When we think of great songs, we often only think of songs with verses, choruses, and melodies. But there are plenty of incredible instrumental tracks that have become part of the fabric of pop and rock music. I’ve made a list of eight of them that are worth listening to and enjoying over and over again. I probably could have expanded this list even further, but I decided to limit the countdown to eight instrumentals.
Here are my criteria for this list: I didn’t include orchestral pieces, although one orchestra does make the list for a pure pop track. I also didn’t include scores from movies or television shows – otherwise Snuffy Walden’s amazing theme to the “Friday Night Lights” series would top the countdown – although one pop version of a film score theme made the list.
Your favorites may have made the list, or you may discover something you had forgotten about or have never heard before. Either way, you can’t go wrong with these instrumentals. Enjoy!
8. “Time Stops,” Explosions in the Sky (2000)
Explosions in the Sky is a band we’ll see more than once on this countdown. Is it cheating to include two songs by the same ensemble? Maybe so, or maybe not. Hey – my list, my rules.
The music of Explosions in the Sky takes advantage of the incredible sonic textures that multiple guitarists can bring to the table. Their albums are often cohesive wholes (or at least sides, when you listen to them on vinyl) with space within each song for twists and turns.
“Time Stops,” from the band’s first album How Strange, Innocence, is one of those songs that packs a surprise about halfway through. The first half of the piece is almost pastoral, moving along at a slow, consistent pace. Just about the time that you’re getting tired of hearing the similar sounds over and over, “Time Stops” takes off in a completely different and exciting direction.
It’s this kind of music that has made Explosions in the Sky one of the most fascinating and compelling bands of the past couple of decades – and they do it all without lyrics.
7. “Soulful Strut,” Young-Holt Unlimited (1968)
“Soulful Strut” makes this list because of a technicality. The song began its life as “Am I the Same Girl” by Barbara Acklin (whose husband Eugene Record co-wrote it), but producer Carl Davis wiped Acklin’s vocals off and added an electric piano solo to mimic the vocal line. Davis released the instrumental track as “Soulful Strut,” and it became a Top 3 pop hit.
Acklin’s vocal version didn’t make much of a dent, and cover versions by Dusty Springfield and Swing Out Sister followed, with varying degrees of success. But it was the instrumental version that made the biggest splash of all of them. Upbeat and bouncy, the track’s bright soul belies the lyrics in the vocal version, which describe a failed relationship.