As a Baby Boomer, I grew up in the '60s and '70s, finishing up college in the '80s. Occasionally, I like to share some nostalgia.
Enjoy Instrumental Hits From Yesterday
The '60s and '70s provided some pivotal points in music history. By the end of this time period, rock, punk, funk, and disco had gained a lot of ground. However, we sometimes forget the popular and important instrumental hits that also received a lot of airtime and played a significant role in changing music, as well.
Some of these instrumentals were original creations, while others were adaptations of old classics. Some introduced (or at least featured) new instruments like the Moog synthesizer and the electronic keyboard.
Below, I will review some of the most popular of the instrumental hits from the '60s and '70s and let you listen in to get an earful of the music that help shaped today's music.
List of Famous Instrumental Songs From the 1960s and 1970s
- "Classical Gas"
- "Music Box Dancer"
- "The Entertainer"
- Theme to A Summer Place
- Hawaii Five-O Theme
- Rockford Files Theme
- "Last Date"
- "Baby Elephant Walk"
- "Walk, Don't Run"
- "Wipe Out"
- Theme From The Exorcist
- Theme From Love Story
- "Feels So Good"
- "Rock and Roll: Part 1 and 2"
- "A Fifth of Beethoven"
- "Green Onions"
- "Music to Watch Girls By"
- "A Taste of Honey"
- "Love Is Blue"
- "No Matter What Shape Your Stomach's In"
- "Stranger on the Shore"
- "Spanish Flea"
- "Lara's Theme"
- Love Theme From The Godfather
- "Cotton's Dream" or "Nadia's Theme"
- "Love's Theme"
1. "Classical Gas"
In 1968, Mason Williams released "Classical Gas," a piece he composed and performed on classical guitar. Although it's been covered by a number of artists since this time, this is the original version.
This is one of the instrumental hits I recall listening to on a car trips with my parents when I was in grade school. Part of its popularity was due to the fact that both young people and old could appreciate it equally.
You can hear Williams perform it below.
2. "Music Box Dancer"
Released as a single in 1978, "Music Box Dancer" was a chart-topper. This piano piece was composed by Frank Mills and has been performed by many artists over the years.
This song hit the charts later in my teens, and although more of my listening time was spent with rock and disco types of tunes, this piano piece had a timeless appeal for all age groups, as well.
Below, you can hear the original version.
3. "The Entertainer"
Also among the instrumental hits from the '70s was a song that was actually first written decades earlier by Scott Joplin. The ragtime piece "The Entertainer" was adapted by Marvin Hamlisch and served as the theme for the movie The Sting.
I can recall hearing it on the radio and seeing the movie a few years later on broadcast TV, but I best remember it from a live performance by the local high school band. That's popularity: When everyone else picks it up!
You can hear it as it was recorded as the theme for the movie below.
In the late '60s, Gershon Kingsley wrote and recorded "Popcorn" but it wasn't until 1972 — when a band called Hot Butter played it on the Moog synthesizer — that it became successful on the charts, in the US and abroad.
I can remember new sounds emerging when I entered middle school, and the Moog synthesizer was something we began hearing. Certainly, electronic music hadn't evolved to the level where it is today (in European discos and such) but it definitely seems to have had its start here.
Below, you can hear Gershon Kingsley's original version of this popular instrumental.
This instrumental came off of the album Opera Sauvage released in 1979. Greek musician Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou wrote and performed many instrumental pieces throughout the 1970s, '80s, '90s and beyond, including the soundtracks of a number of movies. However, this is the first one that I personally recall hearing.
Obviously, he was interested in electronic music. You can hear Vangelis's version below.
6. Theme to A Summer Place
Max Steiner wrote the music for the theme to the movie A Summer Place, and in 1960, this tune hit the charts as recorded by Percy Faith.
I don't actually recall this movie or hearing the tune as a child, but I can say that it's one from that time period which I've heard hundreds of times since without knowing its origins. That's another sign of popularity: It crosses generations without our even being aware that we know the tune.
You can hear this hit instrumental below.
7. Hawaii Five-O Theme
Hawaii Five-O was a popular television series in the US during 1968 and for several years running. It was a detective/cop show starring Jack Lord. The theme to the show was created by Morton Stevens and is recognized easily by millions of people even now, more than 40 years later.
The theme song is certainly better-known than the show itself, and probably helped the tourism industry in Hawaii at the time.
