Baker Street (song)

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"Baker Street"
Baker Street Gerry Rafferty.jpg
Italian single picture sleeve
Single by Gerry Rafferty
from the album City to City
B-side"Big Change in the Weather"
Released3 February 1978 (1978-02-03)
Recorded1977
StudioChipping Norton Recording Studios, Oxfordshire, UK
GenreJazz rock, pop rock, soft rock
Length6:06 (album version)
4:10 (single version)
5:56 (US 12” promo single version)
6:29 (1989 “Right Down The Line” compilation remix version)
LabelUnited Artists
Songwriter(s)Gerry Rafferty
Producer(s)Hugh Murphy, Gerry Rafferty
Gerry Rafferty singles chronology
"City to City"
(1977)
"Baker Street"
(1978)
"Right Down the Line"
(1978)
Music video
"Baker Street" on YouTube
Audio sample

"Baker Street" is a song written and recorded by Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty. Released as a single in 1978, it reached No. 1 in Cash Box and No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100,[1] where it held its Billboard position for six weeks, behind Andy Gibb's "Shadow Dancing". It spent four weeks at No. 1 in Canada,[2] No. 1 in Australia[3] and South Africa, hit No. 3 in the United Kingdom,[4] and the top 10 in the Netherlands. Rafferty received the 1978 Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically.[5] The arrangement is known for its saxophone riff.[6]

In October 2010, the song was recognised by BMI for surpassing five million performances worldwide.[7] It was awarded Gold Certification on two occasions, on 1 April 1978 and 22 July 2013 by the BPI in the UK.[8]

Origins[edit]

Named after Baker Street in London, the song was included on Rafferty's second solo album, City to City (1978), which was his first release after the resolution of legal problems surrounding the break-up of his old band, Stealers Wheel, in 1975. In the intervening three years, Rafferty had been unable to release any material because of disputes about the band's remaining contractual recording obligations.[9]

Rafferty wrote the song during a period when he was trying to extricate himself from his Stealers Wheel contracts; he was regularly travelling between his family home in Paisley and London, where he often stayed at a friend's flat in Baker Street. As Rafferty put it, "everybody was suing each other, so I spent a lot of time on the overnight train from Glasgow to London for meetings with lawyers. I knew a guy who lived in a little flat off Baker Street. We'd sit and chat or play guitar there through the night."[10] Privately, Rafferty also spent a lot of time drinking, which he noted he mentions in the lyrics, "Light in your head and dead on your feet / Well, another crazy day / You'll drink the night away / And forget about everything."

The resolution of Rafferty's legal and financial frustrations accounted for the exhilaration of the song's last verse: "When you wake up it's a new morning/The sun is shining, it's a new morning/You're going, you're going home."[11] Rafferty's daughter Martha has said that the book that inspired the song more than any other was Colin Wilson's The Outsider (1956). Rafferty was reading the book, which explores ideas of alienation and of creativity, borne out of a longing to be connected, at this time of travelling between the two cities.[12]

Saxophone riff[edit]

The album City to City (1978), including "Baker Street", was co-produced by Rafferty and Hugh Murphy.[13] In addition to a searing guitar solo, played by Hugh Burns, the song featured a prominent eight-bar saxophone riff played as a break between verses, by Raphael Ravenscroft.[6][14]

Rafferty claimed that he wrote the hook with the original intention that it be sung. Ravenscroft remembered things differently, saying that he was presented with a song that contained "several gaps". "In fact, most of what I played was an old blues riff," stated Ravenscroft. "If you're asking me: 'Did Gerry hand me a piece of music to play?' then no, he didn't."[15] However, the 2011 reissue of City to City included the demo of Baker Street which included the saxophone part played on electric guitar by Rafferty. A very similar sax line, however, was originally played by saxophonist Steve Marcus for a song called "Half a Heart", credited to vibraphonist Gary Burton,[16] that appeared on Marcus' 1968 album Tomorrow Never Knows.[17]

Ravenscroft, a session musician, was in the studio to record a brief soprano saxophone part and suggested that he record the break using the alto saxophone he had in his car.[11] The part led to what became known as "the 'Baker Street' phenomenon", a resurgence in the sales of saxophones and their use in mainstream pop music and television advertising.[14]

Urban myths[edit]

According to one story, Ravenscroft received no payment for a song that earned Rafferty an income of £80,000 per annum; a cheque for £27 given to Ravenscroft bounced and was framed and hung on his solicitor's wall.[15] However, the bouncing cheque story was denied by Ravenscroft during an interview on BBC Radio 2's Simon Mayo Drivetime show on 9 February 2012.[18]

The saxophone riff was also the subject of another urban legend in the UK, created in the 1980s by British writer and broadcaster Stuart Maconie.[6] As one of the spoof facts invented for the regular "Would You Believe It?" section in the NME, Maconie falsely claimed that British radio and television presenter Bob Holness had played the saxophone part on the recording.[6] Later, the claim was widely repeated.[19][20]

Personnel[edit]

Chart performance[edit]

"Baker Street" reached No. 3 in the UK and No. 2 for six consecutive weeks in the US, kept out of the number-one spot by Andy Gibb's "Shadow Dancing".

