13 instrumental tracks that made the Australian charts

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13 instrumental tracks that made the Australian charts

Tommy Emmanuel Australian Charts
Words by Christie Eliezer

Here are 13 that made it.

This list is limited only to the great rock instrumentals that made it into the Australian charts.

If not, it would have mondos like “Eruption” by Van Halen, “The Call of Ktulu” by Metallica, “Little Wing” by Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Maggot Brain” by Funkadelic, “Journey of the Sorcerer” by The Eagles, “Stomp” by Little Feat, “Beck’s Bolero” by Jeff Beck Group and “The Animal” by Steve Vai.


One of the coolest ever club tracks not only came about by accident, but was almost going to be issued as a b-side.

The MGs were remarkable house band for Stax Records in Memphis, at the time made up of Booker T. Jones (keys), Steve Cropper (guitar) Lewie Steinberg (bass) and Al Jackson Jr (drums).

In June 1962, a session for a singer finished early, so they spent the rest of the time jamming on a riff that Jones had been playing around the clubs.

Read more features, columns and interviews here.

Passing By

Stax’s owner was passing by, liked what he heard, and told them to record it so he could release it.

A B-side was needed, so they recorded another riff Jones had, which he played on a Hammond M3.

“We nailed it in three takes,” remembered Cropper who was on a Fender Telecaster.

Funky Onion

They first called it “Funky Onions”, but it sounded a cuss word. So they opted to a friend’s cat Green Onions, whose way of walking inspired the riff.


Recorded in New York in September 1959, it became the biggest jazz single of all time.

Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck was inspired to create an album based on odd time signatures, and told his band members to come up with a different song based on different signatures.

Saxplayer Paul Desmond created “Take Five” after being briefed for a quintuple (5/4) meter, with a moderate tempo of 176 beats per minute.

Time Signature

It was one of the first jazz songs with a time signature other than the standard 4/4 beat or 3/4 waltz time.

It was so complicated that when they first tried to record it, on June 25, 1959, they had to abandon the session after 40 minutes and 20 failed attempts after different players kept screwing up.

But they nailed it a month later, and it sold 2 million copies within a few years. It reached #14 in Australia.

Taste For Whisky

Desmond, a sparkling wit and womaniser with a taste for whisky, regarded the song as “a throwaway”. 

When diagnosed with lung cancer, he donated all his on-going royalties from the song to Red Cross.

The track is ace for testing your audio system said pro-audio mags. Suggested Bose engineer Mark Armitage to one, “Listen for the hi-hat and the cymbals from the intro.

“Cymbals are hard to record and reproduce. This has a nice, natural sound with excellent instrument spacing.”


When Pink Floyd started performing “The Great Gig In The Sky”, it was purely an instrumental by keyboard player by Richard Wright.

As they started mixing The Dark Side Of The Moon (sometimes also called Dark Side Of The Moon) for a March 1973 release, they suddenly decided to revisit the track, made some changes, and figured it needed improvised, wordless female vocals.

A 25-year old session singer Clare Torry was brought in on a late Sunday evening in January 1973.

Not Told

She was not told what the band wanted or the title of the song, just that the album was about life, death and in between.

Without direction, Torry resorted to archetypal background “yeah!” and “ooh baby”.

“If we wanted that, we’d have asked Doris Troy,” they said, referring to the soul singer.


So Torry opted to use her voice as an instrument, and delivered an iconic moment on the record.

Floyd were very impressed with what she’d done, but didn’t tell her.

Torry, feeling embarrassed and thinking she’d blown it, took her £30 session fee (now worth £119.47 or about AU$229) and went to dinner with her guy.

In Store

It was only when The Dark Side Of The Moon hit the record stores, that she realised she was on the track by reading the credits.

She sued for vocal credit and royalties, which Floyd agreed to in a 2005 out-of-court settlement.

The Dark Side of the Moon sold 45 million copies worldwide, and over 1 million in Australia. In 2006, ABC-TV viewers voted it their favourite album.


This African-Latin hybrid was new to many rock fans’ ears, fuelled by a double-conga attack and some piercing guitar runs from Carlos Santana.

