Love is in the Air: The 10 Greatest Valentine’s Day Instrumentals
Most famous love songs have lyrics designed to propel romance to absolute heights. Think of Frank Sinatra’s performance of “My Funny Valentine” or Etta James singing “At Last.”
But there’s also a canon of great guitar love songs with elegant melodies and joyfully weeping tones that can make the hearts of both guitar fiends and laymen swell. Here are 10 of the finest:
10. Barney Kessel, “I Love You”
The great Gibson signature model-playing jazz legend laid it simply and directly on the line with this song’s title, although his post-bop changes made it clear that this was a difficult relationship. Nonetheless, here’s how an unconventional, yet strong, melodist handles the world’s most enduring theme.
9. Wes Montgomery, “Lolita”
Okay, maybe this title doesn’t resonate with the conventions of romance, but Montgomery’s trademark octave runs on his Gibson L-5 and his delicately swinging pace give this composition a vibe that’s closer to the romance of the bossa nova than Nabokov.
8. Al Di Meola, “Elegant Gypsy Suite”
This acoustic-electric cooker draws on flamenco for its romance and Di Meola’s ferocious chops, including his percolating picking on a Black Beauty, for its majesty. It’s the final cut on his masterful 1977 Elegant Gypsy, a fusion masterpiece.
7. Santo and Johnny, “Sleepwalk”
Brooklyn’s Farina brothers were a six-string and pedal steel duo who created some of the best instrumental music of the late ’50s and early ’60s, but this number remains a timeless classic, with a shivery melody as beautiful as moonlight.
6. Roy Buchanan, “Sweet Dreams”
The late D.C.-area master picker’s take on Patsy Cline’s hit from his 1972 eponymous debut needs no words to hit the same emotional highs. His imitations of pedal steel, via perfect bending and volume control, have rarely been equalized.
5. John McLaughlin, “Lady L”
This bit of romantic exotica comes from McLaughlin’s first album with Shakti, A Handful of Beauty. The disc’s title is an apt description, with McLaughlin and violinist L. Shankar trading vibrant melodies over a bed of classical Indian percussion.
4. Johnny A., “Walk Away Renee”
As a bonus track for the DVD One November Night, Gibson signature model artist Johnny A. performed a solo rendition of the Left Banke classic against a gorgeous New England sunset. This performance, which squeezes every drop of emotion from the song’s melody, is as entirely romantic as all that sounds.
3. Allman Brothers Band, “Jessica”
With soaring harmonies and a dazzling melody that goes straight for the heart, this classic tune from Brothers and Sisters helped define the group’s twin Gibson guitar sound. It builds from an acoustic guitar bed into an elaborate fantasia for Duane Allman and Dickey Betts. Unforgettable!
2. George Benson, “Breezin’”
This title track from his 1976 classic album, along with his version of “This Masquerade,” made Benson a pop sensation after more than 15 years in the jazz trenches. Although the disc’s simplified melodies dispirited fans of his earlier, more hard-core and adventurous jazz records, the boldness of Breezin’s melodies and the blithe spirit he injected into his playing sound as if they may have launched thousands of romances.
1. Jeff Beck, “’Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers”
One of Beck’s most elegant and soulful performances makes this Gibson Les Paul powered tune, a tribute to the great Roy Buchanan, the blues centerpiece of his classic Blow by Blow. Beck’s delivery is full of Buchanan signatures like volume pot swells, delicate bends, phrases that tumble and pause, and soul-soaked melodies. Yet the tone and execution is all Beck's – and all brilliant.