Instrumental hits (1969 – 2013)

This weblog post is a continuation of Instrument hits (1956 – 1969).

These two weblog post were conceived of while watching/ listening to yet another version of Jan Hammer’s (1948 – ) Crockett’s theme (1986). Culture affects listening habits, and musical preferences. Crockett’s theme was much more popular in Europe than it was in USA. In contrast, the Miami Vice theme (1985) was not, and still is not, especially popular in Europe. Yet, it was the most recent instrumental #1 for twenty-eight years on the Billboard Hot 100 in USA from 1985 until 2013. In 2013, Harlem Shake attained the #1 position.

By the 1970s instrumentals were no longer main-stream.

Santana, Soul Sacrifice (1969)

Santana was the name of a band, that was more than guitarist Carlos Santana (1947 – ). Bass guitarist David Brown (1947 – 2000), percussionist Marcus Malone (1944 – 2021), keyboardist Gregg Rolie (1947 – ) as well as Carlos Santana are all listed as composers of Soul Sacrifice.

Woodstock festival was perhaps the first time boomers managed to create musical history. This instrumental closed Santana’s performance at Woodstock. According to legend, they were the only performers who had not released an album. The track that appears on their album, Santana, was recorded several months before, but also released after Woodstock, in August 1969.

Pink Floyd, One of These Days (1971)

Many commentators regard Pink Floyd’s On The Run, from from the Dark Side of the Moon (1973) as the bands best instrumental. Unfortunately, there are too many human sounds for me to consider it an instrumental piece. On the version I listen to, One of These Days meets my criteria for an instrumental. It opens the album Meddle, where the drumming of Nick Mason (1944 – ) is prominent. Unfortunately, on the album he speaks a totally unnecessary and violent line: One of these days, I’m going to cut you into little pieces. On my preferred version this line is missing.

Miles Davis (1926 – 1991), Right Off (1971)

This work is often included on lists of the best popular music instrumentals. As I age, I have less tolerance for sounds produced by trumpets. They are too piercing for aging ears. One possible reason for its inclusion on these lists, is that it originally defied classification, or was enjoyed by people who appreciated multiple classifications. Thus, some stated it was neither rock nor jazz, not some intermediate state between the two, but hopping between both. Later, some people tried to call this fusion, sometimes adding rock or jazz or both or something else as modifiers. One commentator described it as being ahead of its time. I always find this particular comment irritating, because it implies that something is too advanced or modern to be understood or appreciated.

This instrumental appear on an album titled, Jack Johnson. It was a tribute to Johnson (1878 – 1946) the first African American heavyweight champion, who was given the title in 1908. Originally, the music was written to be a score for a documentary about Johnson’s life.

The Edgar Winter (1946 – ) Group, Frankenstein (1973)

Sometimes a musical piece is not meant to entertain, but to promote the capabilities of the performing musicians. This has always been my opinion of Frankenstein. Members of the group perform, but fail to communicate. I do not listen to music to be impressed, but to relax. This applies to Winter on his ARP 2600 synthesizer and saxophone. Equally, I feel that the sidemen, Ronnie Montrose on guitar and Dan Hartman on bass, flaunt their abilities, but fail to entertain listeners. I am amazed that this instrumental reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It confirms an opinion that popularity is not a reliable indicator of quality.

The Allman Brothers Band, Jessica (1973)

Jessica has been a part of late 20th century popular visual culture. In general, the Allman brothers version was the intro for Top Gear, the BBC automotive program, from 1977 to 1998 (series 39). In 1998 (series 40) a new, more electronic version was used as an intro, produced by Hansen Bass. In 2002, yet another, still newer version of Jessica was used, composed by Christian Henson. It was faster and upbeat compared to the original Allman Brothers version, but less electronic, compared to the Hansen Bass’ version. The original outro was Elton John’s Out of the Blue, performed by Graham Smith, son of Derek Smith, Top Gear’s original producer. Later, other songs, unique to every episode, replaced this. In 2002, an arrangement of Jessica, similar to Bass’ version, was used for the outro. Jessica was also used in the baseball film, Field of Dreams (1989).

