It doesn't always take a great vocal to make a song.
In fact, some of the best songs over the years have
had an instrumental melody line, or just a bunch of
riffs that are thrown together and sound just as compelling
as something with vocals. Here is a list of some cool
instrumentals that span the last forty or so years.
"Pacifica," Los Straitjackets (!Viva! Los Straitjackets)
They wear Mexican wrestling masks, but don't let that fool you. Los Straitjackets effectively mix surf music with just enough Nashville twang to create something really cool and unique. This track is something more akin to the breezy music of the Ventures, and uses the whammy bar to precision.
"Cliffs of Dover," Eric Johnson (Ah
Four-plus minutes of rock/jazz fusion bliss. Johnson could shred right along with guys like Satriani and Malmsteen, but this track is so melodic that it actually won him a Grammy for best instrumental rock performance in 1991.
"Waterhole," The Outlaws (The Outlaws)
Yeeeeeeee-hawwwwwww. When you put three lead guitarists in a Southern rock band, you're bound to have an instrumental track – like this one – that burns like the rubber on your tractor's tires.
"Breezin'," George Benson (Breezin')
George remains one of the tastiest guitar players of the last several decades, and the title track to the landmark album that spawned his first pop hit, "This Masquerade," often goes unnoticed. But it's still one of his best.
"Europa," Carlos Santana (Amigos)
Unfortunately, many people associate Carlos Santana with Rob Thomas or Michelle Branch, or any of the number of pop artists he's been paired with on recent albums. But any real fan of Carlos knows that this man can make the guitar sing like no one else, and "Europa" is a fine example of that.
"Aerodynamic," Daft Punk (Discovery)
When you hear those bells in the beginning, you start thinking AC/DC's "Hell's Bells." But then this French electronic duo launches into something that more closely resembles Eddie Van Halen in a deejay booth.
"The Light," The Album Leaf (Into
the Blue Again)
A one-man band in the vein of Dashboard Confessional or Magnet, the Album Leaf's Jimmy LaValle has put out some of the coolest ambient music in recent memory. And some of his best work happens when Mr. Leaf turns off the microphone.
"Reset," MuteMath (MuteMath)
It's almost not fair that MuteMath's frontman, Paul Meany, is one of rock's brightest new vocalists, but that the band sounds just as good on instrumental tracks like this.
"The Air Between Us," Hammock (Kenotic)
If you were in this dream where your favorite sports team just won a championship, and your supermodel girlfriend was making you dinner and served you cocktails while you floated in your giant pool in which the water was just the right temperature, this is the musical soundtrack that would be playing.
"Robinhood," .38 Special (Rockin'
Into the Night)
Harmonizing lead guitars takes a lot of precision. But when it's done right and the guitars carry the melody line as well, it's like biting into a slice of pecan pie.
"El Nino," Red Elvises (I
Wanna See You Bellydance)
If this touring band from Los Angeles plays where you live, go see them. They have about as much fun as any band you'll ever see, combining California surf music with Russian flair and a healthy dose of comedy. But beyond that, these cats can PLAY.
"In Memory of Elizabeth Reed," The
Allman Brothers Band (Idlewild
When I hear this song, I can still smell the cloud of weed smoke in my older brothers' bedroom. The Allmans are known as bluesy Southern rockers, but this one was kind of jazzy and jam-bandy before the term jam band ever existed.
"Moby Dick," Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin
Robert Plant may forever be the face of Led Zeppelin, but Jimmy Page, John Bonham and John Paul Jones showed here that they could sometimes make bombastic arena rock just as well without him.
"Eruption," Van Halen (Van Halen)
Eddie Van Halen ushered in a new generation of guitar players with this one spectacular instrumental track.
"Hawaii Five-O," The Ventures (Hawaii
The title track to this surf instrumental group's album of the same name also was the theme song for the TV show, and it's about as recognizable as any instrumental track ever recorded.