Each year in Munich, Germany, more than 6 million people gather to eat, drink and socialize celebrating all things Bavarian, as millions more gather for their own ‘Oktoberfest’ celebrations around the world. While the beer, brezen and würstl are consumed, revelers enjoy an array of traditional German tunes, often singing and dancing along.
Here at Musicnotes headquarters, we like to celebrate Oktoberfest Gemütlichkeit by playing a wide array of German sheet music! Since the festival runs from mid-September through the first weekend of October, we wanted to be sure to get our oompah fix in with the Top 10 Oktoberfest Songs to play at your very own celebration.
Traditional German oompah music is loved for its often lively, dance-inducing tempo. The oompah is very similar to a Czech or Polish polka, except that rather than accordion, the oompah relies on brass instruments. Often a tuba plays the tonic and 5th on the first and third beats, creating the “oom.” Then, a higher-pitched instrument will come in for the second and fourth beats as the “pah.” If the oompah is in triple time, we relay it as “oom-pah-pah.” Oompah and polka are commonly used interchangeably in the US, and American Oktoberfest music celebrations frequently include German-influenced polka. In fact, you’ll see a couple on our list below!
THE song of Oktoberfest, “Ein Prosit” is guaranteed to get the crowd in a good and festive mood. The song’s lyrics translate to “A toast to friendship and good times, ” then at fest the band leader counts down to “g’stuffa” (big drink), and ends with the iconic call “zicke zacke zicke zacke” and crowd’s response “hoi, hoi, hoi, ” signifying fun times are being had by all. (See a video of “Ein Prosit” being performed at Oktoberfest here.)
As you probably have guessed, this song is an ode to the official drink of Oktoberfest. In German the title translates to “Im Himmel gibt’s kein Bier.” The song was written for the soundtrack to the 1956 German film “Die Fischerin vom Bodensee, ” and has been a favorite at beer halls, and generally anywhere imbibing is going on, ever since. (Hear polka band The Emeralds version of “In Heaven There Is No Beer” here.)
A spirited number from Lionel Bart’s 1960 musical ‘Oliver!’, the lyrics of “Oom-Pah-Pah” are meant to be left open to interpretation. Although not a German tune, this song makes a fun and festive addition to Oktoberfest festivities! (See the Kilkenny Musical Society perform “Oom-Pah-Pah” here.)
Johann Strauss wrote his “Pizzicato Polka” in 1892 for a performance conducted by his brother Edward in Hamburg. Known as the “Waltz King, ” Johann composed more than 500 waltzes, polkas, quadrilles and operettas during his illustrious career. (See the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra perform “Pizzicato Polka” here.)
Now a popular part of many German Oktoberfest gatherings, Austrian DJ Ötzi’s cover of Bruce Channel’s 1962 hit is frequently accompanied by the entire crowd singing along. (Listen to Bruce Channel’s original recording of “Hey! Baby!” here.)
Also scoring a spot on our “Top 10 One-Hit Wonders” list, Nena’s “99 Luftballons” was the highest charting non-English song in the US in 1983. Here in America we still love our Nena, using the song in a plethora of television shows and movies. (See Nena’s “99 Luftballons” music video here.)
A Czech polka written by Jaromír Vejvoda in 1927 (with English lyrics later added by Lew Brown), this song is sometimes referred to by its “roll out the barrel” verse rather than its official title. Liberace’s frantically paced piano cover became one of the showman’s signature songs, and here in the home of Musicnotes headquarters (Madison, Wisconsin), we play and sing the song frequently at university sporting events. (See Liberace perform his “Beer Barrel Polka” here.)
We’re not exactly sure how John Denver’s eponymous “Take Me Home, Country Roads” became a German Oktoberfest essential. Perhaps its the song’s essence of nostalgia and camaraderie, maybe it’s because John Denver was of German decent (actually born Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr.), or maybe the song is just fun to sing and sway to after a few foamy steins. One thing is for certain, you’ll be hard-pressed to not hear this song during Munich’s annual party, and the crowd WILL be singing and swaying along. (Listen to John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” here.)
For our last two Oktoberfest tunes, we thought we’d feature recent German additions to our ever-expanding Musicnotes sheet music catalog. “Stolen Dance” by German duo Milky Chance has topped popular music charts around the world, and it just happens to be a really fun song to boot. (See the official “Stolen Dance” music video here.)