When you're a professional musician and, for one reason or another, you're unable to do your job, it's liable to drive you a little crazy. But it might also push you to put out something memorable when your period of silence has ended. For Scottish songwriter Gerry Rafferty, that's exactly what led to "Baker Street," one of the most striking radio hits of the late '70s.
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Rafferty had co-founded the group Stealers Wheel in 1972, and a year later had immense success worldwide with the head-nodding single "Stuck in the Middle with You," a Top 10 hit in the U.K. and America. But only three years later, the band had broken up - and the act of legally disentangling from both his old band mates and management took another three years. "Everybody was suing each other, so I spent a lot of time on the overnight train from Glasgow to London," Rafferty recalled to The Telegraph. His reprieve? Spending time in a friend's apartment, talking or playing guitar together. The flat's address: Baker Street.
Indeed, much of the song deals with Rafferty's feelings of alienation at the time, as Rolling Stone explained in 1978. Rafferty's daughter Martha later suggested that her father was also inspired by Colin Wilson's novel The Outsider, which he'd read on those train rides. But where did the song's signature moment - the wailing saxophone refrain woven between the verses - come from?
It was originally Rafferty's intention to sing something between those verses, but his original "Baker Street" demo features the sax melody on guitar, instead. But session saxophonist Raphael Ravenscroft was in the studio with Rafferty to record a soprano sax part for another song; when he heard "Baker Street," he thought his alto saxophone would be a good fit for the track. While he would later bemoan that his solo was slightly out of tune, the power and intensity of the solo rejuvenated the presence of the instrument in pop and rock music.
And best of all, "Baker Street" ended Rafferty's sonic drought. As the lead single of solo album City to City, "Baker Street" reached No. 3 in the U.K. and No. 2 in America (kept from the top for six weeks in the summer of '78 by the year's biggest hit: Andy Gibb's "Shadow Dancing"). Along with Top 20 follow-up "Right Down the Line," City established Rafferty as a solid musical craftsman, with "Baker Street" wailing long into the night all over the radio dial for more than four decades.