Unsung Heroes: The Instrumentals

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Which came first, the playing of instruments or singing?

I imagine that our ancient ancestors probably started chanting and singing before they ever thought of inventing the accordion.

“Never forget, Timmy: We forever owe a debt of gratitude to Gronk, the Elder.”

The first instruments were likely sticks pounding out a rhythm on hollow logs, or something like that. Chanting and singing comes naturally, I think. (Spend some time with a toddler and you’ll see what I mean.)

There is something very comforting about the human voice.

We are drawn to it.

This may be because of a simple emotional connection to other humans. It could also be the message that those voices are speaking/singing that we are drawn to. 

I will admit that no music is able to affect me as intensely as human voices in chorus.

Have you ever heard a good barbershop chorus? Their harmonies are amazing, but when they start belting out a song at the top of their lungs, the sonic power is more than the sum of its parts.

It is amazing, and at times even a little terrifying!

But most music with vocals utilizes one vocalist, or perhaps a few singing together. Their voices work together as another “instrument” in an ensemble. The voices and instruments complement and support one another to varying degrees.

Sometimes the lyrics have poignant or profound messages. Often the message is about longing for love or celebrating love. Sometimes lyrics are so simple or basic that they almost seem like an afterthought.

And sometimes they are offensive, whether that is intentional or not. 

I don’t consider myself much of a scholar when it comes to reading and writing. Brilliant prose can smack me in the face and I don’t even recognize it.

On the other hand, having been in band and choir and music theory classes, I feel like I have a decent ear for music.

So for me, lyrics often seem like unnecessary place holders. They follow the melody, and can be fun to sing along with, but if they were changed to describe what the singer had for breakfast, it wouldn’t change much of my appreciation of the song. 

As Peter Gabriel is credited with saying:

I think his point was that writers ought to work harder when composing lyrics. But one can also interpret that quote to mean that music is much more important than lyrics when it comes to appreciating a song. For me, that’s true. 

Enter the instrumental. 

The popularity of instrumentals has ebbed and flowed over the decades. Some of the earliest popular recordings in the late 1800s were instrumentals. John Phillip Sousa’s instrumental marches sold well in the 1890s. But primitive acoustic recording techniques in those days didn’t pick up individual instruments very well. High and low ranges reproduced poorly, but the mid-ranged human voice sounded better on records.

As recording matured over the next couple of decades, classical and instrumental recordings became more popular. By the 1920s and 30s, instrumentals were almost as popular as vocal recordings.

During the Big Band/Swing era of the 1930s and 1940s, vocalists got small-print billing compared to the band leaders like Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller.

But as the 40s progressed, vocalists like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and Doris Day became celebrities on their own. Vocalists became the headliners. It really doesn’t make sense to have instrumentals on a vocalist’s album.

As time progressed into the rock era, it was mostly the easy-listening genre that would occasionally push to the top of the charts with instrumentals. 

But rock and roll, and especially the popularity of the Beatles as a unit did change things a bit.

Rock groups became popular, sometimes with fairly anonymous members. They were known for their overall sound rather than just a singer. They could use instrumentals to show off the talents of their musicians.

Those instrumentals usually weren’t the most popular songs by those bands.

They were the deep cuts that could be appreciated by listeners that preferred to consume music by the album, rather than just by the hit single. 

So why did instrumentals become less and less popular in pop music? Of course, pop music is not really a genre. It’s a moving target. It’s whatever the public most wants to hear at any given time. Irving Berlin, perhaps the greatest pop music writer of the first half of the 20th century said:  “A good song embodies the feelings of the mob, and a songwriter is not much more than a mirror which reflects those feelings.”

“I write a song to please the public — and if the public doesn’t like it in New Haven, I change it!”

Irving Berlin

As the 80s progressed into the 90s, rap and hip-hop became the dominant force in pop music. These genres focus on the lyrics. Music served more as a groove; a bed of rhythm over which singers worked their vocal gymnastics. That doesn’t leave a lot of opportunities for instrumentals to climb the charts.

Additionally: pop music loves a celebrity.

Celebrity is really more important than artistry when the big business of selling music is involved. A famous singer is much easier to market than a band of anonymous members. 

