Gerry Rafferty, ‘Baker Street,’ and That Sax Solo!

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Countless hit vocal recordings include a memorable instrumental solo, but few are defined by them. Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street” is one that is. The ex-Stealers Wheel co-leader (“Stuck in the Middle With You,” #6, 1973) delivers a perfectly engaging vocal on his 1978 single—which peaked at #2 in Billboard in the U.S. and stayed there for six weeks—but it’s arguable that just as many fell for that record because of the irresistible saxophone solo that turns up at the intro and the first break.

That saxophone was played by Raphael Ravenscroft, a British musician who was hired to contribute to Rafferty’s first solo album, City to City, which included the soon-to-be-a-smash single. Ravenscroft, who died at age 60 on Oct. 19, 2014, was often asked about his role on the hit song—sometimes called the most famous saxophone solo of all-time, a dubious claim, beguiling though it is—and remembered, somewhat bitterly (and understandably) being paid a total of £27.50, the union session fee at the time, for his work on a recording that went on to sell millions of copies.

Ravenscroft’s famous sax line is bold but simple and repetitive, not particularly innovative (Coltrane he isn’t; he’s not King Curtis or Junior Walker either) but catchy enough to connect with millions. Whether it was the sole reason that “Baker Street” was such a huge late-’70s hit is debatable, however. In fact, the ripping guitar solo that surfaces toward the end of the track, performed by Hugh Burns, is probably even more technically adept and original than the sax solo.

Watch Stealers Wheel perform “Stuck in the Middle With You”

But let’s give Mr. Rafferty some credit here too—it was, after all, his record! Rafferty’s composition—and its period-perfect arrangement, a straightforward tale set to a seductive melody and tied to an enticing chorus—was undeniably appealing on its own merits, and would likely have caught on even if Ravenscroft (and Burns) had never received the call.

Gerry Rafferty (Photo from his Wikipedia page}

Co-produced by Rafferty and Hugh Murphy, “Baker Street” was written, noted Rafferty (who was born on April 14, 1947), during a period when he was attending frustrating legal meetings to try to shake loose from his remaining financial ties to Stealers Wheel, the duo the Scottish artist had formed with Joe Egan earlier in the decade. Rafferty would often while away the after-hours with a friend at the latter’s flat on London’s Baker Street. Inspired at least in part by Colin Wilson’s 1956 book The Outsider, about the longing for human connection, “Baker Street” became the focal point of Rafferty’s debut solo album, recorded in 1977 and released on United Artists Records in January 1978.

“Baker Street” entered the American record chart that April, and although the newest rage was punk rock/new wave music, Rafferty’s hit had nothing in common with that genre—instead, the track hewed closely to the folk-influenced singer-songwriter sound that was already in full bloom by the middle of the ’70s. Like fellow Scotsman Al Stewart (“Year of the Cat,” “Time Passages”) and London’s Dire Straits, Gerry Rafferty relied on good old craftsmanship and solid traditional singing and playing to put his mainstream music together. It caught on immediately.

This ad for the album and single appeared in the June 10, 1978 issue of Record World

The success didn’t last though. Although Gerry Rafferty managed to squeeze out five more chart singles in the U.S. into 1980, and three albums as well—City to City went to #1; the two followups peaked at #29 and #61—his popularity soon receded.  (He reportedly declined to tour in the United States, which didn’t help his visibility.) By the time MTV came into vogue in the early ’80s, with its flashier artists and more modern techno productions, Rafferty was already old news.

Alcoholism claimed him, at age 63, on January 4, 2011, after a troubled post-success life that even found him making the news for an unexplained disappearance. Fellow singer-songwriters praised him upon his death, but to this day he is known largely as a two-hit wonder: one with the group he was trying to escape when he wrote the second hit, and that 1978 smash, which many remember not even for his role in it but that of the guy hired to play a £27.50 sax solo.

Listen to the extended version of “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty

Bonus video: Rafferty performs his hit on a German TV program in 1978

Related: The #1 singles of 1978

Rafferty’s recordings are available in the U.S. here and in the U.K. here.