The final track on the first self-titled Santana album (1969), the 6:37 workout was a live favourite at their US shows.

What catapulted them into global superstardom was being included in the movie and soundtrack of Woodstock (1969), with exciting footage of dynamic congas interplay, guitar and keyboard intertwining, and a drum solo from boyish looking 20-year old Mike Shrieve.

Not Expecting

Carlos, not expecting to go on at 2 pm, took some psychedelics given to him by his friend Jerry Garcia of Grateful Dead.

He was tripping for most of the seven-song set.

“By the time we got to ‘Soul Sacrifice’, I had come back from a pretty intense journey. 

Plugged In

“Ultimately, I felt we had plugged in to a whole lot of hearts at Woodstock.”

The self titled Santana album reached #4 in Australia while the Woodstock soundtrack went to #2.


British multi-instrumentalist Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells album (1974) was devised to be a concept album listened to in its entirety.

He started writing it at the age of 17 when he was broke, living in crap apartment outside London, and playing bass in a band, and recorded it at 19.

He was truly salty when the US record company put together an eight minute edit for a single.


When the track was picked up in The Exorcist hit movie, it reached #7 in America.

Oldfield rushed out his own theme single and the two versions charted around the world.


Formed in the southern beachside suburbs of Sydney in the early ‘60s, Australian surf-rock outfit The Atlantics added to their pulsating sound with a dynamic stage show.

It included playing guitars behind their heads, throwing guitars at each other mid-song, and creating siren and machine gun effects.

Among First

They also were among the first to write their own material, and “Bombora” was named after a First Nation term for large waves breaking over submerged reefs.

It went to #1 in Australia, and released in Japan, Italy, Netherlands, UK, New Zealand, South America and the US where the powerful trade magazine Cashbox made it record of the month.

They’re still recording and “Bombora” found a new generation of fans when included on a video game.


Jazz guitarist Johnny Smith wrote “Walk, Don’t Run” in 1954, using the chord progression from “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise”, a bitter piece from the 1928 operette The New Moon, for the melody which he keyed in D minor.

Smith’s version was smoothie laid back (years later he got a medal for contributing to the popularity of the guitar) and country artist Chet Atkins provided a finger picking style a year or so later.


But it was The Ventures, a highly accomplished and creative outfit from Tacoma, Washington, who in 1960 gave it a thundering attack and took it to #1.

Over in Britain, its fans were teenagers George Harrison, Dave Davies and Jimmy Page.

The Ventures weren’t surprised by its success.

When they first started playing it live, audiences would demand they play it again…up to six or seven times at the same show.


Joe Satriani came up with the title on his way to the studio some time in 1986.

The scene in his head was that aliens were coming to Earth, not to destroy it but to have fun.

“I had never seen a science fiction movie about that, so I thought, ‘What would that sound like?” 


On the album he was making he was using two Kramer Pacers.

But on “Surfing”, “I was using that Black Boogie Strat into a very early Chandler Tube Driver. 

“I had three or four of them at the time, and I would go right into an early-’70s Marshall 100-watt head, into a 4×12, and that’s how we pretty much did that particular song.” 

Wah Wah

He hadn’t touched his wah-wah pedal for six years, but instinct told him to try it, using an Eventide 949s.

They nailed the solo in half an hour, but the Eventide broke down and they couldn’t recreate the effect, so Satriani had to abandon it and create another track.

Guitar World named it #10 in best wah solos of all time in 2015.


The song was written by English singer songwriter Jerry Lordan after seeing the 1954 western movie Apache.

He wanted a piece of music that was “something noble and dramatic” to capture how Burt Lancaster played Apache leader Massai as courageous and brutal.


It was initially recorded in the early part of 1960 by guitarist Bert Weedon but Lordan disliked his version because it was “too jaunty”.

The release of Weedon’s version was delayed due to problems with his record company.

So Lordan used the fact he was touring with Cliff Richard’s backing band The Shadows to play it to them backstage on his ukulele and got them excited.


The Shads’ guitarist Hank B. Marvin was a remarkable and influential player with his own style.

He came up with an intro for the song. The Shadows rushed into Abbey Road Studios in London in June 1960, and had it out a month later.

