…..and I don’t mean instrumental versions of songs that would otherwise have lyrics. I mean songs that were composed as lyric-free songs.
These are the flightless birds of popular music, a style that has all but disappeared from currently popular songs. Lacking lyrics and message, all they’ve got to go on are the melody and arrangement, so they’ve got a tall order to fill. But thankfully, many have. Here are a few of my faves, again in no particular order:
1. Classical Gas by Mason Williams. Perhaps the last good instrumental work–and released during the peak of the classic rock era. This one belongs on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 as well.
2. ‘Wild Weekend” by the Rebels. Don’t those thumping opening notes grab your attention?
3. “Red River Rock” by Johnny and the Hurricanes. If those opening organ notes don’t hook you, the staccato notes that end each “verse” will!
4. The theme from the TV series “The Outer Limits”
5. “Cast Your Fate to the Wind”–the Vince Guaraldi and Sounds Orchestra versions are the most well-known, but it’s also been recorded by many other instrumentalists, including Floyd Cramer, Mike Post (of “Rockford Files” and “Hill Street Blues” fame), David Benoit, and many more (check out rdio.com for an extensive menu of performers and arrangements). It was later made into a vocal work, with Shelby Flint’s powerful vocals being my fave.
6. “Rinky Dink”–Dave “Baby” Cortez
7. “The Happy Organ”, also by Dave “Baby” Cortez
8. “Green Onions”–Booker T and the MG’s
9. The Third Man Theme (aka “The Harry Lime Theme”). It’s impossible not to hum along with this classic from the pre-rock era (1949). It was solely by accident that Carol Reed, the director of this film noir classic, heard the song’s creator, Antan Karas, perform it in a Viennese restaurant for tips. Reed was instantly hooked, and it became as well known as the film itself. Ironically, it was Karas only “hit” and he didn’t enjoy playing it.
10. “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman” – Whistling Jack Smith. Come on, admit–you love this novelty song, don’t you?
The title has nothing at all to do with the song. It was simply a made up title. By the way, “Batman” has no connection to the comic book/TV/movie superhero of the same name. The “Batman” as used in the song is a British term that means “valet.”
11. “Nola”, a song from an earlier era that has been performed by numerous performers. Hearing it makes you think you’re watching the Lawrence Welk show. That said, it’s catchy, and that’s what counts.
12. And my exception to this being about pure instrumentals, not instrumental versions of vocal works: Lonnie Mack’s recording of “Memphis” I understand that this was done on the spur of the moment just to fill idle time. I may be wrong.
You know me and lists, so I’ll be adding to this list often!