Quasi-decadal variations in solar irradiance – termed the 11-year solar cycle (SC) – have been linked to variations in a variety of atmospheric circulation features, including the polar vortex, the Brewer– Dobson circulation, and the quasi-biennial oscillation. These features share an underlying commonality: they are all rooted in wave–mean flow interaction. The purpose of this paper is to provide a historical overview of the connection between the SC and wave–mean flow interaction and to propose a more complete theoretical framework for solar modulated wave–mean flow interaction that includes both zonal-mean and zonally asymmetric ozone as intermediaries for communicating variations in solar spectral irradiance to the climate system. We solve a quasi-geostrophic model using the WKB formalism to highlight the physics connecting the SC to planetary wave-drag. Numerical results show the importance of the zonally asymmetric ozone field in mediating the effects of solar variability to the wave-driven circulation in the middle atmosphere. & 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. ‘‘ynew studies have confirmed and advanced the plausibility of indirect [solar] effects involving the modification of the stratosphere by solar UV irradiance variationsy, with subsequent dynamical and radiative coupling to the troposphere.’’ (IPCC, 2007).