The #1 most popular song from the 1960’s is “Hey Jude”. I would never have guessed the second most popular song of the decade, but maybe you can.
My guess would have been another Rock song, but it was an Easy Listening instrumental from 1960, ”Theme From A Summer Place”. Here’s the listing in the Billboard Top 40 book.
“A Summer Place” was arranged and recorded by orchestra leader Percy Faith, and was from a popular movie of the same name. After the instrumental was #1, the song was also released with lyrics…”There’s a summer place, where it may rain or storm, but I’m safe and warm…” Adding lyrics to popular instrumentals was a common practice.
The ‘60’s was a huge decade for instrumental hits, and we’ll start with the CD collection Instrumental Gems of the ‘60s. It contains 40 instrumentals in chronological order. (Click to enlarge and make clearer.)
If you lived through the sixties, you may recognize quite a few of the songs, although since there are no lyrics, it’s sometimes tough to remember which melody belongs to which title. Despite the British Invasion re-energizing Rock & Roll in 1964, instrumentals didn’t fade away. Another big #1 hit, and the 12th most popular song of the decade was from 1968…”Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat, an orchestra leader from France.
Some other notable songs from the above collection include: Mason Williams’ virtuoso guitar work on “Classical Gas” (#2, 1968). Jazz trumpeter Al Hirt’s “Java” (#4, 1963). “Meditation” by guitar legend Charlie Byrd, is one of those melodies I have trouble remembering from the title, but it’s a sublime listen. A couple of songs were originally recorded for commercials…”Music To Watch Girl’s By” (#15, 1966) for Pepsi, and “No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In) [#3, 1965] for Alka-Seltzer. There are a couple TV themes, “Bonanza” and “Batman”. And, a couple of major movie songs that are still used in films half-a-century later, the themes for “James Bond” and “Mission Impossible”.
Big sixties instrumentals not on the discs include “Stranger On The Shore” by Acker Bilk, “Peter Gun” and “Pink Panther Theme” by Henry Mancini, “Soulful Strut” by Young-Holt Unlimited, “Grazing In The Grass” by Hugh Masakela, and “Time Is Tight” by Booker T & The MG’s.
A true instrumental phenomenon of the ‘60’s was the unbelievable popularity of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Herb Alpert (who played trumpet from the age of eight) attended a bullfight in Mexico in the early sixties. The sound of a mariachi band and the trumpets at the bullfight inspired his first hit, “The Lonely Bull” in 1962. His real breakthrough came in 1965, with the above album containing “A Taste Of Honey” (#7 Pop, #1 AC). Quickly following were “Zorba The Greek”, “Tijuana Taxi”, “What Now My Love”, and “Spanish Flea”, all Top 10 on the Adult Contemporary chart, and Top 40 on the Pop chart.
Herb Alpert’s albums were even bigger. Whipped Cream sold over 6-million copies. The title song was used on the TV show The Dating Game. In 1966, Alpert set a chart record with five of his albums in the Top 20 at the same time! It’s still the record. Eventually, Herb Alpert had 14 platinum albums. By the way, Alpert is an American-born son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. Our next amazingly successful instrumentalist is from Germany.
Bert Kaempfert was an orchestra leader, a composer, a multi-instrumentalist, arranger, and producer. His first big American hit was “Wonderland By Night”, #1 in 1960. The list of instrumental hits he wrote and recorded include: “Strangers In The Night”, “Danke Schoen”, “Afrikaan beat”, Bye Bye Blues”, “Spanish Eyes (Moon Over Naples)”, “L-O-V-E”, “Magic Trumpet”, and “Red Roses For A Blue Lady”. Other composers added lyrics to many of his songs.
Here’s some trivia to help you win a bet at parties. What was the first song written & recorded by The Beatles that was professionally produced & released…and…who produced it? Answer: The instrumental “Cry For A Shadow” by John Lennon and George Harrison, produced by Bert Kaempfert. It was in 1961. The Beatles were playing in Germany and backed Tony Sheridan on an album. They got two tracks of their own, the other being “Ain’t She Sweet”.
The final major trend being covered here is Rock Guitar instrumentals. While guitar songs like “Rebel Rouser” by Duane Eddy and “Rumble” by Link Wray led the way in 1958, it was the surf sound of the early ‘60’s that became the golden era of guitar instrumentals.
The above collection starts with what may be the best of the surf instrumentals, “Pipeline” (#4, 1963) by The Chantays.
The Surfaris’ “Wipe Out” (#2, 1963) was a garage band staple. Other major tracks include “Miserlou”, “Baja”, and “Penetration”.
The Ventures are the best-selling instrumental band of all time, with over 100 million records sold. It started for them in 1960 with “Walk Don’t Run” (#2) and “Perfidia” (#15). They did more of a surf arrangement and hit #8 with “Walk Don’t Run ’64” (which I wore out on the jukebox at Flossie’s Cafe), and their final Top 40 hit was their theme from the TV show “Hawaii Five-O”, #4 in 1969. But what really sold, were their albums. The Ventures charted 38 LP’s!
Update: Hey, I found my old very-used copy of “Walk Don’t Run ‘64”. I think it’s the actual record that was in the jukebox, and I bought it for a quarter. The guy would change out the records, and then leave a box of the old records at 25-cents each.
The 1960’s contained so many great instrumentals, but it seems the songs are seldom highlighted in reviews of the decade. Maybe if we could just match up the melodies with their titles…