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James R. Stout

Instrumentals

            I have always liked instrumentals. The fifties had quite a few great ones including songs like “Pour People of Paris”, “Tequila”, and “Sleepwalk”. But in my opinion the golden age of instrumentals was during the sixties. The decade started with an instrumental reigning the number 1 spot on Billboard for 9 weeks. It was only matched in number of weeks at number 1 by one other song during the entire decade. That song was “Hey Jude” by The Beatles. That top instrumental was by Percy Faith and His Orchestra and it was “Theme From A Summer Place”. It was by no means the only huge instrumental hit during the decade. Every year from 1960 through 1967 had instrumental hits. These ranged from classics such as “Green Onions” to several top hits by Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass. In between those were such hits as “Memphis”, “Telstar”, “Out of Limits”, “No Matter What Shape Your Stomach’s In”, “Music To Watch Girls By”, “The In Crowd”, “Exodus”, “Miserlou” “Wipe Out”, and “Wonderland By Night”.

            The breath of styles on these songs was wide ranging from a pseudo big band sound to out and out rock and roll to rhythm and blues. As many instrumental hits as there were during those years, there’s one year that to me stands out as the diamond of all time. The year? 1968. It was a stellar year for music overall. I think it was perhaps the single greatest year in popular music. I understand that is just my opinion, but when you look at the records released that year it’s awesome to contemplate. It was a great year to be 12 and 13 and buying 45 rpms. Huge songs by The Beatles, Paul Revere and The Raiders, The Animals, Simon and Garfunkel, The Grassroots, Bobby Goldsboro, Glen Campbell, Tommy James and The Shondells, Gary Puckett and The Union Gap, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, The Doors, and one hit wonders such as The People, The Human Beinz, and Blue Cheer. And, I haven’t even mentioned the instrumentals for that year yet. They were many and perhaps the best of the best all-time.

            The year started with “Love Is Blue” which was number one for 6 weeks. For most of us, it was the first time to hear the melding of an orchestra with rock drums and bass guitar. I bought it after hearing it one time. It was followed by such incredible classic instrumentals as “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly”, “Grazing In The Grass”, “Soulful-Strut”, “The Horse”, “Classical Gas”, and “Hang ‘Em High”. There were other instrumental recordings featured on albums that are now considered classics including several by David Axelrod and Spirit.

            One oddity and somewhat ironic is that the “King of Instrumentals”, Herb Alpert, scored a number 1 hit on Billboard with a non-instrumental hit called, “This Guy’s In Love With You”. Most of us were shocked that he had such a pleasing voice given we had only ever heard him play his trumpet. To his credit, he did finally score a number 1 instrumental 11 years later in 1979 with the hit “Rise”.

            I miss that era of instrumental music. I have personally written and recorded several instrumentals that were inspired by all of these mentioned here. Instrumentals still reached the top of the charts for years to come, but by the time the 1980’s came along the gold was turning green. From 1969 through 1975 there were several excellent instrumentals, but they were fewer and farther between. I particularly enjoyed early 70’s instrumentals such as “Joy” by Apollo 100, “Popcorn” by Hot Butter, “Frankenstein” by The Edgar Winter Group, and a pair of hits by Dennis Coffey, “Scorpio” and his version of “The Theme From Enter The Dragon”.

            Why write about these songs and instrumentals? Well, because it was a special time in America and in my life. The music still speaks to me today. It’s not just nostalgia either. I listen to those songs now with a different ear. I hear things that I didn’t hear 50+ years ago. Back then the songs just sounded good to me. But now I hear them and I hearing the bass players doing an amazing bass line. I hear the keyboard players doing intricate melody and counter-melody lines. I hear some of the best guitarist of all-time playing parts that were incredibly original. I hear the horn sections and the string sections and realize not only were those people top-notch, but the arrangers and composers were second to none. Just last night I was driving down the country road going home, and I had XM tuned to the 60’s channel. They played “Last Date” by Floyd Cramer and I had to crank it up. Sure, it’s been played a million times and I’ve heard it too many to count. But the way Floyd Cramer could bend notes on a piano coupled with the backing instruments and their spot-on timing and originality always grabs me. It doesn’t hurt that it was also my father’s all-time favorite song. I think of him sitting at their piano and playing that song by ear and knocking it out of the park every time. I guess it is partly nostalgia, but there’s nothing wrong with admiring the craftsmanship and musicianship that all of those records featured. Go out and listen to one tonight. Enjoy it. Oh, and while you’re at it, go to https://soundcloud.com/jrsojourn/darwin-rosies-theme and listen to my personal favorite instrumental of mine. I wrote this one and recorded it in 2016. Thanks!

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