Greatest rock instrumentals?
July 26, 2005 9:52 AM   Subscribe

What are the greatest rock instrumentals of all time? (i.e., not jazz, electronica, funk, etc.)
posted by jjg to Media & Arts (74 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Frankenstein by Edgar Winter
posted by DandyRandy at 9:58 AM on July 26, 2005

Some Stevie Ray Vaughan is probably worth considering - perhaps his rendition of Little Wing or Voodoo Chile.

There's also Cliffs of Dover by Eric Johnson, and lots of stuff by guys like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani that isn't as popular, but I'm not sure what sort of criteria we're working with here.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:02 AM on July 26, 2005

DandyRandy beat me to it.

I would also suggest Led Zeppelin's Moby Dick.
posted by saladin at 10:05 AM on July 26, 2005

I'm a big fan of the Allman Brothers' Jessica.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:07 AM on July 26, 2005

How about the "Wired" and "Blow-by-Blow" ablums by Jeff Beck? Arguably not jazz or funk.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 10:08 AM on July 26, 2005

And Fugazi's Arpeggiator.
And Polvo's Title Track.
posted by saladin at 10:09 AM on July 26, 2005

Albatross - Fleetwood Mac
Silver Cloud - La Dusseldorf
Cannibis - Serge Gainsbourg
Two Towers - Lightnight Bolt
V-2 Schneider - David Bowie
Sirius - Alan Parsons Project
Boredoms - Super Roots 7
posted by dydecker at 10:16 AM on July 26, 2005

Scorps - Coast to Coast
Rush - YYZ
posted by Wolfdog at 10:18 AM on July 26, 2005

Europa - Santana
Wipe Out - Surfaris
posted by caddis at 10:19 AM on July 26, 2005

V-2 Schneider has a vocal.
posted by anathema at 10:20 AM on July 26, 2005

La Villa Strangiato - RUSH

Echoes, or One of These Days - Pink Floyd

Those are my faves
posted by cincidog at 10:20 AM on July 26, 2005

Response by poster: I'm not sure what sort of criteria we're working with here.

I'm not so much interested in virtuoso musicianship (which a lot of instrumentals, particularly of the Vai/Satriani variety, seem to be crafted primarily to showcase) as I am interested in great songs that just happen to have no vocals.
posted by jjg at 10:26 AM on July 26, 2005

The Metallica instrumentals are pretty good - Call of Chtulhu, Orion, and To Live Is to Die (which does have just a few spoken words in it).
posted by Wolfdog at 10:26 AM on July 26, 2005

I second Jessica by the Allman Brothers Band.
posted by danb at 10:26 AM on July 26, 2005

Oh, I'd also include 5-4=Unity by Pavement.
posted by saladin at 10:30 AM on July 26, 2005

Def Leppard's Switch 625.
Europe's Aphasia is quite good, much better than you might guess.
posted by Wolfdog at 10:34 AM on July 26, 2005

The Sparks half of The Who's Amazing Journey/Sparks, specifically the live version off of Live at Leeds.
posted by jalexei at 10:37 AM on July 26, 2005

Does Tubular Bells count?
posted by boo_radley at 10:40 AM on July 26, 2005

Hocus Pocus by Focus, dude. I remember jammin to that on on dad's old reel to reel.
posted by glenwood at 10:43 AM on July 26, 2005

Chuck Schuldiner's Voice of the Soul on The Sound of Perseverance is a late-era classic.
posted by Wolfdog at 10:45 AM on July 26, 2005

green onions - booker t and the mgs
in memory of elizabeth reed - allman brothers
star spangled banner - jimi hendrix
walk don't run - the ventures
rumble, switchblade, and lots more - link wray
america (live version) - the nice
red - king crimson
posted by pyramid termite at 10:53 AM on July 26, 2005

Allman Bros. - Jessica

There are a bunch of other good ones, but this is the one that has never failed to please. Even those friends/family of mine that don't like rock or blues like this one.
posted by Rubber Soul at 10:56 AM on July 26, 2005

I also nominate a few guitar solos within some pop vocal recordings: Jay Graydon on Steely Dan's Peg, Elliott Randall on Reelin' In The Years (alos by SD) and Tony Peluso on the Carpenter's Goodbye To Love.
posted by DandyRandy at 10:57 AM on July 26, 2005

Frank Zappa - Peaches in Regalia
posted by rxrfrx at 10:57 AM on July 26, 2005

Response by poster: also nominate a few guitar solos within some pop vocal recordings

Not what I asked, thanks.
posted by jjg at 10:59 AM on July 26, 2005

I also love the song Jessica. It's sort of the ultmate driving-down-some-open-road song.
posted by zerolives at 10:59 AM on July 26, 2005

