The guitar became the signature instrument of contemporary music by the1960s. The period from 1960 to 1964 saw an increasing number of guitar instrumental songs make the charts until the British Invasion pushed vocal music to the forefront. The late '60s saw a brief return of instrumental songs to the charts, but by the 1970s they were reduced to novelty and disco hits, and the guitar instrumental lost its prominence.
California grew as a hub of popular American music in the '60s largely because of surf music. Equal parts vocal and instrumental, the guitar tunes of the era featured twangy sounds with a lot of reverb and tremolo. Top guitar instrumentals from the surf era include: "Let's Go Trippin'" and "Misirlou," from Dick Dale; "Pipeline," by the Chantays; Duane Eddy's "Because They're Young"; the Ventures' "Walk Don't Run"; and perhaps the most familiar surf instrumental, "Wipeout" by the Surfaris.
The British Invasion was more than just the Beatles and Rolling Stones. Before them, the Shadows, Cliff Richards' backing band, charted quite a few hits on the English charts. The best of these were "Apache," and "Kon-tiki." Harris and Meehan left the Shadows and had an instrumental hit with "Diamonds," but by 1963 the Beatles and vocal music took over the charts.
Through the mid-'60s, instrumental music was still being made, but the guitar became less prominent. R&B groups like Booker T. and the MG's, featuring Steve Cropper on guitar, had hits with "Green Onions" in 1962, and also later in the '60s with "Hip Hug-Her," and "Groovin'."
The end of the decade saw a brief revival of guitar instrumentals. Mason Williams had a hit with "Classical Gas," and Fleetwood Mac emerged from the British blues-rock movement to score with "Albatross," best described as early ambient music. Guitar instrumental music turned toward jazz and jazz-rock fusion by the start of the '70s and lost its popular appeal.
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