A common music industry rumor claims that "Baker Street" did manage to overtake "Shadow Dancing" in one of the latter's seven weeks at the summit, with Casey Kasem recording his American Top 40 countdown placing it at the top. However, at a dinner with Gibb's managers, then-Billboard chart director Bill Wardlow was told if "Shadow Dancing" did not remain at No. 1, Gibb would be pulled from the lineup of an upcoming Billboard concert. Wardlow then called the magazine to leave the song at the top, and Kasem was told to re-record his countdown.[23]

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[45] Gold 500,000^
United States (RIAA)[46] Gold 1,000,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

Appearances in other media[edit]

  • In 1987 the song was cited by guitarist Slash as an influence on his guitar solo in "Sweet Child o' Mine".[47]
  • The song is also heard in the closing scene of "Lisa's Sax," the episode of The Simpsons which recounts how Lisa Simpson received her first saxophone. Lisa performs a brief, cruder rendition of the hook before the music segues into Rafferty's recording.[48] The song also appears in multiple other episodes.
  • Canadian rock musician AC Newman cited the song as an inspiration for his 2012 album, Shut Down the Streets.[49]
  • The song is featured in the video game Grand Theft Auto V, as part of the Los Santos Rock Radio track list.[50]
  • The song was also featured in the fourth episode of the first season of the show Rick & Morty, titled "M. Night Shaym-Aliens!", where the eponymous Rick drunkenly mouths the Saxophone riff while traveling back to earth in a pod with his Son-in-Law, Jerry as the song starts to play in the background.

Covers[edit]

Undercover version[edit]

"Baker Street"
Undercover Baker Street.jpg
Single by Undercover
from the album Check Out the Groove
Released14 August 1992
Recorded1992
GenreDance
Length4:04
LabelPWL
Songwriter(s)Gerry Rafferty
Producer(s)Steve Mac
Undercover singles chronology
"Baker Street"
(1992)
"Never Let Her Slip Away"
(1992)
Music video
"Baker Street" on YouTube

British dance group Undercover covered the song on their 1992 album, Check Out the Groove. This version reached No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart and became a top-three hit in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Critical reception[edit]

Lennox Herald picked the song as a "stand out" from the album.[51] Music & Media wrote that "Gerry Rafferty's rainy days anthem is now transferred from the comfortable living room to the heat of clubland. The typical saxophone hook is on acid as well."[52] Mark Frith from Smash Hits commented, "This one's quite good actually. Transformed from a hoary old late '70s epic into a PWL rave anthem for the '90s, Baker Street has tootling sax, great vocals and is probably the most unusual record turned into a rave tune ever."[53]

Music video[edit]

A music video was made to accompany the song. It is made in black-and-white, and was published on YouTube in April 2013. As of November 2020, the video has got more than 3 million views.[54]

Track listing[edit]

  1. "Baker Street" (edit) – 4:04
  2. "Baker Street" (extended mix) – 5:10
  3. "Sha-Bang" (extended mix) – 5:49

Charts and certifications[edit]

Foo Fighters version[edit]

"Baker Street"
Song by Foo Fighters
Released19 January 1998
Recorded1997
Genre
Length5:39
Label
Songwriter(s)Gerry Rafferty
Producer(s)Simon Askew

The US rock band Foo Fighters covered the song on their 1998 My Hero UK CD single release, on the Australian tour pack (Grey cover) release, on the Limited edition European bonus EP and as one of several bonus tracks added to the remastered tenth anniversary release of their second studio album, The Colour and the Shape, reissued in 2007.[76] The cover does not include the saxophone riff the original is known for, instead being played with electric guitars.[77]

Other versions[edit]

  • Country singer Waylon Jennings covered this song on his 1987 LP Hangin' Tough.
  • Morse/Portnoy/George released this as the lead off single from their 2020 covers album Cov3r to Cov3r on 23 May 2020.[79]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]