The 20 best instrumental songs of all time (2022)

Great music does not have to be dependent on memorable lyrics. Simply listening to the composition and creativity of an instrumental track can be just as rewarding. Here are some of the great instrumental tracks listed in chronological order.

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"Rebel-Rouser" by Duane Eddy (1958)

The 20 best instrumental songs of all time (1)

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Back in the day, Eddy was considered the "greatest instrumentalist of all time." While that might no longer be the case, he's still among the elite. To many rock guitar historians, this is the crowning jewelof his legacy. It's a folk tune with a dirty, gritty sound that was quite different for the time.

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"Tequila" by The Champs (1958)

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The Champs

Yes, the title of this massive hit is mentioned in that Dracula-like voice on occasion, but this is one instrumental track that has stood the test of time. Though it was a one-hit wonder for The Champs in the late 1950s, the song took on a new life thanks to its inclusion in 1985's Pee-wee'sBigAdventure. The dancethe Pee-wee Herman did to the song has become a pop-culture phenomenon.

3 of 20

"Apache" by Various artists (1960)

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The Shadows

Several artists have covered or sampled this popular track written by Englishman Jerry Lordan and made famous by The Shadows in 1960. It was in the early 1970s that the version by the Incredible Bongo Band became a hip-hop anthem. Almost a decade later, the Sugarhill Gang turned it into a dance-party staple for group and line dancers around the world.

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"Green Onions" by Booker T & M.G.'s (1962)

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Booker T & M.G.'s

One of the great "groove" tracks of all time. It's arguably the greatest rhythm and blues instrumental in music history that's been used in numerous films and commercials throughout the years. While Booker T. Jones's work on the Hammond M3 organ is the highlight of the piece, Steve "The Colonel" Cropper, of BluesBrothersfame, played guitar on the song

5 of 20

"Misirlou" by Dıck Dale and His Del-Tones (1962)

The 20 best instrumental songs of all time (5)

D. Dale and His Del-Tones

Known as the "King of the Surf Guitar," the late Dale inspired many young, budding musicians (such as Brian May, Jimi Hendrix, and Eddie Van Halen) to pick up a guitar. A master of the reverb, Dale, who favored the Fender brand, enjoyed some renewed popularity when "Miserlou" was prominently used in the 1994 Quentin Tarantino smash PulpFiction.

6 of 20

"Wipe Out" by The Surfaris (1963)

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The Surfaris

If "Misirlou" influenced generations of people to pick up a guitar, then "Wipe Out" did the same for drummers. Along the same surf theme as Dale's classic, The Surfaris enjoyed massive success with a song that has stood the test of time. Like "Miserlou," this pieceis one of the most recognizable instrumentals and has been used in countless movies and television commercials.

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"Classical Gas" by Mason Williams (1968)

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Mason Williams

A brilliant piece of work from this celebrated classical guitarist. Though many in rock or pop circles today have little recollection or knowledge of the song, it's enjoyed some steady staying power. Williams' exceptional acousticpiece, which reached No. 2 on the BillboardHot 100, has been used in films and as the opening theme for a nighttime newscast in Baltimore during the 1970s.

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"Black Mountain Side" by Led Zeppelin (1969)

The 20 best instrumental songs of all time (8)

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Led Zeppelin is full of tremendous musicians. "Black Mountain Side" is a simple folksyinstrumental track composed by the great Jimmy Page that is truly a hidden gem on the band's debut record.

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"Soul Sacrifice" by Santana (1969)

The 20 best instrumental songs of all time (9)

Daniel Gluskoter/Icon Sportswire

Long considered one of the great musical moments from the historic Woodstock festival in the summer of 1969. Carlos Santana was just a young pup when this song was released on his debut album at the end of the '60s. Checking in at a little more than 6 1/2 minutes, Santana'saxe work and a stellar drum performance from the great Michael Shrieve are the highlights of the track.

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“Frankenstein" by The Edgar Winter Group (1973)

The 20 best instrumental songs of all time (10)

Michael Putland/Getty Images

This has to be up there with the great rock instrumentals of all time. A radio hit that went to No. 1 on the BillboardHot 100 has long been a classic rock staple. While Winter's work on the ARP 2600 synthesizer and saxophone has become legendary, Ronnie Montrose's guitar and the bass effort from Dan Hartman add to the excellence of this superb cut.

