Top 10 Rock and Roll Accordion Songs
Polka? Sure! Zydeco? Of course! But rock and roll accordion songs? Yes, enough rockers have found a use for the ol’ squeeze box to justify this list. While the accordion rarely is a lead instrument on a hit rock single, it has been employed to paint the corners with some extra flavor or add a celebratory atmosphere. And, although it was mighty tempting, we refrained from selecting any of “Weird” Al’s numerous polka concoctions (sorry, ‘Bohemian Polka’ fans). Here’s our list of the Top 10 Rock and Roll Accordion Songs:
That’s David Hidalgo of Los Lobos (a rock band that’s often made great use of the accordion) pumping away on this border song from Bob Dylan. In Hidalgo’s hands, the accordion adds sleazy strains to the ramshackle recording, the lead single from Dylan’s 2009 release. It’s not the first time that an accordion has wheezed its way onto a Dylan record – 1976’s ‘Desire’ featured the instrument on songs such as ‘Romance in Durango.’
Multi-instrumentalist Jerry Harrison strapped on the accordion to lead this bizarre shuffle on its way to no place in particular. There’s certainly a zydeco influence at work – not surprising given frontman David Byrne’s all-encompassing musical tastes. But there’s plenty else going on in this modest hit: the choral intro, Byrne’s yelps, the synthesizers and the saxophones. Just another day at the studio for Talking Heads.
‘Bail You Out’
After Rockpile’s breakup, pub rocker Dave Edmunds went into full-on rootsy mode for his next solo record. This country-rock tune from ‘D.E. 7th’ gets the Tex-Mex treatment with the prominently featured accordion. The song doesn’t really come to life until the instrument comes in on the first chorus. Hence the old adage, “it’s not truly a party until someone breaks out the accordion.”
The former Beatle‘s appearance on ‘MTV Unplugged’ was one of the earliest episodes in the vaunted series, as well as one that was truly acoustic. McCartney’s late ’80s / early ’90s touring band joined him on the show, with keyboardist Paul “Wix” Wickens playing the harmonium part of ‘We Can Work it Out’ on an accordion. It’s a spirited rendition, but not a perfect one: Macca actually flubs the second line and has to restart the song.
The legend goes that Pete Townshend, in all his musical genius glory, bought an accordion, learned how to play it in a few minutes and quickly wrote this Rock and Roll Accordion Song. He didn’t think too much of the dirty little ditty, and was mystified when it became a Top 20 hit on both sides of the Atlantic. While the accordion gives the song a polka element, the banjo solo (also played by Pete) adds a bluegrass element – making it one of the stranger songs the Who ever released.
Written by Bob Dylan, but recorded first by the Band, ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’ includes an odd trip to Europe told by one weary narrator. The Band’s resident musical mad scientist Garth Hudson provides the supple accordion part, which – along with the mandolin – lends the song an old-world, gypsy aesthetic.
‘How Can I Be Sure’
The blue-eyed soul group’s tribute to uncertainty is a baroque pop affair, with pianos, horns and more. But when the accordion swells, it conjures images of winding, rain-drenched streets in Paris. That French element couldn’t be better used than in a song so philosophical. Indeed, the Young Rascals were maturing so fast that by their next album, they’d simply be known as the Rascals.
The leadoff track on the landmark ‘Graceland’ record was also the first song Paul Simon worked on when he traveled to Africa in 1985. ‘The Boy in the Bubble’ came about as a collaboration between Simon and African musician Forere Motloheloa, who starts the song with his wheezing accordion. The woozy sound carries throughout the tune, in which Simon describes the world as an amalgam of hope and dread.
Brian Jones seemed to be able to play anything and everything on the Stones mid-’60s material, yet he’s not responsible for the accordion part on ‘Back Street Girl’ (those duties went to session man Nick DeCaro). One of the Top 10 Rock and Roll Accordion Songs, ‘Back Street Girl’ is also one of the band’s most austere recordings, despite the fact that Mick Jagger is definitely putting this girl under his thumb. As with ‘How Can I Be Sure,’ the accordion part gives a French, cabaret feel to the track – which only makes ‘Back Street Girl’ sound more romantic than it really is.
Billy Joel once sang that the piano sounds like a carnival, but on this chestnut from Bruce Springsteen’s sophomore album, it’s the accordion that does the trick. The E Street Band’s late, great Danny Federici squeezes away and brings the neon-lit arcades and Tilt-a-Whirl rides to life. The accordion keeps us spinning on this endless summer night, and while Bruce might be looking for a way out, we’re happy to get stuck on this carousel. In concert, ‘Sandy’ was always a showcase for Federici’s talents. It only made sense that when Federici played his last E Street show in 2008, this was the only song he requested to perform.