Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Top Instrumentals of the Rock Era, Part 6

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 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.  To make it easier to listen to all the tracks, there are 10 segments of 10 songs each.  Part Seven will appear July 15.  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.

50.  "Moon River" by Henry Mancini & His Orchestra

Of course "Moon River" was featured in the film Breakfast at Tiffany's starring Audrey Hepburn.  It won an Academy Award for Best Original Song an a Grammy for Record of the Year.  Close to 100 artists have covered the song, most notably Andy Williams, who sang a few bars of the song every night on The Andy Williams Show.  The song reached #3 on the Easy Listening chart and #11 on the Popular chart.  "Moon River" is now a real river in Savannah, Georgia.  It was known as the Back River near where lyricist Johnny Mercer (who co-wrote the song that Audrey Hepburn sings in the movie) grew up but was renamed Moon River in honor of the song.

Mancini is one of the most accomplished composers of the Rock Era.  He won 20 Grammy Awards, including five for his work on Breakfast at Tiffany's.  He also wrote the music for The Pink Panther movies, Days of Wine and Roses, Love Story and many more.

49.      "Soulful Strut" by Young Holt Unlimited

Up against "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye, "Love Child" by the Supremes and "Crimson and Clover" by Tommy James and the Shondells, "Soulful Strut" reached #2 for two weeks on the Adult Contemporary chart and #3 on the Popular chart and was certified gold within three weeks of release. The song was the instrumental version of Barbara Acklin's "Am I the Same Girl".

Drummer Isaac "Red" Holt and bass guitarist Eldee Young, both former members of the Ramsey Lewis Trio, combined with Ken Chaney to record "Soulful Strut" as part of the group Young-Holt Unlimited.

48.      "Out of Limits" by the Marketts

This song was originally going to be titled "Outer Limits" after the television show of the same name. It reached #3 in 1963 and sold over a million copies.

The Marketts were formed when a studio band called Wrecking Crew made it big with a song called "Surfer's Stomp" and the record company needed a group that would perform around the country. They recorded the smash "Out of Limits", capitalizing on the surfer craze at the time, but were eclipsed by more popular groups like the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean. They did have a later hit with the "Theme from 'Batman'".

47.      "Stranger on the Shore" by Mr. Acker Bilk

"Stranger on the Shore" is a song emphasizing the clarinet that was written for Acker Bilk's daughter and originally called "Jenny". It was the theme song for a BBC-TV show of the same name. It was the top seller of the year in the U.K. in 1962, remaining on the chart for 55 weeks. The song also reached #1 for two weeks in the United States and spent seven weeks at #1 on the Easy Listening chart. "Stranger on the Shore" sold over a million copies. In may of 1969, the crew of Apollo 10 took the song on their mission to the moon, playing it in the Apollo spacecraft.

46.      "Pipeline" by the Chantays

The song was originally titled "Liberty's Whip" but changed after the Chantays saw a surfing documentary. "Pipeline" refers to when the crest of the wave on which a surfer is riding goes over his head and lands in front of him, leaving him in the center of what to the surfer looks like a pipe of water. The song has a unique sound because the bass guitar, rhythm guitar and electric piano are emphasized, rather than the lead guitar and drums. "Pipeline" reached #4 in 1963.

The Chantays were a teenage group from Santa Ana, California. They appeared in concert with the Righteous Brothers and were the only rock group to appear on "The Lawrence Welk Show". Santa Ana named a street after the Chantays. They were given a spot on the Hollywood Rock Walk and were recently elected to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

45.      "Raunchy" by Bill Justis

The song was originally titled "Backwards" but Justis changed the name when he overheard someone calling it "raunchy", which in 50's slang meant "good". George Harrison's knowledge of the song and being able to play it won him a job with the Quarrymen, who later became the Beatles. "Raunchy" was the first rock and roll instrumental hit.  Three different versions reached the Top 10 in 1957, as Ernie Freeman and Billy Vaughan also had success with it. Bill Justis had the biggest hit at #2; it remained on the chart for 20 weeks and sold over a million copies.  "Raunchy" was elected into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Justis played in local jazz and dance bands in college at Tulane University in Louisiana, playing the trumpet and saxophone. He returned to his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee and was signed by Sam Phillips, the same man who discovered Elvis Presley, to a recording contract with Sun Records Justis arranged music for Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Charlie Rich. Justis wrote music for several movies, including Smokey and the Bandit and Hooper.

44.      "Hawai'i Five-O" by the Ventures

The familiar theme song from Hawai'i Five-O starring Jack Lord, the Ventures scored a huge hit in the spring of 1969, with this song reaching #4.  

The Ventures were formed in Tacoma, Washington in 1958. They have had a huge influence on music and have sold over 100 million records, the top-selling instrumental band of all-time. The Ventures were extremely talented, and known for their tight sound and guitar work. Because of their influence, they were dubbed "The Band That Launched a Thousand Bands". The Ventures were recently inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

43.      "Wonderland By Night" by Burt Kaempfert and His Orchestra

Kaempfert's first hit with his orchestra reached #1 for three weeks in 1969 and sold a million copies.  

Kaempfert hired the Beatles in 1961 to backup Tony Sheridan on the song "My Bonnie" and produced the first Beatles recording session.  Kaempfert also wrote "Strangers in the Night" for Frank Sinatra.  Kaempfert had 12 hits through 1966, but none bigger than "Wonderland By Night".

42.      "Rock and Roll, Part 2" by Gary Glitter

Glitter worked for the popular British show Ready, Steady, Go where he met producer Mike Leander.  Leander helped him write "Rock and Roll".  When David Essex ("Rock On") did not show up for a scheduled recording session, Leander brought Glitter in to record the song.  He got his first big break when he was asked to appear on the British television show Top of the Pops.  The song reached #7 in 1972.  

Glitter had been recording since 1958 without much success until "Rock and Roll".  The downfall for Glitter began in the 1980's.  He went through bankruptcy and was arrested for drunk driving.  Then, in 1997, he was arrested for having child pornography on his computer and sent to prison.  After his release, Glitter lived in Cuba and Cambodia.  In 2006, Glitter was convicted for child sexual abuse in Vietnam.  Glitter is a perfect example that you should really find out who it is that you are supporting before you buy a song.

41.      "Overture From 'Tommy'" by the Assembled Multitude 

The "Overture From 'Tommy'" is a compilation of the songs in the Who's rock opera Tommy.  The song reached #16 in 1970.

The Assembled Multitude was a studio group put together by Tom Sellers in Philadelphia.  The group did their versions of "Woodstock", "Ohio", "MacArthur Park" and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps".  They later worked for the O'Jays, the Stylistics, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes and Billy Paul.  

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