The Allman Brothers Band was started in 1969 by Duane (1946 – 1971) and Gregg (1947 – 2017) Allman, guitarist Dickey Betts (1943 – ), bassist Berry Oakley (1948 – 1972), drummer Butch Trucks (1947 – 2017) and percussionist Jamoe Johnson (1944 – ). The band was restarted in 1973, after Duane’s and Berry’s deaths in separate motorcycle crashes.

Jessica was composed by Betts and, to a lesser degree, by replacement guitarist Les Dudek (1952 – ). Jessica was first released on the band’s 1973 album Brothers and Sisters. Ramblin’ Man, was another track on this album which marked the beginning of a new era for the Allman Brothers Band. Jessica is named for Jessica Betts, the daughter of Dickey Betts and Sandy Bluesky. Betts also composed a song for his wife and Jessica’s mother called Bluesky.

David Bowie (1947 – 2016), Speed of Life (1977) 

Listening to the opening track on Bowie’s album Low, I remember waiting for the lyrics to begin. There were none. Slowly, as the piece progressed, I began to listen to and appreciate the synths and faintly strange drum beats. It was a departure from Bowie’s previous style, but more suiting my evolving musical taste. In addition to an ARP synthesizer, David Bowie played a Chamberlin, a keyboard instrument that was a precursor to the Mellotron, developed by Harry Chamberlin (? – 1986) from 1949 to 1956. Bowie also acted as writer and producer. Carlos Alomar (1951 – ) played rhythm guitar. Dennis Davis (1951 – 2016) played percussion. George Murray played bass guitar. Roy Young played piano. Tony Visconti (1944 – ) and Ray Staff had various engineering and production duties.

Rush, La Villa Strangiato (1978)

Many Rush fans believe La Villa Strangiato is the band’s masterpiece. Depending on the version, it is about ten minutes long, and is designed to highlight each member of the three-piece band. The work was composed by guitarist Alex Lifeson, of Serbian ancestry, born Aleksandar Živojinović (1953 – ) in Fernie, British Columbia. It also features bassist Geddy Lee (Weinrib, 1953 – ) and drummer Neil Peart (1952 – 2020).

Rush, YYZ (1981)

Another highly regarded work by Rush is YYZ. Morse code is a way to encode text characters as standardized sequences of two different signal durations, called dots and dashes. Morse code is named after Samuel Morse (1791 – 1872). Rush rendered the International Air Transport Association (IATA) airport code for Toronto’s main airport (YYZ) into Morse code then transposed it across several instruments to work through the melody.

An Aside: Canadians sometimes speak in IATA three-letter codes for airports. I am not certain if this is a deliberate attempt to prevent Americans from understanding, or if that is just a side effect. Most Canadian airports begin with Y. Crossing the country: YPR = Prince Rupert; YYJ = Victoria; YVR = Vancouver;YXX = Abbotsford = YVR’s alternative airport; YKA = Kamloops; YLW = Kelowna = the airport where I landed on my first flight, from YVR, to be baptized at St Michael and All Angels, a cathedral since 1987; YXS = Prince George; YYC = Calgary; YWG = Winnipeg; YQG = Windsor; YYZ = Toronto; YOW = Ottawa; YUL = Montreal, although older people might be inclined to say YMX; YHZ = Halifax; and YYT = Saint John’s. I think those are all of the ones I am expected to know.

The Alan Parsons Project, Sirius (1982)

In its original form, this is one of the shortest instrumentals presented here, lasting less than two minutes. This is the opening track on the Eye in the Sky album and leads to the Eye in the Sky track, which has vocals. Of course, there is an extended version of Sirius, lasting 3.5 minutes.

The Alan Parson’s Project lasted from 1975 to 1990. It involved audio engineer, musician and composer Alan Parsons (1948 – ) and singer, songwriter and pianist Eric Woolfson (1945 – 2009). Throughout its existence, a long list of studio musicians also participated in the making of tracks.

Jan Hammer (1948 – ), Miami Vice Theme (1985) and Crockett’s Theme (1986).

