The first piece of serious music your reviewer recall’s falling under the sway of was “March from Love Of Three Oranges” by Sergei Prokofiev after hearing it in Miss Buckley’s music appreciation class at Kohl School. Dad and especially mom loved orchestral music and show tunes and that was all the young me heard as a youth along with Lawrence Welk and his ilk. For a few years the folks even had season tickets to the now defunct Denver Symphony and occasionally your’s truly got to go. Exposure to the classics also came via movies having been taken to see Disney features like Fantasia (all Stokowski orchestrations with cartoons) and Sleeping Beauty whose run included the short film Grand Canyon featuring the music of Ferde Grofe (remember the sidewinder snake?). Any kid from back in the ’50s and ’60s watched cartoons on Saturday AM. All those old Looney Tunes features made use of the classics since royalties didn’t have to be paid for their use (who can forget such goodies as Rabbit Of Seville and What’s Opera, Doc?). It almost seemed pre-ordained that the high school and college aged me came to love progressive rock as there are classical overtones to much of that music. With that in mind it seemed like a fun topic to make a list of great rock and roll (or at least non-traditional instrumentation) songs that originated from classical sources. There are a lot of vocal rock songs that have used themes ‘borrowed’ from that music, but this is strictly a list of instrumentals (maybe we will do vocals another time). Some like my Uncle Bill will consider many of these to be desecrations of great music, but heck – it exposed many a kid to music they may not have heard and perhaps those kids later went out and bought the originals. Besides having to be an instrumental, the only rule here is only one song per act.
1.Boycott’s Bouree – The Albion Band
It is tempting to say that “La Bourree” from Michael Praetorius’ compendium of baroque dance music Terpsichore is this blogger’s favorite piece of music as it so happy and memorable. Praetorius was mainly a composer of music based on hymns, but in 1612 he arranged and compiled over 300 mainly French dance tunes (though many originated elsewhere in Europe). ’60s kids remember it as the 355 year old instrumental break from the #11 hit by The Fifth Estate’s 1967 version of “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead” from The Wizard Of Oz. The most important figure in over 50 years of electrified British Traditional music has been Ashley Hutchings, the bassist who formed Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and the band on this recording – The Albion Band. This song is found on the CD The BBC Sessions (Strange Fruit) with this performance from the 1977 edition of The Albion Band. Some of the players in addition to Hutchings were Phil Pickett (woodwinds), Ric Sanders (fiddle) and Dave Mattacks (drums).
2.Love Sculpture – Farandole (from L ‘Arlesienne)
This is a virtual tie with The Albion Band track for #1 though it could well have been another piece by Dave Edmunds’ band – “Sabre Dance” instead of “Farandole”. Since we have to pick just one song by this trio, the incidental music written by Georges Bizet for a play by Alphonse Daudet gets the nod. After having a #5 hit with his great guitar instro version of “Sabre Dance” in the UK, Edmunds tried the same formula with “Farandole” which was released on the second and final Love Sculpture LP Forms & Feelings in Jan. 1970. Many are not aware of what a great guitarist Edmunds was in addition to his great retro-rockers like “I Hear You Knockin'” and “Girls Talk”.
3.Apollo 100 – Joy
Johann Sebastian Bach in 1723 composed this piece of music which has become a stately standard at weddings. As a joyous uptempo keyboard workout, the late Tom Parker released Bach’s song on the Mega label in early 1972 and scored a #6 hit in the US.
4.Wolf Hoffmann – Swan Lake
It was the purchase of the 2016 album Headbangers Symphony that inspired this month’s blog posting. Wolf Hoffmann (the guitarist with German metal band Accept) released his first solo album in 1997 and it was appropriately titled Classical as it was all covers of songs like “The Moldau” and “Bolero”. Twenty years later, his second solo album followed the same path with metal versions of “Air On A G String”, “Pathetique”, etc. Tchaikovsky composed the music for this ballet in 1875-6 with the premier performance in 1877 to less than stellar reviews. Just like the Beatles’ Abbey Road which was panned by many reviewers upon release, “Swan Lake” is now considered a classic.
5.Emerson, Lake & Palmer – Romeo & Juliet
The prog supergroup ELP recorded a number of fine classical covers including a full album dedicated to Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition. “Romeo & Juliet” was found on their 1992 reunion record Black Moon after a fourteen year hiatus and was not a big success. This classical cover featured Keith Emerson playing the main motif on synthesizer. Composed in 1935 by Prokofiev, “Romeo & Juliet” was music for a ballet based on a Shakesperean play.
