Baker Street: Gerry Rafferty; Foo Fighters; Rick Springfield

Hello there! Our song this week is Baker Street. This is a great pop song, with a memorable saxophone solo. We will review the original version by Gerry Rafferty. We will also discuss versions by Foo Fighters and by Rick Springfield.

Gerry Rafferty, Baker Street:

Gerry Rafferty was a Scottish singer-songwriter. He was born in 1947 to a working-class family in Paisley, Scotland. Rafferty’s mother introduced him to Irish and Scottish folk songs. Below is a photo of Gerry Rafferty performing.

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Rafferty was inspired to a career in music through British Invasion artists such as the Beatles and Rolling Stones. He joined a number of bands that had little commercial success. One of his bandmates in a group called The Humblebums was Billy Connolly, who subsequently became a star comedian in the U.K.

Stealer's Wheel performing. Gerry Rafferty (L) and Joe Egan (R).

Stealer’s Wheel performing. Gerry Rafferty (L) and Joe Egan (R).

In 1972, Rafferty joined forces with Joe Egan to form the duo Stealer’s Wheel. They had one big hit, Stuck In The Middle With You. That song, produced by the great American producer-songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, reached #8 on the Billboard pop charts and #2 in Canada.  At left we show Stealer’s Wheel performing in concert.

The song Baker Street was released on Gerry Rafferty’s second solo album, the 1978 release City to City. This was a “break-through” album for Rafferty. First, it followed a three-year hiatus during which time Rafferty was unable to release a record, because he was tied up in legal issues related to the breakup of his previous band, Stealer’s Wheel.

Second, City to City contained Rafferty’s two big solo hits: Baker Street and Right Down The Line. Baker Street hit #2 on the Billboard pop charts; the song was also a major hit around the world.

In Baker Street, the singer reminisces on his highly unsatisfying life. He is drinking too much, and the big city (London) has lost its appeal for him.  In addition, he and his friends have big plans for the future that never seem to materialize.

Winding your way down on Baker Street
Light in your head, and dead on your feet
Well another crazy day, you drink the night away
And forget about everything

This city desert makes you feel so cold
It’s got so many people but it’s got no soul
And it’s taken you so long to find out you were wrong
When you thought it held everything.

You used to think that it was so easy
You used to say that it was so easy
But you’re tryin’, you’re tryin’ now.
Another year and then you’d be happy
Just one more year and then you’d be happy
But you’re cryin’, you’re cryin’ now.

However, the real ‘hook’ in Baker Street was the alto saxophone solo, played by Raphael Ravenscroft. In fact, following Gerry Rafferty’s death, I was struck by how many people referred to Rafferty’s “great saxophone song,” by which they meant Baker Street. Thinking about it, I guess this makes sense because once you have listened to it, the sax riff from Baker Street sticks in your brain forever.

So here is Gerry Rafferty in the “official video” of Baker Street from his City to City album.

The video shows Rafferty playing guitar and singing Baker Street in the studio. The sax solo is really haunting; it is the first and last thing you remember about the song.

Baker Street was highly autobiographical. During this period, Rafferty was staying in his hometown of Paisley, Scotland. However, he had several appointments in London to meet with lawyers on the many lawsuits stemming from the dissolution of Stealer’s Wheel.

When Rafferty was in London he stayed at a friend’s flat near Baker Street. The two would discuss their personal situations, play guitar together, and drink and talk through the night.

Although the general themes of Baker Street deal with alienation, frustration and depression, the end of the song describes an optimistic new beginning.
The resolution of Rafferty’s legal and financial frustrations accounted for the exhilaration of the song’s last verse: “When you wake up it’s a new morning/ The sun is shining, it’s a new morning/ You’re going, you’re going home.”

There was an interesting controversy regarding Raphael Ravenscroft’s saxophone solo on Baker Street. Ravenscroft insisted that he had composed the solo himself, while Rafferty claimed that he told Ravenscroft precisely what to play.

The controversy was resolved when an early demo of Baker Street turned up. On the demo, Rafferty was playing the solo part on guitar; this proved that Rafferty had composed the solo himself.

Gerry Rafferty was always uncomfortable with fame, and took considerable steps to avoid the limelight. For example, he refused to play concert tours in the U.S., which limited his exposure and earning power.

In addition, Gerry was uneasy with many aspects of the music business. He hated appearing on talk shows and giving interviews to the press, so he avoided them as much as possible. As time went by, Rafferty also became more and more reluctant to give live performances.

Rafferty’s personal situation was exacerbated by the fact that he suffered from depression.  He had significant issues with alcoholism as well.

Rafferty had a long collaboration with producer Hugh Murphy. In fact, Rafferty’s most important album City to City was co-produced by him with Murphy.  After Murphy passed away in 1998, Rafferty became more and more reclusive.

In 2000, Rafferty issued an album that was available only through a Website that he had created. In 2004, Rafferty announced that he would issue a free download on his Website every few weeks. However, only a couple of downloads ever appeared on that site.

