Friday, July 15, 2011

The Top Instrumentals of the Rock Era, Part 7

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 8 will appear on the blog July 18.  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.

40.   Walk--Don't Run" by the Ventures

The Ventures chose this song as their first single after being asked to perform it six times a night at concerts.  A Seattle disc jockey used this song to lead into every newscast.  It went on to become a national #2 smash.  The group re-recorded the song and it too hit the Top 10 as "Walk Don't Run 1964".  The Ventures also re-recorded it in 1968, 1977 (disco version), 1986 (hard rock version) and 2000.
The group's founders, Don Wilson and Bob Bogle, met when Bogle was looking to buy a car at a dealership owned by Wilson's father.  When Howie Johnson quit the band in 1957 after four albums, the group replaced him with Mel Taylor, drummer at the Palomino in Hollywood, California.  Taylor had already been a session drummer on the song "The Monster Mash" by Bobby "Boris" Pickett, "Alley Oop" by the Hollywood Argyles and "The Lonely Bull" by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass.
39.   Dueling Banjos" by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell

This song was written in 1955 by Arthur Smith and called "Feuding Banjos".  When the song became a hit, he had to sue to receive credit for writing it.  "Dueling Banjos" reached #2 for four weeks in 1973 and #1 for two weeks on the Adult Contemporary chart.  The single and album both went gold. 
Weissberg went to Julliard School of Music and enjoyed a career as an accomplished session musician, playing for Billy Joel, John Denver, Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Jim Croce, Judy Collins, the Talking Heads, Melanie, Art Garfunkel and others.  When Weissberg heard that the movie Deliverance wanted to use a song with banjos, he called up friend Steve Mandell, whom he had met while both worked with Collins.
38.  "The Horse" by Cliff Nobles & Co.

Nobles formed the group at a commune in Norristown, Pennsylvania with guitarist Bobby Tucker, bass player Benny Williams and drummer Tommy Soul. The four earned a recording contract with Phil-L.A. of Soul Records. The group released "Love Is All Right" as a single, with "The Horse" as the flip side. "The Horse" was merely an instrumental version of the single, but it was the one that became popular. Lead singer Nobles doesn't even appear on the song. The horn section featured in the song became part of the group MFSB ("TSOP" in 1974).

When "The Horse" began to receive huge airplay, Nobles developed a dance to it and spent several weeks appearing on television showing people how to do "The Horse". The song reached #2 for three weeks in a competitive field in 1968. "This Guy's In Love with You" by Herb Alpert kept it out of the top position. "The Horse" also reached #2 on the R&B chart for two weeks and sold over a million copies within three weeks of release.
 Nobles didn't develop an interest in music until high school when he joined a group called the Delroys.  Nobles recorded several other songs after "The Horse" but did not chart. He later worked as a construction worker and in the electricity generation field.
#37:  "Hang 'Em High" by Booker T. & the MG's

Dominic Frontiere's theme from the movie "Hang 'Em High" was first covered by Hugo Montenegro, who had enjoyed the hit "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" the year before from another Clint Eastwood movie.  It was Booker T & the MG's that had the hit with it, reaching #9 in early 1969.
Booker T. (Jones) and the MG's were one of the most respected and influential groups of their time.  Jones (organ and piano), guitarist Steve Cropper, bass player Lewie Steinberg and Al Jackson, Jr. (drums) were the house band of Stax Records, playing on hundreds of songs by artists such as Wilson Pickett, Bill Withers, Otis Redding, Sam & David and others.
36.  "Honky Tonk" by Bill Doggett

Bill Doggett's trio formed in 1951 and their first single release,"Honky Tonk", reached #2 for three weeks in 1956 on the popular chart and #1 for an incredible 13 weeks on the R&B chart.  It is one of the top R&B songs of the Rock Era.  The song features Clifford Scott on saxophone and sold over a million copies.  
Doggett's mother, a church pianist, introduced him to music at age nine.  In 1942, Doggett was hired to be the pianist and arranger for the famous group the Ink Spots.  He also arranged for performers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Lionel Hampton.  
35.  "Tubular Bells" by Mike Oldfield 

The single "Tubular Bells" is taken from a song that is 25 minutes long and is featured in the classic movie The Exorcist.  Oldfield played more than half (20) of the instruments himself.  All of the major record labels turned down Oldfield, who finally signed with a minor company, Virgin Records, that had just started.  Oldfield's Tubular Bells album was the first one that Virgin released.  

