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Best Rock Instrumentals

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by Steven G (subscribe)
Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler...Former teacher... Scientist... Published author... Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published October 7th 2018
Sometimes words don't matter
A lot of my readers have – quite fairly, it must be said – said I focus a lot on stories, on words. Well, sure I do. I'm a writer by trade (60 short stories and poems published and counting…) and words are my tools. And when it comes to songs, I have a real thing for good lyrics, and conversely, hate lyrics that mean nothing. And I really dislike it when, on those so-called reality music shows, they get kids to sing songs that are totally lyrically inappropriate. I once heard two judges argue about it on Australian Idol, and the judge who said words don't matter is a fool for thinking that. Of course, they matter! [/rant]

However, the music of a song is also incredibly important. Sometimes a song is made by the music. For example, AC/DC's song 'Big Balls' is a puerile song lyrically, made listenable by the musicianship of the band around it (and that includes the vocal stylings of Bon Scott). Does that mean that for some songs, lyrics are not important? Well… could be…
band, music
Yeah, singers are over-rated (pexels)

And thus that leads us to this column. This is a list of my favourite rock instrumentals. Now, of course, some rules. No words at all, which, unfortunately, disqualifies Elton John's quite marvellous 'Song For Guy'. Also, no classical music, unless played by a rock band, and no jazz (sorry, jazz aficionados). A maximum of one per artist. And finally, the songs have to have been recorded as instrumentals for an album, not used live, or just recorded for a live album. Apart from that, the only other thing is that I like it.

So, what missed out? Honourable mentions include: 'Fanfare For The Common Man' by Emerson, Lake and Palmer; 'Walk Don't Run' by The Ventures; 'Classical Gas' by Mason Williams; 'Jessica' by The Allman Brothers Band; 'Arrival' by Abba; 'Vultan's Theme' by Queen; 'Henpecked' by Col Joye's Joy Boys, 'Dance With The Devil' by Cozy Powell; 'Edge Of Darkness' by Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen; 'Sling Shot' by Jeff Beck With Terry Bozzio & Tony Hymas; 'Theme From Local Hero' by Mark Knopfler; 'Wonderful Land' by Mike Oldfield; 'Mozart Sonata #3' by Scatterbrain, 'Bumble Boogie' by B.Bumble and the Stingers; 'Lily Was Here' by Dave Stewart and Candy Dulfer… Holy cow! So many awesome tracks!

Now, let's hit that list!
guitar, music, musician
A man and a guitar - perfect (pixabay)

'Apache' by The Shadows
Cliff Richards' backing band released a string of fantastic instrumentals from the 1960s onwards. Led by Hank Marvin's jangling guitar, this track has become iconic. And who of us from the 1980s, when a Shadows greatest hits album was advertised on TV, hasn't played along like the kid in the advert on a cricket bat air guitar?

'Let There Be Drums' by Sandy Nelson
Without this there never would have been Cream's 'Toad' or Led Zeppelin's 'Moby Dick'. The first rock drummer to make an impact, his rhythm and fills were deceptively simple, and yet incredibly mesmerising. A track that is apparently forgotten in this day and age, which is a damn shame.

no official video – sorry)

'Wipeout' by The Surfaris
Another drum-heavy track, but one that is way better known today than Sandy Nelson's and more complex, as well as more, shall we say, show-off-y. I played this on a stereo in a class for some students many years ago who had never heard it before and, I'm serious, by the end of it half the class were air-drumming along to it. It is infectious and it is awesome.

again, no official video – sorry)

'Eruption' by Van Halen
Eddie Van Halen hammering at the guitar fretboard like a manic keyboard player and getting the sounds a million heavy metal guitarists ever since have been trying to emulate… and failing. This is the quintessential hard rock guitar track. For full-on electric guitar maestro-ness, you will not find anything finer than this.

live in 1994 video)

'Initiation' by Tommy Emmanuel
Now, I have talked about this track before, but it still holds true. This is a perfect use of an acoustic guitar. Now, there are a number of Tommy Emmanuel tracks I could have chosen, and it came down to this and 'Rise And Fall Of Flingel Bunt', but how can you go past this track? And, as I have mentioned before, seeing it live is even more amazing.

(live version video)

'Misirlou' by Dick Dale
The king of the surf guitar is how he was known, and this track is the highlight of his extensive back catalogue. Its staccato guitar is what he heard when he was riding the waves, and it is still relevant today. Want proof? Play it to a millennial and they'll recognise it from the Black Eyed Peas' track 'Pump It'. Timeless.

'Red River Rock' by Johnny And The Hurricanes
Now we have the epitome of wild organ playing and lead saxophone added to some cool guitar licks. This is an explosion of musicianship that really didn't have any followers, as prog rock saw keyboardists get more fiddley, and then piano players became singer-songwriters. But, really, this would have been hard to follow by anyone.

'The Loner' by Gary Moore
And let's slow it down and go into blues mode. As a guitarist, Gary Moore was underrated by the public, although his fellow guitarists always appreciated his talent. I first heard of him as a member of Thin Lizzy, and then he had that great track with Phil Lynott 'Out In The Fields', and so I bought his albums as soon as they were released. Wild Frontier (1987) is where this lives. I wore out my cassette version of the song, bought the 12" single, and then the album was one of the first I got on CD. The notes are clean and clear and as full of emotion as the voice of any singer. This track is simply beautiful.

'D.T.' by AC/DC
And that leads us nicely into this track from the Who Made Who album, from the soundtrack of the film Maximum Overdrive. Slow and measured, especially by AC/DC's standards, it is just a showcase for Angus Young's ability to play the guitar at something other than a hundred miles an hour. And, look, I'll be honest, I'm not sure why I like it. I just do. This track, by the way, always brings to mind an old mate from high school Chiz, who convinced me to give this track a go. Thanks, mate; I owe you one.

(movie scene version)

'Rebel Rouser' by Duane Eddy
Much like Tommy Emmanuel, so many tracks to choose from. It came down to this and 'Kickin' Asphalt', but I went for the better-known track, mainly because it is one track I just stop what I'm doing whenever I hear it. The slow build-up to a full-on party is a fantastic difference in the track (and, no, I don't consider the background people to be vocals) as well.

(video from a Dick Clark TV show)

And now, because it is my list, number 11.

'Toccata' by Sky.
Simply put, this is my favourite instrumental piece ever. Bach's Toccata and Fugue re-imagined as a drum and guitar and keyboard masterclass. Words cannot do justice to this piece. Just listen to it… that's all I ask.

guitar, music, musician
Considering I can't sing, this list is important to me...

So… what did I miss? What did I get wrong? Comment below!

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Why? Sometimes you don't need words
Where: Everywhere
Your Comment
Steve, another great article - albeit a contentious one! Put Mark Knopfler's "Local Hero" into this list immediately!
by May Cross (score: 3|5489) 424 days ago
Tommy Emmanuel - the best Australian Guitarist. Nathan Cavalleri his protégé. RIP Phil Emmanuel - gone too soon.
by Gloria (score: 2|283) 424 days ago
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