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Top 10 Instrumental Songs from the ’60s
There is little argument that no other decade gave rise to so many different genres and musical acts as the 1960’s. From the music that helped fuel the counter culture revolution, to the influence of the British invasion, the plethora of musical diversity is countless but not to be lost is the significance of the instrumental song. Though there could be a list of the 100 greatest instrumental tracks, here is a personal selection of what are considered to be both commercially successful and critically acclaimed tracks that happen to be some of my favorites songs ever. Enjoy!
Like a number of other songs from this decade (including a couple on this list), this particular instrumental song was a recorded version of a song with lyrics. The “Theme from A Summer Place” was written by Mack Discant, with the music by Max Steiner, an Austrian composer of music for film and theater. The name of the song comes from the 1959 motion picture for which it was created (obviously), but the most popular version of this song was recorded by Percy Faith, a Canadian conductor. Faith’s version spent an (at the time) record nine consecutive weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in 1960, as well as snagged a Grammy Award for Record of the Year the following year. Of all the covers of this song, Faith’s version stands alone in both critical acclaim and overwhelming popularity.
Quite possibly the least well-known of all the songs (by name) on this list, despite it’s continuing play in today’s school marching bands , The Horse is a song by Cliff Nobles and Company, released in 1968. Like the previous song, The Horse is the instrumental version of the A-side single “Love is All Right”. The Horse reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and sold a million copies within three months of its release. A unique distinction of The Horse is that the title singer, Cliff Nobles, doesn’t actually perform on the track since his vocals are actually featured on the track Love is All Right. Cliff Nobles had previously recorded three singles with Atlantic Records before moving on to Soul Records and breaking through with The Horse, his most successful song and one of my personal favorites.
L’amour est blue, or Love is Blue, is a song composed by AndrÃ© Popp, a French composer and arranger. The lyrics were written by Pierre Cour in 1967, but the most popular cover (at least in the US) was recorded by Paul Mauriat, in 1968. There were English lyrics written for Love is Blue by Brian Blackburn, and they were included in at least one cover of the song recorded by Greek singer Vicky (Vicky Leandros). The song itself describes love in terms of colors and elements. Paul Mauriat’s version of Love is Blue sold over a million copies and was awarded a gold disc, in 1968. The song has become one of the most covered tracks in musical history, but Mauriat’s versions continues to be used in television and motion pictures to this day.
Certainly the most storied song on this list, Misirlou is an internationally famous and popular Greek song that has been around for at least 80 years in recorded history. The first performance of Misirlou took place in Athens in the traditional and urban Greek folk style, Rebetiko. By 1962, when Dick Dale rearranged the song into the guitar classic so well known today, Misirlou had international recognition already, but the change in tempo that Dale was so successful in accomplishing (on a bet no less) helped make it an instant classic. When Dale’s version of Misirlou was used in 1994’s Pulp Fiction, a new young audience was introduced to the song once again for a new generation to enjoy and help make even more well known.
Another in a long string of hits from 1968, Classical Gas was both composed and performed by Mason Williams, an American composer and poet. The track has been re-recorded and re-released numerous times, but the original recording features Mason on classical guitar with the backing of an orchestra. Featured on “The Mason Williams Phonograph Record”, the track quickly rose up the charts, peaking at #2 and helping the disc on which it was featured sell more than a million copies. In 1969, Classical Gas won three Grammy Awards, including Best Instrumental Composition and Arrangement. An interesting fact about the track; it was originally titled Classical Gasoline but was shortened to Classical Gas by the music copyist.
Hugh Masakela was the first artist to record Grazing in the Grass in March of 1968, and his original version continues to hold relevance even today. Composed by Philemon Hou, the track was actually inspired by another Masakela song from earlier in his career, Mr. Bull No. 5. The song showcases Masakela’s tremendous trumpeting abilities and it’s opening cowbells have helped distinguish it for audiences through it’s existence. The song quickly became a number one hit on the Billboard charts and helped sell over four million copies. Masakela went from South African star to US sensation, thanks largely in part to the success Grazing in the Grass had, eventually leading to numerous covers, most successful of which was the vocalized cover by the Friends of Distinction the following year.
The embodiment of “surf rock”, Pipeline was recorded in late December 1962, and released in 1963. The Chantays originally called Pipeline, “Liberty’s Whip” but the track was renamed after the surfing term pipeline, referring to the crest of a wave on which a surfer is riding on goes completely over his head, landing in front of him, creating the illusion of pipe made out of water. Pipeline was a huge success, reaching #4 on the Billboard Pop charts but was the only major hit for The Chantays. The songs distinctive sound comes from the bass and rhythm guitars featured as the front leading sounds and the drums, piano and Bob Spickard’s lead guitar being buried in the stereo recorded track.
Johnny Smith created this track back in 1955, but it became a hit single in 1960, when The Ventures recorded Walk, Don’t Run for the Blue Horizon label. Like Pipeline, Walk, Don’t Run personified the rising popularity of the surf movement and was able to carry that popularity to the #2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1960. Interesting fact about Walk, Don’t Run; Skip Moore, the drummer on the track was offered the choice of $25 or a quarter of the money the song would make for playing on the session. Moore took the $25 and the song went on to become a huge hit. The song has been re-recorded as an updated cover, which also reached the charts, as well as covered by numerous other artists including Herb Alpert and Chet Atkins.
One of the most popular songs ever, Green Onions was recorded in 1962, by Booker T. and the M.G.’s. This soul instrumental features a 12-bar chord progression as well as a great organ line throughout the song. Green Onions was able to reach the #3 spot on the Billboard Hot 100, remaining on the charts for an astonishing 16 weeks. The song has maintained it’s initial popularity to this day, being both recognized for it’s musical significance and utilized in all areas of media including television and motion pictures. As an ultimate honor to the excellence of Green Onions, it was selected as #183 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All-Time.
In my opinion, the most complete and greatest instrumental song from the 1960s’, Soulful Strut is the instrumental backing from the Eugene Record written track “Am I The Same Girl”. Record’s wife, Barbara Acklin, first recorded Am I The Same Girl in 1968, but producer Carl Davis removed Acklin’s vocals and added the piano accompaniment of Floyd Morris and released the track under the title Soulful Strut. The song became a smash hit, landing in the #3 spot on the charts, in 1968. Different covers of Am I The Same Girl have had varying levels of success as recently as the 90’s, but the impact of Soulful Strut has helped create a lasting legacy in the soul instrumental genre.