Amazing what you can turn up from a simple question. Is Roll Out the Barrel still in copyright? Like me, you may have thought it was one of those diehard Edwardian music hall songs that everyone knows, but nobody can trace. It’s not, as a bit of research shows.
First stop, ASCAP, and the remarkable ACE on the web directory, where you can search for a song title, and find out who’s registered as composer, lyricist and performer.
Once you’ve got the significant contributors to the song from there, it’s no more than a hop skip and a jump to find that Roll Out the Barrel was originally composed by Jaromír Vejvoda (1902 – 1988), a Czech composer from Zbraslav who wrote it in 1927 (without words) as Mod?anská polka. Seven years later in 1934, it acquired Czech words by Vašek Zeman, where it becomes Škoda lásky, and English words by Lew Brown and a title by Wladimir Timm, becoming – at last – the Beer Barrel Polka. In 1935, it’s a massive hit in Europe for German accordeonist and bandleader Will Glahé (1902 – 1989) who gets a gold disc for it in 1938 as Rosamunde with German words by Klaus Richter. In 1939, Glahé and his Musette Orchestra sell a million copies of the song in America, and the now famous Beer Barrel Polka, is covered by the Andrews Sisters whose first big hit the year before was – interestingly – the Yiddish song Bei mir bist du schoen. Go to Exordia.com for more of the 1939 US hit parade.
It was sung by soldiers in WWII, and also reputed to be Eisenhower’s favourite song. It has been a hit in fifteen countries and 36 languages, including a Danish version called Hvor er min kone. And in a recent poll in the Czech republic, it’s now been voted the most popular Czech song ever.
So one of those songs that we think of as quintessentially English (or American) is in fact a tune written by a Czech composer, with lyrics by someone who was born in Odessa. How’s that for cultural diversity?
Quite by chance, this weekend happens to be is the occasion of the annual Vejvodova Zbraslav Festival, an international festival of brass band music which takes place in Zbraslav, the area of Prague where Vejvoda was born. Cheers, Jaromir, I’m glad I made it in time.