by Pat Jacobs
Many rock critics and historians have viewed this genre as a
novelty, but I and many others disagree: the instrumental may not be the
"darling" of '60s music retrospectives, but their impact is no less
The heyday of instrumentals were from 1960-until 1964. There was a
brief revival in 1968 (Several hit no.1 or were top 10 smashes).
Rock instrumentals were originally performed by R + B dance groups
in the 1950s, such as Bill Doggett or King Curtis. These bands wanted to
engage in and focus on uninhibited jam sessions, while their audiences
wanted to focus on drinking and dancing. (I suppose instrumental music's
more conducive to this function; a vocalist or a singing group would
require attentive listening.)
By the late '50s, instrumental groups and solo artists were
becoming very popular. ("Tequila" by The Champs (1958), for example, was
a no.1 hit for five weeks!)
The instrumental offered an alternative to the teen idol and pop sound.
And this genre rarely had copycats or imitators.
Many DJs used the instrumental often as a lead-in to news or weather
segments, which meant more airplay.
1960s instrumental hits can be broadly classified into two styles
or categories: instrumental pop (easy listening) and instrumental rock
The rock ones often featured a simple riff, a catchy melody line, some
electronic gimmickry, or a combination of all three.
Examples of pop might include "Classical Gas" (1968) by Mason
Williams, "The In Crowd"(1965)-Ramsey Lewis, Soulful Strut" (Dec,
1968-early 1969) by Young-Holt Unlimited, "Exodus" by Ferrante and
Teicher (Dec. 1960-early 1961), and Paul Mauriat's "Love Is Blue" (1968)
Rock hits might include "Tequila", "Wipe Out"(1963) by The Surfaris,
"Green Onions" (1962)-Booker T. and The MGs, and The Ventures' "Hawaii
"Walk, Don't Run", also by The Ventures, became not only a no. 2 smash in
1960, but a milestone in instrumental music history. The quartet became
the most successful instrumental act of the rock era, (I
always thought it was Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass!) and a role
model/prototype for their contemporaries and others that followed. Their
albums even outsold their singles, and the group gained an international
market, particularly Europe and Japan. There were even Ventures songbooks
with play-along discs to help aspiring musicians.
The surfing craze (1962-1964) gave new energy to the genre from
such groups as The Chantays and Dick Dale and The Deltones.
Due to competition from other genres (the girl group sound, dance crazes,
Motown, etc.), the instrumental was declining. And it would be the
British Invasion that caused its demise.
But during the year 1968, this genre enjoyed a great revival, of sorts:
"Love Is Blue" by Paul Mauriat was a no. 1 smash, as was "Grazing In The
Grass" by Hugh Masakela. Hugo Montenegro had a no. 2 smash with "The
Good, The Bad, and The Ugly", from the Clint Eastwood film of the same
name, as did Cliff Nobles and Company with "The Horse". And Young-Holt
Unlimited capped off the year with "Soulful Strut", a no. 3 smash in Dec.
The biggest instrumental hit of the '60s was "Theme From A Summer
Place" by Percy Faith (and his orchestra). This was a no. 1 smash for 9
weeks in 1960.
The top instrumental of all time was "Cherry Pink And Apple
Blossom White" by Perez Prado (and his orchestra), a no. 1 smash for 10
weeks in 1955.
Some of the genre's greatest stars and notable artists also include:
Duane Eddy (with his backup group, The Rebels) was influenced by the gift
of a Chet Atkins album at 17. He was known for his trademark bass-heavy,
twangy guitar sound and was often billed as "Duane Eddy and His Twangy
Guitar". Eddy had a total of 15 Top 40 hits from 1958-1963. His biggest
were "Rebel Rouser"(no. 6, 1958) and "Because They're Young" (no. 4,
1960). (I'm not sure, but it may be Duane Eddy on the Nancy Sinatra hit,
"These Boots Are Made For Walking"-1966.)
Sandy Nelson was a drummer. His biggest hits were "Teen Beat" (no.
4, 1959) and "Let There Be Drums" (no. 7, 1961). He later became a studio
Elvis Presley's original bassist, Bill Black, (He was Bill of
"Scotty and Bill" on Presley's Sun recordings.) formed Bill Black's
Combo, and had several hits throughout the decade, such as "White Silver
Sands" (1960) and "Smokie -Part 2" (late 1950-early 1960).
James Brown's backup band, The JBs, rode the "Night Train" to no.
