Rock & Roll Instrumentals from the 50’s & 60’s

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,

Check out these great rock & roll instrumentals from the 50’s & 60’s. You’re sure to find some classics that you love!


Instrumentals were a very big part of the early Rock & Roll era. Many of the hits were Dance records with a strong beat that you could jive, twist or tango to. Some of the biggest stars of this time were Bill Haley, Duane Eddy and Chuck Berry. The Shadows, Ventures and Link Wray also had huge instrumental hits in this era. In the late 50’s and early 60’s Surf music became very popular and bands like The Ventures, Dick Dale & The Del-Tones and The Surfaris had major hits with their distinctive sound

The early years of rock and roll

Rock & roll first burst on to the American music scene in the mid 1950s and quickly became a global phenomenon. One of the key elements that made it so popular was the fact that, for the first time, teenagers had their own music. It was youthful, energetic and rebellion-fuelled – everything that parents and authority figures hated!

Instrumentals played a big part in early rock and roll. They were often the best way to show off a band’s technical skills and they could get audiences on their feet and dancing. Here are some of the most iconic instrumentals from the 1950s and 1960s.

‘Rumble’ by Link Wray (1958)
Link Wray is often credited as being the inventor of distortion, thanks to the power Chords he used on this track. The song is all about teenage angst and rebellion, and its dark, menacing sound reflects that perfectly.

‘Walk, Don’t Run’ by The Ventures (1960)
One of the most successful instrumental bands of all time, The Ventures scored a number two hit with this tune in 1960. It was originally written by jazz guitarist Johnny Smith, but The Ventures gave it a new lease of life with their signature surf-rock sound.

‘Green Onions’ by Booker T. & The MGs (1962)
Booker T. & The MGs were the house band at Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee – one of the hottest labels in soul music at the time. ‘Green Onions’ was their debut single and it quickly rose to number three on the Billboard charts. It remains one of their best-loved tracks today.

‘Wipe Out’ by The Surfaris (1963)
Few instrumentals are as instantly recognizable as ‘Wipe Out’ by The Surfaris. This surf-rock classic features some memorable drumming from Ron Wilson and is one of those songs that everyone knows – even if they don’t know who it’s by!

The Beatles and the British Invasion

The Beatles and the British Invasion

The Rolling Stones and the American Invasion

The Rolling Stones and the American Invasion

The British Invasion of the early 1960s brought a wave of new bands to the United States, including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Animals. These groups brought with them a new style of rock & roll that was heavier and more blues-influenced than the music of previous generations. This new sound quickly gained popularity with American audiences, and soon a number of American bands began emulating the style of their British counterparts.

One of the most successful American rock & roll bands of this era was the Beach Boys, who blended elements of surf music and pop to create a sound that was uniquely their own. The Beach Boys scoring a number of hits in the early 1960s with songs like “Surfin’ Safari” and “Fun, Fun, Fun.” Another popular American band was The Ventures, who specialized in instrumental rock & roll. The Ventures had a string of hits in the early 1960s with songs like “Walk, Don’t Run” and “Perfidia.”

While many American bands were able to find success by emulating the sound of their British counterparts, there were also a number who created their own distinctively American sound. One notable example is Bob Dylan, who began his career as a folk singer but soon began experimenting with electric guitars and different lyrical styles. Dylan’s influential 1966 album, Blonde on Blonde, is often cited as one of the greatest rock & roll albums ever made.

The rise of the guitar heroes

In the early days of rock and roll, the music was largely driven by catchy melodies and danceable rhythms. But as the genre developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s, a new breed of performer began to emerge: the guitar hero.

By focusing on their instrument and playing extended solos, these guitarists began to command attention and create a new sound that would come to dominate rock and roll for decades. Among the most influential of these early guitar heroes were Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Duane Eddy, and Link Wray.

Berry was one of the first rock guitarists to develop a truly distinctive style, characterized by sharp riffs and quick flourishes. His playing had a major impact on subsequent generations of guitarists, including Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones and John Lennon of The Beatles.