6.Kokomo – Asia Minor
There was no band named Kokomo to support this #8 hit back in 1961, only studio musicians led by jazz pianist Jimmy Wisner. The pseudonym was supposed to hide his identity from his jazz fans, but after the records’ success Wisner went into rock and roll as a songwriter (“Don’t Throw Your Love Away” with Billy Jackson) and arranger (Len Barry, Tommy James, The Cowsills, etc.). The song is a honky-tonk piano version of the 24 year old Edvard Grieg’s 1868 composition “Piano Concerto In A Minor”. As we go through the list, it is interesting how 1961 seems to be the year of taking the classics and rocking them up.
7.Jethro Tull – Bouree
Found on the second Tull album Stand Up (1969), this is a jazzy version of J. S. Bach’s “Bourrée in E Minor”. The original was generally played on the lute, but band leader Ian Anderson used flute to follow the main theme. This has remained a standard in concert for Anderson and a fan favorite. Ostensibly Paul McCartney was also inspired by Bach’s tune in the composition of “Blackbird”. A bouree is a rapid dance with French origins first mentioned in 1655. When used in a classical context, a bouree is not necessarily meant to be danced.
8.B. Bumble & The Stingers – Bumble Boogie
Here we have another hit from 1961 by a band of session musicians. Producer Kim Fowley recorded Ernie Freeman on honky tonk piano with Earl Palmer (drums), Tommy Tedesco (guitar) and Red Callender (bass). The song had previously been a boogie woogie hit for The Freddy Martin Orchestra in 1946 with Jack Fina on piano and Fowley used a similar arrangement. On the Rendezvous label, the record hit a peak in the US of #21 which necessitated finding a band to tour as the fictitious B. Bumble & The Stingers. A white band from Oklahoma subbed for the mixed race studio players. The song itself was derived from “Flight Of The Bumblebee” composed in 1899-1900 by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov to close Act III, Tableau 1 of the opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan. B. Bumble had a hit with an adaptation of “The Nutcracker Suite” (Tchaikovsky) as well titled “Nut Rocker”.
9.The Nice – Intermezzo: Karelia Suite (Live)
Before becoming a third of ELP, Keith Emerson was the flash keyboardist with The Nice which started as a quartet, but by this record was down to a trio. While there is a studio version of this song on their second LP, the preferable version to the young me was on the 1970 live record Five Bridges as it also featured an orchestra (Sinfonia Of London conducted by Joseph Eger). The noisy organ feedback section goes a bit too long, but when the full band comes back in at about the 7:43 mark it still brings goosebumps. Finnish composer Jean Sibelius wrote this in 1893.
10.Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Mozart/Figaro
From the 2000 rock opera Beethoven’s Last Night, this piece references the very popular overture from the comic opera “The Marriage Of Figaro” by Mozart (1786). The late Paul O’Neill created the band Trans-Siberian Orchestra in 1996 from the metal act Savatage as a marriage of rock and classical music. While their rock opera’s are not all holiday themed, the band has become a perennial Christmas season cash cow – a must-see like “The Nutcracker”. This particular work is a fictional account of the last night of Beethoven’s life when supposedly the devil comes to collect his soul (unsuccessfully).
11.Paul Revere & The Raiders – Like, Long Hair
The first chart record by pianist Paul Revere’s Raiders sounded very different than their later garage rockers that enraptured the teenaged me back in 1965. Charting at #38 in 1961, this was a boogie woogie take-off on Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude In C Sharp Minor” (composed when he was 19). This rockin’ version doesn’t exactly follow the complete theme, but there is enough here to make the list. Rachmaninoff’s most famous piece was also sampled on the En Vogue modern R & B track “Love Won’t Take Me Out”.
12.The Piltdown Men – Piltdown Rides Again
Of course classical music lovers will know this piece as Gioachino Rossini’s “William Tell Overture”, but any kid from the ’50s will recognize another version of this song as the theme song to The Lone Ranger TV series (feel free to insert your own ‘Hi Ho Silver!’). The Piltdown Men were an American studio creation that were more successful in the UK with this record peaking there at #14 in 1961. While formed by pianist Lincoln Mayorga, The Piltdown Men had a lot of sax appeal due to the dominant dual honkers Scott Gordon and Jackie Kelso (other musicians were reportedly Bob Bain – guitar, Tommy Tedesco – bass, Alan Brenmanen – drums). Their only US charter was “Brontosaurus Stomp”. Trivia buffs may find interesting that the duo behind this combo (Ed Cobb and Lincoln Mayorga) were another studio act, The Link Eddy Combo whose instrumental rip-off of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” titled “Big Mr. C” was the first single released on Reprise records (1961).
