Not a peep out of Simon Lebon? A speechless Morrissey? Robert Smith contractually obligated not to sing? Yes, there are no words simple enough to describe these instrumentals that were often intentioned as album filler or the experimental B-sides to the artists’ latest single. But Chris Rooney does his best to find some…
David Bowie, “A New Career in a New Town” (1977)
After recording his previous album in Los Angeles, Bowie turned eastward and recorded the first of three albums in Europe. Collaborating with former Roxy Music keyboardist and ambient music innovator, Brian Eno brought a new dimension to Bowie’s sound – a sound that would be a preview of what was to come in the 1980s. The instrumental starts out somewhat lost and distant, but there’s a glimmer of optimism that stands out in Bowie’s harmonica-playing that suggests that he could reinvent himself elsewhere.
Giorgio Moroder, “The Chase” (1978)
After his initial success masterminding Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”, Moroder’s first time composing a movie soundtrack for the film Midnight Express would win him the Academy Award in 1978. He later would produce and arrange music for Blondie, David Bowie, Sparks, Japan and Berlin. Daft Punk would cite him as a major influence on their 2013 album, Random Access Memories with their song, “Giorgio by Moroder”.
The Police, “Behind My Camel” (1980)
The trio won their second Grammy Award for Best Rock Instrumental Performance in 1982 with this dreary composition that beat out Kraftwerk’s far superior “Computer World”. Written solely by guitarist Andy Summers, his bandmates Sting and Stewart Copeland both apparently despised it.
Human League, “Non-Stop” (1981)
Void of Philip Oakey and the girls, you’d might think that this B-side to “Open Your Heart” is a Devo tune with its hyperactive quirky-jerky synth beats written all over it.
British Electric Foundation, “Groove Thang” (1981)
Former Human League members Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh created the production company, British Electric Foundation just prior to forming Heaven 17 with singer Glenn Gregory. Their first release was a cassette-only collection of instrumentals entitled Music For Stowaways, intended to be listened to on a Sony Walkman, which was first marketed in the UK as the Sony Stowaway. One of the instrumental tracks, “Groove Thang” would later become Heaven 17’s debut single, “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” when lyrics and vocals were added to it.
Simple Minds, “Theme For Great Cities” (1981)
Probably the most definitive new wave instrumental ever produced. Its epic and atmospheric sound combine superb synths, a pumping bassline and rhythmic drums that hurl it all into the future.
Pigbag, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag” (1981)
A humorous nod to James Brown’s “Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag”, the band’s self-referential claim-to-fame was their hard-driving big band instrumental “Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag”. Today it still can be heard in football (soccer) stadiums across England before a match, at halftime and most joyously after a goal is scored.
Depeche Mode, “Any Second Now” (1981)
The B-side to “Just Can’t Get Enough” was actually two “firsts” for the band. Not only was it their first instrumental, but the band also recorded a version with vocals handled by Martin Gore for the first time.
The Glove, “A Blues In Drag” (1982)
The Glove was the side project of The Cure’s frontman Robert Smith and Siouxsie and the Banshees’ Steven Severin. Their only album, Blue Sunshine, combined their bands’ trademark goth sound with psychedelia. While most of the album was sung by a former girlfriend of Severin’s bandmate Budgie because Smith had a deal with his record label at the time not to sing with any other band, the hauntingly beautiful “A Blues In Drag” would be the sole instrumental piece.
ABC, “The Love Of Love (Part Four)” (1982)
Closing out The Lexicon of Love, this shimmering, orchestrated one-minute reprise acts like a condensed musical “review” of their sumptuously-produced debut album.
Duran Duran, “Rio” (1982)
Relish in this Simonless version of the title track to the band’s second album so that you can fully feast your ears on the epic saxophone solo towards the end that was ubiquitous to every early 80s pop hit.
Roxy Music, “India” (1982)
Tucked in the middle of Roxy Music’s last album was this short instrumental piece later played through the P.A. before the band took the stage on their final tour.
Tears For Fears, “The Marauders” (1983)
To keep the duo in the public eye between their debut album and second album, they released their stop-gap single “The Way You Are” with this instrumental as the B-side. They would later come to disinherit the A-side’s misguided direction, but “The Marauders” proved to be a catalyst for the bigger, more sophisticated pop sound that they were looking to achieve.
The Smiths, “Oscillate Wildly” (1985)
“We did it really quickly in just one evening, but it came together beautifully,” according to Johnny Marr about crafting their scintillating instrumental “Oscillate Wildly”. Marr has also said that it was never intended to have lyrics and that Morrissey supported him in this. Mozzer’s only contribution to the song probably was its pun-filled title that alludes to his literary hero, Oscar Wilde.
New Order, “Elegia” (1985)
Five years after his suicide, New Order composed this uncharacteristic ambient waltz in memory of Ian Curtis, lead singer of their former incarnation, Joy Division. Lonely and desolate, the instrumental definitely evokes the darker shades of their earlier work.
Harold Faltermeyer, “Axel F” (1985)
By the mid 1980s almost every popular Hollywood blockbuster had a pop soundtrack that would appeal to the MTV generation. The German-born studio musician scored big time with his synthpop theme song to comedic actor Eddie Murphy’s Beverly Hills Cop.