Groundhog Day And Dad’s Polkas

This time of year it’s impossible to miss all the news stories about Groundhog Day, speculating about whether Punxsutawney Phil (the resident rodent) will see his shadow and what comes next. Most also mention the 1993 Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day, but when I see anything that spotlights one of the most memorable songs on the soundtrack — Frankie Yankovic’s “Pennsylvania Polka” — it inevitably reminds me of my Dad.

Dad was a polka fanatic. He never met a polka he didn’t like, and I know he would have enjoyed that movie just for the music — although he always liked a good laugh too. And I know he was fond of “Pennsylvania Polka,” which I mentioned in an earlier piece about him, but as I think about the music I often heard as a child, a different polka comes to mind.

Dad was a young married man starting a family during the war years, and after serving in the army he was probably busy trying to make a living, but I’m pretty sure that he also found some time to listen to music. At that time, “Beer Barrel Polka” was one of the most popular songs around. It had originated in Europe during the pre-war years and was soon showing up everywhere. It was a bouncy and lively piece that was impossible to resist, and it might have helped people forget their troubles — at least for a while.

We always had a stack of 78-rpm records around the house while I was growing up, and considering Dad’s musical tastes, you can bet that one of them was the Andrews Sisters performing “Beer Barrel Polka.” In subsequent years it was recorded by just about everybody, even Liberace, who often featured the song in his act (video below), but I think Dad liked the girls’ version best.

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