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"Jessica" by The Allman Brothers Band (1973)

The 20 best instrumental songs of all time (11)

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This is an Allman Brothers Band classic, thanks to the brilliance of guitarist Dickey Betts, who composed the tune. A little more than seven minutes long on the band's BrothersandSistersalbum, Betts named the song for his then-infant daughter. Over the years, the track has been covered numerous times and appeared in movies such as FieldofDreams.

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"Eruption" by Van Halen (1978)

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This piece introduced the music world to Eddie Van Halen and his masterful guitar work. His "tapping" technique on the song earned him immense praise, and the entire effort is arguably the defining moment of his exceptional legacy. And it came on Van Halen's debut album, one of the most celebrated records in hard rock history. As a lead-in to the band's cover "You Really Got Me," it makes for a potent back-to-back punch.

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"La Villa Strangiato" by Rush (1978)

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Fin Costello/Redferns

Die-hard Rush fans believe this is the progressive rock band's masterpiece— instrumental or otherwise. Off the Hemispheresalbum, this is Rush's first instrumental effort. It checks in at just over 9 1/2 minutes long and truly highlights each member of the legendary three-piece band. The concept was composed by guitarist Alex Lifeson.

The 20 best instrumental songs of all time (14)

Rush

Off the commercially successful MovingPictures, this is the firstof several Rush instrumental songs nominated for a Grammy Award. While it's a complete band effort, the song truly highlights the talent of bassist Geddy Lee and late legendary drummer Neil Peart. (They co-wrote the piece.) In terms of Peart's performance, it's one that influenced many youngsters to pick the sticks and sit down beyond a drum kit.

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"Sirius" by The Alan Parsons Project (1982)

The 20 best instrumental songs of all time (15)

The Alan Parsons Project

The opening track and lead-in to the band's hit "Eye in the Sky" off the album of the same name. These two tunes are perhaps the most recognizable from the band. And this instrumental opener should be quite familiar to fans of the Chicago Bulls. It's the songthat plays during the club's starting lineup introductions. It was made super popular during those dominant Michael Jordan championship years of the 1990s.

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"(Anesthesia) - Pulling Teeth" by Metallica (1983)

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Few will argue that the late Cliff Burton still sits atop the heap when it comes to thrash metal bass players. Burton's ability and creativity on the bass were showcased on each of Metallica's first three albums, but this cut from the band's groundbreaking debut Kill 'Em Allstands above the rest. Rock fans probably never thought a bass guitar could soundlike that. Then, we were introduced to Cliff Burton.

17 of 20

"One of the These Days" by Pink Floyd (1971)

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Chris Walter/WireImage/Getty Images

Pink Floyd has been known for many notable instrumental-like tracks ("On The Run," "The Great Gig in the Sky"), but this one should stand above all. It's one of the Floyd's heavier tunes and the opening song on the underrated Meddlealbum. The nearly six-minute cut offers a crescendoing pace and also highlights the often overshadowed drum work of Nick Mason.

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"Always with Me, Always with You" by Joe Satriani (1989)

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Paul Hebert/Icon Sportswire

No doubt that Satriani is up there with the great guitarists in music history. From a technical standpoint, he could be the best. There are many great Satriani tracks to choose from, but this is one of his most celebrated. It's also likely his most recognizable as it earned plenty of FM radio airplay, and the videoreceived some decent love on MTV.

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"Cliffs of Dover" by Eric Johnson (1990)

The 20 best instrumental songs of all time (19)

Paul Hebert/Icon Sportswire

Joining Joe Satriani as one of the most technically sound instrumental guitarists of all time, Johnson has dabbled in all types of musical genres during his stellar career. Whether focusing on rock, jazz, new age, and classical, just to name a few, Johnson has awed listeners for decades. This piece, though, is arguably his most renowned in recognizable to a mass audience.

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"Electric Worm" by Beastie Boys (2007)

The 20 best instrumental songs of all time (20)

Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

One underappreciated aspect of the Beastie Boys' career was that it never stopped evolving. The band's knack for conceptualism was remarkable, not just because they started as a pure rap act ahead of its time. "Electric Worm" is a perfect exampleof the Boys' maturity and ultimate evolution as musicians, creators, and performers.

Jeff Mezydlo has written about sports and entertainment online and for print for more than 25 years. He grew up in the far south suburbs of Chicago, 20 minutes from the Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting, Ind. He’s also the proud father of 11-year-old Matthew, aka “Bobby Bruin,” mascot of St. Robert Bellarmine School in Chicago.You can followJeffat@jeffm401.

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