Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Top Instrumentals of the Rock Era, Part 4

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 likes.

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 Five will appear on this blog July 9.  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 pause, stop or finish listening to one song before you start another!)
70.      "The Entertainer" by Marvin Hamlisch

Hamlisch was a child prodigy and began playing songs he heard on the piano at age five.  At age seven, he was accepted into what now is the Julliard School Pre-College Division.  His first job was as a rehearsal pianist for "Funny Girl" starring Barbra Streisand.  Hamlisch  is one of only 12 people to have won an Oscar, a Grammy, an Emmy and a Tony award, and one of only two to win all of those plus a Pulitzer Prize (the other is Richard Rodgers).  Hamlisch went on to produce scores for numerous films including The Way We Were, Ordinary People and Sophie's Choice.
Marvin Hamlisch
This song was copyrighted December 29, 1902 by the famous ragtime musician Scott Joplin.  But it wasn't until the all-time classic movie The Sting, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, included six songs from Joplin that he received his due.  Hamlisch adapted Joplin's song into the movie and it became a huge hit.  The score to the album won a Grammy and Hamlisch did as well for Best New Artist.  "The Entertainer" reached #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart, #3 on the popular chart and sold over a million copies.

69.      "Teen Beat" by Sandy Nelson

Nelson attended high school with Jan Berry and Dean Torrence, who later were huge stars as Jan & Dean. Nelson was one of the best-known drummers of the 1960's and became a session musician in high demand. He played on "To Know Him Is To Love Him" by the Teddy Bears, "Alley-Oop" by the Hollywood Argyles and "A Thousand Stars" by Kathy Young and the Innocents. Nelson's style of mixing his drumming with cool guitar licks was a forerunner to the surfing hits that would follow. He was not an incredible drummer, but knew how to incorporate drum solos into rock hits.

"Teen Beat" became a national sensation, reaching #4 in 1959 and selling over a million records. Nelson eventually posted 10 solo hits, including another Top 10--"Let There Be Drums".

68.      "Axel F" by Harold Faltermeyer

Faltermeyer was born in Munich, Germany, the son of a homemaker and a construction businessmen.  He learned how to play the piano at age six.  Soon after, a music professor discovered that Harold had the gift of perfect pitch.  He began playing organ in a rock combo and studied piano and trumpet a the Munich Music Academy.  

In 1978, Giorgio Moroder discovered him and brought him to Los Angeles to play keyboards and arrange the Soundtrack to "Midnight Express" which Moroder was working on.  In fact, Moroder narrowly missed the Top 100 with "Chase", the theme to "Midnight Express".  Faltermeyer also did the same work on the Soundtrack to "American Gigolo".  Moroder and Faltermeyer continued their work together producing hits and albums for Donna Summer, Barbra Streisand, Glenn Frey, Blondie, Bob Seger, Billy Idol, Cheap Trick and many others.  Faltermeyer was well known for his attention to detail and development of the synthesizer sound.   

Faltermeyer would later score another Grammy for his work in the movie "Top Gun". "Axel F" reached #3 in March of 1985 on the popular chart and was a #1 song for two weeks on the Adult Contemporary chart. It would be the only solo release from Faltermeyer.

67.      "Because They're Young" by Duane Eddy

"Because They're Young" was the title song from the movie starring James Darren and Tuesday Weld, although an orchestra plays the song in the opening credits, not Eddy.  Eddy played "Shazam" while Dick Clark played a high school teacher in the film.

Eddy began playing guitar at age five and was famous for developing a technique of playing lead guitar on the guitar's bass strings to achieve a "twangy" sound.  He was elected into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 and in 2004, was presented with a Guitar Legend Award from Guitar Player Magazine.  Among those who credit Eddy as an influence:  George Harrison, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Davies of the Kinks, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits and John Entwhistle of the Who.

66.      "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" by Sounds Orchestral

"Cast Your Fate to the Wind" was originally a jazz piece written and recorded by Vince Guaraldi.  It won a Grammy Award for Guaraldi for Best Original Jazz Composition in 1963.  It has been remade several times, but never bigger than the version by Sounds Orchestral.  The group reached #1 for three weeks on the Adult Contemporary chart and #10 on the popular chart.  The single sold over a million copies.

    Sounds Orchestral in the background with Little Richard

Sounds Orchestral was a British studio band assembled by John Schroeder and featuring Johnny Pearson, who was band leader of the television show Top of the Pops for 16 years.  Sounds Orchestral went on to release 16 studio albums.

65.      "The Stripper" by David Rose & His Orchestra                     

This song was used for the TV program Burlesque which showed a woman taking off her clothes in the background while two men argued in the scene.  From there, it became known as a song to take your clothes off to.  David Rose wrote the song at the end of a recording session in 1958.  He didn't have a name for it and referred to it simply as "a funny piece of music with no title".  

Later in the year, MGM needed a B-side for the single "Ebb Tide" which Rose re-recorded to promote the movie "Sweet Bird of Youth" with Paul Newman and Geraldine Page.  With Rose away, a worker at MGM found the song on one of Rose's tapes and included this still unnamed, unreleased song.  The record company gave it the name of "The Stripper" and released the 45.  Robert Q. Lewis, a DJ in Los Angeles, made the song popular when he played it for 45 minutes straight during one of his shows.  The song reached #1 on both the popular and Adult Contemporary charts.

