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September 16, 2023 62 mins
If an instrumental tops the charts, it’s probably an earworm: “Tequila.” “Wipeout.” “Dueling Banjos.” “The Hustle.” “Feels So Good.” “Chariots of Fire.” “Axel F.” You can probably whistle or hum several of those from memory. But do you remember the artists? All were one-hit wonders. By and large, instrumental hits throughout chart history were flukes. But there were exceptions: a trumpet player from Los Angeles who pretended to be Latin, made up a fake mariachi band, put sexy models on his album covers and topped the charts almost as much as the Beatles. Or, a try-hard, perm-headed soprano saxophone player from Seattle, who turned holding his breath while playing dizzying runs of notes into an athletic feat. How do songs without words become hits? Why were Herb Alpert and Kenny G so good at it? Why did instrumentals fall off the charts after the ’80s—and who is bringing them back? (Hint: think oontz-oontz-oontz.) Join Chris Molanphy as he throws away the lyric sheet and explains how a catchy melody can be worth a thousand words. Podcast production by Kevin Bendis. Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
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