Over the past 35 years, only one instrumental has topped the charts: “Harlem Shake” by Baauer in 2013. (Critically, it wasn’t even much of a “song”, but it was assisted by a viral video/dance craze.)

Plenty of instrumental music is still made. Genres such as jazz, EDM and trance, post-rock/metal, ambient, classical and movie soundtracks are alive and well, and continue to feature a lot of instrumental works. But they don’t top the charts. 

BUT enough analysis…lets get to some statistics! 

Below is a graph representing each year from 1900 to 2022:

It shows the number of Instrumental Number One hits for each year in blue, the total number of Number One hits for each year in gold, and the percentage of Number One hits that were instrumentals for each year on the red line.

The 1920s were the decade of the instrumental with over 50% instrumental #1s for a couple of years. This can be attributed mostly to the popularity of Paul Whiteman, who had a ton of #1 hits, most of which were instrumental. But from the mid-1930s through the early 1960s instrumentals averaged around 10% of the #1 hits for any given year. There was a series of years in the mid-1940s with no instrumentals. The musician’s strike of 1942-1944 can account for some of this.

You were more likely to hear a-capella #1 hits during those years, since union musicians wouldn’t record for the major labels during that time. 

Next, is a graph that may be easier to digest: Below is a pie chart showing which decades have what percentage of the instrumental Number One hits. The 1920s make up over a third of the total instrumentals. Then the rate is sort of consistent from the 30s through the 70s.

And then, they just go away. 

Since I’m showing graphs and stuff, this is starting to feel all scientific and everything. So I’ll outline some weaknesses of this mini-study:

First, I’m using Number One songs to represent each year. During any given year, the number of instrumentals that went to #1 might not accurately represent how many instrumentals were actually popular that year. It would be better to study, perhaps, all of the instrumentals that hit the Top 5 or the Top 10 in any given year.

I would actually LOVE to see that kind of data, but that would be a whole lot more investigating. 

Second, I’m using Billboard chart data back into the 1940s. But from 1900 through the 1940s, I’m also using Joel Whitburn’s research as presented in his book Pop Memories. In it, Whitburn attempted to reconstruct chart positions for songs during years before there were charts. His methods have been questioned and criticized over the years, with valid arguments.

But without anything better to use, Joel Whitburn’s data is good enough for me. 

“Come on, Link, can you get past all of the analysis and graphs, and just talk about my favorite instrumentals???”

Yes. And this is where a discussion would be more fun than a text presentation, because no one opinion is better than another.

For lack of a better place to start, I’ll discuss: Great Instrumentals of the Rock Era.

These are songs that may not have topped the charts, but they got as much airplay as other songs of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. 

One of the classics that first comes to mind is Green Onions by Booker T. and the M.G.s, the famous Stax record label’s house band. It’s a simple 12-bar blues tune featuring a Hammond organ and some tasty guitar soloing. It has such a great groove, and is as essential to 60s R&B as Motown or Aretha Franklin. When I hear it, I picture my mom dancing with the handle on our refrigerator door

Another early rock instrumental that I love is by guitarist Lonnie Mack. In 1963 he released his instrumental take on Chuck Berry’s Memphis. It features some amazing guitar playing that raised the bar on blues-rock lead guitar. It reached #5 on the charts. 

One of the most unique instrumental hits of all time is The Horse by Cliff Nobles. It is simply the Cliff Nobles song “Love Is All Right”, but without the lead vocal, so they gave it a different title. I’ve always thought it’s so amazing that a song so devoid of variation could have gone to #2 in 1968. It’s just a basic rhythm track with a few horn flourishes. Cliff Nobles, the ‘vocalist’ wasn’t even present when it was recorded. 

The 1970s are my favorite era of music, so choosing a couple of sample instrumentals is difficult. I’ll start with my favorite #1 song of all time, “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)” by the Philadelphia International record label’s house band, MFSB and features the Three Degrees. When you try to define the ultimate disco track you may consider songs by the Bee Gees, Donna Summer, or Chic, and those would all be valid directions to go, but I think this 1974 chart topper is my choice. Here is the superior version of the song, the 12 inch single. Its energy and vibe are just perfect. 

