The Zaw Towers Top 10 Instrumentals of All Time
There are times when a piece of music doesn't need any vocals whatsoever, when the music itself can freely express more emotion than any human voice ever could, and indeed when you just wish to generate atmosphere and a sense of feeling just by using the equipment you have. These succeed because they happen to have the right mix of sounds to make them work as standalone pieces of music, not necessarily part of a single or album either. They're not strictly in order, but I urge you to check them out.
NOTE: I've excluded film scores from this list, they'll be dealt with separately.
1 - Peaches En Regalia - Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa's "Hot Rats" was one of those albums, when released, that you loved or hated. But back in the day it was fairly different from the mainstream fodder that was offered to you, and also it was almost completely instrumental (apart from Captain Beefheart's vocal on Willie The Pimp). The album opener is this absoluely majestic gem. It does everyhing you need in around three and a half minutes or so, with the tune almost broken down into individual verses of instrumental, pieced together expertly and almost improvised on the spot. The immediacy is that the start and end parts are the same, but in between it veers from progressive rock to jazz and comes out smiling with an almost happy feel that uplifts you. I really like it about half way in when the hammond organ fades out and in comes a really neat saxophone to bring in the next section of the tune, and it just works really well on the whole. Thoroughly enjoyable.
2 - Chime - Orbital
One of my all time favourite dance tunes as well, and although the melody is really simplistic, it's the way that the tune develops over time, the way that the bass gets more analogue and hypnotic, and also just how the whole thing works together with an infectious drum beat that doesnt let you go and starts to invade your head nicely as you hum along to the main instrument's bar that repeats throughout and sticks in your head ever so well. One of the few times where a piece of dance music has made me change my opinions about a genre slightly, and this was the one that did it. Even now it remains a live favourite, and even now it stands the test of time really well.
3 - Sketch For Summer - The Durutti Column
In truth I could have picked a dozen of Vini Reilly's masterwerks and all of them would have been wonderful pieces. However, in the end, I plumped for one of the nicest pieces of music ever on a debut album, this opening track from the "Return of the Durutti Column" album. It just echoes feelings of being out on a warm summer day, the birds singing, the sky is blue, everything is just really nice. It has that feeling of warmth and beauty without sacrificing Vini's trademark guitar style which is so evident here, punctuated by a simple pounding drum and lots of peaceful ambient noises which really give you that feeling of being able to chill out without any problems. Simply lovely.
4 - Elegia - New Order
Although most of New Order's albums were more guitar based than their dance based single offerings, there is one notable exception on their Low Life album, the haunting beautiful instrmental that is Elegia. At first, a gentle mystical feel comes in, then gorgeously swamped by a synth and some really excellent guitar from Peter Hook, which underpins the whole thing as the tune develops and flows its own way. It might be a more simplistic piece, but it's all the better for it to be honest. However, the real delight came when those who purchased the limited box set of "Retro" and found a fifth CD which has the full seventeen minute version on it, which really shows how expansive the track would have actually been. Epic stuff.
5 - Oxygene IV - Jean-Michel Jarre
No instrumental list could possibly be complete without something being mentioned about possiblt France's greatest musical export. From the early days of the synthesizer, the power was harnessed by those who sought creativity, and indeed as a single this even reached the UK charts. It flows beautifully with some gorgeous filter sweeps thoughout, and a synth lead that is melodic as well as anything you'll hear. Add to that the bits between the main bars flowing freely with some really nice synth work and you're only about half way there to describing the lush etherealness, almost, of how this inspired many a person to write their own synth pieces for themselves back then.
6 - Icct Hedral (Philip Glass Orchestral) - Aphex Twin
The original version of Icct Hedral appeared on the album "I Care Because You Do" and was quite a really dark and moody piece, with some really evil ambience thrown in. Then change it for the trademark superb orchestration of Philip Glass, and you really do have something special. The tune is turned into something right out of a film soundtrack, while keeping its really evil and dark feel throughout, nonemoreso demonstrated by the opening minute where gradually the likes of the violin get louder and just really sound more and more sinister and brooding, giving eventual way to a much more dark and fantasy mood for the second part of the tune. If you can, track down Aphex Twin's "Donkey Rhubarb" CD single and listen for yourself - you won't be disappointed.
7 - God Moving Over The Face of the Waters - Moby
Before Play went and sold squillions of copies worldwide, Moby's first album for Mute, "Everything Is Wrong" featured a cross section of dance, guitar rock (later to show itself intensely on "Animal Rights") and ambience. However, the one track that stole the show, and would later appear on the film soundtrack to the movie "Heat" was this brooding, piano led, seven minute epic. At first, the pianos just play on their own, and gradually give way to a background piece that's unobtrusive yet serves as a perfect foundation for the pianos to play freely and show the pure emotion and feeling that this piece invokes in most people. An absolute gem and really shows what Moby can do, not just write music used in adverts a la "Play".
8 - Long Ships - Golden Claw Musics
Golden Claw Musics is Graham Crabb, ex- of Pop Will Eat Itself. The album "All Blue Revue" is a must, if you can find it. It's a whole hour of so of a much more relaxed and ambient album, based entirely on the sea. "Long Ships" is the album opener, and like many album opener sets the scene really well for what you're going to listen to, with gentle waves crashing in throughout as you can just imagine making a journey underwater in treacherous water, and then comes in a really hauntingly moody drum and effects which then underpin the whole thing nicely into a slightly uneasy feel. One to try out and see what you think.
9 - Pacific - 808 State
Ah, the days of being young and having a tune you can dance to and not feel embarrassed to because you don't know the words. Not just that, but add a killer use of a saxophone blended in with what sounds like seagulls or some form of bird cooing in the background and you're pretty much close to having that feel of late 1989 all over again. It's really simply made, and melodic, but has some killer hooks that keep you coming back for more. Add to that various different versions on the single, and you're spoilt for choice, although I'd probably plump for Pacific 202, essentially the single version.
10 - 4'33" - John Cale
The ultimate in ironic statement, or just art for art's sake? No matter. The fact was that it was an experimental piece that no one had tried before, and yet it was there and worked. So why so controversial? Simple. The track in question was nothing of four minutes and thirty three seconds of recorded silence. Nothing else. Recently on BBC4 there was a concert with some of John Cale's pieces on, and they "played" this to finish. Of course, due to audience coughs etc it wasn't silence per se, but the thoughts of Cale were there in that it's very hard to get actual silence at any time.