Classic Instrumentals – Better Left Alone
Classic Instrumentals – While most of us love our singers and songwriters that write lyrics full of depth and drama and tells a story we all can relate to. There are some of us that can appreciate the world of instrumental music as well. Some of us prefer music with lyrics because it’s the most personal way we connect with each another.
I for one can relate to both sides but I also love an epic instrumental that can take me over the edge and beyond. Or one that just makes you want to get up and get your boogie on. Either way, we’re just scraping the surface of how many great instrumental tracks there are.
Booker T. And The M.G.’s – Green Onions
These guys are musical bad asses at their craft! With the ability to musically articulate the visual impression of a guy with a cigarette dangling from his lip. Well, that’s what comes to mind when I hear this song playing. It’s the cool factor vibe it gives. From the first few notes, you know it going to be epic jam with lots of funk and soul. Truly, these guys are way ahead of their time.
As the house band at Stax Records in Memphis, they definitely contributed to some amazing iconic tunes rolling out of that label. Booker T, Steve Cropper, Donald “Duck” Dunn, Al Jackson Jr. Green Onions is one of the greatest Rock instrumentals of all-time – if not the greatest. What’s also amazing is that song was a “B side”, that debuted in 1962 and still pops up as background music almost 60 years later.
The Edgar Winter Group – Frankenstein
Texas multi-instrumentalist Winter hits the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 with this keytar-featuring single, One of the few instrumentals to ever score that honor. Named by Edgar’s drummer, after the band stitched together parts of several jams to create one massive, lumbering song.
In late 1972, Winter brought together Dan Hartman, Ronnie Montrose and Chuck Ruff to form The Edgar Winter Group. This particular track is from the album, They Only Come Out at Night. Even if they did stitch everything together, they definitely left an impression. To this day it still gets airplay.
Average White Band – Pick Up The Pieces
So, we have a Scottish funk & Soul band that plays R&B Funk and has a few disco hits under their belts. So, I don’t think this makes them that average.
All I can say is that there have been many artists that have sampled this song. Making them the 15th most sampled act in history. AWB would have 3 more Top 40 hits in the mid-1970s (including one more Top 10 with “Cut The Cake”).
Dick Dale – Miserlou
Dick Dale took a traditional Mediterranean song dating back to the 1920s and reworks the track by using his trademark Surf Rock sound. And this becomes the version of the song that caught on in America. Released as a single on the Del-Tone label in 1962, and later that year as “Miserlou Twist” on his first album Surfers’ Choice.
As Surf Rock caught on, the song is later recorded by The Beach Boys, The Ventures, The Surfaris, The Bobby Fuller Four and any other band playing Surf music. Dale’s career and the Surf Music genre also get a revival in 1994, when the movie Pulp Fiction is released.
Hugh Masekela – Grazing In The Grass
While Hugh was working on his third album The Promise Of A Future, the record needed one more track to finish it off. After a short discussion, they revamped a song called Mr. Bull #5 which starts out with a prominent cowbell beat. It’s banged it out in less than an hour, it gets radio airplay and the rest is history!
What makes this track so special is that “Trumpet” music was all the rage at this time thanks to Herb Alpert, whose song “This Guy’s In Love With You” was knocked out of the top spot by “Grazing In The Grass” after four weeks at #1.
Masekela’s record company tried to position him as “the black Herb Alpert,” and pushed for more hits. He never again cracked the Top 40, but he continued to play jazz and even toured with Paul Simon. Furthermore, he remained very popular in the jazz community.
Mason Williams – Classical Gas
While any instrumental that reaches number is remarkable, but topping the charts with a classical guitar has happened only once. It was this epic track Classical Gas and it was originally just a musical piece to use as a fill-in for performances if needed. There are also cover versions by Chet Atkins, Glen Campbell and the California Guitar Trio. In 1988, BMI stated that this musical piece has garnered more airplay than any other instrumental. Furthermore, the song receives a resurgence when its featured in the movie “This is Us”.
