Happy Beer Barrel Polka Day everyone! As we start to slowly emerge from this, what seems to be forever nightmarish pandemic, I thought it might be light and bright to honor this day, June 3, from 1939, when Beer Barrel Polka climbed the music charts and was the No. 1 most popular song in America. The polka became famous around the world. In June 1939, obviously during World War II, as recorded by Will Glahé, but was also recorded by many others such as The Andrews Sisters in 1939, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Benny Goodman, Bobby Vinton, and Billie Holiday.
While we may think of the polka now as an odd musical choice, the popularity back in 1939 may have had more to do with current times rather the musical genre. Music is one of the great medicinal tools that we have always used to cope and help us get through those tough times.
Music has also readily come to our aid in rough times. I think back to 1984, when the lack of rain was causing mass famine in Ethiopia and other African countries. The pictures and stories we saw on the news were heart breaking and we saw both adults and children literally dying from starvation. That’s when record producers Bob Geldof and Midge Ure decided to come off the sidelines and get involved to help.
“Do They Know It’s Christmas” was a miracle song. It was recorded in a single day on Nov. 25, 1984, by the newly formed group named Band Aid, which is really more of a supergroup put together by Geldof and Ure and consisting mainly of the biggest British and Irish musical acts at the time.
The single was released in the United Kingdom on Dec. 3, 1984, and helped out by considerable publicity it entered the UK Singles Chart at No. 1 and stayed there for five weeks, becoming the Christmas No. 1 song of 1984.
The record became the fastest selling single in UK chart history, selling a million copies in the first week alone and passing three million sales on the last day of 1984.
Every part of the song's production was donated by either the artists who sang on the song to the producers, production crews, record companies, distribution services and others. In just over five weeks, "Do They Know It’s Christmas" netted over $8 million worldwide, all of which went to the famine relief fund in Africa.
Not to be outdone, a group of American artists led my Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie wrote and recorded “We Are The World” in 1985. The duo completed the writing of "We Are the World" seven weeks after the release of "Do They Know It's Christmas?" and one night before the song's first recording session, on Jan. 21, 1985. The historic event brought together some of the most well-known artists in the music industry at the time and, over the course of 1985, raised $63 million dollars for famine relief.
Music has been used to raise both awareness and money for lots of causes. This pandemic has displaced so many people from employment and basic needs that I’m hoping that either a single artist or even a group of artists, will rise to the occasion of putting together something that we can all be proud of and help to raise much needed relief for folks. Hey Bono, you up for it?
• Jonathan Freeburg is an Ottawa transplant for the last 25 years. Jonathan also is a regular contributor to 1430 WCMY Radio. His real job is insurance as a cover-holder for Lloyd’s of London.
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