Instrumental tracks on primarily non-instrumental albums are few and far between. They typically mark a band or artist going outside their comfort zone, experimenting or even just trying to fill up an album that’s not quite done. As a result, they’re are often tucked away toward the end of the record and are largely forgotten about. Every once in a while, however, a band will produce a memorable instrumental that stands out among its songs. Here are 15 great examples of artists keeping their mouths shut and letting their instruments do the talking.
15. The Flaming Lips – “Sleeping on the Roof”
Complete with crickets chirping and an array of dreamlike effects, The Soft Bulletin’s “Sleeping on the Roof” doesn’t need lyrics to paint a vivid portrait. It’s the perfect song for lying on your roof and staring into the cosmos on a hot summer night.
14. M. Ward – “Duet for Guitars #3”
From M. Ward’s 2003 album Transfiguration of Vincent, “Duet for Guitars #3” is an instrumental track that is exactly what it’s title implies—two layered acoustic guitars woven together to create a lovely, uplifting melody.
13. Ween – “A Tear for Eddie”
“A Tear for Eddie” is slow-burning instrumental lament off Chocolate and Cheese that’s full of watery reverb and fits right into album’s quirkiness. The Eddie in reference is Eddie Hazel, the pioneering Funkadelic guitarist who died in 1992 and to whom the song is dedicated.
12. Bruce Cockburn – “When It’s Gone, It’s Gone”
Canadian folk legend Bruce Cockburn provides this beautiful instrumental track of layered acoustic guitar work toward the end of his 1991 album Nothing But a Burning Light.
11. Beastie Boys – “Sabrosa”
Yes, the Beastie Boys released two all-instrumental albums (1996’s The Sound from Way Out! and 2007’s The Mix Up), but for the purpose of this list, we’ll take “Sabrosa” from 1994’s Ill Communication. Bring on the funk!
10. Pixies – “Cecilia Ann”
The Pixies know how to open an album. “Bone Machine” led off Surfer Rosa, “Debaser” led off Doolittle and “Cecilia Ann” got things off to a furious start on 1990’s Bossanova. Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago had always displayed surf-y tendencies, so he certainly had no problem reviving the 1964 Surftones song to open the album.
9. Stevie Ray Vaughan – “Scuttle Buttin’”
Stevie Ray Vaughan might have been the most jaw-dropping guitarist since Jimi Hendrix, and “Scuttle Buttin’” is one of the most readily apparent examples of why. It’s not even two minutes long, but that’s probably out of necessity—it might not even be possible to play guitar as fast as Vaughan does here for any longer.
8. Uncle Tupelo – “Sandusky”
Featuring gorgeous acoustic guitar interplay, “Sandusky” gives a vaguely uplifting sense of hope to one of Uncle Tupelo’s darkest lyrical albums, March 16-20, 1992. This is an instance where an instrumental track was almost necessary to relieve some of the tension caused by the heaviness of the rest of the album.
7. Van Halen – “Eruption”
The second track on Van Halen’s 1978 debut album, “Eruption” introduced the world to Eddie Van Halen’s guitar prowess. No one had ever seen a guitarist use all 10 fingers on the fretboard the way Van Halen did so expertly on this track.
6. The Who – “The Ox”
This furious track from The Who’s 1965 debut borrows the long-standing nickname of their legendary bassist, John Entwistle. It’s drummer Keith Moon who shines on “The Ox,” however, a song that exemplifies the bluesy destructiveness of the band’s early work.