Ladies And Gentlemen, Boys And Girls…The Accordion

December 10, 2012

happywanderersWhile trekking about this morning, I had the Sirius tuned to the Bruce Springsteen station because, as you might be aware, there is no channel devoted to The Smiths.

As Be True blared from the speakers, The Big Man was – as the jazz cats might say – blowin’ notes and it occurred to me that the saxophone has all but vanished from rock and roll over the past several decades.

Then, it occurred to me that, though the saxophone might not be as prominent in rock music as it might have been in the ’50s and ’60s, at least the instrument does have a time-honored place within the genre.

Then, there is the accordion.

I learned a lot of things from the movie Ishtar. It aired often on cable in the late ’80s and when it comes to trekking forty-five minutes through snow and a sub-zero wind chill to a ten o’clock class or watching Ishtar on cable…at home…where it’s warm…Ishtar it is.

Aside from learning that it is unwise to buy a blind camel, a lyric from a song in the movie has stuck with me…

Telling the truth can be dangerous business
Honest and popular don’t go hand in hand
If you admit that you play the accordion
No one will hire you in a rock ‘n’ roll band.

As a child of the ’70s/’80s, I also am well aware that, growing up, Dennis DeYoung played the accordion. I’m not disinclined toward the former leader of Styx, but cool does not come to mind when I hear his name.

There is “Weird Al” Yankovic, who first came to me and my friends attention in junior high school when My Bologna got a lot of airplay, but, after immediately thinking of Springsteen’s 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy), I struggled to think of other rock songs that made use of accordion.

A bit of quick research and I suddenly had a lengthier list of stuff that I owned with accordion. Here are four of them…

Billy Joel – The Downeaster ‘Alexa’
from Storm Front (1989)

I was in Thailand when Storm Front was released in late 1989, but when I returned to the States at Thanksgiving my dad mistook R.E.M.’s It’s The End Of The World As We Know It for Joel’s We Didn’t Start The Fire, already the album’s mammoth initial hit.

I’ve always dug The Downeaster ‘Alexa’ on which Joel sings about the plight of Long Island fisherman with the driving music capturing the nautical vibe. In addition to accordion, there’s some cool violin credited in the liner notes to “World Famous Incognito Violinist.”

(rumored to have been Itzhak Perlman)

k.d. lang – Constant Craving
from Ingénue (1992)

As I was working in record stores, I knew the name k.d. lang as her early records arrived in the latter half of the ’80s. But, she was filed under country, so I couldn’t have been less interested at the time.

By the early ’90s, I was working in a much, much larger record store and I was invited to see lang shortly after Ingénue was released. So, the first time I ever heard lang’s music was live and I was blown away. She remains one of the more captivating live acts that I have ever seen.

Ingénue went on to be the singer’s commercial breakthrough and leading the way was Constant Craving with its mesmerizing melody – “borrowed” several years later by the Rolling Stones on Anybody Seen My Baby? – and lang’s yearning vocals.

Siouxsie & The Banshees – Peek-A-Boo
from Peepshow (1988)

I wasn’t a fan of everything by Siouxsie & The Banshees, but there was stuff that I thought was brilliant and quite inventive. They’re undeniably one of the iconic acts of modern rock.

Peepshow, on which Peek-A-Boo first appeared, got a lot of play in the record store where I worked in college. Peek-A-Boo was genius – a bizarrely hypnotic pop song comprised of samples, backwards masking, accordion, discordant guitar, and Siouxsie Sioux’ haunting vocals.

The The – This Is The Day
from Soul Mining (1983)

Good for The The’s Matt Johnson getting a boost to his bank account from This Is The Day being used in commercials for M&Ms. Critics’ favorite Johnson was largely ignored in the States, though I’d occasionally hear The The on 97X at the time.

The The mostly reminds me of my buddy Streuss who loved them – or him as The The was essentially Johnson – in college and it also reminds me of Paloma who loved The The when we met.