10 (More) Great 1960s Instrumental Hits

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One of the very first listicles we published shortly after launching Best Classic Bands in 2015 was 10 Great 1960s Instrumental Hits, which featured such gems as Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas,” The Bob Crewe Generation’s “Music to Watch Girls By” and Hugh Masekela’s “Grazing in the Grass.”

Every time we shared the original on our social media platforms, readers made suggestions for a second edition. Years later, it was time to finally do just that with 10 additional gems. There are three acts that are being repeated: Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, and the Ventures. Their legacy and output simply demanded it.

Here are 10 more instrumental classics that were essential tracks on the AM radio dial during the swinging decade. The list appears alphabetically, by artist.

10. “Spanish Flea” by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass

The song was originally a B-side yet still managed to reach #27 on the Hot 100 in 1966. A generation knows it as the “Bachelor’s Theme” in the popular game show The Dating Game.

9. “Time is Tight” by Booker T. & the M.G.’s

The DJ’s best friend. I can still hear in my mind’s eye the great Dan Ingram playing this on New York’s 77WABC leading into the news at the top of the hour. There are two versions, but it’s the slower one that was released as a single in 1969 when it became the Memphis band’s final Top 10 hit, reaching #6.

8. “Java by Al Hirt

The trumpeter’s cover of Allen Toussaint’s composition reached #4 in 1964 and won a Grammy for Best Performance by an Orchestra or Instrumentalist with Orchestra.

7. “Soul Bossa Nova” by Quincy Jones

Genius. In his autobiography, Q says he wrote the song in 20 minutes. He also produced the 1962 recording. [We’re not aware if it was ever released as a single.] Mike Myers introduced it to a new generation when he used it for the title sequence in his brilliant 1997 film Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.

Related: A “lost” interview with “Q”

6. “Love is Blue” by Paul Mauriat

The 1968 single from the French orchestra leader proved to be so popular that its album not only reached #1, it stayed there for the entire month of March and into early April.

5. “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly” by Hugo Montenegro

1966’s third (and final) of director Sergio Leone’s “spaghetti westerns” starred Clint Eastwood as “Blondie” (aka “the man with no name” aka “the good”), with Lee Van Cleef as “Angel Eyes” (aka “the bad”) and Eli Wallach as “Tuco” (aka “the ugly”). The theme song is from Ennio Morricone, the much honored Italian composer who died in 2020 at age 91. In 1968, American orchestra leader Montenegro recorded the theme song and it became an unlikely hit, reaching #2.

4. “The Stripper” by David Rose

The composer and orchestra leader was married (briefly) to the actresses Judy Garland and Martha Raye. He was also the musical director for The Red Skelton Show during its 21-year run. This jazzy #1 hit was also 1962’s overall #5 single as ranked by Billboard.

Related: “The Stripper” was used in Noxzema shaving cream’s “Take it all off” ad campaign

3. “Wipeout” by The Surfaris

The foursome are said to have written the song when they were in the studio. It’s best known for the maniacal laugh and Ron Wilson’s drum solo that kick off the song. It reached #2 in 1963 (and returned to the Hot 100 three years later).

2. “Telstar” by The Tornados

Yet another hit from 1962, the single is reportedly the first song from a British group to reach #1 in the States. It’s named for the communications satellite which launched into space one month earlier. The song was written and produced by the eccentric Joe Meek (sometimes called “the British Phil Spector”), who would later have another big hit with the Honeycombs’ “Have I the Right?”

1. “Walk, Don’t Run” by The Ventures

This 1960 single was the instrumental rock band’s first national release and it put them on the map, ultimately reaching #2. Their own updated version of the song in 1964 was also a Top 10 hit. In 2006 the original was chosen for the Grammy Hall of Fame and in 2008 the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

We’ve begun assembling a bunch for a third edition. Feel free to make some suggestions.

Greg Brodsky

17 Comments so far

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  1. Stone
    #1 Stone 14 January, 2021, 15:42

    …no “Apache “by the Shadows…?… I understand we’re not in Europe..!

    Reply this comment
    • Ger
      Ger 16 October, 2021, 00:04

      Yes, The Shadows first recorded Apache. Like the Ventures however the Shadows (who also backed Cliff Richard) are an amazing instrumental group.

      Reply this comment
  2. Trevor B
    #2 Trevor B 15 January, 2021, 06:20

    I thought certainly that Pipeline by The Chantays would have been listed.

