When the Music Does the Singing

A collection of guitar-driven instrumentals

Frequent visitors of the blog and others who have a good idea about my music taste know I really dig vocals, especially multi-part harmony singing. In fact, when it comes to artists like The Temptations, I could even do without any backing music. That’s why felt like shaking things up a little and putting together this collection of tracks that shockingly don’t have any vocals. Once I started to reflect, it was surprisingly easy to find instrumentals I really like – yes, they do exist and, no, I don’t miss the vocals!

Since I still play guitar occasionally (only to realize how rusty I’ve become!), I decided to focus on primarily guitar-driven tracks. While I’m sure you could point me to jazz instrumentals I also find attractive, the reality is I’m much more familiar with other genres, especially in the rock and blues arena. Most of the tracks in this post came to my mind pretty quickly. The John Mayall and the Blues Breakers and Steve Vai tunes were the only ones I picked from a list Guitar World put together.

The Shadows/Apache

I’ve always thought Hank Marvin had a really cool sound. Here’s Apache, which was written by English composer Jerry Lordan and first recorded by Bert Weedon in 1960, but it was the version by The Shadows released in July of the same year, which became a major hit that topped the UK Singles Chart for five weeks.

John Mayall and the Blues Breakers/Steppin’ Out

Steppin’ Out is a great cover of a Memphis Slim tune from the debut studio album by John Mayall and the Blues Breakers from July 1966. It was titled Blues Breakers with Clapton featuring, you guessed it, Eric Clapton, who had become the band’s lead guitarist following the release of their first live album John Mayall Plays John Mayall that appeared in March 1965.

Pink Floyd/Interstellar Overdrive

My Pink Floyd journey began with their ’70s classics Wish You Were Here and The Dark Side of the Moon. Much of their early phase with Syd Barrett was an acquired taste, especially experimental tunes like Interstellar Overdrive from Floyd’s debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn released in August 1967. It’s one of only two tracks on the album credited to all members of the band at the time: Barrett, Roger Waters, Richard Wright and Nick Mason.

Deep Purple/Wring That Neck

Wring That Neck is a kick-ass tune from Deep Purple’s sophomore album The Book of Taliesyn that appeared in October 1968. As was quite common for the band, Jon Lord’s mighty Hammond organ pretty much had equal weight to Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar. That’s always something I’ve loved about Deep Purple, as much as I dig guitar-driven rock. Wring That Neck was co-written Blackmore, Lord, bassist Nick Semper and drummer Ian Paice.

Fleetwood Mac/Albatross

Yes, I know, I featured this gem only recently on July 25 when Peter Green sadly passed away at the age of 73. I’m also still planning to do a follow-up on this extraordinary guitarist. But I just couldn’t skip Albatross in this collection, which Green wrote and recorded with Fleetwood Mac in October 1968. The track was released as a non-album single the following month. It’s a perfect example of Green’s style that emphasized feeling over showing off complexity, speed and other guitar skills. With it’s exceptionally beautiful tone, I would rate Albatross as one of the best instrumentals, perhaps even my all-time favorite, together with another track that’s still coming up.

The Allman Brothers Band/Jessica

Jessica first appeared on The Allman Brothers Band’s fourth studio album Brothers and Sisters from August 1973. It also became the record’s second single in December that year. Written by lead guitarist Dickey Betts, the tune was a tribute to jazz guitar virtuoso Django Reinhardt. Betts named the tune after his daughter Jessica Betts who was an infant at the time. When you have such beautiful instrumental harmonies, who needs harmony vocals? Yes, I just wrote that! ūüôā

Santana/Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile)

Santana’s Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile) is the other above noted tune, which together with Albatross I would perhaps call my all-time favorite guitar-driven instrumental. In particular, it’s the electric guitar tone that stands out to me in both of these tracks. Co-written by Carlos Santana and his longtime backing musician Tom Coster who provided keyboards, Europa was first recorded for Santana’s seventh studio album Amigos from March 1976. It also appeared separately as a single and was also one of the live tracks on the Moonflower album released in October 1977.

