In the mid-'70s, Scottish musician Gerry Rafferty was in a rut. His band, Stealers Wheels had scored an unexpected hit with the song "Stuck in the Middle with You." But as the band acrimoniously broke up, legal hassles and contractual restrictions kept him from releasing new music. Staying with a friend in London, he channeled those feelings into a new song.
"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," Rafferty told The Telegraph in 2011 about the London street that would make him famous. "We'd sit and chat or play guitar there through the night."
Taken from the album City to City, Baker's Street was released as a single on February 3, 1978. The song and its famous saxophone solo would sail up the Billboard charts, getting as high as #2 on June 24, 1978. The song that would block Rafferty from reaching #1: Andy Gibb's "Shadow Dancing."
The song's legendary sax solo was performed by session player Raphael Ravenscroft, who died in 2014. The song's popularity was so big that it caused what was known as "the 'Baker Street' phenomenon," resulting in saxophone sales soaring, and more sax players popping up in rock bands and pop culture references. Saxophones were to the late '70s/early '80s what DJ turntables were to the late '90s/early 2000s.
Unfortunately for Ravenscroft, the solo wasn't exactly perfect: "I'm irritated because it's out of tune; yeah it's flat; by enough of a degree that it irritates me at best", he told BBC Radio London. Since he was just a session player on the track, he never had a chance to replay the mistakes and get it just right. Not that it mattered; the song's success has extended far beyond the late '70s. "Baker Street" has been covered by artists ranging from the Foo Fighters to Waylon Jennings, was featured in the radio station "Los Santos Rock Radio" in Grand Theft Auto V, and even played a big part on The Simpsons when Homer got Lisa Simpson a replacement sax.
"'Baker Street' is really all about the sax riff, which actually, is not an exceedingly difficult sax riff to play, but one that brings out emotions in people that they didn't think they had," Nicholas Niespodziani of the Yacht Rock Revue told Songfacts. "You play that in front of a crowd of dudes that hadn't heard it performed live before, and they get just wild. They get the crazy eye."