You can hear the theme from the show below.
8. Rockford Files Theme
The Rockford Files was a TV series about a detective played by actor James Garner. It ran from 1974 through 1980. The theme song, written by Mike Post, became popular and was often heard on the radio.
While James Garner was quite popular as a good guy and clearly had a lovable and humorous title character in this show, the theme song is probably what most people today would likely remember from the series.
Listen to this theme song below.
9. "Last Date"
Pianist Floyd Cramer wrote and played another one of the hit instrumentals from the 1960s known as "Last Date."
I am familiar with this song primarily from an old album that my parents had. Basically, I grew up hearing it and have always thought it had a very sad feel to it.
You can check it out below.
10. "Baby Elephant Walk"
"Baby Elephant Walk," written by Henry Mancini, became popular in 1962 when it was featured in the movie Hatari.
This hit instrumental is one that I believe I recall from other sources, since I never saw Hatari. I have to believe that's it's been used elsewhere as background for the actions of curious little animals and youngsters.
You can hear it below.
11. "Walk, Don't Run"
The song "Walk, Don't Run" was released by the Ventures in 1960 and gained widespread popularity. However, my research shows that the song was actually written several years earlier by Johnny Smith. A number of musicians have performed the song before and since.
Again, this hit instrumental obviously saw a lot of airtime well after the time it was released in 1960, or I would never be aware of it. Surfing music in general was popular on oldie stations for many years.
You can hear "Walk, Don't Run" below.
12. "Wipe Out"
In 1962, the Sufaris wrote and recorded "Wipe Out" and in 1963, it was near the top of the charts. This instrumental features only two words, the two in the title of the song, which can be heard at the beginning of the recording. It's probably one of the most recognized surfing songs ever recorded.
This one, titled "Telestar," was recorded and released in 1962 by the Tornadoes. The song — named after a communications satellite that had been launched that year— was recorded to emulate some of the sounds associated with that device.
My only memories of this particular song are of hearing it many years later late at night when a local radio station signed off. The crackling sounds at the beginning and end of the recording were particularly eerie when heard at midnight. Listen to it below.
14. Theme From The Exorcist
The theme music for the 1973 movie The Exorcist is a composition by Mike Oldfield entitled "Tubular Bells." This song makes up an entire album of two versions that run over 20 minutes each.
The movie, adapted from a novel by William Peter Blatty, is one of the most celebrated horror films of all time.
You can hear a portion of "Tubular Bells" below.
15. Theme From Love Story
The movie Love Story, released in 1970, starred Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw as young lovers who are torn apart by a terminal illness. The theme song was one of the major instrumental hits of the decade. It was entitled "Where Do I Begin" and written by Francis Lai.
The song was subsequently recorded by a variety of artists, both with and without lyrics/vocals. You can hear this sad and beautiful song below.
16. "Feels So Good"
"Feels So Good" was first written and performed by Chuck Mangione in 1977 and released on his album of the same name that year. In 1978, he released a shortened version as a single and it hit the charts.
The flugelhorn is featured in this song. You can hear "Feels So Good" performed live below.
British group Apollo 100 recorded a classical tune and made it a major hit in the U.S. in 1972. The song, entitled "Joy," was a version of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," and arranged by Tom Parker.
I recall having a single of this instrumental which I loved playing simply for its ability to lift up the spirits. Hear it on the video provided below.
18. "Rock and Roll: Part 1 and 2"
Another instrumental hit from the '70s that has been widely heard in the years since is Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll, Part 2." Part 1 has lyrics but Part 2 is primarily an instrumental with the word "Hey" repeated at various points. It hit the US charts in 1972 and later became very popular at sporting events, which is where I vividly remember hearing this tune.
Billy Preston released the single "I Wrote a Simple Song" in 1971, but the original B-side of the record was the tune that really took off. "Outa-Space" was the upbeat Funk/R&B instrumental hit that year.
20. "A Fifth of Beethoven"
Yes, even disco offered instrumental pieces. In 1976, Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band recorded and released "A Fifth of Beethoven." Of course it was adapted from the classical piece, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.
While it's been used in a variety of films and shows, its use in the disco hit "Saturday Night Fever" is probably its most memorable.
You can hear "A Fifth of Beethoven" in the video provided here.
21. "Green Onions"
Blues and Soul also offered some instrumental hits in the '60s and '70s: "Green Onions" by Booker T & the M.G.s was very successful. It was recorded in 1962 and featured an organ.