In the late 60s and early 70s, there was a lot going on in the world and I think this song just resonated with a lot of people. This song won Grammy awards in 1969 for “Best Instrumental Composition”, the “Best Contemporary Pop Performance”, “Instrumental”, and “Best Instrumental Arrangement”. The arrangement award went to Mike Post, and it was very special for him, since he was the first session musician to make the transition to production and win a Grammy.
Peter Gunn Theme – by Henry Mancini
While this song is written for the TV series Peter Gunn, that ran from 1958-1961 and performed by Henry Mancini. Released as a single, this track didn’t chart until Mancini releases the album The Music From Peter Gunn, in 1959 featuring the theme. Needless to say it became the most popular album of the year, spending 10 weeks at #1.
Meanwhile, there have been many adaptations of it from the likes of Art of Noise. Who in 1986 along with Duane Eddy guesting on guitar made it a Top 10 hit around the world. It peaks at #8 in the UK and winning the “1986 Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance”. Furthermore, it also gives Eddy the distinction of being the only instrumentalist with Top 10 singles in four different decades.
Others that has covered it is Ray Anthony, Emerson, Lake & Palmer often used this song to open their shows as well. Jeff Beck does a killer version. Lastly, the “Original Blues Brothers” covered it when they toured. This is the video that is featured just because of the great musicians featured. Elephant Walk also did well for Henry Mancini.
The Shadows – Apache (1969)
“Apache” stands today as probably the best-known work by British Surf-rock band The Shadows. Being a #1 hit in the UK in 1960 was just the beginning; the instrumental song with an Old West motif was a worldwide hit with the #1 position in seven international charts at the same time: UK, Australia, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Spain, and South Africa. It took a year before the song finally charted in the US, and it was a version by the Danish jazz guitarist Jorgen Ingmann that did it. He went to #2 with the song in 1961 – his only US hit.
This song became the foundation for many early hip-hop tunes after it is reworked by The Incredible Bongo Band. This 1973 version features an extended drum break that Kool Herc and other DJs looped in their sets. As Hip-Hop emerges in the ’80s, producers put this break into their tracks. It eventually makes it’s way into a plethora of songs from this era.
Some of the tracks to sample it includes “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel”. Along with “Way Way Back by Kool Moe Dee” and “You Can’t Dance by LL Cool J.” The Sugarhill Gang did a popular cover of the song in 1981. What can we say? History is made with this particular track.
Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass – Spanish Flea
Well, we all know that Herb Alpert is a great performer and jazz artist. Furthermore, his career started in 1957 and at 84, he’s still going. I chose Spanish Flea because I love this video. Alpert is also the “A” of A&M Records, a recording label he and business partner Jerry Moss founded and eventually sold to PolyGram. Alpert also creates abstract expressionist paintings and sculptures.
As for the song, it’s the “bachelorette intro” on American TV’s The Dating Game. The song is written by Alpert’s label mate Julius Wechter, who has some success as the marimba-playing leader of the Baja Marimba Band. Wechter plays marimba on many of Alpert’s songs including Tijuana Brass’s first hit, “The Lonely Bull (El Solo Toro)” in 1962. Lyrics are later added by Cissy Wechter.
Santo & Johnny Sleep Walk
Santo and Johnny are the Farina brothers. As a Brooklyn guitar duo, they had one more hit, the #23 “Tear Drop,” which charts a few months later. They also recorded the theme to the movie The Godfather, and had a huge hit in Mexico with their version of “And I Love Her.” When they recorded “Sleep Walk,” Santo was 22 and Johnny was 18. It was their first release.
Other notable covers are by Chet Atkins, The Shadows, The Ventures, Deftones, and Joe Satriani. The Brian Setzer Orchestra earns a Grammy with their 1997 version for “Best Pop Instrumental Performance”.
Well, these are a few of our favorites, we would love to hear your suggestions as well. Who knows, down the road there could be a volume 2, 3 or more! There’s also the possibility of a blog of just complete rock instrumentals as well. Enjoy!