"Baker Street" is a ballad written and first recorded by Scottish singer-songwriter Gerry Rafferty. Released as a single in 1978, it reached No. 1 in Canada, No. 2 in the United States, No. 3 in the United Kingdom, No. 1 in Australia and No. 9 in the Netherlands. The arrangement is famous for its saxophone riff, played by Raphael Ravenscroft.
In October 2010 the song was recognised by BMI for surpassing 5 million performances worldwide.
Named after the famous London street of the same name, the song was included on Rafferty's second solo album, City to City, which was Rafferty's first release after the resolution of legal problems surrounding the formal break-up of his old band, Stealers Wheel, in 1975. In the intervening three years, Rafferty had been unable to release any material because of disputes about the band's remaining contractual recording obligations.
Rafferty wrote the song during a period when he was trying to extricate himself from his Stealers Wheel contracts, and was regularly travelling between his family home near Glasgow and London, where he often stayed at a friend's flat in Baker Street. As Rafferty put it, "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." The resolution of his 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." Rafferty's daughter Martha has said the book that inspired the song more than any other was Colin Wilson's The Outsider. Rafferty was reading the book, which explores ideas of alienation and of creativity, born out of a longing to be connected, at this time of travelling between Glasgow and London.
The album City to City, including "Baker Street", was co-produced by Rafferty and Hugh Murphy. In addition to a guitar solo, played by Hugh Burns, the song featured a prominent eight-bar saxophone riff played as a break between verses, by Raphael Ravenscroft.
Rafferty claimed he wrote the hook with the original intention that it be sung. Ravenscroft said differently, saying he was presented with a song that contained "several gaps". "In fact, most of what I played was an old blues riff," stated Ravenscroft. "If you're asking me: 'Did Gerry hand me a piece of music to play?' then no, he didn't." However, the 2011 reissue of City To City included the demo of Baker Street which included the saxophone part played on electric guitar by Rafferty. The exact sax line, however, was originally played by saxophonist Steve Marcus on his 1968 "Tomorrow Never Knows" album, on a song called "Half A Heart" written by guitarist Larry Coryell.
Ravenscroft, a session musician, was in the studio to record a brief soprano saxophone part and suggested that he record the now-famous break using the alto saxophone he had in his car. The part led to what became known as "the 'Baker Street' phenomenon", a resurgence in the sales of saxophones and their use in mainstream pop music and television advertising.
In January 2011, radio presenter Simon Lederman revealed that Ravenscroft himself thought the solo was out of tune. When asked during a live radio interview on BBC London 94.9, "What do you think when you hear [the sax solo] now?" Ravenscroft replied, "I'm irritated because it's out of tune; yeah it's flat; by enough of a degree that it irritates me at best" and admitted he was "gutted" when he heard it played back. He added that he had not been able to re-record the take as he was not involved when the song was mixed.
The single version was produced using the tape of the album version sped up slightly, so as to raise the tempo and thus be more radio-friendly. This also had the result of raising the key by a half tone.
According to one story Ravenscroft received no payment for a song that earned Rafferty an income of £80,000 per annum; a cheque for £27 given to Ravenscroft bounced and was framed on the wall of his solicitor. The bouncing cheque story was denied, however, by Ravenscroft on the Simon Mayo Drivetime show on BBC Radio 2 on 9 February 2012. He said, "You'd better not believe everything you hear." Mayo asked further, "So, is it not true?" "No. It's not true," Ravenscroft replied. Ravenscroft said his work had taken about an hour to complete.
The saxophone riff was also the subject of another urban myth in the UK, created in the 1980s by British writer and broadcaster Stuart Maconie. As one of the spoof facts invented for the regular "Would You Believe It?" section in theNME, Maconie falsely claimed that British radio and television presenter Bob Holness had played the saxophone part on the recording. Later, the claim was widely repeated.