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Ten Great Rock & Pop Instrumentals

Sure who needs a vocalist? 'Nobody!' might be your reply after one of those rare occasions when your ears are exposed to the memorable moment that is a great Rock or Pop instrumental. Here's a selection of ten such fine senza voce moments, as nominated by various visitors to CLUAS.

Beastie Boys 'Flutterman's Rule'

Jan Hammer 'Crockett's theme'

The key to this tune is its simplicity. It started with that pounding, distorted bass line and then - BANG! - what sounds like an orchestra of Beasties kicks in. There's a lovely groovy feel to it brought on by the amount of shakers, bongos and other miscellaneous percussion used. And of course who can forget the funky wah-wah guitar? The tune groves along nicely until they break it down, giving the percussionists a healthy work out enticing the listener to get-down-and-funky before the band kicks in again and builds it into a cacophony of beats and grooves before the fade out. If only all music was this good. (submitted by Stephen Lynch) 1977 PortraitCattle prods couldn't get the young Jimbo up to bed on Wednesday nights during the Eighties. As soundtrack maestro Hammer's first cheesy synth bars kicked in behind the picture of two designer muppets in a convertible screaming along the Miami freeway, I (let's be honest, all of us) were glued to our seats. 20 years on, Don Johnson's facelifts remind us of how badly everything Miami Vice-related has aged, except for that cracking theme choon. Despite the crimes of Rick Wakeman, Jean-Michel Jarre and so on, this 3 minute instrumental nearly gives eighties synth music a good name. (submitted by Jim Clarke).

David Bowie - 'A new career in a new town'

Art of Noise 'Close (to the Edit)'

Cover ImageAlthough its 2 minutes and fifty seconds pivot around a great piano motif and sucking harmonica, it really is the inspired synthesizer that carries this one. And carries it to some place beyond memorable. Recorded in Berlin for 1977's 'Low' album it saw Bowie, with the guiding hand of Brian Eno, discover a new territory several years before the New Wave movement stumbled on it and decided it was worth colonising. This was succulent and tender little musical vision (and not too often did the 70s present us with something worthy of such licensed adjectives). (submitted by Eoghan O'Neill) Max Headroom:Back in 1984, this was the only Orwellian vision of the future. When I caught this video on MT USA, I knew that little girl smashing the car with a chainsaw was where the world was going. OK, so there are a few 'ba da dums' on it, but in my books it's a true instrumental, and a forerunner of so, so much else. True Pop always has that annoying nonsense quality, and this had it in spades. Trevor Horn and Anne Dudley have since come out from behind the masks, and last year's album 'The Seduction of Claude Debussy' is an absolute must have.  (submitted by Jack Murphy)

Harold Faltermeyer 'Axel F'

Rainbow 'Maybe Next Time'

Cover ImageAs the current revival is reminding us, there were a lot of things in the Eighties that were inexplicably cool - one of which a bespectacled, middle-aged man, surrounded by 33 keyboards and synthesisers, belting out the tune to the Beverly Hills Cop movies. Quite why he needed the abundance of machinery at his disposal remains a mystery, but there's no denying the catchiness of this song, synonymous with an Eddie Murphy grin. If you were there, there's bound to be a few memory cells in your head maintaining their devotion. Reinforced, of course, by the failed yuppie stockbroker next to you on the bus who's ringing mobile phone plays it  incessantly in a vain attempt to relive those glorious days... (submitted by Ian Stalvies) Cover ImageEx-Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore founded his own outfit, Rainbow, in the mid-1970s. They went on to enjoy considerable success before Purple's reunion in 1984. Recognised as one of the earliest and most innovative guitar heroes or 'axemen' of hard rock, this slow and moving five-minute instrumental illustrates perfectly Blackmore's capacity to produce some of the most moving instrumental electric guitar around. That he managed to create his own distinctive sound is testament enough to this. Atmospheric and moody, this piece is built on steadily by Don Airey's keyboards and Bob Rondinelli's drums. In a word, sublime. (submitted by Willy Jenks)

The Beach Boys 'Trombone Dixie'

My Bloody Valentine 'Only Shallow'

Cover ImageRecorded in November 1965 just before the sessions that spawned 'Pet Sounds' kicked off, this unadulterated gem only saw the light of day in 1990. Its many charms - carefully layered under bells, tom-toms, trombones, trumpets, lips of bass and the slightest suggestion of a keyboard - it seems just didn't cut the mustard with Brian Wilson at the time. Catch its majesty as one of the bonus tracks on recent CD releases of 'Pet Sounds'. A curious sense of mystery hides under the optimism of its chorus. (submitted by Eoghan O'Neill) Cover ImageOk it isn't really an instrumental but the vocal is inaudible and Kevin Shields himself said that the voice was only used as another instrument. The song lurches between (believe me this is hard to define) what sounds like the sound of somebody pulling there hair out and wrecking a room and a soft part that sounds blissed out, post orgasm only more gentle and sleepy yet fully aware. Wow. (submitted by Kevin Fitton)

Michael Schenker Group
'Into the Arena'

Pink Floyd
'Obscured by Clouds /
When You're In'

Michael Schenker, German-born and founding member of the Scorpions, created some of the most crucial and melodic hard rock around the mid-1970s with British band UFO. He was also noteworthy for introducing rock fans to the distinctive "Flying V" guitar. Having gone solo in 1979, this aggressive four minute instrumental perfectly showcases the talent that Schenker has, not to mention the rest of his band. The track displays a range of moods and speeds, but the fast-paced soloing and distinctive guitar sound makes yer hair stand on end - not 'alf! (submitted by Willie Jenks) 'Taken as a whole, Pink Floyd's 'Obscured By Clouds' LP marked the moment when a good band became great band. Soundtrack to the forgotten French flick 'La Vallee' it introduced us to a new Floyd. Gone were Syd's whimsical but poignant lyrics and playing. In came a new sense of urgency; angry at the past but open to the present and future. The opening instrumental salvo of the title track and 'When You're In' are pointers to what was and what will be. The drone of the keyboards alongside sombre Gilmour guitar and almost sampled Mason drums in "obscured.." peters out to be replaced by the blast of angry intent that is "when you're in". The drums crash, the bass burns. The band get to know each other once more. Classy rock instrumentals both, combined they make a powerful and evocative peep at what was to come later on in the decade. Don't buy this album on remastered CD though, they silenced the drum sound for some reason, search out the pre '95 version of the CD or the trusty old tape version. (submitted by Ronan Casey)

 

Also make sure you check out the other ten lists:
(bullet) ten great film soundtracks
(bullet) ten great one-hit wonders
(bullet) ten great hidden album tracks
(bullet) ten great b-sides
(bullet) ten great debut albums
(bullet) ten great naff songs of the eighties
(bullet) ten great cover versions
(bullet) ten great album openers
(bullet) ten great Irish singles that time forgot

 

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