Steve Vai/The Attitude Song

When it comes to guitarists and their playing, I’m generally in the less-is-more camp. That’s why I really must further explore Peter Green whose style should be up right up my alley. Sometimes though shredding is okay. I was going to include Eddie Van Halen’s Eruption, but it’s really more an over-the-top guitar solo than an instrumental. So I went with Steve Vai and The Attitude Song, a track from his solo debut album Flex-Able from January 1984. I definitely couldn’t take this kind of music at all times. In fact, as I’m listening to the tune while writing this, it’s actually making me somewhat anxious. While the harmony guitar and bass action sound cool, like most things, I feel it should be enjoyed in moderation! ūüôā

Stevie Ray Vaughan/Scuttle Buttin

Scuttle Buttin’ by Stevie Ray Vaughan isn’t exactly restrained guitar playing either. But while like The Attitude Song it’s a shredder, the tune has never made me anxious. I think that’s largely because I really dig Vaughan’s sound. Yes, he’s playing very fast and many notes, yet to me, it comes across as less aggressive than Vai who uses more distortion. Written by Vaughan, Scuttle Buttin’ appeared on his excellent second studio album Couldn’t Stand the Weather released in May 1984.

Jeff Beck/A Day in the Life

The last artist I’d like to feature in this collection is another extraordinary guitarist with an amazing tone: Jeff Beck. His unique technique that relies on using his thumb to pick the guitar strings, the ring finger to control the volume knob and his pinkie to work the vibrato bar of his Fender Stratocaster creates a unique sound no other guitar player I’ve heard has. Here’s Beck’s beautiful rendition of The Beatles tune A Day in the Life. It was included on In My Life, an album of Fab Four covers compiled and produced by George Martin, which appeared in October 1998.

Sources: Wikipedia; Guitar World; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: May 26

I can’t believe it’s been six weeks since my last installment in this recurring music history feature. And even though to me it feels like I’ve covered so many dates already, the reality is I have more than 300 left to go. Do without further ado, let’s take a look at May 26!

1964: Lenny Kravitz was born in New York City as Leonard Albert Kravitz. He was the only child of actress Roxie Roker and Sy Kravitz, a news producer at NBC Television. Both of his parents have passed away. Kravitz was drawn to music since he was tiny. At age 3, he began using pots and pans as drums, and two years later, he apparently knew he wanted to become a professional musician. After his family had moved to Los Angeles in 1974, Kravitz started listening to rock music like The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Creedence Clearwater Revival. When he set out to get a record deal, initially, he was given a hard time, with record labels either telling him he wasn’t “black enough” or “white enough.” Fortunately, Kravitz was able to overcome this BS, and in September 1989 his debut studio album Let Love Rule appeared. He has since released 10 additional studio records, in addition to a greatest hits compilation, as well as various box sets and EPs. My introduction to Kravitz was his sophomore album Mama Said from April 1991. Here’s a great rocker from that record he co-wrote with Slash: Always On the Run.

1967: The Beatles released their eighth studio album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. If I could only choose one of their records, a nearly impossible task, this would be it most days. On other occasions, I might go with Abbey Road or Revolver. You can read more about Sgt. Pepper and why I dig that album here. Following is the record’s grande final A Day in the Life, a tune that was mostly written by John Lennon. Paul McCartney’s main contribution is the middle section.

1969: Janis Joplin made the cover of Newsweek. The headline declared Janis Joplin: Rebirth of Blues. Seventeen months later, on October 4, 1970, Joplin was found dead in her room at the Landmark Motor Hotel in Los Angeles after she had not appeared for a recording session at Sunset Sound Recorders studios. An autopsy by L.A. coroner Thomas Noguchi determined she had passed away from a heroin overdose, possibly compounded by alcohol. Joplin, undoubtedly one of the most compelling female blues vocalists, was only 27 years old.

1972: English rock band Mott the Hoople, which despite their cult status in England were on the verge of disintegration due to lack of commercial viability, recorded All the Young Dudes, a song that had been given to them by one of their fans: David Bowie, who also produced the single, played guitar, sang backing vocals and clapped. All of that happened in the middle of the night at Olympic Studios in London, where Bowie had managed to get them some time. The tune was released on July 28, 1972 and climbed all the way to no. 3 on the UK Singles Chart. In the U.S., All the Young Dudes became a top 40 hit, reaching no. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100. It ended up saving the band and extending their life until 1976.