The video posted below shows a live performance of this tune.
22. "Music to Watch Girls By"
First written as a commercial jingle for Diet Pepsi, "Music to Watch Girls By" was recorded by Bob Crewe in 1967. It was a chart success and went on to be recorded by other artists as well, both with and without lyrics.
23. "A Taste of Honey"
"A Taste of Honey" is an instrumental classic written by Bobby Scott and Ric Marlow. It was released with the film of the same name and won a Grammy award in 1962. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass also recorded a version in 1965 and took it back to the charts for a 1966 Grammy award.
I remember this hit instrumental song from the Herb Alpert Album, Whipped Cream & Other Delights, that my parents used to play when I was a kid.
24. "Love Is Blue"
The music for "Love Is Blue" (in French, "L' Amour est Bleu") was written by André Popp. It was recorded both with and without lyrics. In the US, the most popular version was released in 1967 and was an instrumental hit, making it onto the charts in 1968 as recorded by Paul Mauriat.
You can hear this version of the song in the video provided below.
Rock provided another interesting instrumental piece during the 1970s: "Frankenstein" was created by Edgar Winter and released by his group, the Edgar Winter Group, on the album They Only Come Out at Night. It made heavy use of the synthesizer which was new at the time. It hit the charts in 1973.
You can watch it performed live on the video provided here.
26. "No Matter What Shape Your Stomach's In"
Another very popular instrumental, "No Matter What Shape Your Stomach's In," was recorded by the T-Bones and hit the top of the charts in December, 1966. Three members of the band later recorded under the name Hamilton, Joe Frank, & Reynolds.
The song was also used in Alka Seltzer commercials.
27. "Stranger on the Shore"
"Stranger on the Shore" was written by Acker Bilk and first released in 1961. He performed it on clarinet with a chorale backing. It's been recorded since by many artists and used in a number of films.
The performance you see below was video recorded in the 1980s.
"Calcutta" was another chart-topping instrumental in the 1960s. It was recorded by bandleader Lawrence Welk and hit #1 on the charts in 1961. It sold over a million copies and pushed the album by the same name to #1, as well.
The 1979 instrumental "Rise," recorded by Herb Alpert, was a favorite that sold millions. This original recording featured Alpert's trumpet and hit the top of the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. It later received a Grammy award.
In the mid-1970s, George Benson released the hit "Breezin'," the title of the single and the album. The jazz guitarist became famous as a child and has continued his career through current day.
Below is a video that features a studio version of "Breezin'."
31. "Spanish Flea"
As you can see in this article, Herb Alpert was very popular in the '60s and '70s. Another one of his hits was "Spanish Flea," a song that millions of people recognize but probably don't know the name of. It was released in 1965.
Previous versions of the song were done by other artists and included vocals.
32. "Lara's Theme"
In 1965, the movie Dr. Zhivago was released. The epic film was a success and so was its music. "Lara's Theme" was very popular at the time as an instrumental and was later released as "Somewhere My Love" with vocals added.
"The Sound of Philadelphia" (TSOP) was a hit in 1974. It was popularized on the show Soul Train and was done by MFSB (Mother, Father, Sister, Brother).
34. Love Theme From The Godfather
The original Godfather movie (the first in a trilogy) was a top-grossing film in 1972 and produced a couple of instrumental hits. One of the most popular was the love theme which also had a vocal version called "Speak Softly Love." Of course, the Godfather theme was another popular tune itself.
35. "Cotton's Dream" or "Nadia's Theme"
In 1971 composers Barry De Vorzon and Perry Botkin Jr. wrote Cotton's Dream (later known as Nadia's Theme). It was first used in Bless the Beasts and the Children, later as a theme for the day time soap opera, The Young and the Restless. In 1976, it became a theme in the US for the highly successful Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci during the Olympics.
36. "Love's Theme"
Grammy award-winning singer, songwriter, and composer Barry White is responsible for the 1973/74 instrumental hit Love's Theme. He was known for his deep voice and romantic songs but on this piece, he left it to his 40 piece orchestra to work its magic.
Following the release of the successful instrumental, a vocal version was released. You can hear the orchestra's performance below.
© 2010 Christine Mulberry
MikeZ3000 on September 02, 2020:
Hoedown by Aaron Copeland, revived by ELP in the mid 70s.
