The sound of the accordion is, in my opinion, one of the best, weirdest, and most unique additions to the punk genre. For most it’s easy to see the instrument as nothing more than a novelty but the truth is there are a lot of very talented musicians whose squeezebox skills can’t be overlooked as a gimmick. As an aspiring punk rock accordionist myself, I wanted to spotlight some of the best in the field.
Check out the list here.
10. (Honorary mention): Eugene Hutz (Gogol Bordello)
Things might have ended up differently for the gypsy troubadour Eugene Hutz if he stuck with his attempt at learning the accordion. In a video interview, Hutz jokes about the difficulties he had trying to learn the instrument:
“Learning the accordion was just impossible. Have you ever tried an accordion? It’s insane. It’s f*cking nuts man, it’s like, to play accordion you must have your brain wired differently. I worship people who can play accordion. I tried for 2 years and ended up withminor scoliosis and, anxiety problem. And that’s when I picked up [guitar].
9. Eric Melvin (NOFX)
While the accordion is rarely up front in the ranks of NOFX, founding guitarist Eric Melvin busts out his giant squeezebox to time to time to please the crowds. Wailing minor waltzes about sleepless nights, Melvin really puts a lot of character into the instrument.
Listen To This:
I, Melvin (live recording)
8. Katie McConnell (The Mahones)
I’ve gotta admit that I’ve had a crush on this punk for a long time. McConnell really does a great job of bringing the punk style and hardcore energy to the accordion. Her style of playing seems to draw a good deal of inspiration from The Pogues (above). Seeing any performance by her with The Mahones is an awesome experience that I highly recommend to any lover of celtic punk. Watch for them in your town!
Listen To This:
“A Great Night On The Lash” (from “The Black Irish,” 2011, True North Records)
7. Marc Orrell (Dropkick Murphys, 2000-2008)
He’s the one who brought you Shipping Up To Boston. Enough said?
6. Tim Brennan (Dropkick Murphys, 2003-present)
The current recording and touring multi-instrumentalist Tim Brennan has continued to make the accordion a more part of the band’s staple sound.
Listen To This:
The Hardest Mile (off 2011’s Going Out In Style)
5. James Fearnley (The Pogues)
One of the pioneers of the punk accordion, James Fearnley, the original and current member of The Pogues, was originally a guitar player. According to Fearnley’s memoir, “Here Comes Everybody: The Story Of The Pogues,” founding banjo member Jem Finer, desperately seeking an accordion for his new band, showed up at Fearnley’s flat with an accordion in a laundry bag and persuaded him to try and learn the instrument.
Listen to this:
“Turkish Song Of The Damned” (from “If I Should Fall From Grace Of God,” 1988, Island Records)
4. Seamus O’Flanahan (The Dreadnoughts)
3. Matt Hensley (Flogging Molly)
Hensley, a former skateboarder, picked up accordion from guitar like so many others on this list. In addition to skillfully adding to the work of Flogging Molly with his accordion, Hensley is also frequently featured on the concertina and more traditional Irish diatonic button accordion. That’s the kind of thing that tends to really impress the geeky accordion junkies.
Listen to this:
2. Yuri Lemeshev (Gogol Bordello)
Although not a founding member of the New York gypsy punk band, Yuri Lemeshev has been a vital part of the band for over a decade. Hailing from Russia, Lemeshev has to be one of the most technically skilled members of the scene. And not only can he knock down tunes masterfully, he can also move around and have a good ol’ punk time on stage while doing it.
Listen to this:
1. Franz Nicolay (World/Inferno Friendship Society)
In addition to that moustache, Franz Nicolay brings in the background of a converted rock piano player (most notably in The Hold Steady) and has spread the use of the accordion all over the genre. Nicolay probably has the most impressive resume of them all; in addition to being a former longtime member of the punk circus collective World/Inferno Friendship Society and his own collective Anti-Social Music, Nicolay has recorded and toured with the likes of Against Me!, Leftover Crack, The Dresden Dolls, The Loved Ones, and Mischief Brew. Check out a complete list of his recording and producer credits over here.
Listen to this:
“Your Younger Man” (from “Red Eyed Soul,” 2006)
Had enough yet? If not, check out some up-and-coming bands featuring the accordion.
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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:
From: ‘Together Through Life’ (2009)
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.’
From: ‘Little Creatures’ (1985)
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.
From: ‘D.E. 7th’ (1982)
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.”
From: ‘Unplugged (The Official Bootleg)’ (1991)
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.
From: ‘The Who By Numbers’ (1975)
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.
From: ‘Cahoots’ (1971)
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.
From: ‘Groovin” (1967)
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.
From: ‘Graceland’ (1986)
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.
From: ‘Between the Buttons’ (U.K. edition, 1967)
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.
From: ‘The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle’ (1973)
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.