Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Top Instrumentals of the Rock Era, Part 5

 You will find several lists of the top instrumentals so this one is far from being the only one.  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 divided the rather large list including videos into 10 segments of 10 songs each.  Part Six will be on the blog July 12.  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.


60.   "Outa-Space" by Billy Preston

"Outa-Space" is from the album "I Wrote a Simple Song".  Preston achieved the sound by running the sound from a clavinet through a wah wah pedal, improvising and calling out the chord changes to the backing band.  Preston wanted it released as a single but could only get it on the B-side to the title track from the album.  Well, once again, the record company was wrong.  As soon as radio DJ's received the song, they flipped it over and loved the song they started playing it instead.  "Outa-Space" reached #2 on the popular chart and was a #1 R&B hit.  The song won a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental and sold over a million copies.  In the 90's, Intel used this song to promote the MMX-based Pentium processors.

Preston's keyboard wizardry has been recognized the world over, being invited to play on albums by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, George Harrison, Elton John, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin, the Jackson 5, Peter Frampton, Richie Sambora, Sly Stone, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Norah Jones, just to name a few.

59.   "Smokie" by Bill Black's Combo

Bill Black's Combo made several albums and had 19 hits.  "Smokie" reached #17 on the popular chart and was a #1 R&B record.

Bill Black learned music at the age of 14 on an instrument made by his father--a cigar box with a board nailed to it and strings attached. He soon began playing an upright bass fiddle and developed his "slap bass" technique. in 1952, Black began playing with guitarist Scotty Moore and the two played in bands with Johnny and Dorsey Burnette. In 1954,Black and Moore were asked by Sam Phillips of Sun Records to start a trio with Elvis Presley that would be known as "Elvis Presley and the Blue Moon Boys".  The group released five singles, toured the South and appeared regularly on the Louisiana Hayride.

RCA bought the recording contract and promoted the songs as being from Elvis Presley.  Black played on classics like "Heartbreak Hotel", "Hound Dog" and "Jailhouse Rock".  He was one of the first to use the Fender Precision bass (today's bass guitar).

58.   "Penetration" by the Pyramids

This single peaked at #18 but rather than being forgotten, has picked up steam over the years--it has withstood the test of time and even sounds fresh today.  

The Pyramids formed in Long Beach, California in 1961.  Their manager, John Hodge, suggested they wear Beatle wigs to their concerts and then through the wigs to the crowd halfway through the show to reveal their bald heads.  Hired girls would then rush the stage.  Occasionally, they would arrive at their shows on the back of an elephant or in a helicopter.  Soon, the Pyramids appeared on "Bandstand" and "Hullabaloo". They appeared in the movie "Bikini Drag" singing two songs and also backing up Frankie Avalon and Little Stevie Wonder.

57.   "Theme From 'The Apartment'" by Ferrante & Teicher

This great instrumental is from the movie "The Apartment" starring Jack Lemmon & Shirley MacLaine.  It reached #10 on the popular chart and #1 on the Easy Listening chart.  

Steven Tyler of Aerosmith tells how Ferrante and Teicher used to rehearse in the home of his grandmother, Constance Neidhart Tallarico. The Grand Twins of the Twin Grands were a major force in the early 60's, performing with orchestras on their versions of standards by Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Richard Rodgers. They posted 11 hits in their career and they are one of only two acts of the Rock Era to place three songs in The Top 100 Instrumentals of the Rock Era* (Herb Alpert has five, four with the Tijuana Brass).

56.   "Songbird" by Kenny G.

"Songbird" was the third song from the album Duotones. The song reached #4 on the popular chart, #3 on the Adult Contemporary chart and #23 on the R&B chart.  The daytime soap opera "Days of Our Lives" played the song in its daily episodes.  It was featured in the great movie "Pretty Woman" starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere.  It has since been featured in several other movies, on The Weather Channel in the 1980's and in various commercials.