Marcelo Salazar on July 09, 2020:
Nini on December 01, 2019:
Awesome! I spent 2 hour looking for 'Love's Theme' - Barry White! My dad use to play these when we were riding around in his cadillac. I don't have many memories with him but this one sticks. Oh man...the piece 'Feels So Good by Chuck Mangione and 'Rise' by Herb Alpert. Sent chills up my spine.
Kay Fender on June 08, 2019:
I'm trying to find an instrumental piece that was a single in 70's (I think) It was Indian sitar music.
Simone on March 23, 2019:
TNX for sharing these beauties. It's very difficult if you know a song, but you don't know what's it's called or who plays it. If there are words, you can google, but that's not done with a melody.
What I miss is Lieutenant Pigeon, Mouldy Old Dough, 1972. It would fit to these instrumentals I think.
JIM BARRINGTON on March 22, 2019:
uk late69 /early 1970's, there was a musical theme used for Rollo chocolates and the I think a character called beelzibob was in the commercial . Can anyone recall the theme?
Help with a song... on October 18, 2018:
Hi Christine (or anyone else)...
Can you help me identify this instrumental:
Any help appreciated!
Rafael Trefil on August 05, 2018:
WHere is Oingo Bongo?
MoNo on July 20, 2018:
Aehm... how about adding this stuff ?
Grooving with Mr. Bloe
Christine Mulberry (author) on July 05, 2018:
I considered adding Hocus Pocus, but because it has vocalizations (not really words) I included it instead in an article I did on "novelty songs" from the 70's.
Bruce Chook Fowler on July 05, 2018:
What about Hocus Pocus by Focus?
Gus W on May 30, 2018:
Sharon wild, is it il Silenzio?
Sharon wild on April 24, 2018:
Looking for a 70s song that starts off with the last post
Per on March 25, 2018:
Looking for an old shuffle/swing tune, from the early or mid 60's.
The A theme is with flute, high tones, probably piccholo, and brass along under - melody goes upwards and very much with the rythm.
The B theme is with a woman's voice opera style. A bit Herb Alpert style and very catchy. Anyone?
Tony on February 11, 2018:
I was born in '48. I listened to all and danced to many of these tunes when they were first heard on the radio and for many, many years after. They were played at dance halls for teenagers and parties, and lived on as "oldies but goodies." Thank you for this special treat.
Zappy on January 12, 2018:
We cannot forget "the" Incedible bongo band and bongo rock....
Nino Tempo with Sister James and Focus with house of the king,hocus pocus and Sylvia.
DK on October 31, 2017:
What a great collection! Thank you for taking the trouble to share these pieces with the rest of the world! I am listening to them right now from Seoul, Korea! These instrumental pieces really do take me back to time when I started to wake up to music. Thank you!!!
Robert on August 13, 2017:
The version on here of Telstar is not the original that was released in 1962. The version on here sounds more like Telstar 75 recorded later but not by all the original members using synthesizers. The way to tell is the original has a different sound that has never been duplicated, the composer Joe Meek took to his grave how he did the sound after the group recorded it in his studio. The song Telstar is my favorite recording ever and I have played it thousands of times since the 60's on my organ.
Dr. D. on June 25, 2017:
“Breezin’” by George Benson! I never knew what it was called. But in the 1970s, ABC Sports used it all the time as segue music for low-key stuff like golf.
Looking for a similar tune from that era, a bit more up-tempo and more disco, strings with French horn backing, that also was used for many segues, especially the cascading triplet string intro... aha, reading the comments, It's “Love’s Theme” by Barry White!
Now I can sleep better :-)
ThomU on May 09, 2017:
Thank you! Awesome post.
Jim on February 08, 2017:
Burt Bacharach's "Nikki" is a beautiful instrumental that I remember most as being the theme for the ABC Movie of the Week from the 1970s.
ABC Movie of the week intro:
Stan on January 21, 2017:
I'm after a Sixties TV Show Symphonic Theme song. I recall one show where Allied forces are holed-up in a church basement. Their machine gunner is set-up in the foyer and the German bodys are stacked-up one each side of the doorway. So far, I've listened to the themes of Combat and G.E.True. Any more you can think of?
agadino on November 19, 2016:
yesss, like most of them.. a couple more that comes to my mind "The hustle", Van McCoy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wj23_nDFSfE and the jethrotullish "House of the king" by Focus
BRUCE on September 07, 2016:
I remember lots of instrumentals , being a child of the