether it’s as good as the preceding 40 second long flute solo is a matter of preference. There’s no question however that the sax solo that closes this sprawling track by Vancouver’s most impenetrable frontman is well worth the seven minute wait. Dark and sultry like the very best work of Clarence Clemons, it’s the perfect cap to a perfect song.
The Cure – “Close To Me”
They might look gloomy, but The Cure can really bop. Just listen to the sax histrionics late in “Close To Me”, weaving in and out of the track’s dominant melody, teasing the listener playfully, imploring them to get up and shake their shit. If the sax in this song doesn’t make you want to be a better person, then you sir/madam have a heart blacker than Robert Smith’s eyeliner.
David Bowie – “Modern Love”
With producer extraordinaire Nile Rodgers on guitar, some unforgettable lyrics, and a long improvisational baritone sax solo closing things out, is it any wonder that “Modern Love” has proven one of Bowie’s most timeless hits? Inspired by the flamboyant gospel-tinged rock n’ roll of Little Richard, it’s been a hit at weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, karaoke parties (and more recently the Noah Baumbach directed indie film Frances Ha) since 1983.
Broken Social Scene – “Almost Crimes”
Broken Social Scene’s ‘more is more’ approach is part of what makes them so appealing as a band, and nowhere is this more evident than in You Forgot It in People standout “Almost Crimes”. Throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the listener during the song’s first breakdown, it’s the off-the-wall sax solo that truly shocks and awes.
HM: Radiohead – National Anthem, Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run, Anything by The Stooges