If you want specific Satriani songs, Flying in a Blue Dream, Satch Boogie, and Summer Song are good ones.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:08 AM on July 26, 2005

Santo and Johnny - Sleepwalk (duh!)
posted by space2k at 11:10 AM on July 26, 2005

Rhino has a series: 1 ('50s), 2 ('60s), 3 ('70s), 4 (focuses on Soul music), 5 (focuses on surf music). Note that if it's important to you to have absolutely no vocals at all, some of these songs won't count ("Do the hustle!").
posted by kimota at 11:10 AM on July 26, 2005

Telstar - the Tornadoes
Tighten Up - Archie Bell and the Drells

("Hi everybody, I'm Archie Bell and I'm also the Drells!")
posted by jessenoonan at 11:14 AM on July 26, 2005

Fire On High - ELO
Classical Gas - Mason Williams
Stimulance - Circle
Aurora Borealis - Meat Puppets
Intersellar Overdrive - Pink Floyd
Suicide - Spacemen 3
Psyche Rock - Pierre Henry
RuckZuck - Kraftwerk
Orion - Metallica
The Fucking Champs

And Goblin of course. Cannot forget Goblin.
posted by dydecker at 11:24 AM on July 26, 2005

well, since you asked for something completely, 100% subjective, here is my completely, 100% subjective response:
"we blame Chicago" by 90 Day Men, "sleep" by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, "School of the Flower" by Six Organs of Admittance, "Last Calls from the Earth" by My Cat is an Alien, "breaking suffering song" by Kousokuya and Masayoshi Urabe, Trapist's entire last album, Ballroom, and lots of different things by Orthrelm.

Your appreciation of these things will vary more or less exactly according to what you think rock music actually is.
posted by hototogisu at 11:26 AM on July 26, 2005

Ruck Zuck is awesome, but it's not your sterotypical rock. In a similar vein though, check out Neu!, Hallogallo in particular.
posted by phrontist at 11:27 AM on July 26, 2005

I second pyramid termite's entire list.
posted by caddis at 11:32 AM on July 26, 2005

Of course Ruck Zuck is rock!
posted by dydecker at 11:38 AM on July 26, 2005

Rock 'N' Roll Jelly - Stanley Clarke
posted by Fat Guy at 11:43 AM on July 26, 2005

Mogwai - Xmas Steps
Mogwai - Summer
Mogwai - Mogwai fear Satan
Mogwai - Like Herod
Tortoise - Glass Museum
Turing Machine - Flipbook Oscilloscope
posted by fire&wings at 11:59 AM on July 26, 2005

Link Wray's "Rumble" was banned on some radio stations for it's potential for inciting gang violence. For an instrumental, that pretty rock hard; it's one of the original power chord riffs, too.

I'd also add votes for Telstar, Walk Don't Run.

In the long form competition: Husker Du's "Reoccurring Dreams" and Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain" (which I'd consider a rock song, nothin' funky about it...)

I never get sick of listening to how the Flat Duo Jets distill the whole of Benny Goodman's "Swing Swing Swing" into a two minute guitar and drums garage rocker.

And among recent stuff, "Get it Together" by the Go Team is a favorite.
posted by bendybendy at 12:10 PM on July 26, 2005

Not sure if it 100% counts as it's on Joe's Garage and as such has the Central Scrutinizer talking before and after it, but "Watermelon in Easter Hay" by Zappa is amazingly beautiful. My god.

I'm also a really, really big fan of "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Fun Zone".

And there's always "Having An Average Weekend" by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet (a/k/a the Kids in the Hall theme).

Also on a Zappa thing, "We Are Not Alone" (think that's on The Man From Utopia).

If songs where people shout in it is OK, like the "Tequila" model, I'm very fond of "Taco Wagon" by the Young Fresh Fellows.

I think it might officially be jazz, but "Hit Single" by Sonny Sharrock _rips_, and it honestly seems closer to the Rock Paradigm than Jazz to me. (It's the theme to Space Ghost Coast 2 Coast.)

(And seconding Frankenstein (TMBG do an awesome cover of this, too), Peaches, Walk Don't Run, Green Onions (and sort of on the same thing "The Booker Tease" by the Residents), Telstar, and a few others in this thread which is chock full of awesome stuff.)
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 12:19 PM on July 26, 2005

Led Zeppelin - Black Summer/White Mountainside
posted by substrate at 12:28 PM on July 26, 2005

Eclectorama, not Google-Fu.

I Think It's Going To Work Out Fine - Ry Cooder

Hocus Pocus / Sylvia - Focus (They both have "sort of" vocals on them but I still think of them as instrumentals.