In 2003, Kenny G became the #25 best-selling American artist with 48 million in sales.  In addition to being a major recording act the "G" Man is an expert golfer; he teamed with Phil Mickelson to share the AT & T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in 2001.

55.   "The Rockford Files" by Mike Post

"The Rockford Files" is the theme song by the popular television show starring James Garner.  That show was ranked by TV Guide as the #39 television show of all-time.  "The Rockford Files" theme went to #10 and won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement.

Post has scored over 1,000 hours of film, composed music for the television shows "The Rockford Files", "Hill Street Blues", "NYPD Blue" and "L.A. Law" and has won five Grammy Awards.  He began his career as a session musician for Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin and Sonny & Cher--that's him on guitar in "I Got You Babe".  He was also a member of The First Edition, Kenny Rogers' group.  He won his first Grammy at age 22 for Best Instrumental Arrangement on "Classical Gas" for Mason Williams.  From there, he became the youngest music director ever for a television program, hired at the age of 24 for "The Andy Williams Show". 

 Post was also the arranger for "The Mac Davis Show" in the mid-70's.  He arranged several albums for Ray Charles and produced the album 9 to 5 for Dolly Parton.  He wrote the "Theme from 'Hill Street Blues'" that he also recorded and "Theme from 'The Greatest American Hero'" for Joey Scarbury.

54.   "Calcutta" by Lawrence Welk

"Calcutta" was the fifth incarnation of a song called "Tivoli Melody" in 1958 by Heino Gaze.  Lawrence Welk's version hit #1 for two weeks in 1960.

Welk had a popular television show called "The Lawrence Welk Show" that aired nationally for 27 years and another 11 years in syndication after that.

     53.   "Hocus Pocus" by Focus

"Hocus Pocus" was originally recorded in 1971, but it didn't chart until a faster version was recorded.  It reached #9 in June of 1973.  Guitarist Jan Akkerman joined the group for six months in 1973 and it is his work you hear on "Hocus Pocus".  Akkerman was chosen Best International Guitarist in a 1973 poll in Melody Maker magazine.  Flute, accordion, yodeling and various other vocal sounds are also heard on the song.  "Hocus Pocus" was featured in a Nike commercial in 2010.

Focus at the BBC in 1972

Focus was a Dutch progressive rock band.  A performance at the Reading Festival in August of 1972 and appearance on the Dutch national television rock show "The Old Grey Whistle Test" gave them the exposure they needed to launch a career.  The group have reformed and found new fame due to the Nike commercial.  Akkerman continues to record solo albums and tour--he is reticent to do "Focus" but the audience is happy when he relents.

52.  "Whipped Cream" by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass

All trumpets are by Alpert, dubbed and overdubbed, sometimes four and five times to give the song that unique sound associated with the Tijuana Brass.  The album of the same title reached #1 for eight weeks and spent an incredible 61 weeks in the Top 10.

The band that performed on the album was not actually a group but rather a gathering of the top west coast musicians hand picked by Alpert.  The group won six Grammy Awards, 15 of their albums were gold and 14 of them went platinum.  Alpert continues to play trumpet but also spends a good deal of time these days as an expressionist painter and sculptor.  

51.  "Music to Watch Girls By" by Bob Crewe Generation

"Music To Watch Girls By" was originally a Diet Pepsi commercial.  It reached #2 on the Adult Contemporary chart and #15 on the popular chart.

In addition to his hits with The Bob Crewe Generation and the Rays ("Silhouettes"), Crewe co-wrote and produced several hits for the 4 Seasons ("Sherry", "Big Girls Don't Cry", "Rag Doll" "Let's Hang On!", "Walk Like a Man" and "Ronnie"), and also wrote for Michael Jackson, Frankie Valli ("Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" and "My Eyes Adored You"), Bobby Darin, Roberta Flack, Labelle ("Lady Marmalade"), Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Lesley Gore, Freddy Cannon, Peabo Bryson, the Walker Brothers ("The Sun Ain't Gonna' Shine Anymore") and Patti LaBelle. 

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