The Warmth of Vinyl
Mark Gozonsky


The Seventies sax solo. What is it a cry of?

This is the question we seek to answer during tonight’s segment of “The Warmth of Vinyl,” which will also be our last.

Let the tables turn.


We began our final journey where we must, on “Baker Street,” with Gerry Rafferty. That riff is the decade’s signature saxophone blow. Studio legend has it that the song’s producers had the riff before the instrument to play it. They were auditioning everything they could get their hands on – trombone, bagpipes, glasses of water with spoons. Then in one day walked not-especially noted session player Raphael Ravenscroft, who literally blew the tune away, and in the process stamped his name next to the year 1978 forever.

The song itself is a paean to blandness, the sound of a man turning a page – but perhaps the reader is a later-Seventies Don Quixote, still sitting in his library, storing up impossibilities. The saxophone is the madness itself, all the fervor and longing you could ever hope for or dread, and if you listen to that song enough – and I think, perhaps, we at long last have, my friends, or at least, we won’t be listening to it any longer together: I think, perhaps, that this last listening is the one that will conjure the reckoning that each of us knew must come.

After that we heard “Birdland,” by Weather Report. It’s become axiomatic with me: whenever the dark clouds threaten deluge, I slap that track on and we’re back to foot-tapping, head-bobbing and airy whistling for days. You could have your head in the oven and if that track came on, you’d bake cookies instead. Wayne Shorter was already the dean of his generation’s horn players by the time he supplied the tenor for “Birdland,” but bassist Jaco Pastorius was on his way to becoming his generation’s Duke Ellington.

Do you know how handsome Jaco Pastorius was in his day? He was more handsome than Jim Morrison. Yet instead of the greater glory that might have been, he fell victim to the sad but common combination of mental illness and drug abuse. Studio legend has it that on the final day of Jaco Pastorius’s life, he was booted offstage from a Santana concert in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and soon thereafter beaten to death by a nightclub bouncer. A cautionary tale, if only we knew how to interpret it. Perhaps these next tracks will be of some assistance.


That was “Let’s Get It On,” by the late, great Marvin Gaye, who is arguably later and greater than any of the late and great. But let’s not argue, let’s get it on. Ernie Watts on the saxophone there, intertwining with lyrics that anyone who has ever listened to a jukebox would gladly give a year of life to intertwine with. Maybe two. Marvin’s duration on this orb was ended untimely by his father, who shot him during an argument over life insurance.

My own duration on these airwaves is being terminated by my very own daughter, the Princess Microphone, who will, at my insistence, be succeeding me on these Sunday nights we’ve shared for lo the past thirty and some odd years. You already love her and will come to love her more; while I myself must at this moment confess to feeling the sharp sting of reservations that are welling up in futility, too late to stop now. I behold the Princess at this very moment, in the soundproofed producer’s booth, blowing extravagant kisses, gesticulating grandly towards the supposed region of the heart, and now just plain making funny faces at me. These protestations bring a tear to the very eye of which she is the sparkle. Such is the glory of unconditional love. I could no sooner stand in her way than I could fail to include Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic.” The choral saxophones in this song – are they not sonic floating funeral pyres, transporting us into Celtic heroes on our way to meet a greater boon in the hereafter? They’ve always sounded that way to me.


Time runs short, and there are many giant sax solos of the Seventies yet to spin compile here on “The Warmth of Vinyl.” After Van the Hombre, we heard perhaps the most overblown of all the canonical Seventies sax solos, “Whatever Gets You Through the Night,” a dirge disguised as party song by the artist who would have been Sir John Lennon had he in fact made it through that fateful night. It’s a song I would skip if I could. Lord knows there are other Seventies sax solos I like better – “Just You ‘N Me,” by Chicago; “The Logical Song,” by Supertramp; “Money,” by Pink Floyd; Tom Scott’s arrow-through-the-air on Joni Mitchell’s “Raised on Robbery;” Michael Brecker’s top-of-the-59th Street Bridge wailing on “Still Crazy After All These Years” — and that’s why I played all of them afterwards, despite the dear Princess’s increasingly less-ironic throat-slitting gestures. She is also my producer tonight, and I’d like to thank her for that, though I can see from her not at all raised eyebrow that she is not at all amused at how long I’m going over.

Yet I could not leave out “Whatever Gets You Through the Night.” It would be like ignoring your worst enemy. The rabid, start-to-finish honking by Lubbock native Bobby Keyes lays a claim on me I don’t pretend to fully understand, though I sense it has something to do with denial of the inevitable, the obvious, the end.