In November, 2010 Gerry Rafferty was admitted to Royal Bournemouth Hospital, suffering from multiple organ failure. His condition improved sufficiently that he was taken off life support and released from the hospital.

However, on Jan. 4, 2011, Gerry Rafferty died of liver failure. This is a real shame, as he was a genuinely talented musician.

In his few big hits, Rafferty showed considerable promise as a songwriter. He was very effective at channeling his feelings in his songs; in particular, his tunes highlighted his own sense of alienation and depression.

Gerry Rafferty will live on through his three big hits: Stuck In The Middle With You, performed with Stealer’s Wheel; Baker Street; and Right Down The Line.

Foo Fighters, Baker Street:

Foo Fighters have been a remarkably successful band for the past two decades. Their front man and founder was Dave Grohl, who had been the drummer in the grunge band Nirvana.

However, in 1994 that band ended suddenly with the suicide of their lead singer, Kurt Cobain. At that time, Grohl had amassed a number of songs that he had written during his time with Nirvana. Below is a photo of Dave Grohl performing with Foo Fighters at the event V2001.

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Grohl had never recorded any of his songs while he was with Nirvana, as he felt that his work could not compete with that of Cobain. But after Cobain’s death, Grohl went into the studio and recorded 15 of his tunes. Grohl played most of the instruments for what he envisioned as a one-man project.

However, the demo tape from Grohl’s recording session began to circulate around the music industry, and this generated interest in producing an album. So Grohl formed a quartet with himself on guitar, together with bassist Nate Mendel, guitarist Pat Smear, and drummer William Goldsmith.

The band’s name “Foo Fighters” was taken from a term used by World War II pilots to describe UFOs they encountered while flying missions. These were colloquially referred to as “foo fighters.”

Cover of the 1997 Foo Fighters album, The Colour and the Shape.

Cover of the 1997 Foo Fighters album, The Colour and the Shape.

Over the past 20 years, Foo Fighters have sold over 30 million records. Four of their albums have won Grammy Awards for Best Rock Album. For what it’s worth, the group’s musical style has been described as either alt-rock or post-grunge.

Whatever style you ascribe to Foo Fighters, it has proved extremely popular, and Dave Grohl has acquired a reputation as one of the major spokespersons for current pop music.

Here is a music video of Foo Fighters doing a cover of Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street. This was a cut from their 1997 album, The Colour and the Shape.  The cover of that album is shown above left.

I haven’t been able to find live video of the band playing Baker Street. This video splices in clips of Dave Grohl and his bandmates, with shots of the band in live performance.

Foo Fighters converts Rafferty’s great pop song into a neo-grunge format. In this version, the saxophone part is played on guitar. At the 4-minute mark of the video, the guitar solo from Rafferty’s Baker Street is reprised.

Foo Fighters have seen a few personnel changes since their inception. Original drummer William Goldsmith quit the band in 1997 and was replaced by Taylor Hawkins. Lead guitarist Pat Smear also quit the group in 1997. Although Smear returned to the band in 2005, the current lead guitarist is Chris Shiflett.

Around 2001, Foo Fighters appeared with members of the band Queen on a few occasions. In March 2001, Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins inducted Queen into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and then joined the surviving members of Queen in performing a live number. Foo Fighters and Queen also performed together at a couple of other concerts.

In May 2015, Foo Fighters were the last musical act to appear on the David Letterman Show when Letterman retired. The end of Letterman’s final appearance consisted of a series of clips from Dave’s show, while the Foo Fighters tune Everlong played in the background; this was a song
which Letterman said had significant meaning for him after his heart surgery in 2000.

At the moment, Foo Fighters have not performed since Nov. 2015. However, tour dates are scheduled for a tour of Europe beginning in June of this year. Foo fanatics — stay tuned.

Rick Springfield, Baker Street:

Rick Springfield is an Australian singer-songwriter and actor. He grew up in the state of Victoria, where his father was an Aussie army officer.

There are plenty of actors who dabble in music: Jeff Daniels, Bruce Willis, and several others come to mind. However, Rick Springfield was a serious rock musician first, and from that he moved into acting. Below is a photo of Rick Springfield performing at the American Music Awards in 1982.

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Springfield was a member of a few Australian bands that experienced limited commercial success. However, in 1969 he became the lead guitarist and vocalist in the quartet Zoot.

Zoot had a trademark gimmick, where the whole band dressed up entirely in pink satin. This made them extremely popular with teen-age girls. On the positive side, they sold a lot of records and gained fame; but on the negative side, this made it difficult for music critics to take them seriously.

Zoot had a couple of successful records in Australia, but the group disbanded in 1971 and Springfield went solo. In 1972, Rick Springfield moved to the U.S., where he signed a recording contract with Capitol Records.

His first single record released by Capitol, Speak To The Sky, peaked at #14 on the Billboard Hot 100. Rick then switched to Columbia Records, who marketed him as a teeny-bopper idol, in the manner of David Cassidy or Donny Osmond.

For the most part, Springfield wrote his own songs, and often performed several of the instrumental parts on his albums. His albums were fairly successful; however, he really hit the jackpot in 1981 with his song Jessie’s Girl. That song’s smash success led to Sringfield winning the Grammy Award in 1981 for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance.

