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The 20 best instrumental songs of all time

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's a look at some of the great instrumental tracks, spanning such genres as rock, pop and rap (listed in chronological order.

 
1 of 20

"Rebel-Rouser," Duane Eddy (1958)

"Rebel-Rouser," Duane Eddy (1958)
GAB Archive / Getty Images

Back in the day, Eddy was considered the "greatest instrumentalist of all time." While that might not longer be the case, he's still among the elite. To many rock guitar historians, this is the crowning jewel of his legacy. It's a folk tune, essentially, but with a dirty, gritty sound that that was quite different for the time period. That almost hollow, eerie sound gave it a bit of a haunting feel -- before picking up -- that is still quite magical to this day.

 
2 of 20

"Tequila," The Champs (1958)

"Tequila," The Champs (1958)
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 1950, the song took on a whole new life thanks to its inclusion in 1985's Pee-wee's Big Adventure. And the dance the Pee-wee Herman did to the song has become a pop-culture phenomenon. 

 
3 of 20

"Apache," Various artists (1960)

"Apache," Various artists (1960)
The Shadows

A number of artists have either covered or sampled this popular track that was 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.

 
4 of 20

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

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

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

 
5 of 20

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

"Misirlou," Dıck Dale and His Del-Tones (1962)
D. Dale and His Del-Tones

Known as the "King of the Surf Guitar," the late Dale inspired many a young, budding musician (such as Brian May, Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen) to pick up a guitar and try to sound like he was riding a wave in the process. 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 Pulp Fiction.

 
6 of 20

"Wipe Out," The Surfaris (1963)

"Wipe Out," The Surfaris (1963)
The Surfaris

If "Misirlou" influenced generations of people to pick up a guitar, than "Wipe Out" did the same when it came to drumming. Along the same surf theme as Dale's classic, The Surfaris enjoyed massive success with a song that has stood the test of time quite well. Like "Miserlou," this piece is one of the most recognizable instrumentals of all time and has been used in countless movies and television commercials.

 
7 of 20

"Classical Gas," Mason Williams (1968)

"Classical Gas," Mason Williams (1968)
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 over the decades. Williams' exceptional acoustic piece, which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, has been used in films and even as the opening theme for a nighttime newscast in Baltimore during the 1970s.

 
8 of 20

"Black Mountain Side," Led Zeppelin (1969)

"Black Mountain Side," Led Zeppelin (1969)
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports

As a collective, Led Zeppelin are tremendous musicians. And, we're not just talking about the heavy stuff that the group became known for and as an influence on many hard rock acts that followed. That said, "Black Mountain Side" is a simply, folksy instrumental track, composed by the great Jimmy Page, that is truly a hidden gem on the band's debut record. 

 
9 of 20

"Soul Sacrifice," Santana (1969)

"Soul Sacrifice," Santana (1969)
Daniel Gluskoter/Icon Sportswire

Long considered one of the great musical moments from the historic Woodstock festival from the summer of 1969. Carlos Santana was just a young pup at the time 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's axe work and a stellar drum performance from the great Michael Shrieve are the highlights of the track.

 
10 of 20

“Frankenstein," The Edgar Winter Group (1973)

“Frankenstein," The Edgar Winter Group (1973)
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 Billboard Hot 100, has long been a classic rock staple in the years that followed. 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.

 
11 of 20

"Jessica," The Allman Brothers Band (1973)

"Jessica," The Allman Brothers Band (1973)
Staff/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel files via Imagn Content Services, LLC/USA TODAY

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 Brothers and Sisters album, Betts named the song for his daughter, who was an infant at the time. Over the years, the track has been covered numerous times and appeared in movies such as Field of Dreams.

 
12 of 20

"Eruption," Van Halen (1978)

"Eruption," Van Halen (1978)
N.Scott Trimble/USA TODAY NETWOR

This was the piece that 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," makes for a potent back-to-back punch.

 
13 of 20

"La Villa Strangiato," Rush (1978)

"La Villa Strangiato," Rush (1978)
Fin Costello/Redferns

Die-hard Rush fans believe this is the progressive rock band's masterpiece -- instrumental or otherwise. Off the Hemispheres album, 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, and is widely regarded as one of the group's most influential pieces of music.

 
14 of 20

"YYZ," Rush (1981)

"YYZ," Rush (1981)
Rush

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

 
15 of 20

"Sirius," The Alan Parsons Project (1982)

"Sirius," The Alan Parsons Project (1982)
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 song that plays during the club's starting lineup introductions, and made super popular those dominant Michael Jordan championship years during the 1990s.

 
16 of 20

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

"(Anesthesia) -- Pulling Teeth," Metallica (1983)
Tony Mottram/UPPA/ZUMA Press via USA TODAY NETWORK

Not many 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 was showcased on each of Metallica's first three albums, but this cut from the band's groundbreaking debut Kill 'Em All  stands out above the rest. Rock fans probably never thought sounds like that were capable of coming out of a bass guitar. Then we were introduced to Cliff Burton.

 
17 of 20

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

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

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 out above all. It's one of the Floyd's heavier tunes, and the opening song on the underrated Meddle album. The nearly six-minute cut offers a crescendoing pace and also highlights the often overshadowed drum work of Nick Mason.

 
18 of 20

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

"Always with Me, Always with You," Joe Satriani (1989)
Paul Hebert/Icon Sportswire

No doubt that Satriani is up there with the great guitarists in music history. And, from a technical standpoint, many will argue that 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 very likely his most recognizable as it earned plenty of FM radio airplay, and the video received some decent love on MTV.

 
19 of 20

"Cliffs of Dover," Eric Johnson (1990)

"Cliffs of Dover," Eric Johnson (1990)
Paul Hebert/Icon Sportswire

Joining Joe Satriani as one of the great 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.

 
20 of 20

"Electric Worm," Beastie Boys (2007)

"Electric Worm," Beastie Boys (2007)
Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports

One under-appreciated aspect of the Beastie Boys' career was that it never stopped evolving through the years. The band's knack for conceptualism was truly remarkable, and not just because they started out as a pure rap act that just seemed ahead of its time. "Electric Worm" is a perfect example of 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 follow Jeff at @jeffm401.

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