The Story of... 'Baker Street' by Gerry Rafferty

3 July 2022, 23:09

Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty
Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty. Picture: United Artists

By Tom Eames

Gerry Rafferty's 'Baker Street' inspired a boom in saxophone solos in the late 1970s, and it remains one of the all-time greatest soft rock songs of all time.

But what was the backstory behind Gerry Rafferty's seminal 1978 track 'Baker Street'?

Who played the famous sax solo? Was it a certain TV game show host? What kept it off the top spot? Here's everything you need to know...

  1. Who wrote 'Baker Street'?

    Scottish Singer-Songwriter Gerry Rafferty
    Scottish Singer-Songwriter Gerry Rafferty. Picture: Getty

    Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty wrote it for his second solo album City to City, released in 1978.

    It was his first release since his former band Stealers Wheel broke up, and had been unable to release any material because of disputes about the band's remaining contract.

  2. What is the meaning of 'Baker Street'?

    Gerry Rafferty - Baker Street (Official Video)

    'Baker Street' is about a man who dreams of owning a house. and living away from his nearest town.

    However, he is a drunk, and cannot achieve that goal. He drinks to forget what he doesn't have, and never realizes he's a "rolling stone" with no direction.

    Named after Baker Street in London, Rafferty wrote it during a period when he was trying to get out of his Stealers Wheel contracts.

    He was regularly travelling between his family home in Paisley and London, where he often stayed at a friend's flat on Baker Street.

    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. We'd sit and chat or play guitar there through the night.

    - Gerry Rafferty

    Rafferty's daughter Martha later said that the book The Outsider by Colin Wilson also heavily inspired the song.

    Rafferty was reading the book, which explores ideas of alienation and creativity, while travelling between the two cities.

  3. Did Bob Holness play the saxophone?

    Bob Holness in 2002
    Bob Holness in 2002. Picture: Getty

    Nope, late Blockbusters host Bob Holness didn't play it!

    This urban legend was created in the 1980s by British writer and broadcaster Stuart Maconie.

    As one of the spoof facts invented for the 'Would You Believe It?' section in the NME, Maconie falsely claimed that Holness played the sax.

    The famous saxophone break was performed by Raphael Ravenscroft. A story claimed that he received no payment for a song that earned Rafferty £80,000 every year, and that a cheque for £27 bounced and was framed and hung on his solicitor's wall. However, the bouncing cheque story was denied by Ravenscroft in 2012.

    Raphael Ravenscroft
    Raphael Ravenscroft. Picture: Getty

    Rafferty claimed that he wrote the sax hook meaning for it to be sung. Ravenscroft remembered it differently, saying that he was presented with a song that contained "several gaps".

    A 2011 reissue of City To City included the demo of 'Baker Street', which included the sax part played on electric guitar by Rafferty.

    A very similar sax line, was originally played by Steve Marcus for a song called 'Half A Heart' in 1968.

    In 2011, Ravenscroft said that he thought the solo was out of tune. He admitted he was "gutted" when he heard it played back. Apparently, he had not been able to re-record the take, as he was not involved when the song was mixed.

    I'm irritated because it's out of tune; yeah it's flat; by enough of a degree that it irritates me at best.

    - Raphael Ravenscroft
  4. How did it perform in the charts?

    It peaked at number three in 1978 in the UK (Kate Bush's 'Wuthering Heights' and Blondie's 'Denis' were at one and two).

    In the US, it was stuck at number two for six consecutive weeks, kept out of the number one spot by Andy Gibb's 'Shadow Dancing'.

  5. Who has covered it?

    Undercover - Baker Street (Official Video)

    Many artists have covered the song. The most famous version was by Undercover, who reached number two in 1992. It has also been covered by:

    • Foo Fighters (hear it above)
    • Ali Campbell
    • Waylon Jennings
    • Mimi Page
    • London Symphony Orchestra
    • Lisa Simpson (in The Simpsons)