Cecilia Ann - Pixies

A New Career In A New Town - Bowie

Peter Gunn - Johnny Kidd and the Pirates

Sabre Dance - Dave Edmunds (Love Sculpture)

Egyptian Reggae - Jonathan Richman

Dead On Arrival - Throbbing Gristle

Moby Dick - Led Zeppelin

Telstar - The Tornados
posted by Decani at 12:30 PM on July 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

Magnolia Caboose Babyshit -- Mudhoney
The Pledge Song -- MC5
posted by AJaffe at 12:32 PM on July 26, 2005

I second the Reverend on Watermelon in Easter Hay.
posted by Scooter at 12:39 PM on July 26, 2005

Pick Up The Pieces - Average White Band
Glad - Traffic
Papa's Got A Brand New Pigbag - Pigbag
Samba Pa Ti - Santana
posted by rocket88 at 12:41 PM on July 26, 2005

Anything from Explosions in the Sky, though I'd recommend stuff offa Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place the most. Other songs: Snow and Lights, Greet Death, Yasmin the Light, Glittering Blackness...

Some instrumental Hendrix I've been digging: Born Under a Bad Sign, Country Blue, the 7-minute Bold As Love from the recent Experience box set. Also Stevie Ray Vaughan's Little Wing.
posted by Xelf at 12:48 PM on July 26, 2005

I've always liked Ronny Montrose's instrumental version of "Town Without Pity".

I know the Allman's "Jessica" has been mentioned by a couple of people, I prefer "Little Martha" myself.
posted by tommasz at 12:49 PM on July 26, 2005

Freeway Jam by Jeff Beck!
posted by wsg at 1:07 PM on July 26, 2005

Great rock instrumentals from the first wave of Northwest bands (the Ventures are definitely part of this too, but they've already been mentioned):

"Tall Cool One" -- The Wailers (not Bob Marley's band, but the original Wailers). This is just a great song.

"The Whip" -- The Frantics (not the latter day Canadian comedy group, but a great early NW rock band). Check out the great middle-eight bit over the drum roll.

"Werewolf" -- The Frantics (The Ventures recorded a version of this as well, under the title "The Fourth Dimension"). "Fog Cutter", "Checkerboard", etc. are other good Frantics songs.

"David's Mood (Pt. 2)" -- Dave Lewis Trio

"Granny's Pad" -- The Viceroys

"Turn On Song" -- The Counts

Full disclosure: my uncle was the Frantics' drummer. So I grew up hearing about them and all of these other bands, even though they were a bit before my time. Anyway, the late 50s-early 60s Pacific NW scene is legendary; these bands are well-worth checking out.
posted by litlnemo at 1:14 PM on July 26, 2005

Even though pyramid termite already mentioned the song Green Onions by Booker T and the MG's, that some comes from an album of the same name has nothing but instrumentals. Highly recommended.
posted by thewittyname at 1:19 PM on July 26, 2005

"Numbers" by Kraftwerk. The 'vocals' are a hand-held translator.
posted by mischief at 1:20 PM on July 26, 2005

I should also add "J.A.J" by the Dynamics to the list.
posted by litlnemo at 1:23 PM on July 26, 2005

Not the usual fireworks displays:
  • Dream Theater - Hell's Kitchen
  • Joe Satriani - Down, Down, Down

posted by Khalad at 2:00 PM on July 26, 2005

Black Napkins by Frank Zappa. I'm a drummer, but that's great example of how to use an electric guitar.
posted by mkelley at 2:05 PM on July 26, 2005

I know the Allman's "Jessica" has been mentioned by a couple of people, I prefer "Little Martha" myself.

Finally! I've always loved Little Martha (because it's a great song), can't believe it took so long to get a mention.
posted by Who_Am_I at 2:12 PM on July 26, 2005

On the "Jessica" front, I actually prefer They Might Be Giants' cover of it to the original (although I wish TMBG's were as long as the original...), but I'm a sucker for awesome horns.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 2:18 PM on July 26, 2005

Cecilia Ann - Pixies

Ooh, good one.
posted by ludwig_van at 3:08 PM on July 26, 2005

In addition to Red, I'd like to nominate Crimson instrumentals in general, some of my all-time favourite angular music - Larks Tongues in Aspic Parts I & II, Fracture, Discipline, The Sheltering Sky, Vrooom
and, as they say, Many More.

And all those wonderful Eno instrumentals on Another Green World and Apollo particularly.

And Papa's Got A Brand New Pigbag. By Pigbag.

(I guess that dates me pretty effectively...)
posted by Grangousier at 3:14 PM on July 26, 2005

The Chantays, "Pipleline" - great surf song
R.E.M., "Last Date" - beautiful slow song
Glen Campbell, "William Tell Overture" - kicks ass. seriously.
The Ventures, "Hawaii Five-O"
Ray Anthony, "Peter Gunn Theme"

Rhino has a Rock Instrumental Classics series
posted by kirkaracha at 3:16 PM on July 26, 2005

I find it hard to choose particular songs here, since often the artists that do great rock instrumentals do many of them. Some bands that do rock instrumentals right, repeatedly:
Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Pelican, 5ive [no, not the boy band], F/i, Vocokesh, Kinski, Major Stars, Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, Circle, Boredoms, Acid Mothers Temple and the Underground Melting Paraiso U.F.O., Bardo Pond, Earth, Sunn O))), Conifer...

