A popular instrumental instrument.

Photo by Jenny

Not every hit requires a singer. Just the other day, I was reminded of instrumental earworms!

I don’t know how it is for other people, but I tend to get music “stuck” in my head. Over the weekend, my husband Bill and I were listening to music when an old favorite from my youth came on. It was by Chuck Mangione, a man famous for his mad flugelhorn skills. In 1977, he had the biggest hit of his career in “Feels So Good”, a smooth jazz classic. It makes me smile every time I hear it, as I remember the days when Pizza Hut’s pizzas still tasted good and people still bought music on vinyl, cassettes, or 8-tracks. I can listen to “Feels So Good” today and it takes me back, because it sounds distinctly 70s… but in a good way. Back in the good old days of Napster, I was actually able to find a great extended version of this piece.

Here’s a groovy studio version of “Feels So Good”.

“Feels So Good” is one of those earworms that comes into your head unexpectedly. I remember back in 1990 or so, I was in a drug store in Farmville, Virginia with a friend and “Feels So Good” played over the store’s stereo system. My friend started to hum off key and then added some hilarious impromptu lyrics because I was buying caffeine pills and he joked that I was headed for a stint in rehab. That’s another fun memory that pops into my head every time I hear this number.

Another instrumental earworm is one that came out around the same time “Feels So Good” did. In 1979, trumpet player Herb Alpert had a big hit with “Rise”. For some reason, every time I hear “Feels So Good”, I feel the need to follow it with “Rise”, which is still a pretty good jazz jam all these years later.

The original video for “Rise”.

Herb Alpert has had quite a lot of instrumental hits over the years. When I was a kid, my parents had his album Whipped Cream and Other Delights, which was memorable for its minty green cover and photo of a lady covered in what appeared to be whipped cream (but was probably shaving cream). I used to listen to “A Taste of Honey” all the time.

I wasn’t around in the 60s, but this takes me back there every time.

In 1961, pianist Floyd Cramer had a hit with the snazzy instrumental “On The Rebound”, another album my parents owned that I heard all the time back in the day.

Does it get more 60s than this?

It seems like the late 70s and early 80s was a time especially conducive to musicians who weren’t necessarily singers. Remember “Music Box Dancer”? It was a hit by Frank Mills in 1979, having originally been used in a film in 1974. It was later used on an episode of The Simpsons and in the Kill Bill movies.

Watch Frank play!

Frank Mills followed up with “The Poet and I”, which I remember hearing on the radio a bit. It wasn’t nearly as successful as “Music Box Dancer” had been, though, and pretty soon Frank Mills faded from the pop music scene.

As the 80s approached, so did new instrumental hits, including “Hooked On Classics”. Basically, this was a medley of classical pieces strung together with hand claps and a subtle beat you can dance to.

I thought this was really cool back in the day, but now it sounds so 80s to me…

I seem to remember “Hooked On Classics” was marketed on television. My best friend from childhood had a copy of the cassette that her mother purchased. This was such a hit in 1982 that it spawned several sequels. Eventually the “Hooked On Classics” fad died, though. People lost interest in renditions of classics they could dance to.

In the 90s, there were some instrumental ear worms that were big hits among the techno fans. Robert Miles’ “Children” was popular in 1996.

I was in Armenia when this song was popular, so it always reminds me of overcrowded public transportation.

Sometime in the 90s, I kind of lost touch with pop music, though it does seem like instrumentals were no longer pop jazzy or showy, like the music played by Frank Mills and Floyd Cramer. It seemed like instrumentals that became hits were new age, techno, or hip hop oriented. I was introduced to a lovely instrumental just in time for my wedding, though. I walked down the aisle to “Highland Cathedral”. I didn’t use Phil Coulter’s version of this piece, but it did help influence me to find the sheet music for the organist and a bagpiper to play.

Every time I hear this, it takes me back to my wedding day. Believe it or not, it was composed in 1982 by Germans, Ulrich Roever and Michael Korb.

I know there are many other popular instrumentals I missed. But these were the ones that crossed my mind this rainy Tuesday morning.