Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Top Instrumentals of the Rock Era, Part 3

You will find several lists of the top instrumentals so this one is far from being the only one.  It is, however, unique in that I tried to base it on what the public thinks, leaving my personal bias out of it.  For it doesn't matter what a so-called "expert" or professional in the music business thinks.  History will always record what the public believes.

So I base a good deal of this list on chart performance at the time, single and album sales to this point in history, and how the song holds up today.  I have put a considerable amount of time and effort into coming up with this list.  Although I believe it contains The Top 100 Instrumentals of the Rock Era*, it doesn't start getting great until the top 85 or so.  

What is great about instrumentals is that the songwriter is free to focus solely on the music.  Artists today have gotten away from that--when you strip the song from its jive and 21st century sound effects, all you have is the music.  By listening to these instrumentals, hopefully we'll get back to what matters when composing a song. 

 Of course, I do realize that beginning in the 1980's, we as a society began cutting music programs to the bone so really we have only ourselves to blame for the poor quality of "music" these days.  I know my own knowledge of music (I play the saxophone, clarinet and have played piano since age 5 and was in a group of 12 that was selected to sing at our church's world conference in Portland, Oregon and then toured throughout the country...) would not have been as great were it not for music education in the schools.  I hope we can get back to providing more funds for that, to stimulate our children's interest in music.

Getting back to the other "lists" you may see on the web.  They are great, but what is a music site without music?!  Thus, you actually get to hear the songs that are in the list.  Many I was not familiar with until I started researching for this special.

For navigation, the song titles are below the embedded YouTube video.  For ease of use, I have separated the list into 10 segments of 10 songs each.  Part Four will appear on this blog July 6.  I strongly recommend playing each song in order--with any luck (if I've done my homework (and I have!)), each one should sound better than the last.  At least that's the goal.

Enjoy!  (Make sure you stop one song before you start another!)
80.   "Take Five" by Dave Brubeck

Paul Desmond, Brubeck's alto saxophone player, wrote this song in 1959.  The song was titled because it had an unusual 5/4 time signature.  "Take Five" had great influence on the jazz/rock fusion genre.  The unique chord progression in the song encouraged other artists to experiment with chords and improvise melodies.  The song features what many consider one of the finest drum solos ever recorded by Joe Morello.

"Take Five" is the top track on Brubeck's legendary album Time Out.  It reached #5 on the Easy Listening Chart (today the Adult Contemporary format) and #25 on the popular chart.  The album is unique in that each track has a different time signature.  The song is featured in numerous television and movie soundtracks.  Upon his death, Brubeck left all royalties for the song to the American Red Cross, which collects approximately $100,000 per year from sales and airplay of the song.

79.   "Fly Me to the Moon" by Joe Harnell And His Orchestra 


Joe Harnell began playing piano at age six and as a teenager played in bands at resorts in the Catskill Mountains outside New York City.  As a member of the Air Force Band, he played in England, France and Germany during World War II.  After returning from the service, Harnell studied at Tanglewood Institute in Boston, Massachusetts with Aaron Copeland and Leonard Bernstein.  Harnell was the conductor and arranger for Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee and others.  He also was the musical director for several television shows, including "The Mike Douglas Show".

Bart Howard wrote this song in 1954 and it was originally known as "In Other Words".  Popularly, people called it "Fly Me To the Moon" and that name became so widespread that the publishers changed the title in a couple of years.  Harnell recorded an instrumental version and it reached #4 on the Easy Listening chart and #14 on the popular chart in December of 1962.

78.   "Forever in Love" by Kenny G.

Kenny graduated from the University of Washington Magna Cum Laude with an accounting degree.  He would need it to add up all his sales.  In 1997, Kenny G earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records by playing the longest note ever recorded on a saxophone.  Through circular breathing, he held an E-flat for 45 minutes, 47 seconds at J&R Music World in New York City.  

"Forever in Love" is from the album Breathless that sold 12 million copies in the United States.  It reached #1 for two weeks on the all-important Adult Contemporary chart.  It remained on the AC chart for 34 weeks, ranked in the Top 20 of the Rock Era for longevity.  The song reached #18 on the "popular chart", which by then had taken a backseat to the Adult Contemporary chart.  In 1994, Kenny won the Grammy for Best Instrumental Performance. 

77.   "Never On Sunday" by Don Costa

Gorme.  The three soon joined a new record label--ABC-Paramount Records.  Costa accepted an A&R job at ABC that would also have him be chief arranger and producer.  He helped Paul Anka and Lloyd Price among others at ABC.  During his career, he arranged for Frank Sinatra, Vaughn Monroe, Vic Damone, the Ames Brothers and more and wrote Duane Eddy's hit "Because They're Young".

"Never On Sunday" was the title song from the movie starring Melina Mercouri.  It reached #19 on the popular chart but ended up selling a million copies.  

76.   "Last Date" by Floyd Cramer

Cramer was an American Hall of Fame pianist.  Self-taught, he began performing in the Louisiana Hayride radio show.  He became famous for playing "slip-note", a technique in which he would change from the main note to a sharp or flat effortlessly without interruption, accentuating the discord.  In 1953, he began touring with an emerging young star in the business, Elvis Presley.   He was a tireless session musician, playing day and night.  Over the years, Cramer played piano for Elvis (that's Cramer on piano in the song "Heartbreak Hotel"), Brenda Lee, Roy Orbison, Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, Eddy Arnold and the Everly Brothers, among many others.  

