The significance of Instrumentals

Instrumentals have been around since the beginning of music. Early music, such as classical, were typically all instrumental as were many of the songs of the big band era. They were around in the days before the ‘Rock and Roll’ music phenomena and have continued to be released until this very day. Typically, there are only a few if any, on any specific music chart at a given time; however, they are regularly released and often become top selling singles. Some have said that an instrumental composition by an artist or band show their true music ability since there are no distractions from the vocals. Some songs that are considered an instrumental do have some backup vocals thrown in, but they are sometimes unintelligible and are typically not meant to be a main ingredient of the song. Electronic music has also created many instrumentals. Some from this genre have also come from movie soundtracks and television shows. There are many so we will investigate just some of these instrumentals.

After Big Band, there was ‘Rock and Roll’

We will begin with one of the earliest instrumentals of the ‘Rock and Roll’ era when Bill Justis, a ‘Rock and Roll’ artist, released “Raunchy” on September 23, 1957. It was one of the first songs to use a twangy lead guitar which other artists who followed further developed. The song reached number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It clearly contains the elements that were part of early rock and roll.

Films and its impact on Popular Music

To show the impact of media on instrumental music, we now highlight the number one song on the Billboard Hot 100 for 9 weeks in early 1960. The instrumental “Theme from A Summer Place” by Percy Faith was not what you would call ‘Rock and Roll’; however, the movie starred the teen idols Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee. This leads me to believe that many buyers of this LP were teenagers at a time when ‘Rock and Roll’ music was having a major impact on the music charts.

The beginning of the 1960s was a time when everyone was looking towards the sky. Space exploration began with peoples’ thoughts turning towards aliens, flying saucers, rockets heading into space, along with lots of futuristic hopes. The ‘outer space craze’ influenced everything including movies, television shows, and music. A small Telstar communications satellite was launched in 1962 and a group named ‘The Tornados’ jumped on board scoring a number one single on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Telstar” on December 22, 1962.

The 70’s

saw several instrumental songs with a harder rock sound, along with various electronic effects. A couple of sample songs demonstrate this like 1973s “Frankenstein” from the album “They Only Come Out at Night” topped the Billboard Hot 100.

Also, in 1973 peaking at number 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, the very fast paced instrumental “Hocus Pocus” by ‘Focus’. This song featured yodeling and whistling as part of the effects.

Electronic music and the 80’s

Music videos and MTV landed in the 1980s which brought some very interesting music along with many theatrical effects included in the videos. Instrumentals were not immune from this. A great example of this is the song “Rockit” by Herbie Hancock released in 1983.

The song was not a huge hit on the Billboard Hot 100 reaching only number 71; however, the song reached number 1 on a newer Billboard chart known as Hot Dance Club Play.

Fast forward

The 1990s and 2000s had several instrumental hits as well, but let’s jump into 2013 when a unique composition called the “Harlem Shake” by Baauer topped the Billboard Hot 100 for 5 weeks. It was the first instrumental to top the charts since 1985.

Instrumental recordings have always been around and their significance to the history of music is important. They span all genres of music from classical, big band, rock, metal, electronic, and dance. The list goes on and on. Often what is going on in the world becomes a huge influence in music as is true in instrumental recordings. Many instrumentals from television shows and movies have many times topped the music charts as well. Although they typically do not comprise a large portion of the music charts, I think it is a safe bet that they will always be around.

-Jack B. Stephens

To find out more information about instrumental music see the following sources:
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Top 100 Instrumental Songs Since 1960 at Tunecaster

Top 100 Instrumental Songs Since 1960, top songs in popularity order, at Tunecaster Music Encyclopedia

Top 100 Instrumentals of the 70s

The top 100 instrumentals of the 70’s will surprise you in which songs made the chart. This decade saw only 184 instrumentals make the “Billboard Hot 100” charts. You can check on the other top 100 instrumental charts of the 1940’s, 1950’s & 1960’s.

Instrumental Hits of the 80s

Music changed in the 80s, Punk, New Wave, Electronic music, Hip Hop, and more, really hit their stride. These changes even began to show up in the instrumental hits of that time period. As you look at these non-vocal hits, you will hear electronic keyboards, moog synthesizers, and even turntable techniques and Hip Hop influences.

Instrumental – Wikipedia

An instrumental is a musical composition or recording without lyrics, or singing, although it might include some inarticulate vocals, such as shouted backup vocals in a Big Band setting. The music is primarily or exclusively produced by musical instruments.

List of rock instrumentals – Wikipedia

The following is a list of rock instrumentals , including live performances and drum solos, organized primarily by artist name, then chronologically through the artist’s discography.