But this brings up the question…is it an instrumental? There are a few scant vocals by the Three Degrees. Since they are only background, I think the general opinion is that it is an instrumental. 

Another instrumental with a few words thrown in the middle is a number one hit from 1975. The Average White Band’s Pick Up the Pieces. Just try not to tap your feet while this plays. (For the record, this song is very close behind TSOP for my favorite #1 hit of all time). 

One of the better known instrumentals of the 1980s came from the soundtrack of the movie Beverly Hills Cop. Harold Faltermyer’s hit Axel F reached #3 in 1985. It remained in the public eye through a series of remakes over the ensuing decades. 

One of the last opportunities that an instrumental had to top the charts in the 20th century was Kenny G’s “Songbird”. The song’s sleepy, light-jazz/pop topped out at #4 in 1987. 

My knowledge of music after 1990 drops precipitously. But, it’s worth including Baauer’s 2013 instrumental Harlem Shake. It is…interesting. 

One fun collection of instrumentals is the set of instrumental songs by groups that weren’t typically known for instrumentals. Instrumentals by famous groups like the Rolling Stones or The Carpenters or The Doobie Brothers or Rush or Chicago…they are fun diversions from their normal material. 

I know that I’ve barely scratched the surface on all of the popular instrumentals out there.

Which ones are your favorites?

Which ones do you think are the most famous? I’d love to see your choices in the comments.

Let the author know that you liked their article with a “heart” upvote!”

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Phylum of Alexandria
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October 6, 2022 8:28 am

Great write-up, and welcome to the TNOCS contributor fold!

I for one loved the data section. More than that, i loved how you laid out limitations and alternative interpretations. It reveals a thoughtful approach to this topic.

What was the one blip between 2010 and 2015? I guess if I were better versed in recent pop hits I could which instrumentals hit #1, but I have no idea.

As for greats, there are just too many to name. I’ll just limit myself to two standouts per decade:

1930s: Duke Ellington’s “Mood Indigo.” Benny Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing.”
1940s: Raymond Scott’s “Powerhouse.” Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood.”
1950s: Link Wray’s “Rumble.” Duane Eddy’s “Rebel Rouser.”
1960s: Dick Dale’s “Misirlou.” Gershon Kingsley’s “Popcorn.”
1970’s: “Hot Pants Road” by the JBs. “Hallogallo” by Neu!
1980s: Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit.” “Clear” by Cybotron.
1990s: Daft Punk’s “Da Funk.” Ultraworld’s “Rez.”
2000s: Kaki King’s “Playing With Pink Noise.” Cocorosie’s “Candyland.”
2010s: Khruangbin’s “Maria Tambien.” Laurel Halo’s “Melt.”

Phylum of Alexandria
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October 6, 2022 10:36 am
Reply to  LinkCrawford

Actually I guess “Clear” and “Rez” don’t quite count as instrumentals.  🤓  I’ll replace them with “Moments in Love” by the Art of Noise and “Halcyon On and On” by Orbital.

thegue
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October 6, 2022 12:44 pm

I second Orbital. That whole album is brilliant.

Phylum of Alexandria
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October 6, 2022 11:26 am
Reply to  LinkCrawford

Link, if you haven’t heard Gershon Kingsley’s 1966 album with Jean-Jacques Perrey, The In Sound from Way Out, I think you might like it.
It’s early synth pop, very much on the novelty side of things.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0WexIIFo_U

thegue
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October 6, 2022 8:48 am

LINK IS IN THE HOUSE!!!!

  1. As a result of your article, I finally went and listened to “Harlem Shake” (don’t ask, but I’d never heard the song before). It is horrible.
  2. I think on an upcoming Monday I’ll ask everyone to share their favorite instrumental post-Beatles. Should be an amazing collection.
  3. I know you’re not into the house/techno/club scene, but there are a LOT of quality instrumental songs I’ll have to share.
  4. Loved this article, and I hope you return!!
Virgindog
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October 6, 2022 10:08 am

Oh boy, I’m going to have to bullet point this one.