David Rose did the score to over 1,000 television programs including Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie, The Red Skelton Show (where he was the musical director for 21 years) and Highway to Heaven.  Rose captured four Emmys in his career.  He was once married to Judy Garland. 


64.      "Linus and Lucy" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio

"Linus and Lucy" came about when Lee Mendelson, a producer of the first Peanuts' television special, "A Boy Named Charlie Brown", was trying to decide what music to include in the special.  He heard Guaraldi's version of "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" as he was crossing over the Golden Gate Bridge.  He liked it so much he called Guaraldi and hired him to compose a song.  This is the one he did and his music was used in the Peanuts specials after that.  

The song (as well as the Peanuts specials) became much more than a novelty but a Christmas tradition and the mere playing of it brings a smile.  Since then, "Linus and Lucy" has been covered by several jazz greats including Wynton Marsalis, Dave Brubeck and David Benoit.

The song was famously used during the Space Shuttle Endeavour's March 2008 mission on Day Two to wake up the astronauts.

Guaraldi got his start October 8, 1958 at the first Monterey Jazz Festival in California.  6,000 jazz fans had seen Dizzy Gillespie, Ernestine Anderson, Sonny Rollins and others.  The Monterey fog and chilly breeze had them ready to get to their cars.  Cal Tjader had put together six youths for the final act.  One of them was a young pianist who so surprised the crowd with his blues riffs that he had them begging for more long after the lights had been turned out and wanting to know where they could buy the group's records.

Guaraldi made at least ten albums with Tjader, one with Frank Rosolino and two with Conte Candoli and toured in 1956 with Woody Herman.  The Vince Guaraldi Trio (with Eddie Duran and Dean Reilly) began recording in 1956 and put out two albums.  But it wasn't until the release of the album Jazz Impression of Black Orpheus, Guaraldi's interpretation of the haunting soundtrack music of Antonio Carlos Jobim, that his career took off.  "Samba de Orpheus" was released as a single with "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" as the B-side.  KROY Radio in Sacramento, California turned the 45 over and played "Cast Your Fate..." every two hours.  

And that is how Guaraldi gained national prominence and became the signature sound of Peanuts specials.

Guaraldi tragically died from a heart attack at the age of 47.  Charles Schulz and writer/producer Lee Mendelson paid Guaraldi the highest possible tribute at the end of "The Music of America", one episode of the "This is America, Charlie Brown" miniseries.  Responding to Lucy's doubts that he might actually have a favorite song, Charlie Brown replies, 

"Well, there's one...and I think it was written in the 1960s. I think it was some of that jazz Franklin was talking about. I believe the composer was a man by the name of Vince Guaraldi. And I think it was called 'Linus and Lucy' coincidence. 

"And I think it goes like this..." 

...and he hums the first few bars. 

"Linus and Lucy" begins, as the Peanuts gang walks into the sunset.

63.      "Last Night" by the Mar-Keys

"Last Night" represented one of only four releases by the group.  
The song reached #3 in 1961  It was later used during telecasts of "The NBA on CBS" as the background for a preview of the basketball game.

The Mar-Keys were a studio session group for Stax Records.  As the house band, the group formed the foundation for the label's sound.  Steve Cropper and Donald Dunn from the group later joined Booker T. & the MG's.

62.      "Mission Impossible" by Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, Jr.

Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen, the bassist and drummer for U2, respectively, composed the 1996 instrumental for the movie Mission: Impossible starring the great Tom Cruise. The television series of the same name, of course, was one of the biggest hits of all-time and the movie studio wanted the very popular theme updated for the movie. The two U2 stars came through, and the song reached #7 and sold over a million copies. The movie grossed more than $450 million.  

Mullen founded U2 in the fall of 1976 by placing a now famous notice on the bulletin board of Mount Temple Comprehensive School--"Drummer seeks musicians to form band." Originally, that band consisted of Mullen, Paul "Bono" Hewson, David "The Edge" Evans, his brother Dik Evans, Adam Clayton, Ivan McCormick and Peter Martin and was known as the Larry Mullen Band. The name changed to Feedback but soon after the formation of the group, McCormick and Martin left and the group, then known as The Hype was down to five members. At a farewell concert for Dik Evans, who decided to leave the group, the band formally changed their name for the final time to U2.
Clayton and Mullen have won 22 Grammy Awards with U2.

61.      "The 'In' Crowd" by the Ramsey Lewis Trio

"The 'In' Crowd", out at the same time as "Yesterday" by the Beatles, "Hang On Sloopy" from the McCoys, Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction", the Toys' "A Lover's Concerto" and "Do You Believe in Magic" from the Lovin' Spoonful, reached #5 in 1965.

The Ramsey Lewis Trio consisted of Lewis on piano, Eldee Young on bass and drummer Isaac Holt. Following the success of this instrumental, Lewis wanted to be the leader of the group with the other members working under him. This led to a parting of the ways and Young and Holt formed the Young-Holt Trio, later to be called Young-Holt Unlimited. They scored a huge hit of their own called "Soulful Strut". Lewis has recorded over 80 albums and has seven gold records and three Grammies in his career. Maurice White, who later left to form the supergroup Earth, Wind & Fire, played in Lewis's group from 1966-1970.

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