Instrumental songs have been around for centuries, and they have been used in various settings such as in movies, video games, and even at concerts. In fact, many musicians started out playing instrumentals before they became famous for their singing abilities.
This article will look at 27 of the most popular instrumental songs throughout history that are still listened to by many people to this day.
Song Year: 2000
Starting the list of best instrumental songs off strong, we have feature film Requiem for a Dream’s theme song, “Lux Aeterna.” The song takes the listener on a rollercoaster of sweeping, hauntingly beautiful harmonies.
In the film, “Lux Aeterna” stands as a symbol of hope: meaning “eternal light,” it's what we look to when all else seems lost. So, if you’re feeling wayward in search of some inspiration or grounding, you can play “Lux Aeterna” to soothe your soul and ignite your passion.
Song Year: 1801
Picture yourself hearing the enchanting Moonlight Sonata for the first time. You are alone at night, sitting by a bonfire with overgrown trees all around you, so you can barely see their silhouettes in front of your face.
The moon is shining down on you, bathing its silver light across your body as if to remind you that no matter who or where you are, there is beauty everywhere. Enjoy this masterpiece now and come away feeling lifted.
Song Year: 1960
If you're looking for a score that'll haunt your nightmares, look no further. “The Murder” by Bernard Herrmann is one of cinema’s most iconic soundtracks, and the perfect everyday backbone of any spooky get together or all-night movie marathon.
Song Year: 1963
“I Wish I knew How it Would Feel to Be Free” by Billy Taylor is probably most commonly known by Nina Simone’s rendition in 1967, but the soulful feel in the original is all the same. The iconic jazz song served as an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement in America and is guaranteed to get people moving and feeling happy.
This musical masterpiece is perfect to set the mood for any Harry Potter fan. While titled “Hedwig’s Theme,” the song has been featured in every Harry Potter film. Instead of capturing only moments when the owl takes flight, the leitmotif embodies that resonant feeling when you know it's time for something magical to happen.
So, whether you’re throwing a Harry Potter themed party or want to feel exhilarated by the magical tunes of John Williams, you’ll do best to let “Hedwig’s Theme” dance through your speakers.
Song Year: 1968
Those familiar with “Classical Gas” know that it's one of the most refreshing songs on the guitar repertoire, able to put hardened hearts in lighter moods. Williams seamlessly combines excellent melodies, superb chord progressions, and an awesome orchestra of instruments to produce one jaw dropping song that will have you strumming all day.
Song Year: 1959
“So What” is the first track on the 1959 album Kind of Blue by American trumpeter Miles Davis. It's one of the best-known examples of modal jazz so if you don't already know what it is, prepare to zone out at your desk for hours to come.
The song is equal parts creative as it is engaging. You don't have to be an expert to love this song; it's perfect for musicians and non-musicians alike.
Song Year: 1973
“Frankenstein” by The Edgar Winter Group is the perfect instrumental song for the rock connoisseur. This heavy-hitting monster of a song is a masterpiece that never fails to satisfy with its vintage sleaze and Western twang.
You can't beat its eccentric rock sound, which allows for versatility when it comes to creating your own lyrics.
Song Year: 1961
Henry Mancini's hit song, “Baby Elephant Walk,” will more than delight your ears with its catchy simplicity. Mancini composed the song for the 1962 romantic adventure film Hatari! The particular scene featuring the song followed baby elephants to a watering hole, hence the name and the funny, lumbering tune.
The tune of this song is classically happy and upbeat–perfect for young children and almost assured to get stuck in your head for days after hearing.
Song Year: 1961
Moonlight Serenade is a classic romantic song with tone-setting instrumentals. You'll feel romantic just listening to this iconic American swing ballad, which was composed by the talented Glenn Miller.
So, let the crooning tune of this classic song fill up every corner of your life with romantic joy, reminding you that there is no place like home. Or, grab that special someone, hit play, and enjoy a night of passionate dance.
Song Year: 1978
The album in which “Eruption” was featured showcased Van Halen’s groundbreaking work and served as a beacon of hard rock excellence in an era dominated by disco music. Not to mention, the song featured and popularized Van Halen’s signature “tapping” technique.
Get acquainted with one of rock's most iconic performances by Eddie Van Halen – which some say holds the title as best guitar solo ever played.
Song Year: 1905
“Clair de Lune” is a lovely piano piece that renowned French composer Claude Debussey created in the early 1900s. Translated into English, “Clair de Lune” means moonlight, which is exactly what the composition embodies.
Debussy's sweeping, romantic work has left imprints on the world with its elegant composition. Listen to this recording by the favored pianist and get swept away in the passionate crescendos.
Song Year: 1977
It's no secret that John Williams is the master when it comes to scoring original soundtracks for Hollywood blockbuster movies. You've listened to “E.T.” and felt like hitting the rewind button until you can hear it again and again and again.
Now give yourself an out-of-this world thrill with the cinematic gem from the renowned sci-fi film franchise Star Wars, “Star Wars (Main Title).”
