Classic rock fans are in mourning everywhere. One of the greatest guitarists in the genre, Jeff Beck, has passed away. I believe this is the first major classic rock death of the year. It’s always a sad realisation whenever I look at the calendar and think about how long ago the 60s and 70s were. What do you mean Dark Side of the Moon is turning 50 this year?
So in this impromptu blog post I’m going to share 20 of my favourite classic rock instrumentals, and believe me this is going to be difficult because there’s a lot of good ones. But first, let’s talk about the man who inspired this blog post, Jeff Beck. I want this blog post to be a celebration of his music and his influence on rock and roll. Life is finite, but these classic rockers created something that will live forever. I believe that classic rock songs will be talked about for many years to come… well if we don’t screw up this planet and make it unliveable, okay that’s enough negativity for now!
If you’re a classic rock fan, you almost certainly know his name and his work, but I don’t take anything for granted on this blog and I always strive to make this space welcoming for all: new and old classic rock fans alike. Longtime fans can reminisce about the memories of these songs and new fans dipping their toes into the waters of classic rock can learn more about the geniuses behind the music.
So who was Jeff Beck? Why is he so highly regarded in rock and roll? What makes him special? Let’s tell the story. Jeff Beck was born in London in 1944 and like a lot of British musicians of his generation, he got into music through singing in church and during his teenage years rock and roll was the craze taking over the world and he was inspired! His first inspiration to pick up the electric guitar was Les Paul, a guitar pioneer who helped design the famous Gibson Les Paul guitar and was in a musical duo with his wife (at the time), Mary Ford, in the 50s. Like Freddie Mercury, Pete Townshend, and Keith Richards he went to art school before becoming a rock star. Early on, he became friends with Jimmy Page, a fellow Yardbirds alumnus. If you don’t listen to The Yardbirds and don’t know why they’re so significant in rock and roll history, let me explain. The Yardbirds are that band because they had not just one or two, but three legendary guitarists in their lineup at some point in time. Those three were Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page. What The New Christy Minstrels were to folk music – launching musicians’ careers, you could say that’s what The Yardbirds did that to British rock and roll. The Yardbirds were one of Britain’s biggest R&B bands. When you think British R&B, they along with The Rolling Stones are the first names you think of. They’re amazing.
Before The Yardbirds, Jeff Beck was in Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages and some cover bands. In 1965, Jimmy Page recommended Jeff Beck to the Yardbirds when they were looking for a new guitarist to replace Eric Clapton, who left the band to join John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers. Jeff Beck was fired from The Yardbirds in 1967 while touring the US because he wouldn’t show up and because the band members found his perfectionism difficult to deal with. And so he formed The Jeff Beck Group with Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood (who would go on to join The Faces – Steve Marriott was such a powerhouse it took two musicians to replace him lol – Ronnie Wood would join the Stones in 1975). Basically, London’s 60s rock music scene is a small world and there aren’t many degrees of separation between any two musicians – they all knew each other.
By the end of the 60s, Jeff Beck had an established reputation that made him known as a guitarist’s guitarist. Other rock bands wanted him to be in their lineup: The Rolling Stones wanted him to be in the band after Brian Jones died and Pink Floyd wanted to hire him after Syd Barrett left, but didn’t have the courage to approach him. Jeff Beck was no stranger to forming supergroups and so he formed one with Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice of Vanilla Fudge: Beck, Bogert, and Appice. From there, he had a successful solo career and collaborated with a lot of musicians in the late 70s, 80s, 90s, and beyond including: Jan Hammer, members of Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever, Sting, Phil Collins, Donovan, Bob Geldof, Jon Bon Jovi, Roger Waters, Paul Rodgers, B.B. King, Kelly Clarkson, Metallica, list goes on and on.
Simply put, he worked with pretty much everybody and his body of work is versatile and shows how the possibilities with guitar are endless – you can really make the guitar work for any genre and combine so many influences together: world music, jazz, country, R&B, metal, your imagination is the limit! It’s no surprise he’s listed alongside Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and Eric Clapton as one of the GOATs of classic rock guitar.
As a longtime vegetarian, and now vegan of 6 years, here’s one more thing I love about Jeff Beck: he was a vegetarian since 1969 and someone who really cared about animal rights.
Now let’s talk about that instrumental that blew my mind, took me to a new world the first time I heard it, a classic… you know what I’m gonna talk about…
1. “Beck’s Bolero” (1966)
The mid-late 60s was a time of supergroups. You know how hip hop artists and pop stars guest on each other’s albums, well classic rockers did that too!