    Reply this comment
  3. Cora
    #3 Cora 15 January, 2021, 11:32

    My late friend, Dave Adams was the keyboard player who worked closely with Joe Meek duriing his heyday and should be recognized AT LEAST as the co-writer of Telstar. I heard many tales from Dave and some amazing acetate demos of his and Meek’s production chops. As usual during that era, many musicians were left without credit for their work.

    Reply this comment
  4. bobbyb5
    #4 bobbyb5 28 October, 2021, 22:50

    I must say that you’ve already chosen the very best ones, the exact ones I would have chosen. But here are some suggestions for the next list.

    Peter Gunn by Duane Eddy
    The Pink Panther by Henry Mancini
    Foggy Mountain Breakdown by Flatt & Scruggs
    Last Date by Floyd Cramer
    Midnight Cowboy by Ferrante and Teicher
    Pipeline by The Chantays
    Out of Limits by The Markettes
    Soul Finger by the Bar-Kays
    Calcutta by Lawrence Welk

    Reply this comment
    • Hindasound
      Hindasound 12 May, 2022, 14:27

      Thanks so much! I’m assembling an instrumental playlist for my music-loving 20-yr old. Your suggestions are top-notch!

      Reply this comment
  5. 122intheshade
    #5 122intheshade 15 March, 2022, 00:27

    Night Train by The Famous Flames . . . Yakety Sax . . . The Horse . . . Summer Samba by Walter Wanderley (also used in an Austin Powers movie) . . . Wave by Jobim

    Reply this comment
  6. BerkeleyBabe
    #6 BerkeleyBabe 15 March, 2022, 11:39

    Good choices. I still can’t resist “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly”, still love it. Love Is Blue was also a favorite in high school.

    Reply this comment
  7. Howlin Jewbury
    #7 Howlin Jewbury 15 March, 2022, 12:21

    “Ghost Riders In the Sky” by the Ramrods 1961 (#30 US; #8 UK), the first rock-era inst. version of this (mainly) vocal tune, whose ersatz cowboy sound-fx clearly provided Ennio Morricone with the sonic template for his ‘Spaghetti Western’ themes.

    Reply this comment
  8. 122intheshade
    #8 122intheshade 10 January, 2023, 00:37

    The Ventures recorded a version of “Down on Me” that made Janis/Big Brother’s take sound like MOR.

    I’m more a fan or Jorgen Ingmann’s version of “Apache” than the Shadows’.

    Reply this comment
  9. 122intheshade
    #9 122intheshade 15 March, 2023, 00:26

    Keem-O-Sabe by Electric Indian, featuring Len Barry and a pre-Oates Darryl Hall.

    Watermelon Man and Cantaloupe Island by a young Herbie Hancock.

    And a song that got probably got no traction outside of Minneapolis, Loon Lake by Ernie Garven. Garven might be better known as the creator of the Hamm’s Beer jingle.

    AND . . . he was an accordion player on the very first Prairie Home Companion back in 1974. Drool on that, Weird Al!

    Reply this comment
  10. Nikko The Goon
    #10 Nikko The Goon 5 April, 2023, 14:56

    Good choices. I’m partial to tracking down & identifying the lesser known ones that I heard as a kid & never forgot.
    ”Wade In The Water” from 1968 by the Ralph Carmichael Orchestra is very good. I think it’s better than all the other versions including the famous Ramsey Lewis version.
    Stu Phillips & The Hollyridge Strings instrumental cover of ”Things We Said Today” by The Beatles is great…

    There’s one mysterious one I’m still trying to track down that I heard numerous times as a kid. Sounded like a theme to a spy film…It was really good though whatever it was. I’d know instantly if I heard it but it’s very hard to find…

    Reply this comment
    • TI99Kitty
      TI99Kitty 12 November, 2023, 12:36

      Maybe the “Peter Gunn” Theme by Duane Eddy? (Side note, it was used in the arcade video game “Spy Hunter.”)

      Reply this comment
  11. Righteous Rocker
    #11 Righteous Rocker 15 January, 2024, 06:57

    I would like to see included Tequila” by the Champs, Misirlou by Dick Dale, Watusi by Ray Barretto. And if you have not heard the instrumental Swanee River Hop by Fats Domino, you are in for a treat! And there is a cool marimba number by Cal Tjader from 1964 I would recommend Blessings to all

    Reply this comment
  12. Hoges
    #12 Hoges 3 April, 2024, 02:59

    How can you leave the Shadows out of this! Apache, Wonderful Land etc etc etc

    Reply this comment
  13. MusicMike
    #13 MusicMike 3 April, 2024, 08:23

    What about “Soulful Strut” by Young-Holt Unlimited?

    Reply this comment

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