13.Waldo De Los Rios – Mozart Symphony No. 40 In G Minor K.550, 1st Movement
A minor if unlikely #67 US hit from 1971 while singer/songwriters dominated the charts, this was a huge success in many countries for the Argentinian. The year before, he had arranged and conducted Miguel Rios’ #14 vocal hit “A Song Of Joy” based on Beethoven’s 9th. Any number of his pop arrangements of the classics could have made the list, but this is his most popular one. Sadly, De Los Rios suffered from depression and took his own life in 1977. Mozart wrote this in 1788 at age 32.
14.Procol Harum – The Blue Danube
Johann Strauss II composed this in 1866 as “An Der Schönen Blauen Donau, Op. 314”. Reportedly not a success at the time, this waltz is one of the best known pieces of classical music ever. Fans of Stanley Kubrick’s movie 2001: A Space Odyssey will remember this song from the space docking scene. Skaters of any age likely will have rolled or bladed around the rink to this song as well. Gary Brooker’s band Procol Harum may well have invented progressive rock (along with The Moody Blues) and are at this time one of the biggest omissions from the rock and roll hall of shame (er, fame). Procol Harum’s body of original work is revered by fans though most folk only know them from “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” and “Conquistador”. Their cover of Strauss ( well-played if a bit tongue-in-cheek) is a rarity first found only as the B-side on a 1976 French single with the A-side “Adagio Di Albinoni” which also could have made this list. Note that Strauss’ father was also a composer of mainly waltzes and is best known for “The Radetzky March”.
15.Sky – Toccata
The first line-up of Sky was a very interesting amalgam. You had classical guitarist John Williams, prog-rock keyboardist Francis Monkman, session bassist Herbie Flowers, Aussie guitarist Kevin Peek and drummer Tristan Fry who had played timpani on “A Day In The Life” by The Beatles. Their 1980 double album Sky 2 was a #1 UK chart success and featured the single “Toccata” which was also a Brit hit at #5. This was an amped up version of the Bach organ show-piece “Toccata and Fugue In D Minor, BWV 565” (which your’s truly over-played in church back in the ’70s). While cut from the 1942 RKO general release of Disney’s Fantasia for time reasons (the film ran over two hours), Bach’s piece was restored for all future showings and accompanies a very abstract animation sequence.
16.The Electric Light Orchestra – In The Hall Of The Mountain King
ELO was the 1970 brainchild of The Move – Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne with drummer Bev Bevan. Their original idea was to take the ‘rock-with-cellos’ idea of John Lennon’s “I Am The Walrus” further in a band context. By their 1973 release On The Third Day, Wood was long gone to Wizzard and Lynne was just finding has way to the arena rock band ELO would become. The only non-Lynne composition on the LP was an amalgam of two Grieg compositions. The song starts with a synthesizer playing the light “Morning Mood” which gives way to the ominous “In The Hall Of The Mountain King”. Both are from the incidental music composed by Grieg in 1875 for Henrik Ibsen’s play Peer Gynt (premiering in 1876). Many rock acts (including The Who and Nero & The Gladiators) have recorded this song.
17.Yes – Cans & Brahms
Found on many Yes fans’ fave album Fragile (1971), this is actually a Rick Wakeman solo piece. Wakeman combines several keyboards on a shortened adaptation of the “Symphony No. 4 In E Minor, 3rd Movement” by Johannes Brahms. German composer Brahms may be the fave composer of harried moms who have used his “Lullaby” to sooth their babies to sleep for years.
18.The Chieftains – Chieftains Largo
In 1998 a largely unknown various artists album came out that was a tribute to the second movement of Antonín Dvořák’s New World Symphony, “Largo”. Rick Chertoff, Rob Hyman, Eric Bazilian (The Hooters) with David Forman were behind this sadly overlooked record that featured Taj Mahal, Levon Helm & Garth Hudson (The Band), Cyndi Lauper, etc. A tape of Dvorak’s piece literally went to the moon on the person of Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong. When he composed this symphony in 1893, Dvorak was under the sway of some of America’s earliest music forms – that of Native Americans and African slaves. The “Largo” section was given lyrics in 1922 by William Arms Fisher and is known also as “Goin’ Home” which is mistakenly thought of as a traditional folk song. On the album several artists give their reading of the main theme including the Irish traditional band The Chieftains who lend the Uilleann pipes of Paddy Moloney plus flute and tin whistle to their gentle interpretation.
19.The Cougars – Saturday Night At The Duck Pond
A UK hit in 1961 that didn’t chart in the US, this is a charged up version of the ballet “Swan Lake” again by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The story is of Princess Odette who is turned to a swan by a sorcerer’s curse. Bristol, England’s The Cougars sound is very similar to the biggest UK instrumental act of all-time – The Shadows (who curiously never charted here either). The single may well have hit higher than #33 if it wouldn’t have been banned by the BBC. My Uncle Bill will relate to the reason for the ban – the powers that be claimed it was “a travesty of a major classical work”.
