Instrumental hits (1956 – 1969)

Babyphon Phonograph turntable (probably a model 120), made by Metz Transformatoren- und Apparatefabrik (Furth, West Germany) 1954 – 1955. Photo by Maksym Kozlenko.

During the 1950s and 1960s, music became increasingly available. It could be heard on jukeboxes in cafes and elsewhere, on radios and on phonographs/ record players, most often at home. People started to pay attention to the ranking of individual pieces of popular music. Allowances allowed young people to buy recorded music, typically: 12-inch 33+1⁄3 rpm records with a microgroove specification, made of vinyl = vinyl chloride acetate. These were first released in 1948. Also popular were 7-inch 45 rpm records, first released in 1949. These were small, durable disks that offered high fidelity, effectively replacing 78 rpm shellac discs.

Ranking of record popularity owes much to Billboard, a company with its origins in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. It was starting on 1894-11-01 by William Donaldson (1864 – 1925) and James Hennegan as a trade publication for bill posters. After the magazine ran into financial difficulties in 1900, Donaldson bought out Hennegan’s interests for $500.

Early in the 20th century, it focused on circuses, fairs and burlesque shows. By 1955, there were three charts that measured song metrics: Best Sellers in Stores, started in 1940, measured the biggest selling singles in retail stores; Most Played by Jockeys ranked the most played songs on United States radio stations; Most Played in Jukeboxes, was especially important to measure song popularity among younger listeners, as many radio stations avoided music popular with the young. These three coalesced into the Hot 100, starting 1955-11-12.

The following list does not include all instrumentals to have reached #1, on a Billboard chart or anywhere else. It is extremely personal, which means that it excludes Percy Faith and Lawrence Welk as well as many others! It is probably somewhat inconsistent. Some listeners may regard some pieces as borderline instrumental, because some of these include sound effects or chants. Think, Wipe Out! My opinion is that all of the works here are instrumental, because they avoid verses and choruses, but may include the odd human utterance.

Bill Doggett (1916-1996), Honky Tonk, Part 1 & 2 (1956)

This track sold four million copies, reaching No. 1 on Billboad’s rhythm and blues (R&B) and No. 2 Pop(ular music). It was written by organist Bill Doggett (1916-1995), guitarist Billy Butler (1924-1991), saxophonist/ flautist Clifford Scott (1928-1993) and percussionist Berisford (Shep) Shepard (1917-2018). Guitar solos are dominant in Part 1, but it is the saxophone that dominates part 2. Many people have commented on the opening of the track, its handclaps and yells and danceable beat. In addition to the original, there is a version by the Beach Boys in 1963, as well as a remastered version by them from 2001. Another significant version was made by James Brown (1933-2006) in 1972.

Duane Eddy (1938- ), Moovin’ n Groovin’ (1957)

As Eddy’s first single, this instrumental made a considerable impact. The opening refrain is recognizable because of its inclusion in the Beach Boy’s Surfin’ Safari (1962). The title is also used in Bobby Darin’s (1936-1973) Splish Splash (1958). Eddy used his guitar’s bass strings to produce a low, reverberating, twangy sound. Numerous undocumented sources state that Eddy encouraged other musicians to borrow, share and even improve upon his works. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find supporting documentation for this contention.

Duane Eddy, Rebel-Rouser (1958)

Music is extremely personal. Few people share my tastes. While I don’t share the opinion, there were many in the late 1950s and early 1960s, who regarded Eddy as the greatest pop instrumentalist of all time. However, many more are probably agreed that this was Eddy’s greatest contribution, or at least better than Moovin’ n Groovin’ . It combines a folk tune with an unusual gritty sound that makes it unique for the time period. Some call it eerie or haunting, while others call it magical. When I listen to it now, the sound is dominated by the limitations of audio production of the time period.

