Depending on the version you hear, this rollicking polka tune is either about recalling a lost love or getting your pals together and getting smashed. It was adapted from an instrumental folk tune written by Czech composers Jaromír Vejvoda and Eduard Ingris in 1927. The instrumental version circulated as Modranska polka ("Polka of Modrany") – named for the village in Prague, until 1934 when Vaclav Zeman added lyrics and renamed the tune "Skoda Lasky," meaning "Wasted Love."
German accordionist Will Glahe recorded a popular cover titled "Rosamunde" in 1936; three years later, it topped the US Hit Parade as "Beer Barrel Polka" and became a popular jukebox spin throughout World War II, especially after it was covered by the Andrews Sisters. The vocal trio sang English lyrics from Lew Brown ("Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)
") and Wladimir Timm about a garden party that livens up when the beer starts flowing. Their version was a #4 hit and spawned a polka craze throughout the country.
By 1939, most American establishments featured a jukebox stacked with the latest tunes for a nickel a spin. Jack Kapp, founder of Decca Records, tailored the label to the exploding market, underselling his competitors to jukebox operators and tapping popular acts to sing upbeat, dance-friendly tunes that would attract multiple spins. That year, 60% of all records manufactured in the US, about 30 million, went into these "automatic phonographs," with 19 million made by Decca. Kapp outsold his rivals, and "Beer Barrel Polka" was one of the hottest jukebox records of the year.
The Andrews Sisters were reluctant to record this until they got a subtle ultimatum from Kapp. Maxene, the middle sister of the trio, is quoted in H. Arlo Nimmo's book The Andrews Sisters: A Biography and Career Record: "See, we grew up in the Midwest, so when we heard 'Beer Barrel Polka,' we said, 'My God, we're not gonna sing a polka.' That's all we heard when we were kids. We kept saying, 'Oh, we don't think we're gonna do it,' and we kept putting it off and putting it off... Finally, one day Jack put it to us. He called up, and he said, 'I guess you don't want to record anymore,' and I said to him, 'What gives you that idea?' He said, 'Well, you don't want to do 'Beer Barrel Polka.'' I said, 'Jack Kapp, we're going to do 'Beer Barrel Polka' immediately,' which we did."
Vic Schoen, an arranger and conductor who often worked with the Andrews Sisters, also disliked the song and tried his best to sabotage it. He said: "I hated 'Beer Barrel Polka' and arranged it as badly as I could, but it turned out to be their biggest hit. So I gave up trying to do anything musically worthwhile."
While they didn't censor the lyrics, NBC deleted the word "Beer" from the title because of the company didn't want to promote alcohol on the air.
Because it was translated into so many different languages, this was popular with soldiers across the world during WWII, no matter what side they were on. In 1943, however, it was banned as a marching song for members of the US Air Force training in Atlantic City because it was "too lusty."
In celebration of VE Day on May 9, 1945, English jazz musician Humphrey Lyttelton was pushed in front of Buckingham Palace on a wheelbarrow while he trumpeted "Roll Out The Barrel."
This has been recorded by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, Liberace, Joe Patek, Frankie Yankovic, "Weird Al" Yankovic, and children's entertainers The Wiggles. Bobby Vinton's 1975 cover hit #33 on the Hot 100.
Wisconsin adopted this as an unofficial state song and is often played for sporting events for the Milwaukee Brewers, Green Bay Packers, and Milwaukee Panthers.
This inspired the theme for the 2005 Marvel movie The Fantastic Four and can be heard throughout the film.
On the '90s sitcom Family Matters, Steve Urkel played this on his accordion and in the episode "Chick-A-Boom" rigged mini fireworks to explode when the tune played. Carl Winslow also danced along with the song when it played on the radio. This was also featured on the TV shows Hogan's Heroes, M*A*S*H, Mr. Belvedere, and Hill Street Blues.