Number One on the singles chart this week is a tender yet rather banging ditty by the name of Animal as performed (or at least produced) by 17-year-old Dutchman Martin Garrix. The track is particularly notable for being almost entirely devoid of lyrical content, a couple of brief spoken phrases the closest it comes to a vocal track, qualifying the single to all intents and purposes as an all too rare instrumental Number One.
This does naturally raise the question as to how many instrumental tracks have topped the charts in the now 61-year history of the British singles countdown, although as ever even the categorisation of a track as an ‘instrumental’ is open to some debate. Confused? Well consider this, whilst a piece of music performed entirely by musicians with no singing is without a doubt an instrumental one, what about a piece which is unsung but which features the odd shouted line. Nobody would argue that Glenn Miller’s Pennsylvania 6500 is an instrumental, even though the score dictates the band put down their instruments and shout the title at intervals, so in that case, is Rock n’ Roll classic Tequila by The Champs an instrumental? It hardly counts as a song with just one word uttered throughout.
Anyway, neither track has ever topped the charts so there is little need for debate. For those that did make Number One there is a need to consider carefully their qualifications, so here for completeness (hopefully) are two lists – those that are “purebred” instrumental Number One hits and those open to question.
Mantovani – Moulin Rouge
Winifred Atwell – Let’s Have Another Party
Perez Prado – Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White
Winifred Atwell – Poor People Of Paris
Russ Conway – Side Saddle
Russ Conway – Roulette
The Shadows – Apache
Floyd Cramer – On The Rebound
The Shadows – Kon Tiki
The Shadows – Wonderful Land
B Bumble and The Stingers – Nut Rocker
The Tornadoes – Telstar
The Shadows – Dance On
Jet Harris & Tony Meehan – Diamonds
The Shadows – Foot Tapper
Fleetwood Mac – Albatross
Royal Scots Dragoon Guards – Amazing Grace
Simon Park Orchestra – Eye Level
Mr Oizo – Flat Beat
Up For Debate
Lieutenant Pigeon – Mouldy Old Dough
This was an instrumental track featuring drums, flute and piano but with the vocal refrain “Mouldy Old Dough” (and the odd "Dirty Old Man") growled throughout. It was the second-biggest seller of the year, the runner up behind ironically the other unambiguously instrumental Number One that year, Amazing Grace.
Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley – Jack Your Body
Famously the first-ever House track to top the UK charts although its contribution to the new musical revolution is largely overlooked as it took another full year for the breaks and beats style to permeate mainstream pop music. No vocals, just the sampled “Jack-jack-jack-jack-jack Your Body” line repeated in the ‘chorus’. Instrumental hit or not? You decide.
Doop – Doop
A celebrated Dutch-made romp through the Charleston set to a frantic Eurobeat and one which proved more or less irresistible to record buyers in early 1994. The only vocal line comes from a female singer who scats the title in the final refrain. Surely not enough to disqualify the track from being considered an instrumental.
The Chemical Brothers - Block Rocking Beats
Not a track I had ever personally regarded as an instrumental and indeed if I remember correctly the notion was never even considered at the time, given that the track features the title as a shouted refrain numerous times during the track along with the line “we’re about ready to rock steady” which cuts in towards the end. However if many others in this list are to be considered ‘instrumentals’ despite vocal shouts, then technically Block Rocking Beats qualifies too. It is borderline at best.
ATB – 9PM (Til I Come)
See how tricky this gets? What did people buy this single for? Easy – the blissed-out guitar refrain of Andre Tanneberger’s trance classic. Yet vocalist Yolanda Rivera spends most of the song recounting “’til I come…change it and see” which surely disqualifies it.
Crazy Frog – Axel F
Just no. Let’s not even go there.
Fedde Le Grand – Put Your Hands Up For Detroit
Again, not a track I’d ever considered as even technically an instrumental, but it was referenced in Music Week this week by Alan Jones who is generally the oracle on these matters, so I mention it here. This is however Block Rocking Beats all over again as the constantly chanted vocal refrain kind of makes a mockery of the concept of an ‘instrumental’.
Which brings us to the present day and the Martin Garrix track which mumbles some nonsense about us all being Animals precisely twice during the single edit. As far as I’m concerned it is an instrumental and the first to ‘properly’ be considered so since Flat Beat back in 1999.
I’ll leave you with one final thought. It is generally held that there have been two acapella Number One singles in chart history – Only You by the Flying Pickets in 1983 and Caravan Of Love by The Housemartins in 1986. Yet acapella means “without music” – so where does that leave the subtle synth backing at the climax of the Flying Pickets track?