Song Year: 1935-36
You don't have to wait for a day with great weather or a fantastic event. With “O Fortuna,” the opening song for Carl Orff’s cantata Carmina Burana, any occasion can become just right. It's got everything – sadness, anger, happiness, love.
Seriously overused adjectives aside, most important of all are the tunes themselves. The music still rings through your head hours after listening, even without lyrics or stories being told about it.
Song Year: 2011
This powerful theme, written by Ramin for the HBO hit fantasy series Game of Thrones, will sweep you off your feet and into Westeros, with its masterful composition filling up your ears. The graceful cello melodies and powerful string parts embody the fantastical medieval times perfectly and can instantly uplift anyone's spirit when they listen to it.
Song Year: 1968
Surf the waves with your ears in this instrumental piece from Fleetwood Mac. Whether you're engulfed in peace or yearning for a change of scenery, “Albatross” has got the slow-turning guitar and smooth cymbal to take care of business and take you to a dreamy, relaxed state. If it sounds like a laid-back day at the beach, that would be because it is.
Song Year: 1976
Rocky called it the “Sound of Philadelphia,” and you've heard it on Rocky's run up those stairs toward the Philadelphia Art Museum as he works towards his goal, but the music is actually “Gonna Fly Now” by Bill Conti. The song is iconic in American pop culture and is bound to come up in various workout montages or even at the gym.
Keep your head up high and fists running steady to this energetic song as you get pumped up before or during a workout.
Song Year: 1993
Yes, another hit from the great John Williams, but “Theme From Jurassic Park” does not disappoint. It once again shows us how the right music can take a movie to the next level. The iconic score begins with childlike strings and builds toward a grand crescendo that will take you right back to 1993, recreating the magical moments from Steven Spielberg's cinematic masterpiece.
Song Year: 1962
Soul Bossa Nova is one of the best instrumental songs ever recorded. Quincy Jones was a genius composer and arranger, who had an ear for what people wanted to hear, which happened to be a quirky, eclectic collection of flutes, piano, drums, bass, and brass instruments.
If you listen to it and sense the familiarity, you’ve probably heard it played in the popular Austin Powers films or Woody Allen’s film Take the Money and Run.
Song Year: 1963
“Yakety Sax” is a classic that James Q. “Spider” Rich composed and Boots Randolph popularized with his saxophone. It's been in the music scene since 1963 and has been played on comedy shows all over. Listen to how it starts off with a deep bass sound before being taken over by the horn section. It stays upbeat, playful throughout-perfect for any occasion.
Song Year: 1981
Vangelis' ethereal compositions are elegantly balanced with instrumental soundtrack atmospheres. They're lightning-fast orchestral builds, synchronic soundtracks to drama and triumph, making for an inspirational music ride.
Vangelis's iconic creation of the heroic theme for this timeless film will make any runner feel like they're going to win a gold medal.
Song Year: 1940
“A Night in Tunisia,” with a written introduction and endearing interlude, is an upbeat jazz composition that is guaranteed to whisk you away from your troubles with trumpets, saxophones, drums, and piano. You'll feel like the king (or queen) of swing after listening to this festive masterpiece by Dizzy Gillespie.
Song Year: 1958
Need a quick blast of rock and roll energy? Rebel Rouser by Duane Eddy is the sound you want. This upbeat instrumental song features an iconic guitar line with frantic riffing and frenetic pinch harmonics, otherwise known as Eddy’s signature guitar twang.
Song Year: 1962
“Pipeline” by The Chantays opens up with a sharp riff that sounds like it could wave the entire house off its foundation before dropping back down for another blow-hard solo.
The song, inspired by the surfing scene of the time and set against percussion, makes it feel like you’re bobbing on waves of the beach while some bro puts on his best show just for you. Truly an instrumental song that will get drinks flowing and hairs standing straight up.
Song Year: 1964
The Ventures are known for their instrumental rock ‘n roll, but the power of their music comes from its simplicity. They take complex instruments and bring them back down to just three pieces: guitar, bass guitar, and drums.
After hearing this song's catchy tune on Chet Atkins' recording in spring 1960, The Ventures cut a single that would become one of their most well-known tunes.
Song Year: 1962
Booker T. and the M.G.'s “Green Onions” shows that even when you’re young, you can write a song that lasts decades in blues and organ heavy collections like ours. The twelve-bar tune with rippling Hammond M3 organ line is one of the most popular instrumental rock and soul songs ever that Booker T. Jones composed when he was only 17 years old.
Song Year: 1960
The Shadows took a liking to the song “Apache” when on tour. The song was written by a Jerry Lordan and performed by Bert Weedon, but The Shadows adapted the song with an iconic echo and twang and let it soar up the UK Singles Charts for over a month afterward.
Even though everyone loves a catchy tune that can get stuck in your head for hours or days, instrumental songs can be equally impressive. So, after reading this post, we hope you've found a couple of new tracks or ones you can never remember the names of but have always admired to add to your playlist.