Song #35: “Baker Street” — Gerry Rafferty (1978)
I’m posting this at 5 o’clock on a Friday. Happy hour. Seems appropriate.
If you had asked me in middle school, I would have told you this was my favorite song of all time. Which seems weird and inappropriate now considering it’s about barflies and drunks, the dissolution of dreams and the perpetual losing of misplaced hopes. (To paraphrase Ralphie in “A Christmas Story,” “Melancholy and bitterness already by the 8th grade!”)
I blame the sax. And the ripping guitar solo at the end.
There must have been something in the water back then. Billy Joel covered the same territory in his best known hit, albeit from the other side of the bar. Of course, once Gerry Rafferty met a sad and bitter end, it just makes the lyrics to “Baker Street” even more depressing. But oh, hey, that sax!
The best roommate I ever had introduced me to Bukowski, and I couldn’t read his stuff without hearing this song (or this, from Stealers Wheel) playing in my head. Like Bukowski, much of what Rafferty did was cleverness and amusement covering a dark core. And the lyrics, which I sang along to without understanding when I was 14, now have a hard-earned poignancy. Unlike Rafferty in real life, the protagonist in the song managed to escape his fate. Whether the happy ending is a delusion or not becomes increasing irrelevant the older you get; you just want it to be true too. Cue the sax!