Although he was in high demand within the industry, few outside the music business had heard of him, that is until 1960.  "Last Date" reached #2 on the popular chart for four weeks (one of the biggest #2 songs in the Rock Era) and sold a million copies.  Cramer went on to record 11 hits including "On the Rebound" and "San Antonio Rose".  But none as big as this one.

75.   "Java" by Al Hirt

The son of a police officer, Hirt was given a trumpet at age six.  He was playing in the Junior Police Band at the age of 16.  Hirt owned a nightclub in New Orleans, Louisiana at 501 Bourbon Street, where he would often jam with clarinet player Pete Fountain.  A big man, Hirt received the nicknames "Jumbo" and "The Round Mound of Sound".  Hirt was a touring trumpeter in bands led by Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman.  He became a minority owner of the National Football League team New Orleans Saints and would play trumpet at home games behind the team's bench.

"Java" was adapted from a 1958 album of piano tunes called The Wild Sounds of New Orleans by Tousan (songwriter/producer Allen Toussaint).  The song was named after a race horse, as co-writer Danny Kessler loved the track.  Hirt was also a big racing fan, and he often played at race tracks over six decades.  Chet Atkins produced "Java" and it was the lead single from Hirt's album Honey in the Horn.  It was used as the closing theme for the British children's television show "Vision On".  "Java" reached #4 in 1964 on the popular chart and was a #1 Adult Contemporary smash.  Both the single and album went gold and "Java" won the Grammy Award for Best Instrumentalist with Orchestra.

74.   "Grazing in the Grass" by Hugo Masekela

Masekela was born in South Africa.  He was given a trumpet at the age of 14 and quickly mastered it.  He formed a band with other musicians but after the March 21, 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, in which 69 people peacefully protesting were shot dead because of the increased brutality of Apartheid, Masekela left Africa.  Trevor Huddleston and others got him into London's Guildhall School of Music.  He then visited the United States, where Harry Belafonte took him under his wing.  Masekela studded classical trumpet at the Manhattan School of Music from 1960-1964.

"Grazing in the Grass" came about after Masekela had finished work on his latest album.  Producer Stewart Levine delivered it to the record company (Uni), which pointed out to Levine that the length of the album was three minutes short of the agreed to 30 minutes.  Levine suggested they fill the gap with a cover of a single that Masekela had purchased in Zambia called "Mr. Bull".  It was considered "filler" to Masekela but Uni executive Russ Regan thought it would be a hit and persuaded Masekela to release it.  It became one of the all-time great summer songs, and later, words were added and it became a big hit for Friends of Distinction.  Masekela hit #1 for two weeks in 1968; the song was also a #1 R&B hit and sold over a million copies.  Bruce Langhorne played guitar on "Grazing in the Grass"; he is the musician whom Bob Dylan wrote about in "Mr. Tambourine Man".  

73.   "Apache" by Jordan Ingmann & His Guitar

Ingmann worked with jazz violinist Svend Asmussen in the 1940's and early 1950's.

The Shadows (with Cliff Richard, who played bongos) had a #1 instrumental hit in the U.K. with "Apache" before Ingmann brought the song to America.  The song reached #2 for two weeks in 1961.  Three years after the release of "Apache", Ingmann and wife Grethe, representing Denmark, won the Eurovision Song Contest with "Dansevise."   

72.   "Wild Weekend" by the Rockin' Rebels

A group of Buffalo teenagers (ages 14-15) formed a group and decided to name themselves after Duane Eddy's backup band.  They met DJ Tom Shannon in Buffalo after playing a gig.  They wound up in Shannon's Buffalo recording studio planning on recording "Short Shorts".  Instead, the Rebels began improvising on a new jingle that was Shannon's theme song for his radio show (written by the Russ Hallett Trio).  Shannon liked it and the song was recorded, pressed, and released as a single in 1959.  It was popular in the eastern United States and even got the group on "American Bandstand".  

By 1962, the original Rebels had broken up.  Another DJ, Jimmy O'Brien in Syracuse, New York, began playing "Wild Weekend" as his theme song.  Bernie Binnick, president of Swan Records, heard the song, tracked down Shannon, who was then serving in the Army and stationed at Fort Dixon, and worked out an arrangement for the master. The song was released again in 1962, and this time it caught on not only around the country but around the world.  It reached #8 on the popular chart.

71.   "Red River Rock" by Johnny & the Hurricanes

The group formed as school friends in Toledo, Ohio, and was originally known as the Orbits.  They signed with Twirl Records in 1959 and recorded "Crossfire" which was a minor hit.  

"Red River Rock" is the Hurricanes' instrumental version of "Red River Valley" on Warwick Records.  It was #5 in the U.S. and #3 in the U.K. and sold over a million copies.  The group went on to have 11 hits of varying success, but none bigger than this one.  Johnny and the Hurricanes actually became bigger on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, and toured Europe featuring a changing lineup of over 300 different musicians over the next 50 years.   

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