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 share the original on our social media platforms, readers make suggestions for a second edition. Years later, it’s 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.

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 already begun assembling a bunch for a third edition. Feel free to make some suggestions.

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Greg Brodsky
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3 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..!

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

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

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  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.

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