Why, it's Christmas music! All the time! Everywhere! And (in the hopes that this will somehow pass as fulfilling the I confess meme I was tagged with by Daled Amos) I confess that I have a weak spot for it. No, not the `barump ba bum bum, yay Jesus!' variety of Christmas music, but the less overtly religious, more innocuous "Winter Wonderland", "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" type Christmas music (well, ok, and "Silent Night")- the kind that is not only marked by fine musicianship and songwriting, but which genuinely makes you feel good.
I wish it were great Chanukah songs I heard everywhere this time of year. But guess what? There are none. But so many of the most successful recording artists of all time have been Jewish, you protest! Bob Dylan? Nothing. Barbra Streisand? Neil Diamond? Barry Manilow? Harry Connick Jr.? We have Christmas albums from each, but nary a note on Chanukah. Two of the great songwriters of our time, Paul Simon and Carole King have recorded Christmas songs as well.
And they are in good company. It was a Jew, Irving Berlin, after all, who wrote "White Christmas," perhaps the most well-known of all modern-day Christmas songs. Jews also wrote "Let It Snow" (Sammy Cahn) and "Santa Baby" (Joan Javits), among other songs considered holiday classics.
It is not as if we have been completely bereft of Chanukah songs: Kenny G, paradigm of all that is bland, found no room for a Chanukah track on his 2002 holiday album Wishes, but he did include "The Chanukah Song" on his 1994 holiday album Miracles, and another, "Eternal Light (A Chanukah Song)" on his 1999 otherwise all-Christmas CD, Faith. Just between you and me, though, how do we know these are really Chanukah songs? They are instrumentals...
I was so excited when the Chanukah compilation Festival Of Lights came out a number of years back, only to find the biggest featured names to be Jane Siberry and Marc Cohn (who I always thought was not Jewish (thanks to Stacey for the correction!) - the latter contributing a great version of "Maoz Tsur/Rock Of Ages") - with the added highlight of famed cantor Yosele Rosenblatt singing kiddush backed by a Balinese dance beat. Festival Of Lights 2, from 1999, upped the ante, featuring They Might Be Giants singing the original "Feast Of Lights".
On the parody side, the makers of South Park offered the offensive but funny "A Lonely Jew On Christmas" and "Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel" on Mr. Hankey's Christmas Classics album, joined this year by Sarah Silverman's "Give The Jew Girl Toys", and the truly embarrassing "Chanukah's Da Bomb"by Chutzpah. And of course, there is the one Chanukah song radio will play, now in three versions, Adam Sandler's "The Hanukkah Song", which cleverly rhymes funnaka, marijuanica and gin and tonnica with hannukah. Not exactly poetry. I'm not convinced it's actually even music, either. Sure, it was fun the first time I heard it, but now...
The Barenaked Ladies, of "One Week" fame, offered three Chanukah songs on their Barenaked for the Holidays CD - "Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah", "I Have A Little Dreidel" and the original "Hanukkah Blessings". None are particularly good, but if you want them, they have been repackaged as the stand-alone three track EP, Barenaked for Hanukka, available on I-Tunes.
The OC, the TV show which introduced the world to Chrismukkah, has released a holiday album called A Very Merry Chrismukkah, which is oddly made up of all Christmas songs save for Ben Kweller's tepid version of "Rock Of Ages".
Aside from one-offs by under the radar indie bands like Another Man Down's "The Dreidel Song" and Shudder To Think's "Al HaNisim" on different holiday compilations and oddities such as Peter Paul & Mary's "Hayo Haya", an ode to the Maccabees, that's pretty much all there has been on the Chanukah front.
What's a "Winter Wonderland", "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town", "Father Chritsmas", "Jingle Bell Rock" loving Jewish boy to do?
Fortunately, a change is in the air. With Matisyahu singing about HaShem appearing on MTV right after Madonna's video for "Hung Up", his album Live At Stubbs at 126 on the album charts and climbing, and his single "King Without A Crown" just 10 chart positions from entering the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart (it has already reached #14 on the Modern Rock Tracks chart), I would say the time is ripe for Jewish artists to embrace Chanukah on record.
Do you hear what I hear?
Why, it's the LeeVees! Fronted by members of Guster and the Zambonis - not exactly household names, but both are up-and-coming - the LeeVees offer a full-length Chanukah album, Hanukkah Rocks. And the good news is it does rock, with not a single dud among the tracks. With a style that comes across as the love child of Aimee Mann and They Might Be Giants, all of the tracks are fun, tongue-in-cheek guitar-laden odes to the holiday Jewish musicians seem to have forgotten.
"Latke Clan" is a classic-in-the making. Other tracks include: "Applesauce vs. Sour Cream", "Goyim Friends", "At The Timeshare", "How Do You Spell Channukkahh?", "Kugel", "Jewish Girls (At The Matzoh Ball)", "Gelt Melts" and "Nun Gimmel Shin Heh".
You can hear the entire album for free here . Just click past all the Christmas CDs until you get to Hanukkah Rocks. Then turn off your radio stations playing Christmas songs all day long, sit back, and enjoy....not up to par with "Winter Wonderland"? Maybe not, but it's a good start....