Instrumentals are musical pieces that do not feature a vocalist. In fact they may have no lyrics at all, just a beautiful melody, perhaps an orchestral backing, and possibly a few background singers contributing "ooooooo" or "aaaaaaahhhh." They are not all slow tunes either. You DO remember "Tequila" by the Champs? How about the other mega-hit by the Champs...the one you recognize when you hear it but can't recall the title OR that it was recorded by the Champs? Yes...THAT one: Train to Nowhere.
I have compiled a list of some of my favorites below. These are an essential part of the Baby Boomer life soundtrack. You don't hear them anymore because the so-called "oldies" radio stations don't play them...their playlists are soooooo limited. Good luck finding a regular DJ who has them in his/her library.
Some of these are slow, simmering pieces, potentially precipitating the administration of Viagra/Sildenafil. They may be that perfect moment in a dance party after a series of uptempo tunes ( i.e. empty dance floor + subdued lighting...or just moonlight.) Others in the list are classic dance-monster, high cardio tunes that get everyone gyrating.
If you see a glaring omission in my list, send it along in the field at the bottom of this blog entry.
1. Tequila / The Champs - 1958 Well of course, this IS the king of all uptempo instrumentals!
2. Our Winter Love / Bill Pursell - 1963 This song is proof that the British are the undisputed kings of the hauntingly beautiful string / piano arrangement. Didn't really get traction in the US. Too bad, because it is soooooo beautiful. Click THIS and see if you don't agree.
3. Wonderland by Night / Bert Kaempfert - 1961 This tune spent 3 weeks at #1 on the charts and established Bert Kaempfert as the king of pop trumpet until Herb Alpert exploded on the scene. What can you say but "wow." Click THIS and take a listen.
4. The Happy Organ / Dave "Baby" Cortez -1959 I just love this tune! Dave Cortez was a Detroit R&B organist who recorded this cheerful little tune that went on to become the first organ instrumental to hit #1 on the charts. Dave followed this tune with another #1 hit "Rinky Dink" which you dance-skated to if you went to any roller skating rink in the US in the early sixties. (By the way, Rinky Dink is almost note-for-note the same as substantial portions of 1957's hit "Love is Strange" by Mickey and Sylvia...right down to the guitar riff. How did lawyers not jump all over this? Lawyers, bah!) Click HERE for "The Happy Organ" and HERE for "Rinky Dink."
5. Maria Elena / Los Indios Tabajaras - 1958 This one takes a little 'splaining." The song was originally composed by a Mexican songwriter in 1938. It was dedicated to the wife of the wife of the President of Mexico at the time. It was picked up by American arrangers, English lyrics were added, and it was a hit for the great Bob Eberly and the Jimmy Dorsey orchestra. The version I like is the spartan guitar arrangement recorded by Los Indios Tabajaras in 1958. It is very exotic. Very sexy. I play this later in the evening, after a series of uptempo pieces. It always brings out at least one couple who then "own the dance floor" while other couples look on enviously. This is one of those tunes whose name and artist escape you...but you remember it well. Give it a listen HERE.
6. The Lonely Surfer / Jack Nitzsche - 1963 Jack Nitzsche was all over the 60s and 70s. A musician, arranger, producer, songwriter, and film score composer, Nitzsche was a fixture in the recording of many of the hits by the Stones, the Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young & Crazyhorse, and was an associate of Phil Spector. The Lonely Surfer isn't really a dance tune, but I play it in the wind-up to the kickoff of dance parties because it is just so frickin' cool. You never hear it anymore. Well, hear it now by clicking HERE. (Now you know what cooooool sounded like in 1963. Must be all those french horns, or that totally bitchin' bass line)
7. Last Night / The Mar-Keys - 1961 Man, I don't even know where to start with this monster hit and the legends that recorded it. Last Night is the official theme of all Boomer Dance Parties. It is just so awesome, so totally bitchin' that it is amazing that people don't just explode in flames when they hear it. It kicks your ass and drags you out to the dance floor where you make a complete fool of yourself. Amen. You say you never heard of the Mark-Keys? They were session musicians at Stax records in Memphis Tennessee. Yes, THAT Stax records. Maybe these names ring a bell: Lewie Steinberg. Steve Cropper. Booker T (who was replaced by Isaac Hayes) Packy Axton. Wayne Jackson. Oh yeah...the band that evolved into Booker T. and the MGs. Damn! They could have their own "Instrumentals" blog article. Put your drink down, loosen your tie, and listen to THIS: Oh hell yes.
8. Ladyfingers / Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass - 1965 Herb Alpert redefined instrumental music in the mid 60s. He started out recording himself on trumpet, then overdubbing himself with slight key differences to create the "Tijuana Brass" sound. It was only when his recordings took off due to airplay on LA radio stations that he hired a team of crack session men so he could play live performances and boom...Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass was born. Album after album of wickedly fun, artistically brilliant arrangements. Herb Alpert took mariachi-inspired trumpet music and created his own genre of pop music that stands alone. His discography is what genius sounds like. I love EVERYTHING he recorded, but when I need a slow, sultry romantic sure-thing, Ladyfingers is IT. Listen HERE.
9. Moon River / Henry Mancini - 1961 Okay, Moon river is not technically an instrumental. With gorgeous lyrics by Johnny Mercer, Moon River was written specially by Mancini for Audrey Hepburn to sing in "Breakfast at Tiffany's. (He wrote it because he needed a song that was not beyond the limited singing skill of Hepburn.) A masterpiece of emotion that flows from the marriage of wistful lyrics and evocative melody, there is no question that this treasure in waltz time is part of the heart and soul of the baby boomer experience. Just writing about this song makes my eyes tear up. I don't know why. Maybe it's the harmonica. Maybe I have lived too long and seen too much. So many memories. For now, just enjoy THIS. Thank you Henry.