The Miami Vice theme was the last #1 instrumental hit, until Harlem Shake reached that position in 2013. This is the track preferred by North Americans. In contrast, Crockett’s Theme is preferred in Europe. The version I prefer best, is performed by Amadeusz Małkowski (? – ), better known as Madis, a Krakow-born Polish composer and electronic music producer whose music is characterized by 21st century sounds combined with 20th century electronics. This performance contains two works. 0:00 – 3:15 Nightwalk (2018), written, composed and performed by Madis. 3:15 – 6:12 Crockett’s Theme (1986), written by Jan Hammer, but performed by Madis.

The hardware used by Madis includes: Roland D-50, Waldorf Blofeld, Novation Ultranova, Korg Microkorg, Akai APC40 MK2, Native Instruments Maschine MK2, Mackie ProFX 12, and TC Electronics M350. Software is Ableton Live 9.

Joe Satriani (1956 – ), Always with Me, Always with You (1989)

Satriani is regarded as a good guitarist, technically. Some might want to change the adjective from good to great, possibly even to outstanding. Despite this, he has often worked backing up more prominent musicians. This results in Joe the salesman, endorsing Ibanez guitars, Marshall amplifiers, somebody else’s pickup or effect pedal. Unfortunately, the guitar playing on the video of this instrumental shouts fake. He is playing an electric guitar without any obvious source of power.

Eric Johnson (1954 – ), Cliffs of Dover (1990)

YouTube user, AlandFelger wrote a comment about this track: … when I started learning guitar, I thought I’d never be able to play this song. 10 years later, I realized that I was correct.

Don’t worry AlandFelger, you don’t have to be technically sophisticated, or even competent, to make a musical impact. It is your soul that is important. This track performed by Eric Johnson, much like Frankenstein, performed by the Edgar Winter Group, involves too much ego.

Mr Oizo, Flat Beat (1999)

Flat Beat was originally the music for an advertising campaign for Levis-Staprest. The original commercial is here. Both it and a later music video were made by Quentin Dupieux (1974 – ) ably assisted by puppet Flat Eric. Flat Eric was made at Jim Henson’s (1936 – 1990) Creature Shop. Mr Oizo is Dupieux’s stage name, used for musical productions. As usual, I appreciate the video more than the audio alone. It was filmed in an old apartment near Versailles . Pushed by the success of ads in Europe, Flat Beat emerged three weeks later, as a #1 hit in key European territories, selling almost 4 milllions CDs and LPs. Sometimes, music isn’t everything, as Flat Eric demonstrates here.

Howard Shore (1946 – ), Concerning Hobbits (2001)

I have showed reluctance to include large budget orchestral works on this list, but include this one exception from Canadian film composer Howard Shore. Concerning Hobbits is from The Fellowship of the Ring. The version I prefer avoids a voice-over and other irritations from the film. It shows a rustic Middle Earth, that is only plausible in a film. Wikipedia provides an enjoyable article about the work.

My reluctance to include works that involve large orchestras is based on social ideals, especially that in the 21st century it should be possible for anyone to create songs in bedroom studios. In such an environment, and with the investment in headphones, there is no need for budding composers to subject their families or themselves to intensive sound levels.

On Piano Day, this year on 2024-03-28, the 88th day of the year, in honour of the standard piano keyboard, sound sampling will be discussed with reference to Pianobook, a company started by Christian Henson, and based on volunteer contributions. Its purpose is to create and share free instrument samples. Currently, 1413 samples are available.

Explosions in the Sky, First Breath After Coma (2003)

The band, founded in 1999 in Austin, Texas, was originally called Breaker Morant, then changed its name, almost immediately, to Explosions in the Sky. It consists of Chris Hrasky playing drums; Michael James playing guitar, bass guitar and keyboards; Munaf Rayani playing guitar, keyboards and percussion; and, Mark Smith playing guitar and keyboards.

I managed to listen to a musical version of this track for several seconds before I sought out something more satisfying. I found it in a version that includes scenes from a Ron Fricke (1953 – ) film, Baraka (1992). This film is described as purely cinematic non-verbal non-narrative. Baraka = بركة (Arabic) = blessing, is found in Islamic mysticism, particularly Sufism. It is a spiritual presence that begins with God and flows outward.

Wikipedia tells us that Baraka is a documentary film with no narrative or voice-over. It explores themes via a compilation of natural events, life, human activities and technological phenomena shot in 24 countries on six continents over a 14-month period. It has a running time of 97 minutes.

