UKULELE MUSING 32, 10 AUGUST 2019—“Beer Barrel Polka,” A GREETING FROM MILWAUKEE
Alison and I are out of town this week heading to Milwaukee for a gala family reunion. Just to keep this year’s musing streak alive, however, I’m going to cheat a bit and rework something I posted a couple of years ago. So, just pop a beer, sit back, and go along with the show. Or, better still, get into the oom-pa-oom-pa-oom-pa “Polka Mood!”
“Beer Barrel Polka“, also known as “Roll Out the Barrel,” is a song that became popular worldwide during Word War II. It was was composed by the Czechoslovakian classical musician Jaromir Vejyoda (1902-1988) in 1927 as part of the score for a movie titled: “Skoda Lasky,” a comedy I think, roughly translated as “the shame of a woman who jilts a man.” Who knew?
The catchy tune became a hit with dance bands around the world after Czech and then English lyrics about happy dancers in a beer garden (nothing to do with shameful ladies!) were added in 1934. And, in 1939, a recording of “Beer Barrel Polka” rose to number one on the popular American radio program “The Hit Parade.” (Do any of you gentle readers remember this Sunday night staple?) Anyway, the popularity and rapid, world-wide spread of the song was probably due to the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Nazi Germany and the subsequent emigration of thousands of Czechs to other parts of the world.
Although the times were trying, they carried this happy polka tune with them.
The English lyrics we see in our Blue Book were written by Lew Brown (1893-1958), a Russian-born American bandleader and songwriter of Tin Pan Alley hits such as “Button Up Your Overcoat,”and Wladimir Timm (1885-1958) who first wrote the lyrics in his native Czech. Meanwhile, the song was recorded and played by many, many others including the Andrews Sisters, the Glen Miller Orchestra, and Benny Goodman during the war years.
During World War II, versions in many other languages were created and the song was popular among soldiers and their sweethearts regardless of their allegiances. On VE Day, in fact, it was played on an accordion by a British soldier standing on a handcart outside Buckingham Palace, a performance that could be heard in the BBC broadcast from the victory celebrations.
It was claimed many times that the song was written in the country where it had just become a hit; its actual composer was not widely known until after the war.
Andrews Sisters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KRc-ceWE2E
My saturation with this tune came during my tenure in Milwaukee back in the ‘70s and ’80s.
The so-called Frankie Yankovic polka band version is played during the 7th inning stretch at every Milwaukee Brewers baseball game. It also became a standard at Green Bay Packers and University of Wisconsin football games.
Brewer’s Game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlhicpJEgmY
Yankovic (1915–1998) was an American accordion player and band leader known as “America’s Polka King.”
He was considered by many fans as the premier polka performer in the country over a long, long career.
Although a Clevelander by birth, Yankovic made “Beer Barrel” Milwaukee’s own. It resonated with the city’s polka dancing immigrants generations from every European country and a few dozen other places around the world.
I understand it’s taught in kindergarten in that “great city on a great lake.” Why not? After all, Milwaukee is the city that made beer famous–so they say!
Anyway, for those of you who are interested in the nuances of language, the term “terrara,” as found in the song, is roughly translated as “a source of pride–something to be cheered and to drink to.” Now we know!
Lawrence Welk with Dancers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fq0pCQXuh6g
Anyway, digging about in my stash of uke and banjo photos and stuff, I am pleasantly surprised to find that I do have a few “Milwaukee Treasures” to share.
Needless to say, having lived and worked in Milwaukee for quite a few years, I have absorbed some of the cultural, historical, and musical highlights—namely beer, brats, cheese,
and, of course, the Brewers.
Sadly, our trip doesn’t coincide with any of the ukulele meet-ups or workshops going on,
but I will survive and there are enough ukes within the family so I won’t have to carry one of my travelers.
The Milwaukee downtown is booming, the lakefront and coastline looks as good as New England’s, and Lake Michigan’s waters do have a couple of advantages.
There are also some local icons of American pop-culture!
And here we go!
One of these days, however, we have to get the “Beer Barrel Polka” down pat! It is in our Blue Book and we get better every time we give it an oom-pa-oom-pa go! For a real musical hoot, here is a (non-ukulele) version by a local boy who made good!
“Ya der, hey!” (Milwaukee-ese for what in New England would be “I comprehend and concur with unrestrained enthusiasm.”)
And, of course, there is the University of Wisconsin in nearby Madison. That’s where our oldest grandaughter will be starting as a first-year this Fall. Go Big Ten!
So, best wishes from Milwaukee. See you all next week!
Just for fun . . .
Chico Marx: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXAVISpS4wM
Stay tuned and practice that oom-pa-oom-pa!
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