Clothes make the man, the woman and apparently the song. It is truly amazing how a change of style creates a completely new vibe in a known tune, no matter how plain it is. As I enjoy listening to music (and strongly regret my lack of discipline in actually making it), I was flowing through YouTube when I saw the Chico Marx version of the Beer Barrel Polka. This rediscovery led me to listen to several other versions, almost identical in melody but so different in style and feel.
The basic version available is that of Frank Yankovich. He plays, well, a polka. I suppose for Polka enthusiasts it represents the peak of polka-ness. A few pints of beer might also increase appreciation. Alas, the number of such fans today is rather small, with most people under the age of 70 finding this “quaint”, if not absurd. For a standard standard, listen to this.
If you add some fancy finger work and jewelry, not to mention a musician with an imposing presence, this song takes on a completely different feel, sort of a poor-man’s Rachmaninoff concerto. It is a pleasure to watch the entertaining Liberace, one of the ultimate showmen, play this song and turn it into an almost elegant melody appreciable by the widest audience, probably mainly because of the pianist, not the song, but who cares. Enjoy:
However, there should be moderation in everything. I find bringing in a full orchestra in fancy dress a bit too rich for this plebian song but that is a matter of taste. This is what you get after André Rieu get his hands on this. You can judge for yourself:
Taking this song back to the people but adding an amazing trio, I enjoy the Andrew Sisters’ version as they have a Midas touch even with the plainest of songs. It does not really feel like the original but still is a pleasure in itself. Listen and appreciate the singers (even they are before your time):
I end the polka run with my favorite, the version that started by beer bar-hopping musical trip. Chico Marx brings out the fun and joy that this song elicited when it came out and makes it sound as relevant today as it was over 100 years ago. I just smile and laugh as he plays not only because of his hands and face but also the music is simply happy, even without being drunk. Am I being nostalgic?
After listening to all these polkas, I feel a bit of an audio hangover. Still, the comparison brought out the human factor in the impact of a song. True, without an appropriate melody, no song can succeed. However, each performer can take it to a different place. The trappings do make the song.
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Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/mih83-464187/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=4238715">M. H.</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=image&utm_content=4238715">Pixabay</a>