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Mar 232009

Lyrics are important, but it’s a shame the art of the hit instrumental seems to have been lost. Turn on oldies radio and from Booker T. to the Ventures, instrumental guitar jams pop up and now and again. The instrumental is on death’s door, but certain segments of the indie aesthetic are trying to revive it. Explosions in the Sky is an all-instrument post-rock band (whatever that means), and Andrew Bird released an instrumental disc to accompany his recent Noble Bird. While we wait to see whether the instrumental makes a comeback, let’s take a wander through time looking some instrumentals of the past and present. But remember: Walk, don’t run.

Bob Dylan – Rumble (Link Wray)
When Wray passed a few years back, artists like Dylan and Springsteen began covering this one in their live shows to pay tribute to the unheralded master of the distortion guitar. [Buy]

Orquestra America Romantica – Tequila (The Champs)
The original’s got that south-of-the-border vibe, so this Brazilian orchestra goes with that with blaring horns, flying percussion, and drunken shouting. Because yes, technically this song has lyrics I suppose, but it’s just one word. [Buy]

The Pink Fairies – Walk Don’t Run (The Ventures)
My favorite instrumental of the bunch, it doesn’t get much more dance-crazy fun than the Ventures’ original. To, their credit, the Fairies don’t try. Instead they produce a ten-minuet psychedelic swirl that Wire magazine proclaimed one of the best covers ever. They even come up with some vocals for the beginning! Groovy. [Buy]

The Juggernauts – Wipe Out (The Surfaris)
So many sound-alike covers of this one, it’s refreshing just to here something different. The Juggernauts give it a world music feel, playing theme on acoustic guitars while employing all manner of percussion, whistling, sound effects, bird calls, etc. for the drum breaks. [Buy]

Surf Champlers – James Bond Theme (Monty Norman)
I’ve been planning on doing a post on theme songs for a while, and still may, but I couldn’t resist putting this here. It’s a little more world music, lead guitar complemented by South American percussion and reggae strumming. [Buy]

Ironweed – Nashville Skyline Rag (Bob Dylan)
When Dylan went country in ’68, he didn’t mess around. His disc Nashville Skyline included a duet with Johnny Cash, a song about all the different types of pie he likes, a steel guitar instrumental. Ironweed takes it out of Nashville and up to Appalachia, giving it that bluegrass aesthetic with banjo, mandolin, and lots of old-timey pickin’. [Buy]

DeVotchKa – Overture (The Nightmare Before Christmas)
Accordion? Violins? Tuba? It’s a strange mix indeed, but what better to do a Nightmare tune justice. Not just a Nightmare tune though – a dozen of ‘em all mashed into the movie’s overture. DeVotchKa’s bizarre concoction incorporates them on as it thumps along. [Buy]

Figurines – New Orleans Instrumental No. 1 (R.E.M.)
The blogging gods over at Stereogum put together a whole set of Automatic for the People covers that included not one but two takes on this one (the other by Jana Hunter). Interestingly, both of them added wordless vocals. While hers was slow and dirge-like, the Figurines keep it fresh and bouncy. [Buy]

Cida Moreira – Fawn (Tom Waits)
Tom Waits’ sense of heartbreaking melody is second to none, so his knack for memorable instrumentals should come as no surprise. Coming from his work for the Robert Wilson play Alice, “Fawn” is a more recent example that gets a beautiful piano treatment by Moreira. Even though her wavery soprano comes in at the end, it’s just another instrument here. [Buy]

Danzo Rezno – Ghosts 38/Demon Seed (Nine Inch Nails)
Ticketmaster foe Trent Reznor did the world of instrumental music a huge favor last year when he released a four-disc set of new instrumentals, “a soundtrack to daydreams” he called it. Each song was titled Ghosts [#] and featured the dark, brooding sound that Nails fans expected. Danzo pulls out a piano take that starts out quiet until the guitars come in and then…well. He even incorporates an instrumental version of Trent’s “Demon Seed,” from his non-instrumental disc last year. Dude’s prolific to say the least. [Buy]

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