Pop/Rock  •  Rock & Roll/Roots

Instrumental Rock

From its earliest days, rock & roll emphasized catchy melodies, which were usually presented with easily remembered lyrics. That wasn't always the case, however, and if the melodies were strong enough, rock & roll instrumentals could catch on and become hits. That happened most frequently during rock's first decade of existence, which constituted a sort of golden age for Instrumental Rock in the years before the British Invasion. The lead melodies of hit instrumentals could emphasize the organ (the Tornados' "Telstar") or the saxophone (the Champs' "Tequila"), but most often it was the guitar, as the twangy sound of Duane Eddy, the visceral fuzz tone of Link Wray, and the clean, reverbed picking of the Ventures all had a tremendous impact on many of the rock guitarists who followed them (Eddy and the Ventures scored quite a few hit singles as well). The Ventures were especially influential on the development of surf music, which -- apart from groups like the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean -- usually consisted of heavily reverbed guitar instrumentals. Despite the rapid-fire picking and Middle Eastern scales sometimes employed by surf-guitar innovator Dick Dale, most surf music was fairly simple, retaining its melodic emphasis. Following the British Invasion, instrumental hits were mostly confined to the R&B realm, among artists like Booker T. & the MG's and saxophonist Junior Walker. Funk and disco produced several instrumental hit singles during the '70s, and the technical virtuosity of many art-rockers led its fans to prize instrumental work, even if most of the songs featured vocals at one point or another. That emphasis on technical skill carried over into the '80s, when highly trained guitar virtuosos began to dominate heavy metal and even (like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai) record their own albums. During the '90s, instrumental music made a comeback in the indie-rock community, led by eclectic, avant-garde post-rock combos like Tortoise, as well as surf-rock revivalists like Man or Astro-Man?.