Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The big squeeze

We were reading a book of columns by Mike Royko -- now there was a newpaper man! -- in which he referenced the decline of accordions.  Squeeze boxes were being overtaken by guitars as the instrument of choice among America's youth and Royko had the statistics to back it up.  The column was dated July 31, 1968.

We checked our reference book and, sure enough, there were no accordions leading the hit parade at the time.  Here was the Billboard Top 5:

1. Hello, I Love You, Doors
2. Classical Gas, Mason Williams
3. Stoned Soul Picnic, Fifth Dimension
4. Grazing in the Grass, Hugh Masekela
5. Hurdy Gurdy Man, Donovan

Now you could argue that the Doors' music was driven by the electric keyboards of Ray Manzarek.  "Classical Gas" was classical guitar -- not exactly what Royko was writing about.  The Fifth Dimension were a vocal group.  "Grazing in the Grass" was an instrumental on which Hugh Masekela played his chosen instrument, the trumpet. And while "Hurdy Gurdy Man" showcased some cool psychedelic-sounding guitar licks, there remains some disagreement over who laid down the track.  It wasn't Donovan.  Jimmy Page?  Alan Parker?

No matter.  Royko had it right. The accordion was being squeezed out and guitars were indeed taking over, leaving us with, as the columnist put it, "millions of little John Lennons making our music."

Which wasn't a bad thing.  It could have been millions of little Lawrence Welks.

1 comment:

  1. Many moons ago I played on a bill at the Bottom Line in NYC and Joey Ramone showed up to see a friend of his who was in an all-accordian band.

    Joey said the accordian was the first instrument he played. Ever since then I've wanted to hear "Blitzkrieg Bop" performed polka-style.