“Beck’s Bolero” was an instrumental recorded in 1966 with a who’s who of British rock and roll lineup: Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page on guitar, John Paul Jones on bass, Keith Moon on drums, and Nicky Hopkins on piano. With a lineup like that, this is an instrumental that was destined for the history books and the greatest instrumentals of all time lists, no doubt! The name of the instrumental suggests a Spanish influence and you can easily hear that in the intro. It was based on the 1928 orchestral piece by Maurice Ravel. If you know your classic rock history, you’ll see that this pre-dates the prog rock and symphonic rock sound of the late 60s and early 70s: bands like The Moody Blues, The Nice, Deep Purple, ELP, and ELO incorporated classical music influences in their sound after “Beck’s Bolero” came out. While I wouldn’t call this song prog rock, I do like that it has multiple movements in it – you hear that Spanish influenced sound for the first 35 seconds and then it goes into this guitar solo while the Spanish bolero sound fades and these space age sound effects play, the drums come in, and then the “bass drop” sorta moment comes in at 1:31 – hard rocking fuzzy guitar in your face with this guitar/R&B sound reminiscent of The Who’s “The Ox” before the Spanish bolero sound comes back, the two sounds married – finishing with a bang! That is an instrumental!
Now before we get into the rest of the list, I just want to say the rest of this list isn’t in any particular order and it was really difficult picking just 20 instrumentals I like and so I narrowed it down to just the 60s, to make it a little easier to pick, but even then, doesn’t make my job that much easier because I’m a sucker for instrumental rock and the 60s was a great time for it. I made sure to pick a wide range of instrumentals that show the diversity in sound of this incredible decade. Only one per band – honourable mentions will be listed in cases where I found it hard to choose! I also made sure to pick some underrated gems. It’s hard to believe these songs were made in a period of 10 years. Anyway, don’t feel bad if I leave a favourite of yours out. It’s tough competition! Feel free to share your favourites and your thoughts in the comments. I love reading what you have to say.
2. “Apache” – The Shadows (1960)
The 60s was a really dynamic decade and it always blows my mind how much the decade changed from the beginning to the end. The American readers (who are not total classic rock nerds or Anglophiles) may look at this one and be like, I don’t know it. But as soon as you hear it, it sounds familiar because this was the song that the Incredible Bongo Band covered over a decade later and The Sugarhill Gang sampled. That’s the significance in America. But to Brits, this instrumental was a gamechanger. Finally some homegrown rock and roll. This was the song that every aspiring rock guitarist was trying to learn.
Interestingly enough, The Shadows’ version wasn’t the original, but rather the original recording was Bert Weedon, one of Britain’s OG guitarists and basically everyone’s guitar teacher through his Play in a Day series of books. Pretty much every British rock star was influenced by Bert Weedon. Songwriter Jerry Lordan wasn’t a fan of Weedon’s version and while on tour with The Shadows, he played the song for them and the band loved it and recorded it. “Apache” went #1 and Jerry Lordan and The Shadows were thrilled, but also nervous. How do you top that? Well, The Shadows continued to have success in the early 60s and topped the charts with “Kon-Tiki”, “Wonderful Land”, “Dance On!”, and “Foot Tapper”.
Honourable Mention: “Wonderful Land”
3. “Albatross” – Fleetwood Mac (1968)
OG Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green era – this is one of his compositions, inspired by Santo & Johnny’s “Sleep Walk” and Chuck Berry’s “Deep Feeling”. Straight up, this is one of the most beautiful instrumentals I’ve ever heard. It is so relaxing. Makes me feel like I’m at the beach. Like “Apache”, this instrumental topped the charts. Still not convinced of how legendary this instrumental is? This song was an influence on The Beatles’ “Sun King” from Abbey Road – while not technically an instrumental, I love “The End”.
4. “The 2000 Pound Bee” – The Ventures (1962)
Everyone was mindblown when the fuzzy “You Really Got Me” became a smash hit in 1964, but what if I told you that there were a lot of fuzz guitar songs before that one? Here come The Ventures, America’s biggest instrumental rock band.
Nokie Edwards was one of the fuzz guitar pioneers and he actually used a fuzz pedal on this song and true to the song’s title, it sounds like a 2000 Pound Bee. It was played at John Belushi’s funeral.
