What makes a hit song? A catchy melody, of course, but also, typically, an indelible chorus with a repeated catchphrase and memorable lyrics you can sing along with.
Well, not always lyrics, as it turns out. Back in the ’50s and ’60s especially, and well into the ’70s, you can find almost 50 entries on the Billboard singles charts of instrumental songs that made the Top Ten. Nearly 20 of those reached the #1 position, sometimes for multiple weeks. And another 50-60 at least made the Top 40, bringing the total number of instrumental hits to well over 100.
How did that happen? Doesn’t a hit single need lyrics to become the kind of “earworm” song that stays in your head all day long after hearing it? Not necessarily; a compelling instrumental passage can be as addicting as a vocal hook. Take Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein,” for example. That monstrous main riff is arguably every bit as mesmerizing as a repeated lyric like “I’d like to hear some funky Dixieland…”