  • There’s a building on 7th Avenue here in Nashville, not far from the honky tonks, that looks like a law office but it’s the world headquarters of the Barbershop Harmony Society. Whenever they hold their conference, you can be in a restaurant or bar and suddenly a vocal 7th chord will rise up through the room. Barbershop singers know how to party.
  • “Memphis” is one of my favorite Chuck Berry songs, but I’ve never heard Lonnie Mack’s version. It’s good but I’m surprised it charted. Does its success owe more to Berry or Mack?
  • Whoever directed the Kenny G video didn’t know that the seagull is not a songbird.

  • Some of the best instrumentals of the 60s were by The Ventures and other surf rock bands. ‘Walk Don’t Run,” “Pipeline,” “Ghost Riders In The Sky,” they’re all classics.
  • If we consider “The Sound Of Philadelphia” and “Pick Up The Pieces” to be instrumentals, is “Hocus Pocus” by Focus also an instrumental despite it’s operatic yodeling?
  • If so, my favorite instrumental is “Hocus Pocus” by Focus.
  • I mention one of these instrumentals in my article to be published tomorrow, and another is on the Suggested Listening list.
  • Excellent debut, Link! Encore!
Virgindog
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October 6, 2022 10:25 am
Reply to  LinkCrawford

Wow, grandpa was cool.

mt58
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October 6, 2022 10:48 am
Reply to  Virgindog

>> is “Hocus Pocus” by Focus also an instrumental despite it’s operatic yodeling?

Yes!

Along with Link’s already cited TSOP and Pick Up The Pieces, others that have a word or phrase that I would consider to be instrumentals:

  • Tequila – The Champs
  • Last Night – The Mar-Keys
  • Gonna Fly Now (Theme from ‘Rocky’) – Bill Conti & His Orchestra
  • Dynomite (Part 1) – Tony Camillo’s Bazuka
  • The Hustle – Van McCoy

And if we’re counting yodeling perhaps we should also include, um…

…”enthusiasm?”

  • Jungle Fever – (The?) Chakachas
Virgindog
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October 6, 2022 11:13 am
Reply to  mt58

I had to listen to “Jungle Fever” because I didn’t recognize the name or artist, but I remembered it as soon as the guitar came in. Good thing I’m not in the office today!

mt58
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October 6, 2022 11:24 am
Reply to  Virgindog

Yikes:

jf.png
Virgindog
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Virgindog
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October 6, 2022 1:41 pm
Reply to  mt58

Is there any sheet music for the vocal part? I’m curious how they wrote it out.

Phylum of Alexandria
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October 6, 2022 1:45 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

They wrote it in the sheets, not on them.

mt58
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mt58
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October 6, 2022 1:52 pm

Well, V-Dog, funny you should ask: You see..

{Never mind. Prospective joke: aborted.}

{Phylum’s was 10X better.}

reggie
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October 8, 2022 6:25 pm
Reply to  mt58

TSOP introduced disco to the masses but “The Hustle” showed them what to do with it – dance! And, oh my, did they ever. Both songs should be in Tom’s Top 20.

mt58
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October 6, 2022 10:12 am

Welcome, Link! We’re all glad to see your byline!

I love pop instrumentals, and you’ve chosen some real classics. I have many, many favorites, and two that come to mind today – both Number Ones – could not be more dissimilar:

Love Is Blue by The Paul Mauriat Orchestra:
This one has more hooks than most lyrical pop recordings. The confident snare drum as it enters the mix, the harpsichord riff, and the swelling strings on the bridge are all things that I look forward to, each and every listen.

Frankenstein by The Edgar Winter Group:
Actually a progressive rock composition disguised as a crazy rave-up pop record. Proficient musicianship with an impossible amount of varying melodic variations. It shows the magic that can happen when great players decide to stitch together a bunch of random riffs.

Last edited 3 months ago by mt58
lovethisconcept
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October 6, 2022 11:32 am
Reply to  mt58

First, a big welcome to Link!

I was going to mention “Frankenstein” if no one had already gotten to it. One thing that I love about October is that this song gets quite a bit of play on Halloween playlists.

