My record collection
#077: Galaxie 500 - Blue Thunder
Blue Thunder was Galaxie 500’s second single and contains the love-it-or-hate-it w/sax version of the title track. I fall very heavily on the love side!
Now, saxophones in rock are invariably a bad idea but the late Ralph Carney’s two contributions to Galaxie 500’s oeuvre are so unconventional that they don’t really fall into the saxophones in rock category… although, that didn’t stop The Onion (AV Club) from adding it to a list of 10 Great Songs Nearly Ruined By Saxophone in 2007.
But, where do you stand?
With or without?
The warning is right there in the title. “Blue Thunder” is a magnificent example of the evils of saxophone, because both versions—with and without—are readily available. One is a majestic precursor to the slowcore movement, ambling along gently. The other is like a bucket of cold water dumped on an unsuspecting dreamer.
In 1999 I reminisced about my first listen:
the sax on the single version scared the living shit out of me first time I listened to it - I had my headphones on and it was turned up really loud and all of a sudden there was this screeching wail - I jumped out of my skin - here was me expecting some nice mild barely-audible tootling and instead I got that!
Here are a few extracts from opinions posted to the mailing list over the years…
the sax sounds violent and makes me angry, which is completely the opposite of how every other Galaxie song sounds and makes me feel.
it was a shock to hear this racket over the top of such a beautiful song. After two or three listens I was absolutely entranced by it.
the saxophone in Blue Thunder is too obnoxious for my tastes.
while I agree the sax is contrary to the song I think this is the beauty of it. It is very harsh, angry even, but then I see it as an outpouring of what is more often reined in. Outwardly intense where G500 are normally inwardly intense.
you know i’ve always liked the sax version. it just seems to ‘work.’
In his review of the single in Melody Maker Everett True had this to say about the sax:
a wired saxophone which bursts in just when you don’t need it, silence so full of wailing noise as to make you shiver with awe every time.
In 2011 Everett revisited his review and had this to add:
The sax just confused the hell out of me. Still does.
I always loved Ralph Carney’s contribution to the Galaxie 500 oral history:
Kramer was recording them and asked me if I wanted to play sax on a tune or two. I said yes. I went to his studio. They were there; they were nice and shy. I played. They liked; it ended up on record– that is the end of the story.
I still pick the w/sax version as my go-to Blue Thunder.
So, which side of the fence do you fall?
With or without?
Update (13th October 2023)
So the votes are in after 24 hours and… it’s a close run thing:
- Blue Thunder (w/sax) 33
- Blue Thunder 28
combined results from the form and Instagram
The withouts comments were emphatcic!
- I find it utterly unlistenable
- Because it replaces the guitar. Goes over the guitar. Never any need for a sax solo.
- It has always sounded like someone playing over a finished song, rather than as part of it.
- 80s saxaphone recordings are universally terrible and even Galaxie couldn’t fix it
The withs generally couldn’t explain why!
- I cant explain it. I usually hate sax as much as the next guy.
- Impossible for me to articulate. But it is!
- I’m normally anti-sax but this just works.
There were also a mix of similar responses on Facebook and Twitter.
It’s pretty close - but we have to have a winner:
I bought this on release… during my vinyl > CD transition I’d still invariably buy singles on vinyl - I bought very few CD singles, suspect those horrendous thin jewel cases contributed to me holding out!
Obviously (one of) the greatest cover versions of all time is on the flip… I’ll probably come to that later in the series! Actually… there are two great covers on this!