10 Accordion Songs That Rock

This conversation could’ve been between two 16-year-old boys:

Owen: “I’d like to join your rock band.”

Lance: “What do ya play?”

Owen: “Accordion.”

Lance: “No.”

Bummer for Owen.  However, young Lance has a lot to learn.  For the accordion does indeed rock. Here are a handful of examples.

“We Can Work It Out” (1965), The Beatles

Okay, so it’s technically a harmonium pump organ and not an accordion we hear in this #1 smash from 1965. “But how many of us took the fake?  Still another instance of The Beatles’ inclination to leave it to individual interpretation.

“God Only Knows” (1966), The Beach Boys

Can you imagine this touching expression of unwavering love without the sweet, yet somber, accordion?  God forbid.

“How Can I Be Sure” (1967), the Young Rascals

 The accordion, while decidedly whimsical in nature, more than pulls its weight in this tune about a guy who’s in love and in need of confidence reinforcement.

“Mr. Bojangles” (1970), Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Country music icon Jerry Jeff Walker wrote it.  Country rockers Nitty Gritty Dirt Band busted into the Top 10 with it.  The accordion, along with mandolin and piano, team to make this parable of a pitiful soul one of the most affecting pieces of popular music ever recorded.

“Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day” (1974), Jethro Tull

The accordion comes on as buoyant and bursting with hope in this Jethro Tull Classic. Tull frontman Ian Anderson has claimed his song is about carrying on in the face of global warming.  Ever a lad ahead of his time, the rest of the world then was warning us to watch out for the next Ice Age.

“Squeeze Box” (1975), The Who

No column on the rock accordion would be complete without mention of The Who’s lively ode to “Mama” and her favorite instrument, gamely played by Pete Townshend.  Alas, poor bleary-eyed “Daddy” may still be yearning for a precious night of peace!

“I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango)” (1981), Grace Jones

This super strange song (about a stalker?) by Jamaican model turned singer Grace Jones has a Parisian-flavored accordion weaving in and out.  The feel is of sipping a glass of fine French wine alongside the Seine.  But best beware of what lurks in the shadows…

“Another One Rides the Bus” (1983), “Weird Al” Yankovic

This goof on the Queen classic “Another One Bites the Dust” kicked off a career of parodying popular hit songs for “Weird Al” Yankovic. He plays a mean accordion here.  His frenetic live 1981 US network television debut on The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder is…well, something to see.

“The Boy in the Bubble” (1987), Paul Simon

It’s with a sense of spontaneous urgency that the accordion explodes at the start of this song, at once drawing us into the world view of Paul Simon on “Boy in the Bubble”.  Who knew that the instrument could summon such ferocious firepower?  One of the unquestioned musical geniuses of our time certainly did.

“Constant Craving” (1992), k.d. lang

It’s just a brief burst of accordion that begins Canadian singer/songwriter k.d. lang’s 1992 hit “Constant Craving.”  Even so, it serves to set the tone for the beautifully melancholic melody underpinning this opus of desperate longing.

-John Smistad

Photo: Pexels.com

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23 comments on “10 Accordion Songs That Rock

  1. Though not exactly a rocker, “C’est La Vie” by Emerson Lake and Palmer is an amazing accordion song.
    Good list!

  2. Steven Valvano

    Thanks, fun piece!!…”Skating Away” is certainly not a rocker, given that:
    -Sandy (4th of July) by Springsteen
    -Tough Love by Squeeze

    • John Smistad

      Yeah, it’s not “Hymn 43” nor “Minstrel in the Gallery”. Still, a brightly driving narrative from one of rock’s most gloriously eclectic.

  3. No Garth Hudson songs? Best accordion song of all time is The Band’s cover of Dylan’s When I Paint My Masterpiece.

  4. Best one is Garth Hudson on The Band’s cover of Dylan’s When I Paint My Masterpiece.

  5. John Smistad

    Rambling. Righteous. Right on, Wazz. Thanks for reading!

  6. Fun article. I did look up Weird Al’s appearance on Tom Snyder and it was indeed a hoot!
    And I may yet become a Jethro Tull fan…

    • John Smistad

      Ha ha ha. There ya go, Dave! Join us in “JethroLand”…there’s always plenty of room! ;}

  7. Eoghan Michael Lyng

    Love me some Squeezebox!

  8. John Smistad

    & who don’t, my friend?

  9. Don’t forget John Mellencamp! It was such a big part of his sound.

  10. John Smistad

    Yeah. Oh, yeah. For sure, Steve. “Check It Out” is one my favorites by him.

  11. There’s another bit of rockin’ accordion and some nicely-fitting sax) at almost the other end of Graceland, in the song “That Was Your Mother”, featuring Rockin’ Dopsie and the Twisters.

  12. Another Garth Hudson classic is The Band’s Evangeline.

  13. Greg Holloway

    If I recall correcty, Gary Lewis and the Playboys had an accordion player as a member of the band. So I assume that many, if not all, of their output included a rockin’ accordion as part of the Playboy sound.

  14. Stuart Kazanow

    Don’t forget Dominic Cortese’s iconic accordion solo in Billy Joel’s “Vienna.”

  15. Steve Peeples

    Los Lobos! Give Corrido #1 a listen. Or The Breakdown. Or Kiko And the Lavendar Moon. Or a dozen of their other great songs featuring an accordion.

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