35 in 1962 and took "The Popcorn" to no. 30 in 1969, among others. On the
B side of some vocal hits, there would often be an instrumental version
Booker T. and The MGs (Booker T. Jones and The Memphis Group, who
were formerly The Mar-Keys. MG and former Mar-Key members Steve Cropper
and Donald "Duck" Dunn would become very instrumental (pardon the pun!)
in putting Stax Records on the map, writing and producing hit songs for
many of the label's artists.) had the no. 3 smash "Green Onions" in 1962
and continued with other hits throughout the decade, including "Hip
Hug-Her" (no. 37, 1967), "Groovin" (no. 21, also '67), and "Soul-Limbo"
(no. 17, 1968).
Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass were one of instrumental music's
most popular groups. Alpert was already a key figure in the Los Angeles
pop scene. He and Lou Adler produced Jan and Dean and co-wrote "Wonderful
World" with Sam Cooke. "A Taste Of Honey", "The Lonely Bull", "Zorba The
Greek", and "Spanish Flea" are just a few of the many now classic
material this group put out. There was even a sound-alike group called
The Baja Marimba Band!
Floyd Cramer played piano on all of Elvis Presley's early RCA
recordings. His hits included "Last Date", a no. 2 smash in 1960, "On The
Rebound" no. 4 , 1961), and "San Antonio Rose" (no. 8, also in 1961).
Ferrante and Teicher (Arthur Ferrante and Louis Teicher), of the full,
two-piano sound, took "Theme From The Apartment" to no. 10 in 1960.
"Exodus" was a no. 2 smash in Dec. 1960-early 1961. "Tonight" went to no.
8 in '61, while "Midnight Cowboy" returned the duo to the top ten (at no.
10!) in 1969.
German orchestra leader/composer Bert Kaempfert produced the 1st
Beatles recording! His "Wonderland By Night" was a no. 1 smash in 1960.
"Tenderly" was a top 40 hit in 1961 (no. 31), and "Red Roses For A Blue
Lady" went to no. 11 in 1965.
The Ramsey Lewis Trio were one of the best instrumental jazz
groups of the decade. "The In Crowd" was a no. 5 smash in 1965. ( This
was an instrumental version of the vocal hit by Dobie Gray.) "Hang On
Sloopy" went to no. 11, also from '65. "Wade In The Water" was a top 20
hit from 1966 (no. 19).
Henry Mancini (with orchestra and chorus) holds the record as the
all-time Grammy winner-20 awards to date. His biggest hits were "Moon
River" (no. 11, 1961, from the film "Breakfast At Tiffany's" and "Love
Theme From Romeo And Juliet", a no. 1 in 1969. But he's known for so many
others, such as "Days Of Wine And Roses", "The Pink Panther Theme",
"Charade", and "Mr. Lucky".
Johnny and The Hurricanes (Johnny Paris, leader) did instrumental
versions of old standards. "Red River Rock" was a version of "Red River
Valley", which was a no. 5 smash in 1959. The no. 15 hit , "Beatnik
Fly"(1960), was an adaptation of "Blue Tail Fly.". Other hits for the
group included "Down Yonder" , "Revival", and "You Are My Sunshine".
"Out Of Limits" was a no. 3 smash in late 1963-early 1964 for The
Marketts. "Surfer's Stomp" was a top 40 hit in '62 (no. 17), but the
delightful "Balboa Blue" (also from '62) didn't make the top 40. (This
should have been a top 10 hit; it's that good! ) "Batman Theme" was
another hit for the group in 1966 ( no. 17).
The brother duo of Santo and Johnny (Farina) had a no. 1 smash
with "Sleep Walk" (1959). Other hits included "Tear Drop"(1959),
"Caravan"(1960), "Hop Scotch"(1961), and "I'll Remember (In The Still Of
The Night)" (1964).
And an instrumental honorable mention should be given to The Fireballs
(Yes, THE Fireballs with Jimmy Gilmer), who had "Bulldog" (no. 24, 1960)
and "Quite A Party" (no. 27, 1961), Them (Yes, THE Them with Van
Morrison), who charted with "Mystic Eyes" (no. 33, 1965), and Junior
Walker and The All Stars, who had several instrumental hits ( including
"Cleo's Mood" and "Cleo's Back") as well as vocal ones.
In addition to all the above mentioned, The Bar-Kays, B. Bumble
and The Stingers, Mr. Acker Bilk, Dave "Baby" Cortez, Vince Guaraldi
Trio, Al Hirt, Cannonball Adderley, The Dave Brubeck Quartet (featuring
Paul Desmond on sax, I believe; I always thought that their hit "Take
Five" was a Top 10 smash, but it only reached no. 25 in 1961.), Lonnie
Mack, Link Wray( and His Ray Men), Bill Pursell, Boots Randolph, Nelson
Riddle, David Rose, The Meters, Jimmy Smith, and The T-Bones, plus others
too numerous to all mention here, through their innovative talent, have
made the instrumental a timeless, enduring part of the 1960s.