Gibson’s 10 Great Rock Instrumentals nicely illustrates at least one reason why instrumentals tend not to be as popular as songs: there are no words to sing along to, so that melody had better be extremely catchy.
Here’s the list:
Beck Bolero – Beck, Page et al
Black Mountain Side – Led Zeppelin
Jessica – Allman Brothers
Sparks – The Who
Rebel Rouser – Duanne Eddy
Frankenstein – Edgar Winter Group
Walk Don’t Run – The Ventures
Maggot Brain – Funkadelic
Mood for a Day – Steve Howe
Eruption – Van Halen
Make that two reasons: you can’t dance to a lot of this stuff. I mean, Mood for a Day is an impressive display of virtuosity, but does it get your toes tapping?
Maybe there are three reasons. There’s a line somewhere that divides “appreciation” and “participation. You listen to and appreciate a Brahms symphony or well-done bit of prog rock. You sing along to a good folk song. Pop/soul/rock ‘n’ roll? You get up and dance while you’re singing. While you might appreciate all the pieces on this list, you’re only going to participate in a couple of ‘em.