while back we referred to Nickle Creek’s “Smoothie Song” as the first instrumental to reach the top of the AAA charts. An astute and musically enlightened reader, Craig Handyside, asked about the AAA charts and drew my attention to one of the greatest instrumentals ever written or performed, reaching the top of the pop charts in 1967, Mason Williams’ “Classical Gas.”‘
First note that the AAA charts are a reasonably recent phenomenon in the music world and as far as can determine, not available online so we can’t do much research into their history. However, if we cast aside all this “which chart are we using” pontificating, “Classical Gas” surely stands, if not alone, at least head and shoulders above the plethora of guitar instrumentals before and since.
Williams has been oft quoted explaining the song’s original title “Classical Gasoline” and the fortuitous mistake that shortened it to “Classical Gas“, carrying the additional groovy connotations of ‘gas’ which Williams hadn’t even considered in the original title. The original release on the Mason Williams Phonograph Record seemed doomed to commercial failure as an album, since this blistering jazz, rock, acoustic guitar instrumental was surrounded by country music, silly pop songs, novelty tunes and elevator music (all of which is spectacular beyond belief),
For example, “The Prince’s Panties” engages in fantastical word play and mental imagery while leading to a painfully punny finale, all the while accompanied by silly, spritely, hummable music. The country tune “Long Time Blues” is worthy of airplay on any country station in any decade. While Williams has included “Classical Gas” on two recordings, the “Phonograph Record” and “Classical Gas” with Mannheim Steamroller, the final track on the “Phonograph Record”, “Baroque-A-Nova” actually appears on all three existing Williams albums in different arrangements; one choral, one guitar, and one Chip Davis/Mannheim Steamroller special deluxe extra.
Williams, a brilliant guitarist, composer, and comic writer, has received too little praise and recognition for so great a contribution to the arts. Here’s hoping for another solo effort or even another collaboration with Mannheim Steamroller.