Honourable Mentions: “Hawaii Five-O Theme” and “Perfidia”
5. “Moby Dick” – Led Zeppelin (1969)
John Bonham was one of the greatest drummers ever and this instrumental is a demonstration of that – listen for that drum solo at 1:02. The only flaw is that the drum solo in this instrumental was edited down. You can never have enough of John Bonham’s drumming. “Moby Dick” was played at Led Zeppelin concerts early on in 1968-1969, but in those shows they called his improvised drum solo “Pat’s Delight”, naming it after his wife. When played live from 1969 onwards, John Bonham would play drum solos that were upwards of 30 minutes long – the stamina! The rest of the band would take advantage of the drum solo to take a break. Don’t forget about Jimmy Page’s guitar playing!
6. “Misirlou” – Dick Dale (1962)
One of the greatest surf rock instrumentals (IMO it’s the greatest) and a precursor to heavy metal, this was Americans’ introduction to Middle Eastern music. “Misirlou” is a folk song from the Eastern Mediterranean and like a lot of traditional music, the original composer is unknown. In the 20s, it was first recorded in a Greek rebetiko style and immigrants from Greece, Turkey, and the Middle East brought the song with them to America and one musician who was really influenced by it was Dick Dale, a half Lebanese southpaw guitarist and his version became the most popular, influencing future generations of hard rock guitarists. It was covered by countless surf rock bands. Decades later, “Misirlou” was featured in Pulp Fiction. And in the 2000s, The Black Eyed Peas sampled it in their hit “Pump It” (classic rock fans definitely have an “Ice Ice Baby” moment with this one lol).
7. “Angie” – Bert Jansch (1965)
There’s more than one classic rock song called “Angie”? Yes indeed! Personally, I think this is the better “Angie”, don’t tell The Rolling Stones! No, I didn’t just pick this one because it’s my name and I’m being vain. It’s actually a great acoustic guitar instrumental and if you don’t listen to Bert Jansch, what are you doing? Drop everything and listen to him, you won’t regret it and if you’re looking for a great starter, this is a good one. The original was composed by a British folk guitarist named Davey Graham – big name in British folk revival. He was only 19 when he composed “Angi” [there are multiple spellings]. His guitar playing was so great that Jimmy Page ripped off his version of “She Moved Through The Fair” in Led Zeppelin’s “White Summer”. Simon & Garfunkel and Chicken Shack also did their own versions of “Angie/Angi/Anji”. Anyway, I’m proud to share my name with this instrumental.
8. “Toad” – Cream (1966)
Another great drum-focused instrumental, this time showcasing Ginger Baker’s talents. One of my favourite tracks on Fresh Cream. Now, this is what I call a power trio! Like “Moby Dick”, “Toad” was one that Ginger Baker played before it was recorded in the studio. The roots of “Toad” can be found in the jazzy Graham Bond Organisation’s “Camels and Elephants” – another animal themed name! Wait a minute, I’m noticing a pattern here: “Moby Dick” – Whale, “Toad”, and then The Who’s “The Ox”? Coincidence? Like “Moby Dick”, when Ginger Baker would play “Toad” live, the drum solo would go on way longer than the studio version. That’s why people go to concerts, to hear those improvisations and jams, that’s what makes a concert special.
9. “Soul Sacrifice” – Santana (1969)
Easily one of the highlights of Woodstock was “Soul Sacrifice”. Santana were many people’s gateway to Latin music and world music as a whole. It was one of the band’s earliest compositions. Impressive! Their 1969 debut album is one of the best debut albums, period. Try not to dance… you’ll fail!
Honourable Mention: “Gypsy Queen” – Gábor Szabó cover, played right after “Black Magic Woman”
10. “Interstellar Overdrive” – Pink Floyd (1967)
I love me some Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd. I just love psychedelia and space rock and this instrumental is a great example of that. It’s also a really long instrumental that you can get lost in – imagine taking shrooms and listening to this – another dimension. It’s one of the first psychedelic instrumental improvisational songs. Once again, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn: great debut album.
11. “Peaches en Regalia” – Frank Zappa (1969)
Frank Zappa is one of those musicians who intimidates me. He was just so prolific and a lot of his music is really out there and can be hard to sit down and listen to if it’s your first time listening, but maybe that’s just me. If you want some Frank Zappa that’s easier to listen to and something you’ll certainly love, give Hot Rats a listen – it’s a mostly instrumental album except for ‘Willie The Pimp”, which has vocals by Captain Beefheart. “Peaches en Regalia” is a great jazz fusion instrumental (a teenage Shuggie Otis played bass on it). The BBC has used it as background music and as theme tunes.