After that we heard “Only the Good Die Young,” by Billy Joel because it’s still my show and I can play anything I want, and this was the second or third song the Princess Microphone ever picked out to like all by her lonesome. The second, she’s reluctantly signaling to me. The sax break on “Mockingbird,” by James Taylor and Carly Simon evinces much of the same morale-boosting quality, as does “Takin’ It To the Streets,” by the Doobie Brothers, which I would most certainly also include in a compilation of songs-that-think-they-are-political-when-in-fact-they-are-apolitical; as well as in a compilation of songs-wherein-the-singer-at-the-end-stretches-his-or-her-voice-to-and-beyond-the-breaking-point, which I fear may happen to me here as we near the end of our show – but down, passion, down. We must let the tables turn.


We started out that set with “Night,” by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and most of all Clarence Clemons. We could have picked “Jungleland” instead, but you can and have played the “Jungleland” solo unassisted many a time in your very own personal head. It echoes there still, right now, I’m sure. Same with “Born to Run.” The sax solo there is like its own solar system, to which you can travel any time you need a completely fresh start. You can go there right now if you please. I’ll wait.

After “Night,” we heard “It Makes No Difference,” by The Band, with that heartrending solo by Garth Hudson. Studio legend has reams of information on this song: how Robbie Robertson included the lyric about stampeding cattle just to see if anyone was paying attention, how Garth Hudson’s parents only allowed him to tour with the band on the condition that he put his classical training to use by giving them all lessons. The tidbit I like best, however, is the comment from some unknown internetter, whom I’d like to think is out there listening right now, who said – and if it was you, please say it with me right now – that Garth Hudson is one of those people who is so innately musical that he could make beautiful music from a bowling ball.

The song was “It Makes No Difference,” but it does make a difference, a huge difference to me, whether or not we get to hear “New Pony,” from Bob Dylan’s Street Legal. The way Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame Saxophonist Steve Douglas writhes around on the end of that song is worthy of my barricading myself in here, as I have. Anyone who saw me enter the studio tonight with a thick length of chain and a sturdy padlock could have predicted this outcome, but not even my daughter, the Princess Microphone, saw me enter. I was in here smiling serenely when she arrived, just as she is smiling serenely to me now, while mouthing the words, “I’m calling the police.” So be it. A battering ram and saxophone duet will be the perfect way to play me out.


And so we’ve come to this, nearly the end, but still not quite. We heard “Young Americans,” by Bowie, and “Year of the Cat,” by Al Stewart, as well as the wham-bam-thank-you-glam honk-a-billy of “All the Way to Memphis,” by Mott the Hoople. The police must have come all the way from Memphis, but here they are now, delivering orders that I am ignoring out of respect for a higher order, the one that drives me to dedicate Junior Parker’s “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)?” to those who have come to arrest me.

Technically speaking, this song came out in the summer of 1969, but I’m sure it must have gotten more total airplay in the Seventies than the Sixties, and anyway, I just like it. I must also redress some of my neglect of soul, funk and R&B in this compilation by spinning “Get on the Good Foot,” by James Brown featuring Maceo Parker on the horn.

This has both funked things up and calmed things down. The Princess Microphone indicates they’ll wait for me if it takes all night, which is all I ever really wanted. And so, I make this final request. One more Billy Joel song — please? “New York State of Mind” it is. One more? The set wouldn’t be complete without it. It would be as if we hadn’t played anything at all. I can see a bit of impatience, but what would an epic stand-off be without impatience?

She relents. “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” That is what we needed. Elegiac? I should say so. And now there’s nothing left for “The Warmth of Vinyl” — but this.

“Listen to What the Man Said,” by Paul McCartney and Wings. I could cue it up with handcuffs on, but the officers have nobly declined my proffered wrists. I’m standing up; I’m leaving. Studio legend has it that Linda’s vocals were cut off on the concert mix, but I’ve never believed that. Not for a minute. Paul would not have done that to Linda. He loved her.

This is “The Warmth of Vinyl” signing off. Let the tables turn.

Mark Gozonsky lives in L.A., and has had fiction published in Switchback and Two Hawks Quarterly. He recently achieved his lifelong dream of being recognized at his local branch library. “You must be Mark Gozonsky,” said a librarian at check-out. Unfortunately, she was impressed not by his own writing, but for his impressive utilization of library resources. Learn more about Mark at