Ten Instrumental Rock Songs You Need To Hear

I’ve been a heavy rock fan and music aficionado my whole life, and while I always like it when people write emotional, meaningful lyrics, I feel that music comes first. You could be a brilliant lyricist, but if your music is bland, the message will get lost. (There are some exceptions to that, but that is a discussion for another post.) In picking the following eight instrumentals, I chose pieces of music that evoked a powerful response in me, whether it was to contemplate something in my life or get up and groove. They are each visceral and rewarding in their own way.

ACCEPT “Just By My Own” — These German metal legends returned triumphantly this year with a new singer and a new album. This instrumental piece, however, comes from Objection Overruled, their 1993 reunion album with original singer Udo Dirkschneider and showcases the stellar guitar playing of Wolf Hoffmann, who is one of the most underrated six-string slingers in the business. He later went on to release the instrumental Classical album, which hopefully one day he will perform with an orchestra.

DOKKEN “Without Warning” — The understated intro to the Tooth and Nail album (and title track) is an ominous composition, featuring George Lynch’s moody soloing underpinned by atmospheric synth drones and cymbal washes. It’s an evocative, dark prelude for the metal madness that ensues on this classic 1984 release. Dokken would go on to record the more bombastic “Mr. Scary” instrumental for 1987’s Back For The Attack.

FOCUS “Hocus Pocus” — Found on the Moving Waves album, this groove-laden Seventies rocker does feature some wordless yodeling and singing, but I won’t keep that from putting it on this list. (There are no lyrics, and the vocals fit right in.) “Hocus Pocus” is at varying times hard-hitting, majestic and quirky and from a time period ripe with unusual instrumentals (including Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” and Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain”). Mainstream rock could use more eclectic tunes like this.

LYCIA “Pygmalion” — One of the premier Goth outfits of the Nineties, Lycia have gone through different rosters. This song was recorded when the group was simply Mike VanPortfleet on whispers, guitars, keyboards and drum machine. He managed to create a big sound with only a four-track recorder, especially on this powerful, angst-ridden instrumental from A Day In The Stark Corner. It is stunningly gorgeous in its darkness, notably the wailing guitar work in the middle.

NINE INCH NAILS “A Warm Place” — This moody ambient track offers respite from the emotional and musical maelstrom that is The Downward Spiral. Free from Trent Reznor’s tortured vocals, agitated electronics and pummeling percussion, this spacey piece feels like floating on a sea of uneasy tranquility after being submerged by waves of dark, overpowering emotions. Of course, it literally is that in the context of the story being told on this brilliant album.

OZRIC TENTACLES “Kick Muck” — This psychedelic instrumental jam band have always been an imaginative lot, with influences ranging from trippy dub to space rock to Middle Eastern music. On this cut from 1989’s Pungent Effulgent, the Ozrics let rip with a hard rock track propelled by an extremely contagious Ed Wynne riff and a funky rhythm section. It’s a oblique, unique sonic sweet and one of the tastiest in their extensive repertoire.

RAINBOW “Snowman” — While they were known for catchy, bombastic hard rock, Rainbow often through in a curveball to keep things interesting. For Bent Out Of Shape, that left-field entry was this haunting, keyboard-laced instrumental rendition of Howard Blake’s “Walking In The Air,” which was written for the 1982 film The Snowman, hence the title change here. (Nightwish later recorded a vocal cover of this song.) I heard a brief piano rendition of “Walking In The Air” on a PBS winter promo spot after first hearing this version. On this cover, the combination of David Rosenthal’s atmospheric synths and Ritchie Blackmore’s electrifying guitar work make for a beguiling sonic experience.

ROYAL HUNT “Martial Arts” — This Danish progressive metal outfit have served up some tasty, classically-influenced rock over the last 21 years, and while they possess a big sound beefed up with glorious vocal harmonies, this track showcases their instrumental prowess. There is only a live clip available online, but it sounds pretty damn close to the rambunctious studio version from Land Of Broken Hearts, which shows how accomplished this group is. A colorful sidenote: In the late Nineties, Japanese wrestler Masahiro Chono picked this track for his theme music.

JOE SATRIANI “Revelation” — While this axeman extraordinaire has unleashed a wide range of pieces throughout his 26-year recording career, this more low-key tune from 1998’s Professor Satchafunkilus & Musterion of Rock is one of my favorites. It seems deceptively simple, but as Satch told me an interview earlier this year, it’s harder to play than people might think. That’s not what draws me to it; it’s the emotion and passion behind this beautiful track, which has a sentimental feeling behind it.

EDDIE and ALEX VAN HALEN “Respect The Wind” — The end credit theme to the action movie Twister is a dramatic, intense composition by the Van Halen brothers, comprised simply of guitar and keyboards. It was totally unexpected, totally awesome and shows us a completely different side to these hard rock legends. One wonders if they should take on more soundtrack work.

7 Responses

    • Bryan Reesman

      I am planning a second installment for the future, so I’ll take another listen to that Racer X cut. The title track to Glenn Tipton’s 1997 solo album Baptizm Of Fire (with Billy Sheehan, Cozy Powell and Don Airey) is also awesome.

  1. michael

    “The Ides Of March”…Iron Maiden
    “Crystal Ann”…Annihilator
    “Without Warning”…Dokken

    Those are my 3 favorite instrumentals…

  2. michael

    How could i have forgotten this instrumental? “Bronyaur” by Jimmy Page/Led Zeppelin


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