In the category of great and magnificent saxophone players in rock, Clarence Clemons stands unmatched. His two-minute solo on ‘Jungleland’ is surely the best sax solo ever, delivering pure poetry from an instrument considered by many to be music’s sexiest instrument. For nearly 40 years “the Big Man” gave Bruce Springsteen’s music much of its characteristic sound.
You don’t have to search Bruce Springsteen’s catalogue very hard for songs with prominent sax solos. The instrument was a key feature in the Jersey Shore Sound in the early 70s and with Clarence Clemons in the E Street Band it became even more natural to incorporate the saxophone as a part of the band rather than a sideman attachment.
When the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band
The emblematic duo of Springsteen and Clemons, endorsed by the mythical story of how they met (immortalised in the song Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out) and the iconic image of them together on the cover of the Born To Run album, is a well-known symbol of brotherhood and friendship for any Springsteen fan worldwide.
Shortly after the death of Clarence Clemons in 2011, his nephew, Jake Clemons, was asked to step into the Big Man’s shoes. Though those shoes are extremely hard to fill, Jake Clemons has managed to make a name for himself and, undoubtedly, continuously makes his dead uncle proud.
For this entry I wanted to present examples of typical classic songs containing prominent sax solos and I’ve tried really hard to narrow the list down to just 10 songs, but it turned out to be an impossible task. Instead I kind of drowned in a boatload of songs and, as it turns out, most of my absolute favourite Springsteen songs include saxophone solos.
Inevitably, lots of worthy songs fell short of making the list. The readers of this blogpost will have to make do with a random selection of songs that portray the greatness of the saxophonist Clarence Clemons.
- Meet Me in the City
This outtake is classic Springsteen, complete with a roaring sax solo and lyrics about an outcast calling out for his sweetheart.
It debuted on 15 Oct 2015, the same day that The Ties That Bind: The River Collection box set was announced. The song was posted on both on Bruce Springsteen’s official website and Bruce Springsteen’s VEVO YouTube channel.
- Hearts of Stone
This song made famous by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes includes a sax that mournfully floats in and out of the song. In the middle of the song there’s a magnificent solo.
- Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)
Written to be a live show-stopper this was also one of the first songs to showcase Clarence Clemons on sax. With his bright suits and imposing size, he quickly became the most popular member of the E Street Band. Back then “Rosalita” usually closed the regular set in Springsteen concerts, often extended to incorporate band introductions.
- Prove it All Night
There’s a great tag-team soloing between Clarence and Bruce in this song, which is great and it also contains a magnificent guitar solo in the end of the song that gives you goosebumps.
- The Promised Land
The Saxophone, the Guitar and the Harmonica all play an important part in this song. They combine the power of a gorgeously lyrical quality that perfectly match the music.
- Paradise by the C
In this E Street Band instrumental song, the sax is the “lyrics”. Clemons is flexing his muscles from beginning to end. A shining moment in the spotlight for the Big Man and the band who are having a blast.
- Thunder Road
Clemons sax solo accentuates one of Springsteen’s greatest stories with a dramatic entrance just as the singer pronounces that “it’s a town full of losers, and I’m pulling out of here to win!” The tight solo helps to underscore the feeling of hope that there is still “one last chance to make it real“.
- Independence Day
The impact of this song is not just lyrical. The organ, the sax solo, the tempo, and the lyrics, combine to create a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. The sound is honest and down-to-earth, stirring and emotional, painful and real.
- Sherry Darling
One of my favourite songs of all time and a perfect example of a great live performance. It’s a great fun song and the E Street Band clearly is having a blast playing it. The sax complements the song exactly with its joyful and upbeat tone.
- Drive all Night
A song which greatness is not in the lyrics but in that saxophone solo, a soaring affirmation of love, desire and yearning that encapsulates the feeling of the song.
- Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Tells the story of the E Street Band and it also functions as an example of one of the many Bruce songs featuring a grand arrival from Clemons, who delivers a triumphant solo just as Bruce finishes laying out the classic moment “when the Big Man joined the band“.
Well, obviously. Two (and a half) minutes of masterful timing and phrasing. Without question, one of the Big Man’s finest moments. This classic sax solo really carries the collective emotions behind Springsteen’s thoughts to the next level.
Jake Clemons’ premiere performance of Jungleland (the first after Clarences’ death) in Gothenburg 2012 didn’t leave a dry eye.