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Baker Street (song)

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"Baker Street"
Solid centre variant of the 1978 UK single
Single by Gerry Rafferty
from the album City to City
B-side"Big Change in the Weather"
Released3 February 1978
Recorded1977
StudioChipping Norton Recording Studios, Oxfordshire, UK
Genre
Length6:06 (album version)
4:10 (single version)
5:56 (US 12-inch 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 by Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty and issued as a single by him in February 1978. It won the 1979 Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically[2] and reached the top three in the UK, US and elsewhere. The arrangement is known for its saxophone riff.[3]

Origins

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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.[4]

Rafferty wrote the song during the period when he was trying to extricate himself from his Stealers Wheel contracts. He was regularly travelling between his Scottish family home in Paisley and London, where he recalled often staying at a friend's flat on Baker Street:

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.[5]

The resolution of Rafferty's legal and financial frustrations may have accounted for the exhilaration of the song's final verse:[6]

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.

Rafferty's daughter Martha suggested in 2012 that he could also have taken inspiration from a book he was reading while he was travelling between the two cities, Colin Wilson's The Outsider (1956), which explores ideas of alienation and creativity and a longing to be connected.[7]

Studio

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"Baker Street" was recorded in 1977 at Mike and Richard Vernon's Chipping Norton Studios, Oxfordshire, during the sessions for City to City.[8] The album City to City (1978), including "Baker Street", was co-produced by Rafferty and Hugh Murphy.[9]

Saxophone riff

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Saxophonist Raphael Ravenscroft

In addition to a guitar solo, played by Hugh Burns, "Baker Street" featured a prominent eight-bar saxophone riff by session musician Raphael Ravenscroft, played as a break between verses.

Ravenscroft came to the studio to record a soprano saxophone part on the finished track, and suggested that he use instead his alto saxophone.[6] The distinctive wailing, bluesy sound of the sax riff on "Baker Street" was a result of the alto being tuned slightly flat, and Ravenscroft later considered this to have been a mistake. He said, in an interview in 2011, that listening to the song irritated him because he was out of tune.[10] His contribution to "Baker Street" was termed by one writer as "the most recognizable sax riff in pop music history",[11] and it was said to have been responsible for a resurgence in the sales of saxophones and their use in mainstream pop music and television advertising.[12]

In his interview with Colin Irwin, Rafferty stated that Ravenscroft had been his second choice to play the saxophone solo, after Pete Zorn, who was unavailable: "The only confusion at the time that I didn't enjoy too much was the fact that a lot of people believed that the line was written by Raphael Ravenscroft, the sax player, but it was my line. I sang it to him."[13] When a remastered version of City to City was released in 2011, it included the original, electric guitar demo version of the song as a bonus track, confirming Rafferty's authorship of the riff (which appears in the demo note-for-note, as an electric guitar solo). In the liner notes to the album, Rafferty's long-time friend and collaborator Rab Noakes commented:

Let's hope [the Baker Street demo] will, at last, silence all who keep on asserting that the saxophone player came up with the melody line. He didn't. He just blew what he was told by the person who did write it, Gerry Rafferty.[14]

Michael Gray, Rafferty's former manager, agreed:

The audible proof is there from the demos that Rafferty himself created the riff and placed it within the song's structure exactly where it ended up.[15]

The 2011 reissue of City to City included the demo of "Baker Street" with the saxophone part played on electric guitar by Rafferty. A very similar sax line was originally played by saxophonist Steve Marcus for a song called "Half a Heart", credited to vibraphonist Gary Burton,[16] that appeared on Marcus's 1968 album Tomorrow Never Knows.[17]

Ravenscroft said that he was presented with a song that contained "several gaps". "In fact, most of what I played was an old blues riff," Ravenscroft said. "If you're asking me: 'Did Gerry hand me a piece of music to play?' then no, he didn't."[18][3][12]

Urban myths

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According to one story, Ravenscroft received no payment for a song that earned Rafferty an income of £80,000 per annum. A session fee cheque for £27 given to Ravenscroft was said to have bounced, and been framed and hung on his solicitor's wall.[18] The bouncing cheque story was denied by Ravenscroft during an interview on BBC Radio 2's Simon Mayo Drivetime show on 9 February 2012.[19]

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.[3] 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,[3] and this claim was widely repeated.[20][21]

Personnel

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Chart performance

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Released as a single in 1978, "Baker Street" reached No. 3 in the UK[24] and No. 2 for six consecutive weeks in the US. It reached number one in Cash Box and number two on the Billboard Hot 100[25] where it held its Billboard position for six weeks, kept out of the number one spot by Andy Gibb's "Shadow Dancing". The song spent four weeks at number one in Canada,[26] reached number one in Australia,[27] and made it into the top 10 in seven European countries in addition to the UK. In October 2010, "Baker Street" was recognised by BMI for surpassing five million performances worldwide.[28]

Another urban myth has claimed that "Baker Street" did overtake "Shadow Dancing" on the Billboard Hot 100 during one of its seven weeks on top in the summer of 1978, with Casey Kasem recording his American Top 40 countdown placing it at #1. However, at a dinner with Gibb's managers, then-Billboard chart director Bill Wardlow was allegedly told that if "Shadow Dancing" did not remain at #1, Gibb would be pulled from the lineup of an upcoming Billboard-organized concert. Wardlow then supposedly asked the magazine to leave the song at the top, and Kasem was told to re-record his countdown.[29]

Certifications

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Region Certification Certified units/sales
United Kingdom (BPI)[56] Platinum 600,000
United States (RIAA)[57] Gold 1,000,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Legacy

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The song was cited by guitarist Slash in 1987 as an influence on his guitar solo in "Sweet Child o' Mine".[58]

Canadian rock musician A.C. Newman cited the song as an inspiration for his album Shut Down the Streets (2012).[59]

The song is featured in the video game Grand Theft Auto V, as part of Los Santos Rock Radio.[60]

It is also heard in the Happy Endings episode "Cocktails and Dreams", (S02E16) in which Penny's dream involves a fingerpicked-guitar version of the saxophone riff.[citation needed], as well as in the closing scene of "Lisa's Sax" (S09E04), an episode of The Simpsons in which Lisa Simpson performs a brief rendition of the hook on a saxophone before the music segues into Rafferty's recording.[61]

The song also features prominently in episodes of Rick and Morty and A.P. Bio.[citation needed]

Beginning in the 2023-24 Scottish Premiership season, St. Mirren F.C. (based in Rafferty's hometown of Paisley) play the song pre-game.

Undercover version

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"Baker Street"
Single by Undercover
from the album Check Out the Groove
Released3 August 1992
GenreRave
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 was released in August 1992 by PWL and produced by Steve Mac. It reached No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart and became a top-three hit in Austria, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. A music video was produced to promote the single, shot in black-and-white.[62]

Critical reception

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A writer for Lennox Herald named the song a "stand out" from the Undercover album.[63] Pan-European magazine Music & Media wrote, "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."[64] 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."[65]

Track listing

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

Charts

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Certifications

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Region Certification Certified units/sales
Germany (BVMI)[88] Gold 250,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.

Other versions

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

Country musician Waylon Jennings covered the song to open his 1987 album Hangin' Tough.

American 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.[89] The Foo Fighters cover does not include the saxophone riff, which is played instead on electric guitar.[90]

References

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