Clarence Clemons’ all too early departure from this world has regrettably forced us to view his work knowing that that’s it. There won’t be another blast from his golden horn, no new solos, no more interpretations of old solos. Fortunately, he did leave behind 40 years’ worth of amazing work in the shape of official releases, bootleg recordings, and what is stored in the memories of millions of fans who experienced him live.
The Big Man’s contribution to the E Street Band history and sound is huge, and trying to rank it is not only all but impossible, but also something that might take away attention from all his other great solos and achievements. That is of course not the intention here. The following top 10 list is strictly personal and should not in the least serve as inspiration to other suggestions. If it makes you play and enjoy the embedded YouTube videos, that would be great. If it makes you think of other songs and other sax solos, that’s even better. And if you share them here or elsewhere, now, that would be just be perfect!
But enough of the talking. Here is Greasy Lake’s “Top 10 Big Man Sax Solos”:
10. Secret Garden
The brief 1995 reunion of the E Street Band for the Greatest Hits sessions showed a whole new side of Clarence Clemons. His beautiful sax solo that wraps up “Secret Garden” is a breezy, hypnotic New Age piece that resembled the music on his solo album Peacemaker. A very far cry from mostof the other solos on this list.
9. The Promised Land
Like the song itself, the sax solo is just a perfectly crafted piece of music. The way it effortlessly ascends out of the preceding guitar solo and lifts the song to new heights with its somehow both mournful and triumphant tones.
8. She’s the One
Bruce wrote the whole song around a sax solo he’d thought of, and a song like that, of course, needs to be on the list. It wasn’t included in our recent sax solo poll, and that was a big mistake. Because it really is some amazing power sax that sticks to your mind like the those “eyes like a midnight” sun that Bruce sings about. The version shown below is from Copenhagen 1988, my first show, where “She’s the One” was one of the absolute highlights.
7. Spirit in the Night
Okay, maybe the traditional middle solo isn’t all that significant, but the laid-back, jazzy saxophone is so dominant throughout the song that Clarence virtually owns it. It’s such a shining moment for him that it really must be on the list. Word has it that Clarence loved playing it and wished it would be on the setlist every night. You can easily understand why.
6. Sherry Darling
One of Bruce’s best party songs, and definitely the best - according to me - party saxophone. And it’s not so much because of the traditional solo after the second verse, but instead the super bouncy solo that wraps up the song. In live settings it seemed like Bruce would challenge Clarence to play it as fast as he possibly could and to repeat the riff for a ridiculous amount of times.
5. Drive All Night
“Drive All Night” is a song that many fans love and others consider drivel, but perhaps most can agree that the sax solo is one for the ages. It sounds lonesome and romantic and like the last redeeming element in an otherwise dark, dark night surrounding the protagonist’s car on the deserted highway.
4. Independence Day
If Bruce had written “Independence Day” in the last 10 years, he probably wouldn’t even have considered adding a saxophone solo, but back in the late Seventies, he could add sax solos to anything and make it work. This mournful, beautiful sax tune somehow succeeds in making an already perfect song even better, and Clarence puts in all the emotion he can muster.
3. Born to Run
When you talk about “Born to Run”, the song, it’s not usually the sax solo you emphasize, but there’s every reason to pay attention to it. Actually, the song has two sax solos. One after the second verse and one after the bridge, but it almost seems like the latter takes over right where the first one left off before winding down into that wonderful guitar/sax crescendo that can make stadium foundations shake.
2. Thunder Road
The first time I heard the saxophone outro to “Thunder Road”, I couldn’t believe something so beautiful could have existed without my knowledge. I was left overwhelmed and breathless by this melancholy, yet triumphant fanfare. It was stuck in my brain for days, and it’s still one of the melodies I most often sing to myself in my head.
Was there ever any doubt about the number one spot? The 3-minute “Jungleland” sax solo is not only Clarence’s best sax solo - ever - it is perhaps the greatest sax solo in the history of rock ‘n’ roll and one of the finest moments of any Bruce song. It takes off, slowly at first, like a cat stretching after a nap, then flows majestically on a carpet of thundering drums, before changing tempo again and winding down to a gentle halt. It is anything but just a filler solo to show off Clarence’s skills as a sax player. It is essential to the story being told, and it creates as many images before your inner eye of Magic Rat and Barefoot Girl being chased through the asphalt jungle as those brilliant lyrics. Here’s the complete song taken from the last tour Clarence would be part of.