Hey, that could be a thing. MT, could you set up a list somehow to which everyone could add their favorite Halloween songs? Maybe keep it open through October?

Last edited 3 months ago by lovethisconcept
mt58
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October 6, 2022 11:39 am

Back in the bar-band days, the band’s cred would soar whenever we pulled this one out of the hat.

And now that you mention it, yes: I recall lots of interest from folks wanting us to play it around this time of year.

mt58
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October 6, 2022 1:25 pm

Great idea! Let’s cook something up. You get the byline.

Look for an email from submissions@tnocs.com later…

Dance Fever
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October 6, 2022 11:22 am

I just love this site. Just yesterday we were discussing JJ’s article on bands who were huge in England but just a blip on the radar in the US.
One of the subjects brought up was “Apache” by the Shadows and the various interpretations of that instrumental down through the years and what does today bring- an article on instrumentals by the ever trusty Link!
I listed “Pipeline” and “Apache” as two of the top ten on my list but if I’m in more contemplative mood, “Canadian Sunset” by Hugo Winterhalter is my go to song.
I remember a discussion on the Mothership about instrumentals when I believe “Love Is Blue” hit the top spot and we talked about CS just missing the top spot as it hit #2 in 1956.
Doing some research, I found out the song was originally a vocal arrangement and Andy Williams hit #7 on the BB Top 40 with it later in the year.
It’s been covered by numerous artists such as Wes Montgomery (Jazz), Sam Cooke (R&B) and Dean Martin (Easy Listening).
Martin’s version is closer in spirit to the tone of the song as opposed to Cooke’s, whose voice overpowers the music.
This site rocks! (and rolls).

mt58
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October 6, 2022 11:25 am
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And we just love ya, right back.

thegue
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October 6, 2022 12:46 pm
Reply to  DanceFever

No one is going to want to hear this, but Herb Alpert’s work in the 60s was incredible. Critics didn’t really love it (or maybe it was just The Collective over at TNO?), but I grew up on that stuff.

mt58
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October 6, 2022 1:28 pm
Reply to  thegue

Well, now you’ve done it.

When I woke up this morning, I never thought that I’d be humming the incidental music to The Dating Game.

And, yet, here I am.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nDf4Czfhm4

Last edited 3 months ago by mt58
Dance Fever
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October 6, 2022 1:40 pm
Reply to  thegue

You’re spot on, the gue. over at the Mothership, Tom gave “This Guys in Love With You” a 4 and was kinder to “Rise” giving it a 6.
Alpert’s “Whipped Cream and Other Delights” album in ’66 outsold the Beatles for the year.
Tom ended his “This Guy” column saying he didn’t get Burt Bacharach but, boy, did he dominate the ’60’s as a writer and composer.

Virgindog
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October 6, 2022 1:49 pm
Reply to  DanceFever

If I remember right, Tom thought Alpert’s vocal was weak and, to be fair, Herb’s better at instrumentals. 

Between my parents and my cool uncle, I had access to all the Tijuana Brass albums. I still think they kick ass.

cstolliver
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October 6, 2022 4:28 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

I always thought that was the point of “This Guy.” The vocals were weak, because Herb represented this guy — any guy — who walks up to a live mic and belts one out to the one he loves. Talent be damned. That’s why I love his performance and would give it a 10/10 any time.

reggie
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October 8, 2022 6:28 pm
Reply to  thegue

I love “Rise”.

cappiethedog
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October 6, 2022 1:09 pm

All of the songs on The Pleasure Principle would have worked as instrumentals. As a child, I would invent lyrics to go along with “Airlane”. That’s my epiphany after reading this great article.

All old music, I remind myself, was once part of youth culture. I read that Frank Sinatra rattled the old folks, who complained that they couldn’t hear the band.

American Idol had a great effect on choosing the singer to perform the national anthem at my alma mater at the outset of basketball games. Lots of teen girls, lots of “a little pitchy, dawg” Randy Jackson whisperings in my headspace. COVID put a stop to that. Cue the barbershop chorus. They were great. They even performed “Hawaii Pono’i”.