20.Alan Parsons – The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
This is the newest performance on the list, appearing on the 2019 Alan Parsons album The Secret. The guitar is handled by prog virtuoso Steve Hackett late of Genesis. Both Parsons and Hackett put on wonderful performances on the 2019 On The Blue Cruise we were on board with, but curiously (in light of this collaboration) they didn’t appear together at any time. The album is a tribute to magic which is appropriate to this song if you remember the Mickey Mouse segment in Fantasia (likely the most beloved section of the movie). Paul Dukas wrote the symphonic poem in 1897 based on Goethe’s original poem of 1797. This song along with “Night On Bald Mountain” (Mussorgsky) has become associated with Halloween due to the evil sounding motifs.
21.The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Opus 36, Clementi
By a wide margin, the best NGDB album was Uncle Charlie & His Dog Teddy which contains “Some Of Shelly’s Blues”, “House At Pooh Corners”, “Mr. Bojangles”, etc. (1970). Banjo virtuoso John McEuen solos on Muzio Clementi’s 1797 piece “Sonatina In C major, Op.36, No.1” which is commonly played on piano. Erik Satie parodied this song in his “Sonatine Bureaucratique” as well.
22.The Ventures – Beethoven’s Sonata In C# Minor
The most prolific and influential US instrumental act has been the Ventures from the Pacific Northwest. During their main era of the ’60s and ’70s, they would take hits of the day and refashion them on LP with a mix of originals. Of their 60+ studio albums, 1972’s Joy included their cover of the Apollo 100 hit “Joy”. The rest of the record is classical melodies in a rock format including this song that sounds very similar in style to “Joy”. The original by Beethoven is a very sedate piano piece generally known as “The Moonlight Sonata” (“Piano Sonata No. 14 In C♯ Minor”). One of Ludwig Van Beethoven’s most popular works, he completed it in 1801 at age 31.
23.Emerson, Lake & Powell – Mars, The Bringer Of War
Okay, some of you may be crying foul as this is Keith Emerson’s third appearance on the list however this is a different band containing a different ‘P’ in Cozy Powell instead of Carl Palmer who was in the band Asia at the time. On their solitary self-titled album from 1986 they did a version of Gustav Holst’s “Mars, The Bringer Of War” which Dave Edmunds’ Love Sculpture had previously included on their Forms & Feelings record. Finished in 1916, Holst’s “The Planets” was made up of seven movements that were each named after a planet. A sort of evil bolero, stylistically it influenced many movie soundtrack composers including John Williams in Star Wars and Hans Zimmer in Gladiator. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band had a hit with “Joybringer” which was a vocal adaptation of another movement – “Jupiter, The Bringer Of Joy”.
24.William Orbit – Barber’s Adagio For Strings (Ferry Corsten Remix -Radio Edit)
This is the only ‘modern music’ song on the list and is a Dec. 1999 #4 UK hit that was a dance remix of Orbit’s Samuel Barber II cover. It first appeared on his 1995 classical album Pieces In Modern Style (re-released in 2000). Ferry Costen who did the hit dance remix is a Dutch DJ. William Orbit (nee Wainwright) has been active since 1982 working with Madonna, Betty Boo, U2, Beth Orton, etc. “Adagio For Strings” was composed in 1936 as his “String Quartet, Op. 11 – 2nd Movement” and is Barber’s best known work.
25.Adrian Kimberly – The Graduation Song…Pomp & Circumstance
The last alumnus from 1961 on our list is by the one-hit wonder Adrian Kimberly who was actually Don Everly of the Everly Brothers under an assumed name. The Everly Brothers switched labels from Cadence to Warner Brothers in 1960 and had their own short-lived Calliope Records label as a Warners subsidiary (1961-62). This was the only hit on Calliope out of five single releases. Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance Military Marches was composed in 1901. The best known of the marches is “Pomp And Circumstance March No. 1 In D” which contains several sections including the tune known as “Land Of Hope And Glory” (part of “Trio”) which was used in the UK as the “Coronation Ode” for King Edward VII. As Mrs. RNR Dentist and I observed while attending an organ concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall, the Brits boisterously sing along to this song with words we Yanks didn’t know even existed. Here in the US, this tune is played ad nauseum at every high school and college graduation, it seems. The Kimberly version was arranged by Neil Hefti who many will recall as writing the TV theme for the ’60s version of Batman.