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All-Time Top 100 Instrumental Songs

Updated on October 29, 2014

Top Instrumental Songs from 1940-1987

First, a definition: An instrumental song is a music without lyrics or singing, although it might include some inarticulate vocal input. "Instrumental" means the music is primarily or exclusively produced by musical instruments.

Many people think that the more intelligent you are, the fewer words you want in your music. But we're not here as scientists or theorists. No, we're here because we like instrumental music, regardless of what that says about our brains.

So how would you like to know the most popular instrumental songs recorded from 1940-1987? Below, you will find a list that sorts through 48 years of instrumental recordings to find the best (although Country and Western instrumental hits were not included on this list).

Here's the tools and criteria I used to set up my survey:

  • Each song is at least 75% instrument-only. In other words, the lyrics take up 25% or less of the song in order for it to qualify as instrumental.
  • The song had to rank at #4 or higher (which meant these songs were very popular at the time they were released).
  • I used two of Joel Whitburn's books as reference: Billboard's Top 3000 1955-1987 (1988) and Pop Memories 1890-1954 (1991).

Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954: the History of American Popular Music
Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories 1890-1954: the History of American Popular Music

Determining the Top Instrumentals

Next, a decision had to be made on how to rank the songs. Each song's ranking was determined by:

1. Peak position (how high the song rose on the chart).

2. Number of weeks it held its peak position.

3. Total weeks charted in the Top 10.

4. Total weeks charted in the Top 40.

5. Total weeks charted.

Armed with this information, we are ready now to rank the greatest instrumental songs for this era. There were over 1,000 songs recorded and charted as instrumentals during this period, in which a total of 45 songs reached the #1 position.

#1 "Frenesi" by Artie Shaw (1940)

#2. "In the Mood" by Glenn Miller (1940)

#3 "The Third Man Theme" by Anton Karas (1950)

#4 "The Third Man Theme" by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians (1950)

#5 "Cherry Pink & Apple Blossom White" by Perez Prado (1955)

#6 "Moonlight Cocktail" by Glenn Miller (1942)

#7 "The Theme from A Summer Place" by Percy Faith (1960)

#8 "Tuxedo Junction" by Glenn Miller (1940)

#9 "Peg O' My Heart" / The Harmonicats (1947)

#10 "Piano Concerto in B Flat" by Freddy Martin (1941)

The Top 100 Instrumentals

Song Title / Artist / Year / Peak Position on Chart (# of Weeks Held)

1. "Frenesi" / Artie Shaw 1940 #1 (13)

2. "In the Mood" / Glenn Miller 1940 #1 (12)

3. "The Third Man Theme" / Anton Karas 1950 #1 (11)

4. "The Third Man Theme" / Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians 1950 #1 (11)

5. "Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White" / Perez Prado 1955 #1 (10)

6. "Moonlight Cocktail" / Glenn Miller 1942 #1 (10)

7. "The Theme from A Summer Place" / Percy Faith 1960 #1 (9)

8. "Tuxedo Junction" / Glenn Miller 1940 #1 (9)

9. "Peg O' My Heart" / Harmonicats 1947 #1 (8)

10. "Piano Concerto in B Flat" / Freddy Martin 1941 #1 (8)

11. "The Poor People of Paris" / Les Baxter 1956 #1 (6)

12. "Blue Tango" / Leroy Anderson 1951 #1 (5)

13. "Tequila" / The Champs 1958 #1 (5)

14. "Love Is Blue" / Paul Mauriat 1968 #1 (5)

15. "Autumn Leaves" / Roger Williams 1955 #1 (4)

16. "Lisbon Antigua" / Nelson Riddle 1956 #1 (4)

17. "Jersey Bounce" / Benny Goodman 1942 #1 (4)

18. "Sleepy Lagoon" / Harry James 1942 #1 (4)

19. "Moonglow" or "Theme from Picnic" / Morris Stoloff 1956 #1 (3)

20. "Wonderland by Night" / Bert Kaempfert 1961 #1 (3)

21. "Telstar" / The Tornadoes 1962 #1 (3)

22. "Rise" / Herb Alpert 1979 #1 (2)

23. "A String of Pearls" / Glenn Miller 1942 #1 (2)

24. "Sleep Walk" / Santo & Johnny 1959 #1 (2)

25. "Calcutta" / Lawrence Welk 1961 #1 (2)

26. "Love Theme from Romeo & Juliet" / Henry Mancini 1969 #1 (2)

27. "Grazing in the Grass" / Hugh Masekela 1968 #1 (2)

28. "TSOP" ("The Sound of Philadelphia") / MFSB 1974 #1 (2)

29. "Star Wars Theme" / Cantina Band / Meco 1977 #1 (2)

30. "Delicado" / Percy Faith 1952 #1 (1)

31. "Patricia" / Perez Prado / 1958 #1 (1)

32. "Stranger on the Shore" / Acker Bilk 1962 #1 (1)

33. "A Fifth of Beethoven" / Walter Murphy/Big Apple Band 1978 #1 (1)

34. "Chariots of Fire" / Vangelis 1982 #1 (1)

35. "The Stripper" / David Rose 1962 #1 (1)

36. "Gonna Fly Now" / Bill Conti 1977 #1 (1)

37. "Love's Theme" / Love Unlimited Orchestra 1974 #1 (1)

38. "Frankenstein" / The Edger Winter Group 1973 #1 (1)

39. "The Happy Organ" / Dave "Baby" Cortez 1959 #1 (1)

40. "Miami Vice Theme" / Jan Hammer 1985 #1 (1)

41. "Pick up the Pieces" / AWB Average White Band 1975 #1 (1)