When I get home, I'll try to figure out which songs of those artists really qualify as "best", but I figured I'd try to get some of the band names out, at least, since between them they cover much of the best instrumental rock I've come across.
posted by ubersturm at 3:59 PM on July 26, 2005

Since Explosions In The Sky and Godspeed You Black Emperor have been mentioned, why not Set Fire To Flames or A Silver Mt. Zion, who are all pretty much the same damn band.
See also Tortoise for more "post-rock."
(I'm not sure where exactly the line is dividing some things from other things... Like, Bongo Fury or Weasels Rip My Flesh by Zappa both have several great instrumentals on them... As does Hot Rats... Are they jazz? Not really. They're not improvised...)
Are you looking for more math rock? There's a lot there that's vocal free.
Go to and start wading through their mathrock selection.
Oh, and Out Hud and !!! both have instrumentals, but I'm not sure if they're too funky...
posted by klangklangston at 4:10 PM on July 26, 2005

Oh, and a couple more things that I thought of between hitting post and having it show up:
Lightning Bolt's Wonderful Rainbow album. Black Dice's Beaches and Canyons album. Forcefield's Lord of the Rings Modulator album. How much noise do you like? There's a lot out there, like Chef Kirk and Paul Velat that's vocal free but... um... some people (not me) find it really annoying.
posted by klangklangston at 4:12 PM on July 26, 2005

Faith No More - Woodpecker from Mars.
Rainbow - Still I'm Sad (not, obviously, the version with words).
Several Iron Maiden instrumentals stand up pretty well, but Losfer Words is my favorite among them.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:35 PM on July 26, 2005

In Flames - Gyroscope is awesome.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:38 PM on July 26, 2005

Eric Clapton on "Go Back Home" on Steven Still's 1st album

Dave Mason's solo on the Alone Together album (not at home forgot song title)
posted by Pressed Rat at 4:42 PM on July 26, 2005

I totally forgot about Out Hud. S.T.R.E.E.T. D.A.D. lacks vocals, and is wonderful. The new one is riddled with vocals, and I don't enjoy it as much. Definitely look into Out Hud...
posted by hototogisu at 4:50 PM on July 26, 2005

How did we miss Dick Dale - Miserlou? (surf, Pulp Fiction)
posted by jayCampbell at 4:51 PM on July 26, 2005

Oops - not Gyroscope, but rather Dialogue With The Stars. I stand by the "awesome" part.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:48 PM on July 26, 2005

Van Halen - Eruption
Black Sabbath - Orchid
Aerosmith - The Movie
Iced Earth - 1776

I also second the Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Joe Satriani, and Jeff Beck suggestions.
posted by epimorph at 6:59 PM on July 26, 2005

Walk Don't Run - The Ventures
Beck' Bolero - Jeff Beck (with John Paul Jones, Keith Moon and Jimmy Page)

and of course
Time Is Tight - Booker T and the MGs
posted by timeistight at 7:49 PM on July 26, 2005

Let's see what's rated highly in the ol' "Instrumental" iTunes playlist (ignoring the most un-rock-y stuff)...

'79 aka The Shouty Track - Lemon Jelly
Ghostwriter - RJD2
Jessica - The Allman Brothers Band
Lenny - Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble
New Orleans Instrumental - R.E.M.
Rude Mood - Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble
So Excited - Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble
The Wreck of Edmund Fitzgerald - Pearl Jam
posted by booth at 8:35 PM on July 26, 2005

Wipe Out, absolutely.

And the guitarist in me votes for Eruption. Who had every heard anything like THAT before?
posted by fingers_of_fire at 8:37 PM on July 26, 2005

Stevie Ray Vaughan's tribute to Jimi Hendrix's Little Wing is, hands down, one of the greatest works of virtuoso rock guitar available.

Pipeline is a great surf rock tune. The Dick Dale version is good, but the Agent Orange cover is kickass.
posted by jimfl at 10:46 PM on July 26, 2005

Most of the ones I would have mentioned are already up here, but I'm surprised not to see a few others:

Duane Eddy - Rebel Rouser
Bob Dylan - Wigwam
The Who - Overture (Tommy)
posted by sellout at 12:36 AM on July 27, 2005

I thought someone had already mentioned "Rebel Rouser" or I would have mentioned it too. :)
posted by litlnemo at 12:53 PM on July 27, 2005

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