No vocals? No problem.
Is music without any words any good? I don't see how that's possible. Hee hee.
In this guest column, Owl Meat takes a look at some of the more memorable instrumental tunes from the past few decades:
There is a lot of instrumental music out there, but very few songs break through as hits. It helps if they have a catchword like "tequila" or are linked to something visual, like the opening of Hawaii Five-0, a Pee Wee Herman dance, or hillbilly sodomy.
Here are my wildly subjective highlights:
Most awesome: Edgar Winter Group's "Frankenstein" (1973). Add the visual of a giant albino wearing an early 1970s keyboard synthesizer and it's frothy with awesome.
Goofiest: "Hocus Pocus" by Focus (1971) – Yodeling Dutch dude, gleeful screaming, ah aaaah aaaah aaaaaaaaahhhhhh ...
Best liquor instrumental: "Tequila!" by The Champs (1958). It was a throwaway "B" side for another artist's single. This song survives because Pee Wee Herman did a weird dance to it and its one word lyric is fun to yell in a bar.
Best surf rock: "Hawaii Five-O" by The Ventures (1969). Iconic.
Song most changed by its context in a movie: "Dueling Banjos" from Deliverance (1972).
Most catchy/annoying: "Popcorn" by Hot Buttered (1972). Synth-pop is born.
Most brilliant: Jimi Hendricks' version of the Star Spangled Banner at Woodstock (1969). Feedback and a screaming guitar becomes a political statement. I just figured that out.
Most pretentious: King Crimson's "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" (1973, 1984, 2000). Robert Fripp's acid trip noise odyssey of beautiful wretched excess. This song was released in three parts over the course of 27 years. Part 1 is trippy excess. Part 2 is droning, rhythmic, atonal, mesmerizing, bordering on industrial. I love it.
The problem with instrumental music is that it's hard to identify songs that don't have a words. I love some of Jeff Beck work, but I have no idea what they are named. Here's one of my favorites: "Cause We've Ended as Lovers" (2007). While Eric Clapton could make his guitar gently weep, Beck's guitar is having a full-on emotional breakdown.
Instrumentals were popular in the 1950s and 1960s, but seemed to peak in the 1970s. Some of those were novelties that capitalized on new electronic techniques and instruments. I can't think of many recent hits, maybe you can.
Did I forget to mention Yanni? Yes I did.(Photo by Getty Images)