Thursday, February 5, 2009

Shut Your Mouth!

These are the instrumentals that made it to Number One on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, which debuted in August 1958:

"The Happy Organ," by Dave "Baby" Cortez, May 1959

"Sleepwalk," by Santo and Johnny, September 1959

"The Theme From 'A Summer Place,'" by Percy Faith, February 1960

"Wonderland by Night," by Bert Kaempfert, January 1961

"Calcutta," by Lawrence Welk, February 1961

"Stranger on the Shore," by Mr. Acker Bilk, May 1962

"The Stripper," by David Rose, July 1962

"Telstar," by the Tornadoes, December 1962

"Love Is Blue," by Paul Mauriat, February 1968

"Love Theme From Romeo and Juliet," by Henry Mancini, June 1969

"Frankenstein," by the Edgar Winter Group, May 1973

"Love's Theme," by the Love Unlimited Orchestra, February 1974

"TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)," by MFSB, April 1974

"Pick Up the Pieces," by the Average White Band, February 1975

"The Hustle," by Van McCoy and the Soul City Symphony, July 1975

"Theme From 'S.W.A.T.,'" by Rhythm Heritage, February 1976

"A Fifth of Beethoven," by Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band, October 1976

"Gonna Fly Now," by Bill Conti, which I wouldn't call an instrumental but Billboard lists as such, July 1977

"Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band," by Meco, October 1977

"Chariots of Fire," by Vangelis, May 1982

"Miami Vice Theme," by Jan Hammer, November 1985

And unless I missed one, which is certainly possible, that's it. There are basically two eras when instrumentals were big: the pre-Beatles days, from 1959 to 1962, and the early disco years, from 1973 to 1977. The craze broke long before disco itself faded away, but "TSOP" and "The Hustle" and "A Fifth of Beethoven" are all disco songs, aren't they? They're at least dance songs with lots of strings and at this late date are indistinguishable from disco. But the hegemony of the Bee Gees put these records out of business.

Then, of course, we haven't had an instrumental Number One in over 20 years, and in practical terms, they died out more like 30 years ago. You might say we'll never have another instrumental Number One, and you might be right, although these trends tend to turn when you least expect them.

Finally, the whole reason I did this was because it seems to me that people with big instrumental hits are invariably one-hit wonders. You'll notice that no artist repeats on the above list, but that's not the half of it. Of the sixteen artists on that list after Lawrence Welk, ten of them never had another Top Forty hit of any kind. And two of the remaining six had only one more hit: Love Unlimited Orchestra with "Satin Soul," and Rhythm Heritage, whom you will recall followed up "Theme From S.W.A.T." with "Baretta's Theme (Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow)." S.W.A.T. and Baretta, along with the quickly cancelled Caribe, were the three great hopes of ABC's fall season in 1975. Maybe Caribe should have had Rhythm Heritage do the theme song.

9 comments:

Kinky Paprika said...

I have a hard time buying "The Hustle" as an instrumental.

T. Nawrocki said...

That's what Billboard calls it, or at least what Joel Whitburn calls it. "TSOP" has vocalizing, too. I ran into quite a few judgment calls when I was putting this together, so I just decided to defer to Billboard.

Gavin said...

There's a remarkable number of "instrumentals" that vocalize the title. "Tequila" is another.

T. Nawrocki said...

"Tequila" went to Number One, but in March of 1958, prior to my Hot 100 cutoff.

Kinky Paprika said...

Eight of the 12 "instrumental" Number Ones since 1969 were themes to a TV show or movie.
All it takes are one or two smash hit movies or TV shows that happen to have instrumental themes, and the trend will turn again.

Rob said...

The American people let Chuck Mangione down. oh, it galls me “Feels So Good” never hit the top.

I have an itch in my heart for Perez Prado’s “Patricia,” the last Billboard #1 hit before they switched “Top 100” to “Hot 100,” so I must protest the calendar cut-off. (Which also excludes “Lisbon Antigua,” “The Poor People of Paris,” “Moonglow and Theme from Picnic.”) I could care less about Herb Alpert’s “Rise,” but that hit #1 too, plus “Batdance” and “Fingertips Pt. 2,” which I think have fewer words than “TSOP” (which has 12, I think) or “The Hustle" (which has 5).

T. Nawrocki said...

Don't know how I missed "Rise." I offer my abject apology to the OPC-reading public.

I had "Fingertips Pt. 2" on my original list, then I noticed that Billboard didn't call it an instrumental. You can't really count the number of words, because Stevie mostly just scats. "Batdance" I checked; same thing. I haven't heard that one in years, but I remember the incessant exchange of "Stop the presses, who's that?" "Vicki Vale."

The calendar cutoff had mostly to do with the fact that the Hot 100 switchover made a nice point at which rock & roll had taken over the charts, i.e., no more Perry Como. Plus I didn't know half those pre-1958 Number Ones, so I would have had to look them all up.

Innocent Bystander said...

How about Shaft?

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