Baauer = Harry Bauer Rodrigues (1989- ), Harlem Shake (2013)

The original Harlem Shake was a dance. This was followed by a YouTube meme, which ignited interest in an instrumental, that became a Billboard #1 hit. In this section, we are going to let Wikipedia provide a lot of the detail, without further credit.

The Harlem shake is a style of hip-hop dance and is characterized by jerky arm and shoulder movements in time to music, as shown here. The dance was created by Harlem resident Albert Boyce = Al B (1963 – 2006) in 1981, and was initially called The Albee or The Al B. The dance became mainstream in 2001 with the release of the music video for Let’s Get It by G. Dep. The video featured children performing the dance. The dance became known as the Harlem Shake as its prominence grew beyond the neighborhood.

In 2013-02, a song named Harlem Shake (due to a sampled line referring to the dance) went viral and became an Internet meme after featuring in a YouTube video by DizastaMusic. This song was originally released by Baauer in 2012-05-22. Note: The dance that is done on the internet as a meme is not the original Harlem Shake.

Baauer = Harry Rodriques recorded the work in his bedroom studio in Brooklyn, New York. His goal was to record a high-pitched, Dutch house synthesizer over a hip hop track and make it stand out by adding a variety of peculiar sounds. Some of these sounds were produced by Héctor Delgado (1979 – ), Jayson Musson (1977 -) and Kurt Hunte (? – ) who are also listed as songwriters, mainly because their works were sampled.

Dutch House is a subgenre of electronic dance music (EDM) that originated in the Netherlands in the early 2000s. It uses a 4/4 beat and a heavy bass at about 128 beats per minute. There is also a lot of filtering to pump the bassline. Sidechain compression creates the sound of breathing from drums. These techniques provide a Hi-NRG = high-energy distinctive sound.

Modern Solutions

Sometimes, lyrics are the most dissatisfying part of a recording, adding stress rather than joy to listening. Yet, there may not be anything wrong with the instrumental music backing the lyrics.

Such is the case for me with Billy Corgan’s (1967 – ) singing on Disarm, from the Siamese Dream album, released by The Smashing Pumpkins, in 1993. It’s music video, directed by Jake Scott (1965 – ), is innocent enough. Most sequences are in black and white, showing band members floating. There are also colour sequences of a young boy playing outside. It appeared on MTV in early 1994, and was placed into heavy rotation for a month, during a time period that predates play on demand.

My solution is to find instrumental versions of such works. I often do this by searching YouTube, listing the musicians, and the track, then adding instrumental. I searched with: The Smashing Pumpkins, Disarm, instrumental. When the results can back, Betheriel’s version of Disarm was at the top of the list. It was released on 2023-02-03, and has been played 2764 times, and received 50 likes.

Betheriel YouTube channel has about 2 430 subscribers and 9 280 instrumental only videos. These have been seen 982 205 times, as this is being written.

Another approach, being considered for its own web log post, involves do it yourself (DIY) vocals removal. There are numerous sites offering this service, many claiming to use artificial intelligence to assist. Typical instructions involve: 1) Uploading an audio file; 2) Instructing the site to remove vocals from the music; 3) Download the resulting extracted file; 4) Reviewing and saving the extracted instrumental track.

Many of these services also allow people to separate and create a separate vocal track. These services are especially popular with karaoke enthusiasts.

A concluding thought: Yes, there are female instrumentalists! This post took shape while I was making a series about women musicians published at the rate of one a month in 2021. I shunted notable tracks by male musicians to this and a couple of other weblog drafts. Since then, I have reflected on the nature of instrumental popular music, and wondered if men feel more comfortable performing tracks without words, while women feel more comfortable using words.

One Reply to “Instrumental hits (1969 – 2013)”

  1. “As I age, I have less tolerance for sounds produced by trumpets. They are too piercing for aging ears.”

    Interesting. Mine are as aged as yours, but I don’t find this to be the case.

    Once again, I am often drawn to noticing the incidentals in your pieces than the core subject. In this case, I found myself noting how many of the musicians are already six-feet under.

Leave a Reply

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