Saturday, March 24, 2012

Dance Music: Too Fat Polka

Frankie Yankovic: Too Fat Polka


In 2009 the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences of the United States eliminated "best polka album" as a Grammy award category. I was rather irritated by this decision as I grew up on polka, and while I hated it as a youth, it now holds a dear place in my heart. Those of us with Czech, Polish, German, Ukrainian, or other Central and Eastern European heritages have danced many a polka at family weddings and other festivals. My folks used to make me dance with their friend's sons at gatherings. Even Bob Dylan mentioned growing up with polka music and dancing in a 2009 interview in Rolling Stone.

Polka has a long and glorious history, and modern polka even extends to a Mexican sub genre called conjunto. It is believed that polka dancing originated in Bohemia in central Europe in the mid 1800s, and quickly spread across Europe. European immigrants brought it to the United States. The two most popular types of polka in North American are the Polish-style, with roots in Chicago, and Slovenian-style or "Cleveland Style." The Polish-style features the accordion, Chemnitzer & Star concertinas, upright bass or bass guitar, drums, and a clarinet and trumpet, or two trumpets. The Slovenian-style is similar, but usually very fast in tempo, and features accordion and saxophone or clarinet.

Frankie Yankovic (no relation to Weird Al), America's Polka King, popularized the Slovenian-style polka in the United States. He obtained an accordion at age 9, and was a working musician by his teenaged years. He had his first platinum record in 1947 with the tune "Just Because," and made 200+ original recordings in his long career. He was the first polka musician to appear on television, and the first to win a Grammy for Best Polka Album when the category was created in 1985.

The song "Too Fat Polka" is one of my favorites in Yankovic's collection. Not only is it gloriously politically incorrect, but you can hear all of the musical parts that make Slovenian-style polka so much fun. I believe that part of the song is sung in Slovenian too (please correct me if I am wrong). You can also hear a banjo in the background, which is one of the instruments that is unique to Yankovic's band and his polka style. I dare you not to tap your foot while listening to this song.

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