Best instrumental works of all time

…..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 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!


About libertarianmathprof

I'm a college Math Professor, and have been since 2002 after teaching HS Math for a year. I teach mostly entry level subjects such as Prealgebra and Algebra, but enjoy teaching classes that have logic or statistics as part of the content (something that goes beyond just doing arithmetic). Prior to that, I worked for 25 years as an actuary specializing in the design and administration of retirement plans for small businesses. My interests include, in no particular order: Libertarian politics Economics, particularly Austrian economics and political economics Female acoustic singer-songwriters, the more unknown, the better Oldies from the pre-British invasion era, when pop music radio stations played everything from Jimmy Dean to Buddy Holly to Johnny Cash to Lawrence Welk, and it sounded all so natural together (and you can actually understand the words as you sing along with the songs word for word) Puzzles, particularly logic-based puzzles such as Sudukos NPR Will Short's puzzle on WESUN Baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals in particular The Cleveland Browns of the 1960's (led by QB Frank Ryan, perhaps the only NFL player with a Ph.D. in Mathematics) The NCAA men's basketball tournament The Winter Olympics Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the most famous person you've never heard of. Her nonviolent and tireless pursuit of democracy for Burma (and don't call it Myanmar as long as those nutcases with OCD continue their illegal rule of this nation) makes her one of the true heroes of our time--and perhaps of all time. You go girl! When in the car, if I'm not listening to CD's, I listen to: WFAE ("Your NPR News Source")--Charlotte's NPR affiliate. Mostly during the NPR news shows during drive time WNCW--eclectic music legend out of Western North Carolina. WNCW plays just about anything--what it doesn't play is easier to describe than what it does play WSGE--"your independent music source" from Gaston College. Exists in a parallel universe and overlaps a lot with WNCW. WRBK ("Classic Oldies")--automated noncommercial FM station out of Chester County, SC whose playlist is about as broad as you can get (1950's through the early 1980's) unless it's..... WAIZ ("63 Big Ways") a recreation of the legendary Charlotte top 40 station from the 60's airing out of Hickory, NC. Usually infested with static, but the static is a minor inconvenience to be able to hear oldies ignored by most other radio stations. WAVO, from Rock Hill, SC. Does for standards what Big Ways does for pre-British invasion oldies. Also WAVO and Big Ways overlap a lot, with both playing some of the greatest music ever recorded that doesn't get played too many places! 650 AM WSM ("The Legend") when I'm driving home late at night after teaching night classes. The station that made the Grand Ole Opry Famous KMOX from St. Louis. Flagship station for the St. Louis Cardinals. That says it all!
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