Let me get this out right at the start: I’m a complete novice in regards to polka music. The only connection I have had with the art form is vague memories of watching The Lawrence Welk Show
with my grandparents, attending Oktoberfest
celebrations in Huntington Beach, California and standing in line for the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland.
I knew nothing of the history of polka music or even that it had sub-genres such as the traditional German “oom-pa-pa” or the Slovenian “Cleveland” style, which was made famous by the one and only proclaimed “King” of polka, Frankie Yankovic.
The liner notes really trumpet his accomplishments: he was the first polka artist to have a million-selling hit, the first to win a Grammy for polka music, the first to perform polka music on TV, etc. I was concerned about the hype, but after one listen to The Best of Frank Yankovic, I am now one of the King’s loyal subjects.
I knew there was a good chance that the album would amuse me because I’m fairly open-minded, but I couldn’t foresee how enthralled I would become. Hail to the King!
I was expecting that the songs would be sung in an eastern European language, but it’s mostly in English. Some had very funny lyrics like “Just Because,” the first track on the album, which Frank had a hit with it in 1948. It was originally a country hit from the mid ’30s for the Shelton Brothers but Frank made it his own.
It’s a song about a man who leaves a woman because she is using him for his money. I’m surprised Tom Leykis isn’t using it as bumper music.
There’s an interesting range of tracks from the very sweet, a duet with Doris Day on the standard “You Are My Sunshine,” to a humorous, yet cruel song entitled “Too Fat Polka” about a guy that doesn’t want to date a fat girl.
My favorite song on the album is “In Heaven There Is No Beer,” a tune that helps clear up some of the mysteries of life and the hereafter. It’s such a rip-roaring, good time that I’ve instructed my wife I want it played at my funeral.
On his Let’s Get Small album Steve Martin said, “You can’t sing a depressing song when you’re playin’ the banjo.” The axiom is also applicable to Frank Yankovic and his talented band.
They can’t play a depressing song because the musicians’ joy is felt through their playing. A listener can’t help tapping his toes and bobbing his head. It’s infectious. Doctors should forget about prescribing Paxil and instead give out this album to alleviate depression.