Thursday, February 16, 2006

Top 10 All-time Best Rock and Roll Instrumentals

Man. This was harder than I thought it was going to be. I found it near impossible to limit this list to just 10 songs, but, somehow I did it.

To offer some explanation as to how I came about with my results, I followed a few different criteria. First, I asked myself, just how catchy is the song? How listenable and re-listenable is the song? Then I asked, how complex is the song? How much musical ability is evidenced in the tune? I then asked how influential is the song is. How many places have I heard this song? How many musicians do I know or have heard of that list this musician/song as an inspiration?

Last on my list of criteria is how much do I like the song? You know, there might have been some songs that should have been on my master list that weren't there, but it's my list. If you don't like it, make your own contest.

So, without further ado, here's the list (click on the title for a 20-40 second clip of the song):

10. Orion - Metallica
What can be said about this song that hasn't already? It's the definitive metal instrumental. It was played at their first bassist, Cliff Burton's funeral.

The album topped at #29 in The Billboard 200, but no songs from the album hit the charts.

9. Stream of Consciousness - Dream Theater
As big a fan as I am of Dream Theater, it should be no surprise that I chose one of their songs for the list. I do feel they deserve it though. As far as influence, every progressive band that has come out in the past 10 years lists DT as an influence. As far as musical ability, well, I am of the opinion that there are none better, as a band.

It was still a hard decision to narrow it down to one song. I love Overture 1928, but I felt that this song edged it out musically. I also almost chose Liquid Tension's When the Water Breaks for sheer musicality, but just wasn't well-known enough. At 11 minutes and 16 seconds SoC offers a tour de force trip though a variety of styles, sometimes whimsical, always very Dream Theater.

The album Train of Thought topped out at #53 on The Billboard 200.

8. Journey of the Sorcerer - The Eagles
I had to put this entry in here. While it is certainly a good song, the real reason it is on this list is because I'm a HUGE Douglas Adams geek and no instrumental Top 10 list is complete without this song, in my opinion. So, as stated earlier, it's my list, dammit!

The album One of These Nights topped the Pop Albums charts at #1 in 1975. Lying Eyes off the album won a Grammy that year.

7. Walk Don't Run - The Ventures
A great story from Wikipedia's entry on the Ventures:

The story behind their selection of Walk Don't Run provides some insight into the distinction between technical virtuousity, versus the essential elements of a wildly successful Pop-Music hit. Bob Bogle, original lead guitarist, cites Chet Atkins as one of his early influences. Bogle bought the Chet Atkins LP, Hi Fi Guitar which featured Atkins' fingerstyle rendition of a song originally written by the great jazz guitarist, Johnny Smith. Within Atkins' elaborate and laid-back delivery of "Walk Don't Run", Bogle found inspiration. He stated years later there was no way his "pedestrian" guitar skills would allow him to play it the same as Chet Atkins did, so he and Wilson worked out a highly energized, very much simplified arrangement, and a Rock & Roll Classic was born! Another Chet Atkins inspired guitarist covered "Walk Don't Run" on his album Quantum Guitar in 1998, none other than Yes guitarist Steve Howe.

6. Wipe Out - The Surfaris's short bio on the Surfari's says this about Wipe Out:

...the number two 1963 hit that ranks as one of the great rock instrumentals, featuring a classic up-and-down guitar riff and a classic solo drum roll break, both of which were emulated by millions (the number is no exaggeration) of beginning rock & rollers.

It's that influential. What more can you really say, except to add a Jeff Spicoli influence, "Whoa!"

5.Classical Gas - Mason Williams
What a big sounding song! At first you almost think it's going to be some medieval throwback and then it just kicks it open. A huge song that is greatly composed.

The song won three Grammy awards in 1968 and was again a hit in 1987 when Williams re-recorded the song with Mannheim Steamroller.

4. Little Wing - Stevie Ray Vaughn
I can't say anything better about this song than Dean Esmay said in the comments section at his place:
"But I'd say that 'Little Wing' is his single greatest accomplishment instrumentally. It's amazing that they kept it in a vault and only released it posthumously. It's simply astounding from start to finish, and exceeds any cover of that song I've ever heard, including both the Derek &The Dominos version(which I love) or Jimi's own original.

And by the way, occasionally I hear some snotty punk say Stevie was 'just a hot dog.' All I can do is ask them to listen to "Little Wing" and then ask them to explain that."

The song charted at #26 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks Billboard in 1992. Two years after his death.

3. Green Onions - Booker T and the MGs
As the house band as Stax Records, Booker T and the MGs can be heard on some of the most influential soul and RB albums of the '60s. But what is perhaps more important is the instrumental work they did. Green Onions is one of the most listenable, catchy tunes ever written. This is due in large part to Steve Cropper's economical guitar work and Booker T. Jone's floating organ playing. A testament to taste and ability, this song is a vital part of our musical compendium.

The song topped out at #3 on the Pop Charts in 1962, but hit #1 on the Black Songs charts.

2. Sleep Walk - Santo and Johnny (performed by Joe Satriani)
How hauntingly beautiful is this song? Once you hear it, it sticks with you and remains infinitely listenable. A slow, jazzy, in the mood kind of song.

Released in 1959, the song reached #1 on the Billboard charts in August of that year and again in 1982 for Larry Carlton.

1. Frankenstein - Edgar Winters Group
How often do you hear this song on classic rock stations? Even if you don't know the name of this song, you've been inspired by it. Not only is this a very serious musical number, it's fun but not to the point of frolicking. To me, it is the very definition of the rock instrumental. It immediately sets the theme and there is some great interplay between the different instruments without getting tiring.

Released in 1973, this Billboard #1 song is as vital today as it ever was.


Thanks to all who played. Dean Esmay provided the closest list, though I didn't really expect anyone to get too close. He names six of the 10 I named and our numbers 3 and 6 were the same, so I'm pretty impressed how close someone came.

In a way, I’m kind of disappointed now that I’ve actually settled on a list. So, I will say that this is, at best, subject to change at any time. In fact, I believe I have decided to make this list a biannual event -- and I will be tweaking the master list a bit.

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