What makes classic rock instrumentals cool? For me, melody, baby, all the way. So much melody that it evokes images and themes if not hints of lyrics. They also offer a chance for groups to show their collective stuff and individual members to display their instrumental chops. And hey – they’re simply enjoyable to listen to.

**15) “Black Mountain Side” by Led Zeppelin**

Sure, it’s a toss up with with “Moby Dick” as to which Zep instrumental to include. I favor this one for its mesmeric melody and how it showcases the band’s acoustic side and Eastern musical influences.

**14) “Flute Thing” by the Blues Project**

The flute is hardly a rock instrument. Yet this is the first of two flute-driven songs on this list, and more a suite than a song that allows all of its members – including classic rock journeyman Al Kooper (also his first time of two on this list) in his first band – to show their stuff and demonstrate how the now obscure late 1960s Greenwich Village group were progressing far more than just the blues.

**13) “Peaches En Regalia” by Frank Zappa**

It’s like an animated cartoon drawn in music, a melody so vivid (and witty) you can all but see the peaches dancing and cavorting about. Let’s face it: Zappa truly was a composer.

**12) “His Holy Modal Majesty” by Mike Bloomfield & Al Kooper**

The 1968 Super Session album convened by Al Kooper with guitarist Mike Bloomfield on side one and Stephen Stills on side two was a major event in its day, now more than five decades later a sadly somewhat obscure artifact. This song was written as an homage to John Coltrane, and is a prime example of how much influence bebop jazz had on the players of Bloomfield’s generation. And few songs sound more to me like the 1960s.

**Related:** Our Album Rewind of Super Session

**11) “Day at the Dog Races” by Little Feat**

One of the greatest classic rock bands of the 1970s both collectively as a tight and adventurous unit and individually in terms of the instrumental skills of its members, Little Feat gave everyone a chance to shine on this searing number from their sixth studio album in 1977, Time Loves a Hero. You can also hear the roots of some of Little Feat’s founders as onetime members of Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention.

**10) “Emperor of Wyoming” by Neil Young**

Let’s talk balls here. It took some serious stones for Neil Young to open his first solo album with this wordless tune that woos the ears to trot along to its strings meets twang and steel guitar melody atop a two-step beat. By now this loamy cinematic number is like the opening theme song for his entire career.

**9) “Whammer Jammer” by The J. Geils Band**

Featured on The Morning After, the 1971 second album by the Boston-based hyper-blues band, it was intended as a workout for harmonica player Magic Dick, who makes the most of the moment. You can almost hear sweat exuding from the tracks on this aptly-named killer song.

**8) “Beck’s Bolero” by the Jeff Beck Group**

Beck’s signature song, based on Maurice Ravel’s Bolèro, and originally written and recorded by Beck with the Yardbirds in 1966. But this take from the 1968 album Truth is the killer version, as one might expect from the players on it: Beck, Jimmy Page, Keith Moon, John Paul Jones and Nicky Hopkins. A taste of the Led Zeppelin that might have been, and one of rock guitar’s genuine instrumental masterpieces.

**Related:** Our Album Rewind of Truth

**7) “Serenade to a Cuckoo” by Jethro Tull**

There’s that flute again. And the jazz influences… which speaks to why so many 1960s bands where so good, as they could actually play material that fell into the jazz realm such as this song by Rahsaan Roland Kirk. From the band’s 1968 debut album, This Was, it’s the very best kind of mood music. Bonus points: the title!

**6) “DFW” by the Vaughan Brothers**

This tune written by Jimmie Vaughan for the 1990 collaboration with his brother Stevie Ray, Family Style, is just under three minutes of electric six-string blues guitar cool, soaring and snappy in a way that tempts you to play it all over again after it finishes.

**5) “Sparks” by The Who**

Buried as it is within Tommy, this tribute to Pete Townshend’s compositional skills doesn’t get all the attention it deserves. But it has just about everything one might love about The Who… except Roger Daltrey, of course. Watch them perform it at Woodstock…

**4) “Mountain Jam” by the Allman Brothers Band**

Most folks cite “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” or “Jessica” as the prime Allman Brothers instrumental. But this one fills the soul with wonder and delight when I hear all 33:41 of it. The guitar interplay between Duane Allman and Dickey Betts is wondrous, as are their individual solos, and the whole band performs with interwoven mastery. It’s taken from the Donovan #11 hit in 1967, “There is a Mountain,” but also draws from Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun” and includes a quote from “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.” Recorded during the shows that yielded the 1971 breakthrough album At Fillmore East, it was included on its 1972 follow-up, Eat A Peach. Bonus points: since the lyrics to Donovan’s original are all but incomprehensible, the melody works far better as an instrumental.

**3) “Cliffs of Dover” by Eric Johnson**

As lyrical as a rock instrumental can be, it’s no surprise that this was guitarist Johnson’s breakthrough track on his Ah Via Musicom album in 1990, finally bringing him an international audience after a good decade or so of building a mighty rep on the Austin, TX music scene. A #5 pop hit at a time when instrumentals were fading from popularity on mainstream radio, it won Johnson a Best Rock Instrumental Performance Grammy, and rightly so.

**2) “Hideaway” by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers**

There are those that feel – among them this writer – that this track is one of if not the finest recorded moments by Eric Clapton, released all the way back in 1966 on Mayall’s first studio album, Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton. Its blistering tone and the fluidity of Clapton’s delivery are as hot as blues-rock guitar has ever sounded, owing as they do to the song’s originator, Freddie King. Bonus Points: When King released his original version in 1961, it became a #29 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, one of the highest pop chart showings by a blues tune.

**1) “Glad” by Traffic**

Gawd, I love this tune. And is there a better-named song in classic rock? Just a listen makes me feel, yes, glad. And in the mood to dig on some more Traffic. From their 1970 fourth album, John Barleycorn Must Die.

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