During the past 30 to 35 years, it has been extremely rare for instrumental songs to become hits on the Billboard Hot 100. However, hit songs without singing were commonplace on Top 40 radio from 1960 through 1985. In that time span, there were 18 different instrumental songs all peaking at number one.
The biggest instrumental hit of the 60s is “The Theme from a Summer Place” by Percy Faith and the Orchestra. This monster hit spent 9 consecutive weeks at number 1 and was the biggest record of 1960 according to Billboard. Faith won a Grammy Award for “Record of the Year” in 1961 for this song.
The summer of 1968 was the pinnacle for instrumental hits on Top 40 radio. On the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the week ending August 3, there are three instrumentals in the top eight positions: “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams peaked at #2, “Grazing in the Grass” from Hugh Masekela ranked #4 and “The Horse” by Cliff Noble and Co was number 8.
At the end of 1968, Billboard ranked 6 instrumental songs in their “Year-End Hot 100 Singles” chart with Paul Mauriat’s tune “Love is Blue” coming in as the second biggest record for ’68.
With this latest music blog message, I will be counting down what I consider to be the top 10 most significant instrumental singles between the years of 1965 and 1969. This time frame is considered to be part of the “Golden Age of Top 40 Radio.”
Criteria that I am using in this article:
- Tune charted during the 1965 to 1969 time period
- Single peaked at number 10 or higher on the Billboard Hot 100 chart
- Song has NO voices, speaking of words or whistling anywhere on the tune
My favorite instrumental: Soul Coaxing by Raymond Lefèvre and His Orchestra. Peaked at number 37 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the spring of 1968.
Instrumentals that are good but not eligible for my countdown because of human voices, brief singing or whistling:
- Soul Finger—The Bar-Kays
- The Good, The Bad and the Ugly—Hugo Montenegro
- No Matter What Shape—The T-Bones
- I Was Kasier Bill’s Batman—Whistling Jack Smith
- The “In” Crowd—Ramsey Lewis Trio
Instrumental songs just outside of my top 10
- Hang ‘Em High—Booker T and the MGs
- Quentin’s Theme—Charles Randolph Grean Sounde
- Keem-O-Sabe—Electric Indian
As Casey Kasem used to say on his American Top 40 show: “And now it’s on with the countdown.”
10. Midnight Cowboy—Ferrante & Teicher (1969)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #2 Easy Listening, #10 Hot 100
Musical score written by John Berry for the 1969 film “Midnight Cowboy.” The Ferrante & Teicher duo were American piano players who recorded many movie soundtracks, show tunes and light classical music tunes.
9. Love Theme from Romeo and Juliet—Henry Mancini & His Orchestra (1969)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 15th Biggest Hit of 1969
From the 1969 movie “Romeo & Juliet.” Music written by Nino Rota and rearranged by Henry Mancini, who plays the piano on the tune. Session musician Hal Blaine added drums to this track.
8. Grazing in the Grass—Hugh Masekela (1968)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 18th Biggest Hit of 1968.
Hugh Masekela was a jazz trumpet player from South Africa. Music was composed by Philemon Hou and features a cowbell. Tune inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2018.
7. Hawaii Five-0—The Ventures (1969)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #4 Hot 100, 58th Biggest Hit of 1969
Written by Morton Stevens as the theme music for CBS TV series Hawaii Five-O. The Ventures cover version spent 14 weeks on the Billboard chart. One of the band’s biggest hits.
6. The Horse—Cliff Nobles & Co (1968)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #2, Hot 100, 21st Biggest Hit of 1968
Interesting that Cliff Nobles didn’t perform on the tune credited to him. A group of session musicians jammed in the studio to create the instrumental track. “The Horse” was released as the B-Side of the 45-rpm single “Love is All Right” and is the instrumental version of that tune.
5. Soulful Strut—Young-Holt Unlimited (1968)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #3 Hot 100, #2 Easy Listening
Young-Holt Unlimited was a jazz trio from Chicago, Illinois. The music ensemble included Eldee Young and Isaac “Redd” Holt who both left Ramsey Lewis Trio in 1966, as well as Ken Chaney who became a member in 1968.
4. Time is Tight—Booker T and the MGs (1969)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #6 Hot 100, 3rd Biggest Hit of 1969
Booker T and the MGs were a mainstay with Stax Records out of Memphis, Tennessee and the are considered the quintessential R&B instrumental band of the 60s. These musicians had seven Top 40 hits and the group was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
3. Love is Blue—Paul Mauriat & His Orchestra (1968)
Peak positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Hot 100, 2nd Biggest Hit of 1968
With “Love is Blue” reaching number 1 for five weeks during February and March in 1968, Paul Mauriat became the first French artist to top the Billboard Hot 100. The tune also spent 11 weeks at number 1 on the “Easy Listening” chart and became the second best selling record in 1969 according to Billboard.
2. A Taste of Honey—Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass (1965)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #1 Easy Listening, #7 Hot 100
Signature tune by Herb Alpert received four Grammy Awards, including “Record of the Year” in 1966. “A Taste of Honey” topped the Billboard Easy Listening chart for five weeks and the American trumpeter was a 2006 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee.
- Classical Gas—Mason Williams (1968)
Peak Positions on Billboard Charts: #2 Hot 100, 43rd Biggest Hit of 1968
“Classical Gas” was composed by Mason Williams and features instrumental backup by the professional session musicians known as the “Wrecking Crew.” During 1969, the tune won three Grammy Awards for categories all associated with instrumental music. Without a doubt, the musical masterpiece known as “Classical Gas” by Mason Williams is my number 1 selection for the best instrumental top 40 single of the mid to late 60s.
Now that I have submitted my top 10 premier pop instrumental hits of the 60s, I am curious to find out your opinions of this topic. What are your favorite songs on my countdown?
Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts and comments below on what you consider to be the best Top 40 pop instrumental hits from the mid to late 60s. I look forward reading your responses. Rock on!
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