What with all the attention that got paid to the synthesizer in ’80s pop, no one seems to remember that, for all the Moogy sweeps, the airwaves at the time were just filled with wailing saxophone solos. Sax solos: a symbol of musical excess from a bygone era when “ProTools” was something a plumber brought to the job. Sometime shortly after U2 dropped The Joshua Tree, these things became beyond passé, but for a while there, a good seven minutes out of every hour of pop radio was hot, dirty sax. Here are a few of the most egregious/awesome specimens. (Note: I did not include Quarterflash’s “Harden My Heart,” since it’s an example of a sax-led song with a guitar solo in it, whereas the examples below are, for the most part, vice versa.)
DURAN DURAN | “RIO” | 3:00-3:45 | The longest 45 seconds on pop radio in the ’80s, this is the epitome of the incongruous sax solo. Like putting a bit too much anchovy paste on something.
BOY MEETS GIRL | “WAITING FOR A STAR TO FALL” | 0:25-32, 3:08-3:32 | This dude couldn’t wait until after the second chorus, so right after the opening glimmer of synth, BLAMMO! — the sax version of “Blueshammer” right in yo’ face.
SPANDAU BALLET | “TRUE” | 3:01-3:36 | This solo takes the song right out of key, jarring you from smooth Euro-croon into a crammed 30-second elevator ride to muzak hell.
PHIL COLLINS | “ONE MORE NIGHT” | 3:46-4:48 | Slow dances in the ’80s were always perplexing, because at a certain point you’d realize, “I am slow dancing to a sax solo,” and you’d feel as if you should be, I dunno, cleaning the place up with a big broom, as if you were in the end credits of The Carol Burnett Show.
COREY HART | “NEVER SURRENDER” | 2:59-3:30 | Good Lord, man, this guy has the timbre of a Borscht Belt comedian giving someone a raspberry.
THE WAITRESSES | “I KNOW WHAT BOYS LIKE” | 1:50-2:06 | What’s great about this one is that the sax work manages to be even brattier-sounding than singer Patty Donahue’s “Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah” refrain.
IAN DURY & THE BLOCKHEADS | “HIT ME WITH YOUR RHYTHM STICK” | 1:36-2:23 | It really is astounding how “out” this stuff could be. To listen to the solo here, you’d think someone let John Zorn crash the session and everyone was cracking up too much in the control booth to hit “STOP.”