Phylum of Alexandria
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October 6, 2022 1:43 pm
Reply to  cappiethedog

Is it weird that I prefer Replicas and Telekon over The Pleasure Principle? They just seem stronger and more varied song-for-song. I agree that TPP would work as instrumentals though. Some of them already are, while others are mostly there.

He also did a nice synthy rendition of Satie’s Gymnopedie No. 1:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULGCsT7vjEY

cappiethedog
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October 6, 2022 1:54 pm

It’s my turn to say that I didn’t know it was a cover. I’m still discovering Replicas and Telekon. I own both albums. It’s just that I haven’t listened to the former and latter over 500+ times. So both albums still sounds fresh to my ears. I like “I Nearly Married a Human” and “Please Push No More”, respectively. The Pleasure Principle is my security blanket.

Phylum of Alexandria
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October 6, 2022 2:09 pm
Reply to  cappiethedog

Here listening to “Cars” I feel safest of all.

Edith G
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October 6, 2022 2:52 pm

Great debut Link, and I like the 1970’s choices, I would add “Rise”, but “Gonna Fly Now” isn’t considered as instrumental?

On the other hand, “Harlem Shake” is an atrocity that doesn’t deserved to be named in the same statistics of instrumental hits.

LinkCrawford
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October 7, 2022 7:14 am
Reply to  Edith G

When I counted the instrumentals for each year, I’m pretty sure that I considered “Gonna Fly Now” an instrumental.

Pauly Steyreen
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October 6, 2022 3:15 pm
Last edited 3 months ago by Pauly Steyreen
JJ Live At Leeds
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October 6, 2022 5:31 pm

Welcome Link! Music, history and stats, the perfect combination.

As Dance Fever pointed out yesterday I closed on The Shadows and today a deep dive into instrumentals. Nice segue, its almost like this is planned.

There’s a lot of exploring to do based on all the suggestions today. When it comes to thinking of my personal favourites my mind goes into a sudden panic knowing that there are plenty but finding them in the recesses of the brain is the tricky bit.

Yesterday I mentioned Link Wray’s Rumble and Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross. I love guitar music but there’s plenty of great electronic / house / dance / pick your flavour out there. Its just remembering them thats the problem.

A few of my favourite things that do come to mind;

Brian Eno – An Ending (Ascent)
First came across this in the film 28 Days Later. There isn’t much going on but its beautiful in its simplicity.

The Durutti Column – Otis
Basically Vini Reilly, a mainstay of Factory Records, very much a niche concern compared to labelmates New Order and Happy Mondays but this is another entrancing piece of music

Chemical Brothers – Private Psychedelic Reel
Featuring Jonathan Donahue of Mercury Rev who is credited with ‘Effects [Dub ‘tetix Wave’], whatever that may be. An all ecompassing whirl of sound

Roy Budd – Main Theme / Carter Takes A Train
As in the main theme to Get Carter, the Michael Caine version. Plays over the film’s opening, I found it mesmerising the first time I saw the film and heard this, seemed perfectly in sync with the train journey we see Caine taking.

Dream Academy – Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want
As in the instrumental version that plays while Ferris, Sloane and Cameron visit the art gallery. The perfect accompaniment to Cameron’s intense absorption into Seurat’s painting.

Last edited 3 months ago by JJ Live At Leeds
cappiethedog
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October 6, 2022 11:32 pm

The charm of 24 Hour Party People was the filmmaker’s inclusion of lesser-known acts such as The Durutti Column, A Certain Ratio, and especially, Crispy Ambulance. Michael Winterbottom made a film for both, Factory novices and fans. Out of these three names, I think Vin Reilly has the most name recognition stateside. The funniest bit, to me, is when Ian Curtis doesn’t show up to a gig, so Tony Wilson pushes the guy from Crispy Ambulance out onto the stage and gets promptly booed. I also like Tony Wilson’s dogged enthusiasm for A Certain Ratio. Doesn’t he play to an empty club?

Crispy Ambulance, but no Stockholm Monsters. I don’t know what I did my Factory sampler cassettes. “Partyline” is a great unsung song.