1973: Deep Purple release Smoke on the Water as the third and final single from their sixth studio album Machine Head, another gem of a record, in my opinion. The tune, which must be a living nightmare of many folks working at guitar stores, was credited to all members of the band at the time: Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Jon Lord and Ian Paice. The song was inspired by a fire at the casino in Montreux, Switzerland on December 4, 1971, where Deep Purple were about to get underway with recording sessions for the Machine Head album. But some stupid with a flare gun/Burned the place to the ground – the night before after a Frank Zappa concert. Perhaps he had not liked Zappa’s performance! Whatever the case may have been, the tragic fire, which claimed all of Zappa’s equipment, led to one of the most iconic rock songs of the ’70s.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; This Day in Music; YouTube

Christian’s Fourth of July Rock Playlist

While I never need a reason to listen to great music, I certainly don’t mind the idea to combine it with a special occasion. Today happens to be the Fourth of July, which undoubtedly means many folks will be hanging out with family and friends, eat burgers and other barbecued foods, and watch some fireworks. Perhaps with the exception of the latter, all of these activities are much more fun with music, in my humble and completely unbiased opinion.

Before we get to the enclosed playlist, I wanted to express my hope that all people celebrating Independence Day remember this country was built by immigrants, based on the principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, not hate, division and walls. And that’s all I have to say about that, to borrow a line from one of my all-time favorite motion pictures. Time to get to some music!

How to organize a playlist of random rock tunes I found in my music library? Well, how about alphabetically and kicking if off with some Abba? Just kidding! Here’s¬†AC/DC with¬†It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll. Co-written by Angus Young, Malcolm Young and Bon Scott, the track first appeared as a single in December 1975 and also became the opener to High Voltage, the Aussie rockers’ first internationally released album in April 1976. I suppose many people never looked at bagpipes the same way again. While the visual is a bit blurred, I just couldn’t resist to post the video version of the tune. Fasten your seat belts and let’s go!

What comes after “a”? Well, d’uh, “b”! Though don’t worry, I won’t go through the entire alphabet. But I didn’t want to skip Blue √Ėyster Cult.¬†Cities On Flame With Rock With Rock And Roll is from their eponymous debut album released in January 1972. I’ve always dug that song, which is credited to Albert Bouchard, Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser and Sandy Pearlman. It also became the band’s first single.

I’m skipping “c” and jump ahead to “d”. It didn’t take long to figure which band to feature:¬†Deep Purple.¬† I just love these guys and still believe they’re the ultimate hard rock band. And while Highway Star or Smoke On The Water may have been more obvious choices, I felt like going with Speed King, the opener to their fourth studio album Deep Purple In Rock from June 1970. Like all tracks on the record, the tune was credited to all members of the band at the time: Ritchie Blackmore,¬†Ian Gillan,¬†Roger Glover,¬†Jon Lord¬†and¬†Ian Paice – their best line-up, in my opinion.

Before Gary Moore started to focus on the blues, the Northern Irish guitarist was more of a straight rocker and in this case a hard rocker. Victims Of The Future is the title track of his fourth studio album that came out in December 1983. It was co-written by Moore, Neil Carter, Ian Paice and Neil Murray – and, yep, that’s¬†Deep Purple drummer Ian Paice, which I didn’t know either until I read up on the tune. Once it kicks into high gear at around the one-minute mark, the track literally feels like fireworks going off!

Okay, I thought a rock playlist has to have some Jimi Hendrix. Given the occasion, Star Spangled Banner it is. And since this year marks the 50th anniversary of Woodstock, here’s Jimi’s legendary rendition from the festival.

Next up is a choice you may find a bit surprising: Carry On Wayward Son by Kansas. In my book, this tune off their fourth studio album Leftoverture from October 1976 features one of the coolest rock guitar riffs I know. Written by Kerry Livgren, the track also became the record’s lead single in November that year.

We’re up to “l” and that means Led Zeppelin. With so many great tunes from this band, the choice was tough. Whole Lotta Love¬†is one hell of a song that includes one of the best Jimmy Page riffs, in my opinion. In addition to all members of the band, the opener to Led Zeppelin II is co-credited to Willie Dixon, since Zep “adapted” parts of Dixon’s 1962 tune You Need Love. Unfortunately, they didn’t give any love to Dixon when the album came out in October 1969. It took a lawsuit and settlement in 1985 to make this happen – not the only example where Zep obviously stole material from other artists. Maybe I’m a bit naive here, but I never got why they engaged in this kind of BS! Proper attribution wouldn’t have diminished them as one of rock’s greatest bands.

