It's a dying art. The great instrumental rock song. There isn't that many that are noteworthy, but a few are genuine classics in the vast history of rock and roll.
Where the rubbish ones lie are the overblown, self-congratulatory 17 minute solos of the 70's. That garbage is unbearable. I don't know how one can listen to it.
The great instrumentals are usually short and to the point. I'm popping into the J-Dub Rock and Roll Archives to bring you some of the best.
Rumble by Link Wray and Rebel Rouser by Duane Eddy are good places to start. You'll recognize them both from movie soundtracks. Great rockabilly grooves.
Also among the older greats:
Green Onions by Booker T & the MG's. Amazing.
There are quite a few worthy entries from the surf music of the mid to late 60's. Especially Wipeout by the Surfaris, Hawaii Five-O by the Ventures and Miserlou by Dick Dale and the Del Tones.
Two of the greatest guitar players contribute to two other cuts. Though it is John Bonham's stage, Jimmy Page's dirty blues riff adds to the magic that is Moby Dick. The late Stevie Ray Vaughan took Hendrix's Little Wing, removed the lyrics and made it all his own.
Not too many can match Stevie's mastery of the electric guitar.
I think Tequila by The Champs is worthy of a mention. As is Flying by The Beatles. I love Sparks by The Who. Perhaps the only modern song that should get a mention is Oasis' F#@%*!' In the Bushes. The lads from Manchester usually blast that song as they arrive onto the stage at the live shows.
If you think I am forgetting Eruption by Van Halen, I'm not. It stinks.
Now, the greatest rock instrumentals. That is a two way tie. My favorites are Sleepwalk by Santo and Johnny and Black Mountain Side by Led Zeppelin.
That's Black Mountain Side performed by a very young Jimmy Page. One of my guitars, Suzy Lee, is a replica of the original Danelectro 59 that Jimmy is playing.
Santo and Johnny play Sleepwalk in 1959.
That steel lap guitar seems to weep. It's beautiful. I can play a little of Sleepwalk with a slide on Suzy Lee. A little.
Finally another version of Sleepwalk by Brian Setzer. He eventually recored this version and won a Grammy for Best Instrumental Performance. Whatever your feelings are about big band, rockabilly or the Stray Cats, one thing that can't be debated is Brian Setzer can play. He has one of the most distinct tones in music history. And can make that vintage Gretsch sing.
Goodnight and good luck.