Marvin used an Italian-built tape echo unit and the whammy bar on his Fender Strat to create a standout sound, while second guitarist Bruce Welch utilised an acoustic Gibson J-200 borrowed from Cliff Richard.

Five Weeks

 “Apache” was #1 for five weeks in the UK (deposing Cliff’s “Please Don’t Tease” on which The Shadows featured) was also a # in Australia, France, Ireland, New Zealand, Spain and South Africa.

Weedon’s delayed version got released some months later but only creaked up to #25.


A more measured version by Danish guitarist Jørgen Ingmann in November 1960 reached #2 in the US.

A 1973 version by the Incredible Bongo Band, a project by US producer Michael Viner, with extended drums, horns and keys, would later be heavily sampled from the 1980s on hip hop and EDM acts.


A year after The Shadows split in 1968, Hank B. Marvin released a self-titled solo album in which he experimented with guitar sounds including a guitar orchestra.

It was critically hailed. But this was the period of psychedelia, and Marvin would shrug, “I couldn’t get arrested in England!”

Wagga Wagga

But in Australia, two DJs from 2WG Wagga Wagga (NSW) fell for the killer lead-off single “Sacha”.

It got picked up by the rest of Australia and went to #15 – the only country in the world.

Marvin had more ties with this country. In the ‘70s he moved to Perth. He formed Marvin, Welch & Farrar, the latter born in Melbourne, who moved overseas and became a hit writer for Olivia Newton-John.


By 1982, underground hip hop was the most exciting music around, and its creators and audiences were searching for new sounds within the genre.

Jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, who’d been taught by his one time boss Miles Davis to “never stop experimenting” was just the one to give them a new groove called funk electro new wave.

He did this enlisting avant-garde Material’s bassist Bill Laswell and synth player Michael Beinhorn.

Causing Riots

They’d seen how hip hop sounds were causing riots in New York clubs, and used its techniques as scratching courtesy Grand Mixer D.ST’s Infinity Rappers, triple-headed Afro-Cuban batá drums, a Led Zeppelin guitar sample, and vocoder vocal scat using elements from Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock”.

While in New York, the team were listening to an early cassette mix in a store.

50 Kids

They turned to find 50 kids from the ‘hood were listening through the window, curious and delighted.

Laswell told D.ST, “That’s a hit record.”

Aside from its freshness, what sold the track was its outstanding music video created by Godley & Creme, featuring the robotic art of Jim Whiting.


In Australia, “Rockit” was a huge groove in the underground clubs and pushed by shows as Countdown, and reached #16 on the charts.

“Rockit” won a Grammy for Best R&B Instrumental Performance and five MTV Video Music Awards.


US performer Mason Williams’ original version of “Classical Gas” had already been a hit in Australia, reaching #6 in 1968.

It was used on 2000 Australian movie The Dish.

Aussie shredder Tommy Emmanuel took it back into the Top 10 when he recorded the much covered track on his 1995 gold-spinning album Classical Gas with the Australian Philharmonic Orchestra.

Lead Writer 

Guitarist Williams was the lead writer for American TV’s The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and cut “Classical Gas” with LA studio band Wrecking Crew.

“Classical Gas” was titled “Classical Gasoline”, as “fuel” for the repertoire of classical and crossover axemen.


But a music copyist accidentally shortened it on the sheet music, and Williams let it go. 

It was used by numerous TV stations to open their news reports, and won three Grammy Awards.


One time English mods The Small Faces changed their tune once they dropped LSD.

Many of their songs were sly nods to it, like “Itchicoo Park” (“I feel inclined to blow my mind”), “Patterns” and “Afterglow”.

This title track opened the door for listeners to their 1968 concept album came in a round cover depicting a tobacco tin cover, and which on Side 2 traced Happiness Stan looking for the missing piece of the moon. 


The track “Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake” revisited their early single “I’ve Got Mine”, which flopped in 1965.

Double keyboards were put through wah-wahs, fuzz dominated the guitar, the busy drums given flange splashes, and a string section lifting the whole game.

Moody and atmospheric, the track let in the light for more green circles.