Rainbow, the band founded by¬†Ritchie Blackmore¬†in 1975, may not match¬†Deep Purple, but they released some great music, especially during the initial phase with powerhouse lead vocalist Ronnie James Dio. Following is their best known tune, Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll, the title track to the band’s third studio album from April 1978. Dio wrote all lyrics on the record, his last with Rainbow. Most of the music including for this song was penned by him and Blackmore.

As somebody who grew up in Germany, I felt I had to acknowledge what’s probably the most successful German rock band internationally: Scorpions. While I acknowledge their music has varied quite a bit over the decades, these guys have released some kickass rock. Here’s Loving You Sunday Morning, the opener to Lovedrive. According to Wikipedia, the band’s sixth studio album from January 1979 “cemented the “Scorpions formula” of hard rock songs combined with melodic ballads.” Lead vocalist Klaus Meine and drummer Herman Rarebell co-wrote the tune’s lyrics, while guitarist Rudolf Schenker came up with the music. Scorpions continue to rock to this day, more than 40 years on, with Meine and Schenker still being part of their line-up – amazing!

We’re up to the tenth and last tune. Let’s finish it with some early¬†Van Halen, when they were still great: Runnin’ With The Devil, off their eponymous studio debut in February 1978. Like most of the record’s tracks, the song is credited to all members of the band at the time: ¬†Eddie Van Halen,¬†Alex Van Halen,¬†David Lee Roth¬†and¬†Michael Anthony.

And that’s a wrap. Hope everybody who is celebrating it has a great Fourth of July. And please be safe and don’t do anything silly, such as drinking and driving!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

My Playlist: Deep Purple

Deep Purple has been my favorite hard rock band pretty much since the time I started listening to music 40-plus years ago. When this morning Apple Music served up Machine Head, one of my longtime favorite albums, I listened to it again for what must have been the one millionth time or so – it just doesn’t get boring! While undoubtedly best known for Smoke On The Water, which features one of the most iconic guitar riffs in rock, and the kick ass Highway Star, the record has much more to offer than these two tracks. It gave me the inspiration to put together this post and playlist.

The origins of Deep Purple date back to 1967 when ex-Searchers drummer Chris Curtis envisaged forming a “supergroup” he wanted to call Roundabout. Jon Lord, a classically trained organ player, Nick Simper (bass) and Carlo Little (drums), who were all performing in the backing band for The Flower Pot Men, became Roundabout’s first members. The next to join was guitarist Ritchie Blackmore, after Simper and Little had suggested him.

Deep Purple Mark I
Deep Purple Mark I (left to right): Back: Blackmore, Lord & Simper; front: Paice & Evans

Following Curtis’ was firing due to drug-induced erratic behavior, Blackmore and Lord took over artistically and replaced Little with Bobby Woodman on drums. An extended search for a lead vocalist led to¬†Rod Evans in March 1968, who brought along drummer Ian Paice. This¬†forced Woodman out and completed the band’s lineup. Roundabout soon became Deep Purple, a name suggested by Blackmore. The so-called Mark I formation of Blackmore, Lord, Paice, Simper and Evans went into the studio to record the band’s debut album Shades Of Deep Purple. It was first released in the U.S. in July 1968, followed by the UK in September that year.

The Mark I lineup released two additional records:¬†The Book Of Taliesyn (U.S.: October 1968; UK: June 1969) and Deep Purple (U.S.: September 1969). In June 1969, Evans and Simper were fired and replaced by Ian Gillan and Roger Glover, respectively. The beginning of the Mark II lineup brought a change from progressive-oriented rock to a heavier sound, and the band’s commercial breakthrough with their fourth studio album Deep Purple In Rock. Mark II, which is my favorite lineup, issued three more records: Fireball (July 1971); Machine Head (March 1972), which became the band’s most commercially successful record; and Who Do You Think We Are (January 1973).

