The day when an instrumental song could top the pop charts is probably long gone. It wasn’t always the case, and that doesn’t necessarily mean the usefulness of the instrumental track is over. It has, however, severely changed.
You could even say that the instrumental artist is the pillar of the modern pop music machine. You only have to go as far as producer Frank Dukes (a/k/a Canadian-born Adam King Feeney) who creates whole albums of instrumental tracks expressly for the purposes of providing hip-hop artists with pre-made beats to rap over. There’s still a decent instrumental movement in the deepest part of indie rock where Explosions in the Sky, Godspeed You Black Emperor, and Pelican reside. But you will not see something like Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F,” otherwise known as the Axel Foley Theme from Beverly Hills Cop, take pride of place on the charts.
So when the Popdose Staff was recently thrown the question, “What are your ten favorite pop/rock instrumentals,” the answers were revealing in their wide range and their deep-seated nostalgia.
Before we dig into which songs were the most mentioned, it is interesting that three tracks did not make the cut: Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas,” Jan Hammer’s “Theme From Miami Vice,” and Gershon Kingsley’s 1969 song “Popcorn” from the album Music To Moog By. A couple of years later, the group Hot Butter would make a hit of the song. The initial version of the song was one of the first fully-electronic tracks to be recognized and embraced by a large audience, and is often regarded as proto-electronic dance music.
A couple of artists appear on multiple occasions on the list including Rush and The Allman Bros. Many surf-rock bands make appearances as well like The Ventures, The Chantays, Dick Dale, and Surfaris. Even the Beach Boys appear, but hardly in surf-rock mode.
A couple of songs appear in spite of having an occasional chant shout-out in their tunes. The Ventures’ “Walk Don’t Run” stretches the definition in some versions where the title is briefly chanted, and The Bar-Kays’ “Soul Finger” goes even farther. “Hocus Pocus” by Focus is the most controversial of what’s included. Are the yodels singing, and can they be considered lyrics even though they’re more vocalization than verbalization? We leave that for you to decide.
In terms of which songs received multiple votes: Duane Eddy’s “Rebel Rouser”; The Tornadoes’ “Telstar”; Eric Johnson, “Cliffs Of Dover”; The Allman Brothers’ “Jessica”; Booker T. and the MGs’ “Green Onions”; “Wipe Out” by Surfaris; The Beach Boys’ “Let’s Go Away For Awhile”; and the previously mentioned “Axel F” and “Soul Finger” each scored twice.
If there are winners in duplication, it comes down to a tie between Santo & Johnny’s “Sleepwalk” and “Oscillate Wildly” by The Smiths which received three nods each.
Here is the full list in alphabetical order by artist.
808 State – Pacific
Art of Noise – Love
Blur – Intermission
Booker T and the MGs – Green Onions
Booker T. & The MG’s – Time Is Tight
Boston – Foreplay
Camper Van Beethoven – Waka
Colourbox – Sleepwalker
Daft Punk — Da Funk
Dick Dale – Miserlou
Dick Dale – Nitro
Duane Eddy — Rebel Rouser
Duran Duran – Tel Aviv
Eagles – Journey of the Sorcerer
Edgar Winter Group – Frankenstein
Elton John – Funeral for a Friend
Eric Johnson – Cliffs Of Dover
Explosions in the Sky – Your Hand in Mine
Floyd Cramer – Last Date
Focus – Hocus Pocus
Frank Zappa – Didja Get Any Onya?
Frank Zappa – Night School
Harold Faltemeyer – Axel F
Jeff Beck — Beck’s Bolero
Jeff Beck – Freeway Jam
Johnny Thunders – Pipeline
Kai Winding – More
King Crimson – Larks Tongues in Aspic, Pt. 1
Led Zeppelin – Moby Dick
Link Wray — Rumble
Los Straitjackets – Pacifica
Love and Rockets – Saudade
Luther Ingram – Exus Trek
Mason Ruffner – Courage
Michel Polnareff — Voyages
New Order – Elegia
Paul Mauriat & Orchestra – Love Is Blue
Paul McCartney & Wings – Zoo Gang
Pink Floyd – Careful With That Axe, Eugene
Pink Floyd – One of These Days
Prince – Father’s Song
Prince – Alexia de Paris
REM – Endgame
Reverend Horton Heat – Big Sky
Rob D – Clubbed to Death
Roger Webb – Moon Bird
Rush – La Villa Strangiato
Rush – Malignant Narcissism
Rush – YYZ
Santo & Johnny – Sleepwalk
Smiths – Oscillate Wildly
Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble – Scuttle Buttin’
Surfaris – Wipe Out
The Alan Parsons Project – Sirius
The Allman Brothers — In Memory of Elizabeth Reed
The Allman Brothers – Jessica
The Bar Kays – Soul Finger
The Beach Boys — Let’s Go Away For Awhile
The Chantays – Pipeline
The Mar Keys – Last Night
The Shadows – Apache
The Tornadoes – Telstar
The Who — Quadrophenia
Tomoyasu Hotei – Battle Without Honor Or Humanity
UB40 – Nkomo a Go Go
Van Halen — Spanish Fly
Ventures – Walk Don’t Run
War – City, Country, City
Yes – Clap
Yngwie Malmsteen – Icarus Dream Suite Opus #4
Yoko Kanno and the Seat Belts – Tank!
Anything we missed? Let us know in the comments section!