Pop Junkie Salutes The Greatest Instrumentals in Pop History

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Before we start I dreamt last night that I had possibly contracted swine flu. However, I wasn’t in Blighty, I was somewhere out in the middle east with my hand nervously gripping a pistol ready to shoot the baddies that were surrounding me. However, they turned out to be good guys, medical experts of international repute who stated that it was their intention to bring this plague under control. As I’d just began to feel a little tickle in my throat I was inoculated on the spot. I woke up this morning cured!

Today I am going to salute the instrumental in pop. A much neglected genre these days that has been in and out of vogue since the beginning of time. Well, ye know what I mean. Popular during rock’n’roll, surf, beat, ska and Northern soul eras, to a lesser extent funk and disco, it was pretty much ignored by psychedelia, folk, punk, post-punk, indie and rap. I imagine it has lent itself to prog, house, trance and techno, but these are noises I know nothing about. The instrumental also came into its own in the world of easy listening and the world of the theme tune, both of which I shall examine on a future occasion. Today, we celebrate the instrumental in pop.

1. Haunted Castle: The Kingsmen ~ This has been one of my favourite songs of all time since I flipped over Louie Louie on my parent’s gramophone one day in 1975. This (below) is the proper version, though our copy was on the beautiful red and yellow Pye International label. By proper I mean if you buy The Very Best of The Kingsmen CD, there is a glitch in the drum break around about 2 mins 15 which wasn’t spotted by the sap who was doing the mastering. And yes, it does ruin it.

2. Groovin’ With Mr Bloe: Mr Bloe ~ “Mr Bloe” was one Harry Pitch, with a bunch of session musician pals who made this storming 1970 hit. This was rereleased c.1980 and some cloth-eared idiot in the NME said he’d heard groovier weather forecasts. Often heard as background music on the Danny Baker show and covered by The Mighty Fall on their penultimate Peel Session in 2003.

3. The Liquidator: Harry J All Stars ~ Instant party Trojan classic. Yes, it’s early reggae, but it’s also pop with a capital P. Winston Wright at the keys, Jamaica’s king of the Hammond. Adopted as a theme song by Wolves, West Brom and Chelsea, but don’t let that put you off. Apols if the youtube clips are a bit dull to the eye today.

4. Sylvia: Focus ~ Making prog almost respectable, those Dutch geniuses of overblown pop. Cheesy but I love it. Dig the great archive film too.

5. Time is Tight: Booker T & The MGs ~ Vastly superior to the lame mod classic Green Onions, this was a big hit in 1969 for the Stax supergroup and without doubt the greatest instrumental act of all time. Got a nice live version for you here despite the sound going a bit funny here & there. Also check out the flipside, the theme to Clint’s Hang ’em High, plus Red Beans ‘n’ Rice and Soul Limbo aka the cricket theme. The Hammond organ would appear to be a key element in the making of an instrumental classic.

6. Ame Caline/Soul Coaxing: Raymond Lefevre ~ Minor 1968 hit. Easy listening par excellence, this is still as pop as it gets so it qualifies. Lovely melody, written by the French pop genius Michel Polnareff.

7. Warlord: The Shadows ~ Sometimes forgotten as being the first band that wrote their own material, The Shads are undoubtedly the second greatest instrumental band of all time. Five number one hits, the world was their oyster, and then along came John, Paul, George & Ringo. I could have picked Apache, FBI, Wonderful Land or Foot Tapper but this is my favourite, Warlord, a lesser-known Top 20 hit from late ’65, recorded at about the same time as Eight Miles High. The world had moved on, but there’s a part of the pop kingdom that will forever be Shadland. This version is by a Shads trib band but it’s pretty much spot on.

8. Telstar: The Tornadoes ~ I’d better put this in because I don’t want to upset all the Joe Meek fans.. I loved this in my younger days and it still has great charm despite it being the only pop record liked by Mrs Thatcher.

9. Intermission: Blur ~ Oddly, it was this track, this wacky instrumental from Modern Life is Rubbish, that made me realise that Blur were a little bit special, even more so than the sublime For Tomorrow. I was right wasn’t I. The only selection from the past 32 years says something either about modern musicians attitude to the instrumental or about my knowledge of modern music ~ maybe a bit of both. A big fan of Air, Dirty Trip nearly made it onto this Top 10, but otherwise I was at a loss to think of anything more up to date.

10. Magic Fly: Space ~ Whilst on the subject of Air, would we have had them without this? Everyone at school loved this back in ’77, kept off the top spot for weeks on end by the recently deceased Elvis and Way Down. Just edged out Hot Butter’s Popcorn.

Those who also served: Link Wray (I have friends who will kill me for not picking a Link track), The Ventures, Russ Conway, Winifred Atwell, Mrs Mills, Floyd Cramer’s On the Rebound, Mike Vickers’ On the Brink, The Milkshakes, The Prisoners, John Barry (Bees Knees would have featured but it’s not on youtube ~ JB will feature strongly when we examine film themes), Mason Williams’ Classical Gas, Magazine’s The Thin Air, Surfari’s Wipeout and Sandy Nelson’s Let There be Drums. Comments welcome.

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