Diddley, meanwhile, was known for his stylish use of rhythm guitar, often creating catchy groove-based tracks that were easy to dance to. His signature “Diddley beat” can be heard in songs by artists as varied as The Clash and The Roots.

Eddy was perhaps the most innovative of the early guitarists, utilizing feedback and other studio techniques to create a unique “twangy” sound that would come to be known as “surf music.” His sensational playing can be heard on classics like “Rebel Rouser” and “Peter Gunn Theme.”

Finally, there was Link Wray, who popularized the power chord with his 1958 instrumental hit “Rumble.” Wray’s distorted sound laid the foundation for future hard rockers like Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

These four guitarists helped define what rock and roll would become in the ensuing decades — a loud, aggressive music built around extended solos and virtuosic performances. Though they may have been overshadowed by the singers who dominated the charts in those early years, their influence can still be felt today in the work of modern guitar heroes like Steven Tyler, Slash, Eddie Van Halen, and many others.

The birth of heavy metal

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a new genre of popular music emerged in the United States and Britain, one that would go on to have a profound and lasting effect on the course of rock music. This new style was called rock & roll, and it was characterized by a heavy, distorted guitar sound.

The first rock & roll instrumentals were released in the 1950s by artists such as Duane Eddy and Link Wray. These records were hugely popular, and they paved the way for the development of heavy metal in the 1960s. Metal bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin took the rock & roll sound to its extremes, creating a style of music that was both immensely popular and hugely influential.

The impact of rock & roll instrumentals can still be felt today, in the work of contemporary artists like Brian Setzer and The Black Keys. These records are a vital part of the history of rock music, and they continue to inspire new generations of musicians.

The punk revolution

Punk rock was a musical movement that began in the mid-1970s and continued into the early 1980s. Punk music was characterized by its fast tempo, loud volume, and simple, yet often aggressive, lyrics. Punk rock quickly spread from its origins in England and the United States to other countries such as Australia, Canada, and West Germany.

Punk rock challenged and refreshened the music scene of the time by offering a rawer, more energetic alternative to the polished sounds of mainstream pop and rock. Punk bands such as the Ramones and the Sex Pistols eschewed traditional song structures and instrumentation in favor of short, fast-paced songs with catchy hooks. This new sound quickly found an audience among disaffected youth who were drawn to punk’s DIY ethic and anti-establishment attitude.

The punk revolution had a lasting impact on popular music, fashion, art, and culture. Punkmusic spawned a number of subgenres including new wave, post-punk, hardcore punk, and alternative rock. Many punk bands went on to enjoy success in the mainstream music world; others have continued to operate on the fringes of popular music.

The new wave of British heavy metal

The new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) was a musical movement that started in the late 1970s and peaked in the early 1980s. It was a response to the declining popularity of hard rock and heavy metal music in the United Kingdom.

The new wave of British heavy metal was characterized by fast tempos, high-powered guitars, and aggressive lyrics. This sound was pioneered by bands such as Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Diamond Head. The NWOBHM quickly gained a following in the United Kingdom and Europe.

The movement helped to re-establish hard rock and heavy metal as popular genres of music. It also influenced the development of other subgenres, such as power metal and speed metal. The NWOBHM is considered to be a major source of inspiration for the thrash metal and death metal genres.

The grunge explosion

In the early 1990s, a new type of rock music emerged from the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. This music, which came to be known as “grunge,” was characterized by its heavy, distorted guitars and its dark, often depressing lyrics. Grunge became extremely popular in the early 1990s, due in part to the success of Nirvana, a grunge band from Seattle, Washington.

The rise of electronic dance music

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, electronic dance music began to emerge as a distinct genre. This was partly due to the rise of rock music and the popularity of bands such as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. As rock music became more popular, so did the use of instruments such as keyboards and synthesizers.

The first electronic dance song to become a hit was “The Hustle” by Van McCoy in 1975. This song helped to popularize disco music, which became one of the most popular genres of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Disco music often featured electronic instrumentals, which helped to create a new style of dance music.

Today, electronic dance music is one of the most popular genres in the world. It is often played at nightclubs, rave parties, and festivals.

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