42. "The Hustle" / Van McCoy 1975 #1 (1)

43. "Theme from S.W.A.T." / Rhythm Heritage 1976 #1 (1)

44. "Intermezzo" / Guy Lombardo 1941 #1 (1)

45. "Song of the Volga Boatmen" / Glenn Miller 1941 #1 (1)

46. "The Crazy Otto" / Johnny Maddox 1955 #2 (7)

47. "I Hear a Rhapsody" / Charlie Barnet 1941 #2 (5)

48. "The Last Date" / Floyd Cramer 1960 #2 (4)

49. "Dueling Banjos" / Eric Weissberg & Steve Mandell 1973 #2 (4)

50. "Honky Tonk" (Parts 1 & 2) / Bill Doggett 1956 #2 (3)

51. "April in Portugal" / Les Baxter 1953 #2 (3)

52. "The Horse" / Cliff Nobles & Co. 1968 #2 (3)

53. "Canadian Sunset" / Hugo Winterhalter 1956 #2 (2)

54." Velvet Moon" / Harry James 1943 #2 (2)

55. "Classical Gas" / Mason Williams 1968 #2 (2)

56. "Apache" / Jorgen Ingmann 1961 #2 (2)

57. "Melody of Love" / Billy Vaughn 1955 #2 (1)

58. "Exodus" / Ferrante & Teicher 1961 #2 (1)

59. "Raunchy" / Bill Justis 1957 #2 (1)

60. "Walk Don't Run" / The Ventures 1960 #2 (1)

61. "Wipe Out" / The Surfaris 1963 #2 (1)

62. "Theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" / Hugo Montenegro 1968 #2 (1)

63. "Midnight in Moscow" / Kenny Ball & His Jazzmen 1962 #2 (1)

64. "Washington Square" / The Village Stompers 1963 #2 (1)

65. "Outa-Space" / Billy Preston 1972 #2 (1)

66. "Dragnet" / Ray Anthony 1953 #2 (1)

67. "Also Sprach Zarathustra" / Deodato 1973 #2 (1)

68. "Star Dust" / Artie Shaw 1941 (#2 (1)

69. "Topsy II" / Cozy Cole 1958 #3 (3)

70. "Axel F" / Harold Faltermeyer 1985 #3 (3)

71. "The Entertainer" / Marvin Hamlisch 1974 #3 (2)

72. "Wheels" / The String-A-Longs 1961 #3 (2)

73. "Last Night" / Mar-Keys 1961 #3 (2)

74. "Out of Limits" / The Marketts 1964 #3 (2)

75. "Green Onions" / Booker T. & The M.G.s 1962 #3 (1)

76. "No Matter What Shape" / The T-Bones 1966 #3 (1)

77. "Music Box Dancer" / Frank Mills 1979 #3 (1)

78. "Chopin's Polonaise" / Carmen Cavallaro 1945 #3 (1)

79. "Ruby" / Richard Hayman 1953 #3 (1)

80. "Anvil Chorus" / Glenn Miller 1941 #3 (1)

81. "Perfidia" ("Tonight") / Xavier Cugat 1941 #3 (1)

82. "Soulful Strut" / Young-Holt Unlimited 1969 #3 (1)

83. "Pomption Turnpike" / Charlie Barnet 1940 #3 (1)

84. "I Dreamt I Dwelt in Harlem" / Glenn Miller 1941 #3 (1)

85. "Down Yonder" / Del Wood 1951 #4 (4)

86. "Express" / B.T. Express 1975 #4 (3)

87. "Teen Beat / Sandy Nelson" 1959 #4 (2)

88. "Quiet Village" / Martin Denny 1959 #4 (2)

89. "Space Race" / Billy Preston / 1973 #4 (2)

90. "Pipeline" / Chantay's 1963 #4 (2)

91. "Because They're Young" / Duane Eddy & The Rebels 1960 #4 (2)

92. "Moonglow" and "Theme From Picnic" / George Cates 1956 #4 (1)

93. "Raunchy" / Ernie Freeman 1957 #4 (1)

94. "Java" / Al Hurt 1964 #4 (1)

95. "On the Rebound" / Floyd Cramer 1961 #4 (1)

96. "Feels So Good" / Chuck Manglone 1978 #4 (1)

97. "Yellow Bird" / The Arthur Lyman Group 1961 #4 (1)

98. "In the Mood" / Ernie Field's Orchestra 1959 #4 (1)

99. "Songbird" / Kenny G 1987 #4 (1)

100. "Hawaii Five-O" / The Ventures 1969 #4 (1)

Interesting Trivia and Facts

Check out some interesting trivia below:

  • The highest-ranking instrumental song of the '40s was "Frenesi" (#1) by Artie Shaw
  • The highest-ranking instrumental song of the '50s was "The Third Man Theme" (#3) by Anton Karas
  • The highest-ranking instrumental song of the '60s was "Theme from A Summer Place" (#7) by Percy Faith
  • The highest-ranking instrumental song of the '70s was "Rise" (#22) by Herb Albert
  • The highest-ranking instrumental song of the '80s was "Chariots of Fire" (#34) by Vangelis

(In other words, from 1940 to 1989, each decade had an instrumental song on its charts.)

Also,

  • The '40s had 19 charted instrumental singles.
  • The '50s had 28 charted instrumental singles.
  • The '60s had 31 charted instrumental singles.
  • The '70s had 18 charted instrumental singles.
  • The '80s had four charted instrumental singles.
  • The years 1941 & 1961 had eight instrumental singles charted in the top 100.
  • The instrumental artist with the most charted hits in the top 100 is Glenn Miller, with seven.
  • The year 1941 had the most #1 instrumental songs (four).

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