Clarinet In Popular Music

Regarding that there is so many information about the clarinet influence in jazz, maybe we could talk a little, about what has happened with this great instrument in other kinds of modern music. Let’s start with some good stuff.

The Beatles

I think that start with the Liverpool band  is fair, not only because what they meant  for the popular music in the last decades, but also because they display a good amounts of records in which the clarinet play  an important role in their  composition.

The Beatles used clarinets in at very least 5 songs, but the most famous are “Here come the sun” and especially “When I’m 64” which about  Paul McCartney  have long conversations with George Martin on how to finished it, resulting in to the  arrangement  that Martin wrote  for a bass clarinet and  two clarinets.

Billy Joel

Another remarkable musician that has used lots of woodwind instruments arrangements in his music, is this prolific composer and performer from New York, that has been present in the popular music billboard for decades.

The clarinet is present in several of his songs and one in that the clarinet is specially recognized is an awesome piece of classic rock called “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”, which appeared in the set of one of Billy Joel’s most awarded albums, “The Stranger “.

Bruce Hornsby

Also a great musician that has shown an attraction for our instrument is the gifted pianist and singer Bruce Hornsby.Born in Virginia he has had a very rich and versatile career, from been member  of the hugely popular group Grateful Dead to been a session musician.

The clarinet was present in at least 2 songs of his album “Halcyon Days”, which was released in 2004 and had collaborations from musicians like Sting, Elton John and Eric Clapton. The songs in which the clarinet contribute were: “What the Hell Happened” and “ Heir Gordon”


John Helliwell, woodwinds Supertramp’s player in “Breakfast in America” played clarinet in 2 songs of the album, which was a huge success for the band from London. The set was released on A&M Records on 29 March 1979 and the presence of woodwind instruments was remarkable, like in most of the records of the rock progressive group.

The formation for the album was:

Rick Davies – Vocals and keyboards

Roger Hodgson – vocals, guitars and keyboards

John Helliwell –Woodwinds and backing vocals

Dougie Thomson – bass

Bob Siebenberg (credited as Bob C. Benberg) – drums, percussion

Van Morrison

In 2002 the amazing Northern Irish musician, composer and singer, released his 29th album “Down The Road”, which with its nostalgic feeling captivated most of the Morrison’s unconditional fans. The set included several clarinet contributions, especially in a great song called “Evening Shadows”.

The performers of the clarinet sections in the album were :Acker Bilk who added his vibrato-rich and lower-register clarinet flair ,and Martin Winning who played also the tenor saxophone.

The tracks that formed the album were:

  1. “Down the Road” – 4:15
  2. “Meet Me in the Indian Summer” – 3:57
  3. “Steal My Heart Away” – 4:20
  4. “Hey Mr. DJ” – 3:45
  5. “Talk Is Cheap” – 4:19
  6. “Choppin’ Wood” – 3:26
  7. “What Makes the Irish Heart Beat” – 3:47
  8. “All Work and No Play” – 4:51
  9. “Whatever Happened to P.J. Proby?” – 3:13
  10. “The Beauty of the Days Gone By” – 5:45
  11. “Georgia on My Mind” (Hoagy Carmichael, Stuart Gorrell) – 5:35
  12. “Only a Dream” – 4:57
  13. “Man Has to Struggle” – 5:07
  14. “Evening Shadows” (Acker Bilk, Morrison) – 4:01
  15. “Fast Train” – 5:01

Van Halen

Van Halen:

The many times recorded “Big Bad Bill”, was the song that “Van Halen”, the group formed in Pasadena California, choose to show their Jazz playing skills, but another notable fact about this track, was that it showed a terrific contribution from the father of the Van Halen brothers Jan, who displayed not only great enthusiasm for the clarinet, but also ample knowledge about what the clarinet playing is about.

Steely Dan

“”Babylon Sisters” part of the Steely Dan’s album “Gaucho”,was  one of the pieces that using  a pair of bass clarinets was  a highlight in the history of the instrument in popular music .Even though some consider Steely Dan a jazz rock band, their versatility makes that can be included in many music genders.

The clarinets in this track were played by George Marge and Walter Kane.

The set of the album was integrated by 7 songs:

  1. “Babylon Sisters”
  2. “Hey Nineteen”
  3. “Glamour Profession”
  4. “Gaucho”
  5. “Time Out of Mind”
  6. “My Rival”
  7. “Third World Man”

Talk Talk

In “Spirit of Eden” the fourth album recorded by the English band “Talk Talk” ,the clarinet was use all throughout. Released in 1988, the album was not considered a commercial success, but is considered by many people one of the best experimental pieces of those years.

Written by vocalist Mark Hollis and  Tim Friese-Greene, the producer ,the list of tracks is as follow:

  1. “The Rainbow”
  2. “Eden”
  3. “Desire”7:08
  4. “Inheritance”5:16
  5. “I Believe in You”6:24
  6. “Wealth”

And last but not least

Another  nice and talented sample of how to use the clarinet in popular music is this great version of the Pinkfloyd song Comfortably Numb .


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