JJ Live At Leeds
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October 7, 2022 2:41 am
Reply to  cappiethedog

Love that film. Totally agree, does a great job of giving some of those smaller acts a moment in the spotlight. ACR did indeed play to an empty club. Tony’s love for the likes of ACR and Vini giving them an outlet through the history of the label is evidence of how his love of music exceeded his business acumen. A fine example of treating the label as an extension of his own personal tastes.

Its lucky he picked up Joy Division / New Order early so that they could keep bankrolling the label.

Personal favourites moment is the response to Howard Devoto having sex with Tony’s first wife in the bathroom. The real Howard appearing as a cleaner saying “I definitely don’t remember this happening.”

To which Tony replies: “This is the real Howard Devoto. He and Lindsay insisted we make clear that this never happened. But I agree with John Ford. When you have to choose between the truth and the legend, print the legend”

Aaron3000
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October 6, 2022 5:40 pm

Too many to name, but I’ll throw you one of those by groups-not-generally-known-for-instrumentals. The first hit single for the Commodores:

https://youtu.be/vVoMJSMgsUM

Last edited 3 months ago by Aaron3000
Ozmoe
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October 7, 2022 9:51 pm

Welcome, LinkCrawford! And thanks for a great initial contribution.

One of my favorite instrumentals is “K-Jee” by the Nite Liters, which barely cracked the top 40 in 1971 but endured thereafter surprisingly as the theme for several local TV newscasts during the 1970s. In 1975 MFSB of “TSOP” fame covered the song on an album, and that version made it onto the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. All that is why the staccato “dun-nun-dun-dun, dun-nun-dun-dun-DUUUNNN” opening horn licks may sound familiar to Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, even if they don’t recall the title offhand. It’s funky and fun and is great to dance along with if you hear it at a concert or street festival.

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October 8, 2022 6:17 pm

Great article Link! Thoughts:

1) Hopefully Tom’s book of Top 20 includes TSOP, which whiplashed America’s pop listeners to the emergence of disco music. Once the pop community got a taste of disco, keeping it contained to the dance clubs was impossible. TSOP birthed the entire movement.

2) “Machine Gun” by the Commodores is often overlooked as one of the better 70’s instrumentals.

3) If were were to use a capella and instrumental in the same sentence then “Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy” by Pentatonix comes to mind. They won a Grammy for this arrangement in 2016.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jt3oAyK_IG8

cstolliver
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October 9, 2022 10:30 am
Reply to  reggie

I agree with your first point, only adding that Soul Makossa did a good job of laying the foundation that TSOP built upon for that emergence.

Ozmoe
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October 9, 2022 1:08 pm

One other thing to add about instrumentals: Besides radio station programmers and audiences having a wider appetite for them through the 1980s, part of the reason why they did rather well in this period is that FCC regulations required many stations to carry news at the top of or near the top of each hour. If your station got a regular feed from something like Mutual for the news, that meant you had to make the change precisely or else run the risk of talking over the introduction (or vice versa). To get around this, most stations played an instrumental leading up to the national newscast so that when the latter began, the cut would be relatively unobtrusive because you were interrupting or fading out only music and not lyrics.

Now I’m missing news updates at the top of the hour on the radio. Man, I really am getting old …

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October 9, 2022 1:55 pm
Reply to  Ozmoe

This is almost completely unrelated, but I want to share some nineties nostalgia.

ESPN didn’t always have a sports ticker. There was no midnight edition of Sportscenter. It’s 1995. I know this because I was at the post office, my first job, and would sometimes break the speed limit(a little) to hear scores from CNN’s Headline Sports at the top of the hour. If I missed it, I wouldn’t know about that midweek Sun Belt football game for another sixty minutes.

mt58
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October 9, 2022 9:09 pm
Reply to  Ozmoe

We speak quite a bit about how we enjoyed Pop music on the radio in the old days. But we don’t often talk about the other aspects that you’ve mentioned.
It’s a good subject, and if anybody would be up for writing about it, that would be something I’d like to read.

LinkCrawford
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October 10, 2022 12:45 pm
Reply to  mt58

I’d love to read that more than I would love to write that.  😀  I wish I knew someone that was actually in radio during the 60s/70s/80s.

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