12. “Green Onions” – Booker T. & The MG’s (1962)
Can’t have a list of great 60s instrumentals without talking about “Green Onions”. Some classic rock purists might be like why are you putting an R&B song on here, but honestly there’s a lot of R&B influence in a lot of the bands I talk about so why not talk about R&B? Why limit yourself? Life is short! Anyway, to me, this is one of those songs that signalled the beginning of the 60s. I think of the early 60s as a continuation of the 50s, but “Green Onions” is one of those instrumentals that sounds fresh and timeless. It topped the R&B charts in 1962 and reached #3 on the Billboard and Cashbox charts. I still can’t believe Booker T. Jones was only 17 when he composed and played on this song.
13. “Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake” – The Small Faces (1968)
The psychedelic opening track of The Small Faces’ masterpiece album Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake. It was a re-working of their song “I’ve Got Mine”. Decades later, this instrumental was played during the debut trailer for GTA V. You can also hear it on the Los Santos Rock Radio station.
14. “Telstar” – The Tornados (1962)
Space rock before space rock? Is this what the future sounds like? When I hear this instrumental, I think of the optimism of the 60s. A decade with many possibilities and a decade of progress. A lot of people think The British Invasion began with The Beatles, but really it began with two instrumentals Acker Bilk’s “Stranger On The Shore” and The Tornados’ “Telstar”, which was the first British rock and roll chart topper in the US. “Telstar” was composed and produced by Joe Meek, who was the British Phil Spector, for better or worse: both were crazy, eccentric guys (to say the least) who were brilliant producers and pioneered some groundbreaking techniques.
15. “Rondo” – The Nice (1968)
A symphonic rock version of Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo à la Turk”. True to prog rock fashion, it’s 8 minutes long. This instrumental inspired Welsh rock band Love Sculpture’s version of “Sabre Dance”.
Honourable Mention: “America” (West Side Story)
16. “The Ox” – The Who (1965)
This instrumental is basically The Who’s rhythm section flexes for 4 minutes. My favourite rhythm section! Love you Keith Moon and John Entwistle! This was the B-side to “The Kids Are Alright”. Also features Nicky Hopkins on piano.
Honourable Mention: “Sparks”
17. “Sabre Dance” – Love Sculpture (1968)
You thought The Nice went crazy by playing an 8 minute long instrumental, well Dave Edmunds’ band Love Sculpture did an 11 minute long proto-metal version of “Sabre Dance” (to me this is ahead of its time), a 1942 composition by Soviet/Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian. It was part of the ballet Gayane. It became a hit in the US in 1948 and was widely covered since then. 20 years later, it became a hit in the UK, reaching #5. As for other classic rock versions, The Pretenders, Budgie, and Cheap Trick covered it too.
18. “Revenge” – The Kinks (1964)
A short but sweet, energetic, bluesy instrumental so good Jimmy Page ripped it off for his song “She Just Satisfies”. A YouTube comment said it well “Revenge is a dish best served by The Kinks”. Peruvian band Los Yorks also ripped it off in their song “Mira tú”. This would make a great TV show theme song or radio show intro.
19. “Classical Gas” – Mason Williams (1968)
A beautiful instrumental. Gotta love classical guitar. It reached #2 on the Billboard charts in 1968 (only behind The Doors’ “Hello I Love You” and it won three Grammys. This was in the soundtrack for the Netflix mini series The Queen’s Gambit.
20. “And The Address” – Deep Purple (1968)
I love Mark I Deep Purple. This is another one of those songs that shows how talented the musicians in the band are. This was the opening track of their debut album Shades of Deep Purple. It was composed by guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and organ player Jon Lord – the group’s first original composition.
Honourable Mention: “Wring That Neck”
Honourable Mention: “Rumble” – Link Wray (1958)
An early fuzz guitar song, but no fuzz pedal here, Link Wray DIY-ed that sound by poking his amplifier with a pencil (Dave Davies of The Kinks would do something similar years later, taking a razorblade to his amp). Here’s something really badass, but also wild. Lots of songs get banned for one reason or another, but “Rumble” has the distinction of being the only instrumental to be banned from airplay. How though? How can anyone possibly be offended by a song with no words? Well, this is the 50s we’re talking about and a lot of people were conservative snowflakes. Conservative minded people thought that “Rumble” promoted juvenile delinquency. The title is a slang term for a gang fight. I picture rockers with pompadours and leather jackets riding motorcycles or James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause when I hear this song.
I have even more favourites where that came from. If you want to listen to even more instrumentals I like (including ones from the 70s and 80s), check out my playlist on Spotify:
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