The Champs, Tequila (1958)

Tequila was written by saxophonist Danny Flores (1929 – 2006), but credited to his alter-ego Chuck Rio because he was under contract to RPM Records. He utters the title several times during a performance. This was a one-hit wonder for The Champs in the late 1950s. However, the work took on a new life when it was included in 1985’s Peewee’s Big Adventure. Pee-wee Herman dance has become a pop-culture phenomenon. Tequila was initially released as a B-side of Train to Nowhere.

Dave (Baby) Cortez (1938 – ), The Happy Organ (1959)

Baby Cortez wrote The Happy Organ in 1959, along with photographer James J. Kriegsmann (1909 – 1994) and Ken (some sources say Kurt) Wood (? – ? ). A significant portion of the tune bears a strong resemblance to Shortnin’ Bread, written by James Whitcomb Riley (1849 – 1916) in the 1890s.

Up until now, I have no memory of hearing any of the instrumentals, at the time of their initial appearance.

Henry Mancini (1924 – 1994), Peter Gunn (1959)

In his autobiography, Did They Mention the Music? (1989), Mancini writes:The Peter Gunn title theme actually derives more from rock and roll than from jazz. I used guitar and piano in unison, playing what is known in music as an ostinato, which means obstinate. It was sustained throughout the piece, giving it a sinister effect, with some frightened saxophone sounds and some shouting brass. The piece has one chord throughout and a super-simple top line.

The official visualizer gives an appropriate audio and visual presentation of the music where the piano riff is played by John Williams (1932 – ), the trumpet by Ray Anthony (1922 – ), and the tenor saxophone by Plas Johnson (1931 – ). This contrasts with the opening scene of the television series in 1958, with violence followed by announcements of the title, as well as credits for Craig Stevens (1918 – 2000) and Blake Edwards (1922 – 2010). Only a minimal amount of the theme can be heard. The music was recorded in 1958, but released in 1959.

Jerry Lordan (1934 – 1995), Apache (1960)

A number of musicians have either covered or sampled this track that was written by Lordan. It was inspired by the film, Apache (1954), and was first recorded by Bert Weedon (1920-2012), but not released until after a version popularized by The Shadows in 1960. Originally, it was to be the B-side of a single with Quartermaster’s Store. Producer Norrie Paramor (1914 – 1979) used his daughters as judges to determine which track should be the A-side. Apache won. Canadians may be interested to know that it was a version by Jørgen Ingmann that topped the CHUM Top 30 charts.

In the early 1970s a version by the Incredible Bongo Band became a hip-hop anthem. Later, the Sugarhill Gang made a dance-party version for group and line dancers. Recently, I have listened to another version by Kil Rockers, of Quilicura, Chile. It seemed to be the spiritual successor to the Shadows.

Booker T & M.G.’s Green Onions (1962)

I don’t know how true this memory is, for I am recalling an event that happened over sixty years ago. At some point I was on a bus heading from New Westminster to Ellensburg, Washington, with other members of the New Westminster Junior Concert Band for a weekend away. Somewhere on this adventure, I imagine hearing Green Onions, then in Seattle, I discovered the Green Onion cafe, where we stopped to eat.

Some regard Green Onions as the greatest groove track of all time. Others call it the greatest rhythm and blues instrumental in music history. Once again, it has been used in numerous films and commercials. While Booker T. Jones’ (1944- ) played the Hammond M3 organ, Steve The Colonel Cropper (1941- ), of Blues Brothers fame, played guitar.

Green Onions was Booker T & the M.G.’s signature song. This song has been used extensively in popular and niche films. It can be heard in two movies I find memorable, Rush Hour (1998) and The Sandlot (1993). It evokes youthful playfulness and mischief.

Dick Dale (1937 – 2019) and His Del-Tones, Misirlou (1962)

Known as the King of the Surf Guitar, Dale inspired many young, aspiring musicians, including Brian May (1947 – ), Jimi Hendrix (1942 – 1970) and Eddie Van Halen (1955 – 2020). Dale was especially known for his reverberation techniques. Miserlou was used in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994).

The Tornados, Telstar (1962)

Telstar was an instrumental performed by the English band the Tornados, but was written and produced by Joe Meek (1929 – 1967). It reached number one on the UK Singles Chart and the US Billboard Hot 100 in 1962-12.