Here is Rick Springfield in a live performance of Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street.

Isn’t this enjoyable? The song was included on Rick Springfield’s 2005 album The Day After Yesterday.  That album consisted mainly of covers of Springfield’s favorite songs.

At the start of the song, Springfield announces that, as a singer-songwriter, this is a song “that I wish I had written.” Gerry Rafferty’s version of this song is so iconic that Springfield essentially duplicates it.

You can see from Rock Springfield’s boyish good looks and self-deprecating manner that he makes an excellent teeny-bopper idol. Rick’s voice is not particularly strong, but on this song it probably doesn’t matter.

Significant stretches of the song are given over the extended sax solo, here played by Dino Soldo, that defines this tune. It’s a very enjoyable cover of Rafferty’s great song.

While Rick Springfield was writing songs and recording albums, he began a side career in acting. He garnered a number of parts in TV shows, beginning in 1977 with a role in an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man.

Rick Springfield as Dr. Noah Drake on the ABC soap General Hospital.

Rick Springfield as Dr. Noah Drake on the ABC soap General Hospital.

By the time 1981 rolled around, Rick figured the odds were high that he would not make it as a pop music star. So he took a lead part in a TV soap, General Hospital, where he played the role of Dr. Noah Drake.  At left is a photo of Springfield as Dr. Drake.

Wouldn’t you know it, no sooner did he gain a following for his role in General Hospital, when his song Jessie’s Girl became a #1 hit! For a couple of years, this made Springfield’s life extremely hectic. He was taping episodes of General Hospital between tours with his band.

This lifestyle was hard to maintain, and Springfield’s role as Dr. Noah Drake lasted less than three years. However, his success as a rock star boosted his fame on the TV soap opera, and vice versa.

Once Rick Springfield left General Hospital, he landed roles in several feature films and TV series. Then in 1995 he was a member of the original cast of Smokey Joe’s Café, a musical that featured the songs of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.

From time to time, Springfield took on acting roles that were directly related to his singing career. On the third year of the cable TV series Californication, Rick played a twisted version of a rock singer teeny-bopper idol; it was widely believed that this role was a send-up of his real-life pop music career.

On the TV series Hot In Cleveland,
He played the role of a toll booth worker who pretended to be the famous singer/musician Rick Springfield in an attempt to impress women.
And in 2015, Rick Springfield played the role of Greg alongside Meryl Streep in the rock-music movie Ricki and the Flash.

Rick Springfield continues to tour, and he currently has two touring groups.  In the first, he appears with a five-piece rock band, and a second features Springfield solo in an acoustic set.

Rick also continues to act. He has a recurring role in General Hospital where he returns as Dr. Noah Drake. In 2010 he released an autobiography, Late, Late at Night: a Memoir. It peaked at #13 on the New York Times bestseller list, and is included in the top 25 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of Great Rock Memoirs of All Time.

So, Rick Springfield appears to be a multi-talented guy. From outward appearances, he is a competent rock musician, a capable actor, and he must also be a fine writer. We wish him all the best, despite his bad fortune with Jessie’s girl.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Baker Street (song)
Wikipedia, Gerry Rafferty
Wikipedia, Foo Fighters
Wikipedia, Dave Grohl
Wikipedia, Rick Springfield

About Tim Londergan

Tim Londergan is professor emeritus of theoretical physics at Indiana University-Bloomington. He studies the properties of the quarks and gluons that form the internal structure of protons and neutrons. He also writes a blog "Tim's Cover Story" that compares covers of important songs in rock music history. From 2002 to 2018, he and his wife shared their college-town experiences with two delightful cats, siblings Lewis and Clark, who enormously enriched their lives. Together with his colleague Steven Vigdor, Tim is co-author of a blog "Debunking Denial," that discusses the difference between skepticism and denial as manifested in various current issues. He is also co-founder of "Concerned Scientists of Indiana University," a group that supports evidence-based science, funding for science research, and policies based on the best available scientific information. His hobbies include tennis and ornithology, and he is a life-long fan of the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.
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4 Responses to Baker Street: Gerry Rafferty; Foo Fighters; Rick Springfield

  1. Jim S. says:

    Very interesting. I confess that while i liked Rafferty’s stuff, I knew little about him. So I didn’t know he had a substance problem or that he had passed away. Such a common problem in rock. Anyway, thanks for the info.


    • Jim, Glad you liked it. Some of my friends ask me, “When are you going to write about a musician who DIDN’T have a substance abuse problem?” Must have been incredibly common back then, perhaps it still is. I believe that those issues broke up a lot of bands.


      • Jim S. says:

        I have read countless rock books. Bands that don’t have drug problems (U2, Springsteen) are notable for that not happening. Take a bunch of young guys, give them too much money, surround them with people who ply them with drugs and voila – devastation.


  2. Good point. But in the case of Gerry Rafferty, it seems like a toxic combination of mental-health issues with drug and alcohol dependency.


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