Jeff Tamarkin

15 Comments so far

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  1. Bill Fold
    #1 Bill Fold 11 July, 2018, 15:08

    Re: “Live” German tv – they may be on live tv but are obviously playing along with or miming the studio recording including fade out audio. It’s annoying to me when performances are labeled “live” & it turns out the performance is actually a recording.

    Reply this comment
    • Hotrod
      Hotrod 17 July, 2018, 12:19

      Ha ha! The UK has a TV show called Top of the Pops that ran weekly for about 40 years. They had their own private doublespeak which eventually became known to those that were interested enough to find it. Live = the artist was in the studio (ie 100% miming). Really live = some of it was played live. Absolutely live = the performance was played live as one might conventionally expect.

      Reply this comment
  2. John Rose
    #2 John Rose 12 July, 2018, 07:31

    Your story mentions Al Stewart, who had a good sax tune of his own later that year, “Song on the Radio.”

    Reply this comment
    • Bri
      Bri 8 January, 2020, 21:46

      I loved Al Stewart then, Mr. Rose- and that song. Recently it occurred to me that it is remarkably similar to “Jazzman” by Carole King.

      Reply this comment
  3. Bob
    #3 Bob 12 July, 2018, 16:54

    Great song. Brings back great memories of the summer of 1978 and going to the beach.

    Reply this comment
  4. Guitslinger
    #4 Guitslinger 21 October, 2019, 23:27

    Ever since I first heard Stealers Wheel,Gerry Rafferty has been one of my favourite singer/songwriters of all time.His song “Star” from their Ferguslie Park album is one of his best compositions and I can’t see why it didn’t become a huge hit.

    Reply this comment
    • Neil Banoff
      Neil Banoff 5 January, 2020, 09:40

      Agree completely on “Star”. It’s the type of song you could listen to, over and over, and still want to keep playing it!

      Reply this comment
  5. spuddy
    #5 spuddy 21 September, 2020, 22:16

    I also liked his song ‘Right down the Line’ on that same album

    Reply this comment
    • ClassicRockDJ
      ClassicRockDJ 16 April, 2022, 12:35

      One of my favorite tunes of ALL artists. Right Down the Line says so much, not to mention it’s a beautiful arrangement altogether.

      Reply this comment
  6. Yazmatazz
    #6 Yazmatazz 20 October, 2020, 08:20

    I was in college in the spring of ’78,in Hartford, CT listening to rock radio on WHCN or WCCC, you know, back when rock radio still existed. I swear, every time I turned on the radio that spring, “Baker Street” was being played. It was non-stop. And a truly great song it is. RIP Mr. Rafferty.

    Reply this comment
  7. numbersadduptonothing
    #7 numbersadduptonothing 5 January, 2021, 16:36

    yes, rafferty was great. “star” was great, too but i think joe egan, his partner in stealers wheel, wrote that.

    Reply this comment
  8. jean
    #8 jean 17 April, 2021, 05:35

    The same year (or the year before,i’m not sûre, we had Also “Will you ?”,sung by Hazel O’Connor,and which ended by a wonderful part of saxophone…

    Reply this comment
  9. 122intheshade
    #9 122intheshade 20 October, 2021, 00:13

    Somewhere there is a demo of Baker Street, with Rafferty playing the solo on guitar exactly as you hear in on sax.

    Apparently, he was one of those artists who just couldn’t stand success. Too bad.

    Loved “Waiting for the Day” on City to City.

    Reply this comment
  10. I Don’t Like Mondays
    #10 I Don’t Like Mondays 5 January, 2024, 04:16

    Interesting footnote is that Baker Street was recorded at the Chipping Norton Studios in Oxfordshire. Sadly the studio is now a dental practice, Other bands who recorded there include Radiohead and XTC.

    Reply this comment
  11. Rollbert
    #11 Rollbert 5 January, 2024, 12:59

    1978 visiting relatives in N.California. Rented a car as I was going to SanFran,Marin,SanJose & Lake Tahoe. Got this GerryRafferty as a 8track tape out there. Played alot as that and radio all I had. The sax solo will always remind me of a slow drive through Sausalito.

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