Music

15 Canadian songs that prove saxophones make everything better

The Weeknd, Carly Rae Jepsen and Destroyer have all used the instrument to elevate their music.

The Weeknd, Carly Rae Jepsen and Destroyer have all used the instrument to elevate their music

Colin Stetson is one of the busiest saxophonists in the indie-rock world. He has worked with Arcade Fire, Feist, Bon Iver and Bell Orchestre. (Jonathan Durand; graphic by CBC)

Depending on whom you ask, saxophone solos in songs are either badass or unbearably cheesy. And even though there are undoubtedly some examples that would fit the latter category, there are also plenty that belong in the former. 

Saxophones are often associated with jazz, classical music and marching bands, but they also play an important role in modern rock, R&B and other genres with musicians like Clarence Clemons, Kenny G and Kamasi Washington all putting their stamps on modern-day hits. 

Below, we've listed 15 Canadian songs that feature amazing sax parts. Some of them are solos, some are merely flourishes that helped elevate a track to a new level. What are some of your favourite Canadian tunes that feature saxophones? Share with us @CBCMusic.


'Run Away With Me,' Carly Rae Jepsen 

This blaring sax solo kicks off Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 album, Emotion, sending an immediate euphoric chill down your spine. "Run Away With Me" is about the thrill of long distance lovers finally meeting up and that rush of passion is perfectly encapsulated in its soaring opening notes. — Melody Lau 

'Kaputt,' Destroyer 

Most of Destroyer's 2011 album Kaputt feels like a love letter to muggy, early 1980s New York City. The sparkling guitar and Dan Bejar's nonchalant lilt paint the picture just fine — but it's that reverbed, sweeping sax that puts you right under the neon lights with him. — Jess Huddleston

 

'Echo Beach,' Martha and the Muffins

Long before Toronto named a music venue after this song, "Echo Beach" was a fictional paradise that Martha and the Muffins dreamed up as an escape from the mundanities of everyday work life. The song's standout saxophone part, played by Andy Haas, swoops in just as the chorus takes off, almost like it's the transportation service you've been waiting for this whole time. Hold on tight, it's a wild ride. — ML

'I Doubt It,' Aquakultre 

Aquakultre's "I Doubt It" is built on a bed of two saxophones, expertly twined by musician Nick Dourado. It's a steady, carefree backbone that gives way to an understated solo at the two-minute mark, fitting seamlessly under the Halifax singer's vocals. If you're not paying attention you might miss the solo, but don't worry: the entire track is a saxophone lover's dream. — Holly Gordon

'Sun Roars Into View,' Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld

Colin Stetson is one of the busiest saxophonists in the indie-rock world and his achievements alone could fill a list of their own, including his work with Arcade Fire, Feist, Bon Iver and his own catalogue of movie scores. But here, we're highlighting his project with Arcade Fire violinist Sarah Neufeld. Together, their instrumental work is spellbinding, beautifully textured and a stellar showcase for what they both do best. — ML

'Chompy's Paradise,' BadBadNotGood

Fusing hip hop with jazz, BadBadNotGood's music has pushed the way people view both. On their 2016 album, IV, saxophonist Leland Whitty shines as a newly full-time member of the band. Particular highlights include "IV" and the late-night bluesy vibe of "Chompy's Paradise." — ML

'Parc Ex,' Les Louanges 

Les Louanges' "Parc Ex" is a slinky song about longing and ill-fitting love, and the loungy saxophone adds just the right romantic edge without spilling into cheese territory. Vincent Roberge, the man behind the moniker, uses a trap beat and vocal effects that foil the sax perfectly, and it's a heart-tugging blend. — HG

'In Your Eyes,' The Weeknd 

The Weeknd's embrace of '80s synth sounds on his latest album, After Hours, wouldn't be complete without a flashy saxophone part. That kicks in halfway through the R&B star's latest single, "In Your Eyes," a schmaltzy tune that's masking some of the singer's most vulnerable lyrics underneath. — ML

'Sexus Plexus Nexus,' Pierre Kwenders 

Pierre Kwenders' "Sexus Plexus Nexus" (named after a trilogy of erotic Henry Miller novels) is a beautiful tapestry of Congolese rumba influences and retro funk that bursts with colour and heat at every turn. Pulling the entirely grooveable package together, unsurprisingly, is an unrelenting saxophone. — JH

 

'I Just Wanna Stop,' Gino Vannelli

On this massive 1978 hit, Gino Vannelli pours his heart out as he confesses, "I never wanna live without you, babe." That all comes to a head on the track when a saxophone solo kicks in at its climax; a brief but cathartic moment that truly completes the song. — ML

'End of July,' Paper Lions 

Paper Lions' "End of July" is a break-up song that takes a turn into balladry with a sentimental sax outro played by Marlee Saulnier. From the Charlottetown rock band's 2016 album Full Colour, "End of July" is an uncharacteristic Paper Lions slow jam that's perfectly put to bed by that last minute-and-a-half of unhurried, gentle sax. (There's a sweet little Phil Collins-esque drum fill in there, too.) — HG

'I Can Only be Good', Evening Hymns

On Jonas Bonnetta's first new single in five years as Evening Hymns, he enlists saxophonist Joseph Shabason (Destroyer, DIANA) to bring his "smokey, woozy" vision to life. The result adds more melancholy to an already heartbreaking track. — ML

'Just Walk Away,' Louise Burns

One of 2019's most underrated Canadian pop songs, "Just Walk Away" remains a glitter-soaked confection that fans of La Roux or Carly Rae Jepsen best not sleep on. Burns really found her stride in this format — sounding like a bonafide '80s pop star whose pure vocals thrive over two eternally welcome pop touches: bright steel drums and a triumphant saxophone outro. — JH

'Crabbuckit,' k-os

k-os's bluesy hip hop, Juno Award-winning hit is topped off by an incredible sax solo. The musician on the track is Christopher Plock, a notable player in the Toronto swing dance scene who also leads the band, the Swinging Outlaws. — ML

'7/4 Shoreline,' Broken Social Scene

Perhaps less of a sax shout-out than this is praise for Broken Social Scene's entire horn section, but the Toronto collective's rotation of trumpet, trombone and saxophone players always add a bright layer atop an already cacophonic affair. And while there are many examples of this across the band's discography, nothing feels as triumphant as when the horns come in as the exclamation point finale on "7/4 Shoreline." — ML

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