‘In the VH1-produced documentary The Brian Setzer Orchestra Story, Dave Kaplan, Setzer’s manager, recounts a conversation he had with Setzer before assembling a guitar-fronted big band in the 1990s: “Nobody had ever fronted a big band with an electric guitar … I asked Brian, ‘Why wouldn’t somebody have tried it?’ [Setzer replied,] ‘Well there weren’t amps.’” Albeit a simplification, Setzer’s quip is pretty accurate. ‘
I recall when I was growing up, instrumental hits were few, but they existed. Like Paul Mauriat’s “Love Is Blue,” or the theme from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” I don’t listen to pop radio these days, but I suspect there aren’t any such pieces out there now. For one thing, I would suspect for an instrumental to be successful it would require a melody, something I can’t find in a lot of currently popular vocal tracks. I know, that’s a grumpy old man kind of thing to say. If the shoe fits, I guess.
These days I can’t define what constitutes a “Hit”.
As funny as it sounds, the only person I can think of with any kind of “instrumental hit” in the last 30 years would be Kenny G. Of course the term “hit” in this context, is based on popularity across all music genres.
This is part of the ongoing appeal of prog rock to me. Even when the songs have some vocals, there are often long instrumental portions as well as albums with purely instrumental pieces. I’m thinking in particular of Genesis here. Even “We Can’t Dance” had some long instrumental interludes as part of the music. Invisible Touch had “Tonight, Tonight, Tonight”, the Domino songs and the pure instrumental, “The Brazilian”. While not song “hits” the albums both were monsters. Hell, A Flock of Seagulls included an instrumental track in their first record in 1984 or so. It’s become a very different industry these days.
I figure, Ahem, why bother!
I will admit that I’m ever more a cranky old jazz and classical fart.
But yesterday, my nephew was playing music by a band named Tool. They’re surely not my glass of beer, but I thought they sounded like accomplished, albeit noisy musicians. Progressive rock?
People keep trying to sell me on Tool but I haven’t really dug in. Apparently the drummer is a once-in-generation talent. It’s a bit on the aggressive side of my tastes and lately it’s been all comfort food music. But they’re on my list.
I was impressed with most of their “Fear Inoculum” album. Interesting stuff.
They struck me as decent musicians when I listened to their early stuff back in the ‘90s. But at the time I preferred The Smashing Pumpkins and The White Stripes.
I’m with you on this one Mike. Great musicianship and recording quality. But where are the “hooks”, riffs", me wanting to air guitar/air drum/air keyboard through certain sections of music.
Just my 2 cents.
I have been stuck in a rut listening to mostly instrumental music. Listening to one now. I am trying to count all the instruments. Dang. I hope this rut lasts!
Love Morricone, Schiffrin
I’ll weigh in with an even bigger gripe - the lack of interest in instrumentality in ALL hits. My grandfather was a dance band leader back in the 1940s and I grew up playing trumpet and loving instrumental sound and all it could do. Believe it or not, the first “pop hit” music I liked as a child was totally instrumental - Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass. Even today, my ear heads for the instruments first and voice second - oftentimes I treat the voice as another instrument and don’t even care about the words - thankfully I’ve gotten better at focusing on lyrics. For many years, it seems that all popular music cares about is the singer and what’s being sung, with no attention paid to what the instrumentalists are doing to participate in the expression of the song. Very few solos of any kind any more, rarely any kind of extended instrumental section of a song. And being from a jazz background, please tell me why in the heck anyone would just play the main melody in a solo? With all that being said, I echo whoever said that at least alternative/indie music seems to still care about instrumental quality - the band Lake Street Dive is good for this. I like Billie Eilish for what her brother does instrumentally to support her art. Emily King has great sounds going on to make her songs work. I’m working my way through Feist’s albums and they have a lot to say instrumentally - again, sadly, few of these feature solos, but at least the backing and filling is creative. And of course there are still some fantastic jazz musicians in both totally-instrumental and vocal/instrumental stuff. Just thought of another - CAKE - been around a while, but still doing some good things with instruments.
Lustmord made Tool’s Fear album 300% more interesting. Still not my cup of tea, but definitely more interesting.