Eric Keihl is the managing editor for Questionist’s parent company, Geeks Who Drink. Each week, he will accept a reader challenge to write a entire, quiz-ready trivia round on some tricky or obscure subject. You can challenge Eric here.
This week’s theme is “Accordian,” suggested by Katie McCarthy at The Peddler’s Daughter in Nashua, NH! Thanks, Katie!
You probably could’ve guessed we’d be talking about a Yankovic here, but pump fake! It’s gonna be Frankie Yankovic, AKA “America’s Polka King.” Indeed, if you’re from the U.S. and you’ve ever heard that angelic accordion squonk, Frankie was probably the reason, at least indirectly.
Born to Slovak parents in rural West Virginia, but raised in Cleveland after his dad was run out of town for bootlegging, Frankie picked up the button-box accordion at age nine. At 15, he was playing local gigs. Yankovic formed his own band, bought a bar for them to play in, got sidetracked by World War II (where he wielded a flamethrower and got a Purple Heart, after nearly losing his hands and feet to frostbite near the German border) then came back and dropped two platinum polka hits, turbo-boosting him into an insane touring schedule of 300+ gigs a year that let him spread the Gospel of Oompah throughout a grateful land.
Naturally, Yankovic won the first Grammy for Best Polka Album (a category that somehow lasted until 2008) and eventually teamed up with the unrelated “Weird Al”, letting Al play on a late recording of his all-timer “Who Stole the Kishka?” Oh, and that “Polka King” title was not just an honorific. He won a 1948 Battle of the Bands against genre legends like Louis Bashell and the gloriously-named “Whoopee” John Wilfahrt. So if you ever visit his grave in Cleveland, don’t forget to bow the hell down.
But there’s more to the accordion than dudes named Yankovic! Let’s roll out the barrel!
1. Though there’s usually 41 instead of 88, the style of accordion with keys instead of buttons on one side is named for what much-larger instrument? Piano
Like I said earlier, Frankie Yankovic mastered the button accordion early but had trouble with the more-technical piano type because he hadn’t learned to read music yet. He pressed on, and eventually became one of the world’s best, partly because he knew his mom had saved up $800 (in 1920s money!) to buy him his first one. Moms, right?
2. A 2012 accordion cover of “Take on Me” by five Pyongyang music students might be the biggest YouTube bop from what country that banned YouTube in 2016? North Korea
I mean, check it out, these kids can rip. Sincere best wishes from your hated enemy, y’all!
3. “Your sister’s in jail / You put your sister in jail / You’re all going to hell / Your apartment’s for sale!” So sang Cate Blanchett over her screeching accordion, in what 2022 film that also has some really good music? Tár
Here’s the scene, if you haven’t seen it. Blanchett learned to speak German, conduct an orchestra, and play the piano again for the film – but that accordion playing is raw talent, baby.
4. This striking photo of Graham W. Jackson playing “Going Home” was taken as what president’s coffin was pulling out of Warm Springs, Georgia in 1945? Franklin Roosevelt
There’s no pleasant way to put this: When FDR died, Jackson was at his Georgia retreat to play a minstrel show. Despite being a musical genius who played a dozen instruments and performed for six presidents, the only places he could find steady appointment well into the ‘60s were Confederacy-themed restaurants that made him perform in full slave costume. Meet the New Deal, same as the Old Deal.
5. There’s a whole cookbook of Cajun recipes by accordion master Queen Ida, who became the first Creole Grammy winner by popularizing what genre from the very back of the dictionary? Zydeco
The actual last word in the Oxford English Dictionary is zyzzyva (“ZIH-zih-vuh”) a genus of South American weevils. Worth 73 points in Scrabble, if you’re up for wasting two blanks.
6. The accordion-powered “Objection (Tango)” was the first song written in English by what Queen of Latin Music who’s added squeeze box to live versions of “Gypsy” and “El Jefe”? Shakira
Shakira was rejected from her second-grade choir because her teacher thought her vibrato-heavy voice sounded “like a goat.” Well, I’d like to see a goat sell 13 million records, Mrs. Smarty Teacher. No, seriously, I would love to see that.
7. No need to shout! The scrunchy part at the center of an accordion and the press that puffs air into a blacksmith’s forge share what name? Bellows
There’s also a pair of adorable lil’ bellows inside a traditional cuckoo clock, one to make the “cu-” sound and one to make the “-cukoo.” If you hear an “ookc-uc” sound, consult a repairman. Or a priest.
8. A Chechen mobster’s accordion ruins a tender moment between our hero and NoHo Hank, in season two of what show that Bill Hader pitched as “Taxi Driver meets Waiting for Guffman”? Barry
Hader won an Emmy for writing on South Park, where he helped create the immortal “fish dicks” joke. If you think that’s the first time I’ve typed “immortal fish dicks,” then you know nothing about editing pub quizzes, child.
Bonus: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is probably the closest that what unbearably talented actor has come to his stated goal of being “John Denver on acid playing the accordion”? Nicolas Cage
Corelli’s stars Nic Cage as an Italian, Penelope Cruz and Christian Bale as Greeks,and David “The Governor” Morrissey as a German. Hollywood… you know there’s more than one country in Europe, right?