Song 272: Junior Walker and the All-Stars, “Shotgun” (1965)

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When I started playing saxophone in fifth grade, my Aunt Anne made a mixtape of songs with saxophone. I don’t remember much about what was on it, other than the original “How Sweet It Is” by Marvin Gaye—none of that James Taylor shit!—and “Shotgun” by Junior Walker and the All-Stars. (It turns out that “How Sweet It Is” doesn’t have any sax solos, so I guess I’m mistaken about that one. But still: None of that James Taylor shit.)

I had never heard “Shotgun” before, and I loved it. Despite its energy and brisk tempo, It just seemed so heavy—not thematically, but in weight. That thundering bass, the organ whose blasts rival any horn section: it’s just about perfect. I can’t stand behind its subject matter, but what are you gonna do. (Speaking of which, old people who think violence and violent imagery in music started with hip-hop? Maybe listen to songs like this. From 1965. And suck it.) (Man, I am feisty today!)

Just as I never noticed that Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” has non-rhyming lyrics, I never realized that “Shotgun” is only one chord: an A-flat seventh, played masterfully on guitar by Willie Woods and Eddie Willis. The fact that the song is never boring despite this lack of progression is credit to Walker and his band, as well as “Shotgun” producer and Motown maestro Berry Gordy.

I wish I could remember what other saxophone songs were on that tape. But it led me to “Shotgun,” and maybe that’s all I need.

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