"Tubular Bells" peaked at #7 in 1974.  Oldfield received a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition. The album reached #2 in the U.K. and #3 in the United States.  It spent 279 weeks on the U.K. chart and sold over 15 million copies worldwide.    Oldfield's album was highly influential in both the progressive rock and new age movements.  Oh and by the way, major record labels--Virgin is now a major company that owns record stores, an airline and is also involved in the cell phone industry.
Oldfield later wrote the score to the important movie "The Killing Fields".

34.  "Feels So Good" by Chuck Mangione

CHUCK MANGIONE: Maui-Waui / Feels So Good
"Feels So Good" reached #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart and just didn't go away--it was one of the most popular songs for 27 weeks.  It peaked at #4 on the popular chart in 1978.  The song was nominated for a Grammy for Record of the Year, an honor not usually bestowed upon an instrumental.  
Mangione went to the Eastman School of Music in New York City.  His "Chase the Clouds Away" was used as the theme song for the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics and "Give It All You Got" was the theme to the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York.  He won Grammys in 1977 and 1979 for Best Instrumental Composition and Best Pop Instrumental, respectively.
33.  "The Lonely Bull" by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass

"The Lonely Bull" was written by Sol Lake and was the first single released on the record company that Alpert had just begun--A & M Records.  It was originally called "Twinkle Star".  Alpert achieved the sound while experimenting with an overdubbed trumpet in his garage.  He later added crowd noise from a bullfight in Tijuana, Mexico.  "The Lonely Bull" peaked at #6 while the album was a fixture on the album chart for over three years.  The song is featured in the great movie Jerry Maguire.
After serving in the army, Alpert was hired by Keen Records and co-wrote "Wonderful World" with Sam Cooke.  Alpert and Jerry Moss originally wanted to call their new record label Carnival Records after a popular Broadway musical but when they found out there was already a company with that name, they changed it to A&M to reflect the initials of both last names.  A&M was home to stars such as Cat Stevens, Burt Bacharach, Procol Harum, Joe Cocker, the Carpenters, the Police, Supertramp, Sting, Bryan Adams and many more.

Alpert has won eight Grammy Awards and sold over 72 million records.
32.  "Music Box Dancer" by Frank Mills

Frank Mills first recorded "Music Box Dancer" in 1974, but it was not released as a single until 1978.  Even then, Polydor Records had it as the B-side.  But David Watts, a DJ in Ottawa, Canada, flipped the song over and word spread of the B-side.  It reached #3 on the popular chart and #4 on the Adult Contemporary chart.  The single sold over a million copies, the album over two million in the United States and airplay has now exceeded one million plays.  "Music Box Dancer" reached #1 in 26 countries. 

Further popularity of the song is evidenced by the fact that sheet music sales of piano players wanting to play the song has now exceeded three million copies.  In 1978 and through the early 1980's, CBS-TV used "Music Box Dancer" as the theme to the documentary "2 on the Town"; the song was also featured on the BBC2 golf program Around with Alliss
Frank Mills' mother was a piano player, his father a tenor, and Frank learned to play the piano by ear by listening to his sister practice.  He also became quite proficient at the trombone.  At age 17, both his parents, who had been ill for most of his memory, died of cancer.
Mills got his formal training at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  He scored a 98% on his entrance exam.  Mills then joined the group the Bells, who scored a #1 hit in 1971 "Stay Awhile".  
31.   "Canadian Sunset" by Eddie Heywood and Hugo Winterhalter
"Canadian Sunset" reached #2 for two weeks in 1957 and remained on the chart for 31 weeks.  The single sold over a million copies.  

Heywood's father, Eddie Heywood Sr. was also a jazz star performer in the 1920's.  The junior Heywood moved to New York and soon was backing Billie Holiday.  He played several solos for the Coleman Hawkins quartet.  Between 1947 and 1950, however, he suffered partial paralysis of his hands.  But he didn't give up and made a comeback.  

Winterhalter studied violin at the New England Conservatory of Music, played saxophone and sang in two choirs.  He became an arranger for Tommy Dorsey and Count Basie and arranged and conducted recording sessions for singers including Dinah Shore.  In 1948, Winterhalter was named musical director at MGM Records.  In 1950, he signed with RCA Victor and arranged sessions for Perry Como, Eddie Fisher and the Ames Brothers.

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