Deep Purple_Machine Head Gatefold
Deep Purple: Machine Head (March 1972) Gatefold

Following Who Do You Think We Are, Deep Purple went through various additional lineup changes and an eight-year hiatus from 1976 to 1984. The members of the Mark II lineup reunited twice, from 1984 to 1989, and from 1992 to 1993. Deep Purple, which have been on The Long Goodbye Tour since May 2017, continue to rock to this day. Last month, they announced a 25-city North American co-headliner with heavy metal outfit Judas Priest, which will kick off August 21 in Cincinnati and wrap up on September 30 in Wheatland, Calif.

Paice remains the only founding member in Deep Purple’s present lineup (Mark VIII), which also includes Glover, Gillan, Steve Morse (guitar, since 1994) and Don Airey (keyboards, since 2001). The current formation has been in place since 2001, making it the band’s most stable lineup. To date, Deep Purple have released 20 studio albums, the most recent being Infinite from April 2017, as well as numerous live and compilation records. Time to get to the playlist!

While Shades Of Deep Purple is best known for Hush, a song I’ve always liked, I’ve decided to highlight a different track called And The Address. This cool instrumental, which was co-written by Blackmore and Lord, is the album’s opener.

Why Didn’t Rosemary is another great early Deep Purple tune from the Mark I lineup. It appeared on the band’s eponymous third studio record from June 1969 and was credited to all members. On this tune, I particularly dig Blackmore’s guitar playing and Lord’s work on the Hammond.

One of my favorite Deep Purple songs to this day is Black Night, the first single released by the Mark II lineup and the band’s second overall. It came out in June 1970 just a few days after Deep Purple In Rock had appeared. It’s puzzling to me that the tune wasn’t included on the album. Like all of the songs released by the Mark II lineup, it was credited to all members of the band. The tune became a major hit for Deep Purple, climbing to no. 2 on the UK charts – their highest peaking UK single to this day.

Speaking of Deep Purple In Rock, here is the epic Child In Time. To me Gillan’s singing and Lord’s keyboard work are the outstanding features of the tune. It gives me goosebumps every time I listen to it.

When it comes to Machine Head, I find it hard to pick a tune. Sure, Highway Star¬†or Smoke On The Water would be obvious choices, and I certainly dig both of these songs – and tortured my poor parents playing along on the electric guitar as a teen – of course, with full distortion and the volume of my tiny home amp put to the max! But instead, I’d like to highlight Pictures Of Home. Why? Because I think Blackmore’s guitar riff is pretty cool, plus I dig Glover’s bass solo. I also like Paice’s intro. I think these are more than enough reasons.

Who Do You Think We Are was the final album of Mark II’s initial run. Here’s the great opener Woman From Tokyo – love that honky tonk piano solo starting at around 4:12 minutes.

Burn was Deep Purple’s eighth studio album and first of the Mark III formation featuring David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes on vocals and bass, respectively, replacing Gillan and Glover. Coverdale, who in 1978 became the lead singer of Whitesnake (and still is to this day after several departures and returns), is a fine rock vocalist but Gillan will always remain my favorite Deep Purple lead vocalist. Anyway, here is the album’s title track.

Perfect Strangers marked the triumphant return of Deep Purple after their 1976-1984 hiatus. It was also the first reunion of the Mark II lineup. Here’s the album’s title track. Portions of the instrumental parts are a bit reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir.

In my opinion, Perfect Strangers was the last great Deep Purple album. I still want to acknowledge some of the band’s music that followed. First up: the title track of their 14th studio record¬†The Battle Rages On, which came out in July 1993. It was the first and only record released during the second reunion of the Mark II lineup. During the tour that followed in support of the album, Blackmore left the band for good.

For the last tune of this playlist I’d like to jump to Deep Purple’s most recent record Infinite. Here is the opener Time For Bedlam, which also became the album’s lead single. While clearly not being Machine Head¬†caliber, it proves the band still knows how to kick ass. Airey and Morse do a fine job on keyboards and guitar, respectively.

Deep Purple have sold more than 100 million albums worldwide, making them one of the most commercially successful rock bands. In 2016, the band (Blackmore, Lord, Paice, Gillan, Glover, Coverdale, Evans and Hughes) was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Among their other accolades is a listing in the 1975 Guinness Book of World Records as the “globe’s loudest band,” based on a 1972 concert at the Rainbow Theatre in London, England.

Sources: Wikipedia, Deep Purple official website, YouTube