While the Tornados are credited as the performers of this song, they were essentially studio musicians working under the direction of Meek, who wrote and produced the song. Previously, I have written about the Clavioline synthesizer used.

Currently, I am in the process of writing a weblog post about recording production, that will contain information about Joe Meek and other producers. In 2012, New Musical Express, founded in 1952 and usually known as NME, put Meek at the top of their list of greatest producers, above George Martin (1926 – 2016), Phil Spector (1939 – 2021) and even my favourite, Brian Eno (1948 – ).

The Surfaris, Wipe Out (1963)

If Dick Dale inspired people to play a guitar, then Surfaris drummer and vocalist Ron Wilson (1944 – 1989) inspired people to play drums. This song was composed at the Pal Recording Studio, in Cucamonga, California, when the band realized they needed a B-side for their Surfer Joe single. Before the music starts, Bob Berryhill’s (1947 – ) father broke a wooden board near a microphone, imitating the breaking of a surfboard, this was followed band manager Dale Smallin (1935 – 2011), laughting and yelling Wipe Out . Despite claims that it reached the top of Billboard’s Hot 100, it only reached #2!

Pink Floyd, Interstellar Overdrive (1967)

At its beginning, I find this track appealing. Unfortunately, this does not last. Some suggest it becomes more experimental, or at least improvised, as it progresses. With a length approaching 10 minutes, it is several minutes too long. It was written in 1966 and appeared on Pink Floyd’s 1967 debut album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Its style is mainly psychedelic and discordant. It originated when the band’s manager, Peter Jenner (1943 – ), hummed a tune trying to remember the song it belonged to. Guitarist Syd Barrett (1946 – 2006) interpretation of that humming resulted in the track. It was also used in the film Doctor Strange (2016).

The version of the song that I prefer is performed by Hawkwind. It was recorded in 1971. Hawkwind was founded by Dave Brock (1941 – ) in 1969. Lemmy Kilminster (1945 – 2015) of Motörhead, played bass for Hawkwind, from 1971 to 1975. He was fired from the band after a drug arrest at Windsor, Ontario, Canada. In a 2014 interview, Lemmy stated: I really found myself as an instrumentalist in Hawkwind. Before that I was just a guitar player who was pretending to be good, when actually I was no good at all. In Hawkwind I became a good bass player. It was where I learned I was good at something.

Mason Williams (1938 – ), Classical Gas (1968)

Many people regard this piece as brilliant. However, I find his most popular recorded version too ornate, for my simpler tastes. It reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, there are some acoustic versions are just a little more rustic, that I can relate to.

In addition to his musical abilities, I admire Williams for his lifetime friendship with Edward Ruscha (1937 – ), who I appreciate for his photographic minimalism and artistic books, exemplified by Twenty Six Gasoline Stations (1963). Yes, I am contemplating making a follow up in the spirit of the original, Twenty Six Charging Stations!

Led Zeppelin, Black Mountain Side (1969)

Herbert Jansch (1943 – 2011) was a Scottish folk musician born in Glasgow, and a founding member of Pentangle. Without credit, Led Zeppelin, adapted Jansch’s arrangement of the traditional Irish folk song Down by Blackwaterside. It was recorded at Olympic Studios, London, in 1968. Unfortunately, many attribute this song to Jimmy Page (1944 – ) referring to him as the composer of the piece.  Jansch’s version is not instrumental, as he sang the lyrics on it. Jansch, in turn, is indebted to Anne Briggs (1944 – ) who introduced him to this, and other Irish folk songs. Anne Briggs also sang and recorded a version of this song. Both of these were in Bert Lloyd‘s (1908 – 1982) circle of intimates.

Up until now, almost all of the musicians mentioned here are members of the greatest generation, born 1901 – 1927, and the silent generation, born 1928 – 1945.

In a second post, scheduled for next week, the Woodstock Festival in August 1969, marks the time when baby boomers, born 1945 – 1964, start to become prominent on the musical scene.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *