Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

My Top 13 Favorite Pop Instrumentals of the 1990s

This is the final installment of a series that began in September, which was sparked by the Tom Nawrocki post of his favorite pop instrumentals. Got me thinking about my selections, then realizing this genre in particular had a great affect on my musical tastes as a young person and on for many a decade, thereafter. These entire songs are specifically arranged just for instruments, hence the name.

This music form can be traced back to the 1940s, but arguably its popularity began to take off in the mid/late Fifties with releases like Poor People of ParisTequila, and the Jazz classic, Take Five. The expected and unexpected marched up and down the radio playlists for the next few decades on the Pop charts. It came into its own during the 1960s and reflected in the buying habits of young and old churning up at record stores.

A lot of creativity from that era carried over through the ’70s and ’80s but dried up come the ’90s. Many were inspired by movies and television, and those from original composers and jazz artists, but faded from the Pop scene. Why that would be a supposition on my part. Perhaps, producers or corporations eating up music labels deemed it so. No longer nurturing the artists who’d produce material for this genre1.

Around this same time, marriage, expanding family, and parenthood, and all the responsibilities that come with them also arrived with the decade, took a toll on my popular music listening habits.

That’s life, I’d imagine. Still, the genre from the ’60s through to the ’90s shaped me with its musical style. So, as we come to a close, we’ll change things up a bit due to the lack of Pop instrumentals being promoted or played. What’s compiled here will now be augmented with cuts found on movie soundtracks, gleamed from what was left of my record buying2, or caught my fancy on non-Pop FM stations. We will still keep this to my favorite number and limit it to one per artist3.

Honorable mentions: Well, these didn’t make the cut, so there.

Released: 1996
Length: 4:04
Songwriter: Roberto Concina
Label: Arista – 07822 13007 2

Children – this is one of few instrumentals on this list that were released to the Pop market in Europe and the U.S. Melodic and mesmerizing, it did not initially catch on when released overseas, but the music label brought Roberto Concina’s work (AKA Robert Miles) over to the U.S. and Europe subsequently corrected its mistake. Went on to be their successful single in 1996.

Released: December 1995
Length: 3:37
Songwriters: Brian Eno
Label: Warner Bros. Records – 9 46144-2

Force Marker – the first non-single instrumental will be Brian Eno’s, from the original soundtrack of Michael Mann’s stellar HEAT. Anyone who has seen the film will recognize it: “All powered magnificently by a definitive ’90s soundtrack that age has only made better. Incorporating one of my all-time favorite action sequences, the downtown Bank Heist 10, pulsed by Brian Eno’s compelling Force Marker.”

Released: 1993
Length: 4:20
Songwriter: Walter Afanasieff, Kenny G
Label: Arista – ASCD-2618

Sentimental – to say the least, “Smooth Jazz” has gotten almost as much criticism as “Disco” did in the ’70s. Yet, it made a significant impact during this period. Hell, it could be said it was the background music to the cubicle workspaces of the ’90s. Still, if it had a face, it was Kenny G’s. So, this Pop single will sit in for a number released this decade with its melodic, mournful nature that gives the tune’s title an indicative nod to its listeners.

Released: August 1999
Length: 4:49
Songwriter: C. Santana, KC Porter
Label: Arista – 07822-19080-2

El Farol – in the remaining months of the 20th century, wasn’t listening too much as things got stressful. Our three-year-old was coming up to his fourth turn around the Sun, my bride was carrying our second, and oh, Y2K4 was around the corner. Luckily, I’m married to the best person I know, so since she was into the Supernatural CD5, I turned to it. The instrumental was made in memory of Santana’s father and made coping easier.

Released: June 1990
Length: 3:38
Songwriter: Jerry Goldsmith
Label: Varèse Sarabande – VSD-5267

The Dream (Total Recall Theme) as mentioned before, “The opening credits for Total Recall remains one of the best titles sequences of the ’90s — the same goes for Jerry Goldsmith’s title tune, known as The Dream on the movie’s soundtrack1, for that matter.” “…the pulsing beat of Jerry Goldsmith’s larger-than-life track” is among his best, and that’s saying something. Can listen to this again and again as it’s that good.

Released: 1995
Length: 3:21
Songwriter: Mason Williams
Label: Angel Records – 7243 5 55089 2 8

Classical Gas – okay, I didn’t listen to this during the ’90s, as mentioned here, but if I had, this rousing instrumental cover by Vanessa-Mae of the venerable Mason Williams’ tune6 would have surely landed here. Hey, this is my list, and if you wish to complain, there’s a comment section, so have at it. I’ll be listening to this inspired techno-acoustic fusion of the work over on this side of the net with a smile on my face.

Released: May 1999
Length: 4:42
Songwriter: Russ Freeman
Label: Windham Hill Jazz – 01934-11438-2

Stories of the Painted Desert – before Y2K began to overtake my sensibilities, had discovered The Rippingtons and became somewhat enamored with their style of Jazz Pop (another rephrasing of “Smooth Jazz”, okay). They’d be there for me on the other side, but before my daughter was born, this cut from my favorite CD of theirs had me enthralled and chilled before I moved on to other things.

Released: December 1995
Length: 3:02
Songwriter: Terje Rypdal
Label: Warner Bros. Records – 9 46144-2

Last Nite – leave it to director Michael Mann to select a piece of music by the artist Terje Rypdal that is so different and yet haunting and uses the instrumental in a romantic scene of a crime-based saga. It not only enhanced Neil McCauley’s last chance at love, this with the unexpected Eady, but this passionate composition truly made that interlude in HEAT (1995) so sublime but equally tangible.

Released: September1992
Length: 6:13
Songwriter: Trevor Jones, [Based On “The Gael”] – Dougie Maclean
Label: Morgan Creek Records – 2959-20015-2

Promentory – composed by Trevor Jones, extensively quoting Scottish singer-songwriter Dougie MacLean‘s most famous work, “The Gael”, along with its indigenous rhythms, it’s the most stirring cut from Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans soundtrack. Used to startling and emotional effect in one of the greatest cinematic climaxes ever put on film, as mentioned here. This instrumental is the essence of that opus.

Released: December 1995
Length: 4:35
Songwriter: Michael Brook
Label: Warner Bros. Records – 9 46144-2

Ultramarine – the third and next to last track from this notable movie soundtrack is the one by the Canadian guitarist-producer-composer Michael Brook. It’s used as an underlying theme in a number of sequences in HEAT as the protagonists move about the City of L.A. Moody and discerning, it not only sets the pace but via its exceptional instrumentation intones the nature of both the master thief and LAPD Lieutenant in the film.

Released: December 1995
Length: 6:58
Songwriter: Moby
Label: Warner Bros. Records – 9 46144-2

God Moving Over the Face of the Waters – couldn’t close out the prominent soundtrack on this list without noting its brilliant end scene/title theme. HEAT‘s iconic culmination of living and dying in L.A. was made that much more poignant by the use of a Moby composition honoring his faith. A signature close on a compelling compilation, it could not have been orchestrated any better than with this instrumental7 that remains a standout.

Released: 1991
Length: 6:30
Songwriters: Ron Aston, Tom Scott
Label: 2GRP – GRP – GRD-9646

Kilimanjaro – from his earliest days as a composer8 and saxophonist, I’ve followed Tom Scott. His among my first Jazz Fusion albums I’d collected, so when I came across this CD with its stellar line-up, had to tee it up. This cut, among a number of fine tracks, remains my favorite. Hypnotic in its rhythms, it channels this listener to another place and time, even now. Tom’s arrangement and reed-work cannot ever be short-changed.

Released: 1993
Length: 4:21
Songwriter: Noel Pointer
Label: Shanachie – 5007

Make It Real – Noel Pointer another who I glommed on to during the stormy Seventies that I’d almost forgotten about. That is till I found this CD one day in a record store used bin. Everything that had captivated me about this jazz violinist was still there. And this cut exemplified all that I’ve grown to love about the instrumental. From the emotional ache the chordophone can bring to Noel’s artistry with it by infusing the classic with the modern form. From the last album released before his passing at the too-young age of 40, this is one I’d want playing come the end.

The entire series can be found here.

  1. And those released as Pop music now seemed to be dominated by rock guitar instrumentals, which was okay, if only it didn’t seem to be limited to just that style. 
  2. By this time, I was foolishly ensnared with Compact Disc and the promise of digital, having started to get rid of my LPs in the ’80s. It would take decades before I returned to vinyl, and repurchased all that I gave away. Yes, I’m an idiot.
  3. And if you note that one film’s soundtrack has more than one listed here, they are all done different artists, so I haven’t violated my criteria; so there. 
  4. Being a sysadmin at the time for an administrative department that used its workstations and servers to a functional degree made insuring that capability after 00:01 on January 1, 2000, a tad strenuous. 
  5. Wouldn’t get the scarce vinyl, everything was CDs back then, till my bride gifted a copy to me during the pandemic — yes, I’m married to the best person I know. 
  6. Classical Gas was my #2 pick for my ’60s list
  7. “Composer Elliot Goldenthal wrote a piece of score to play over the final scene. Michael Mann replaced it with Moby‘s “God Moving Over the Face of the Water”, so Goldenthal re-used the piece as the end titles for Michael Collins (1996) the following year, replacing the electric guitar with a fiddle to give it a more Irish sound.” ~ IMDB 
  8. Tom Scott wrote the theme songs for the television shows Starsky and Hutch, The Streets of San Francisco., and Family Ties. Played the theme “I Still Can’t Sleep” in Taxi Driver (1976) and scored the movie Stir Crazy (1980), among his credits. 

7 Responses to “My Top 13 Favorite Pop Instrumentals of the 1990s”

  1. Vinyl Connection

    At the kick-off, I thought “An entire list of 90s instrumentals? Is that even possible?” But of course film and television have offered quite the soundstage, haven’t they?
    I’ll have to come back for a proper listen in order to comment meaningfully, but want to express my delight at seeing Terje Rypdall’s name in the list. I have most of his 70s ECM label output. Fabulous guitarist/musician.
    Slightly surprised Tangerine Dream didn’t make an appearance. I’m wondering if their prolific s/track work had tailed off by the 90s.

    Liked by 1 person


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