In a word, no. At this time of year we ladies and gentlemen of the Mosaic persuasion find ourselves drowning in a sea of kitsch, bad arrangements, crooning Yeshiva bochers and terrible YouTube videos desperate to convince us that this time, Channukah (and Judaism with it) is cool. No no no. Judaism- very uncool. In this lies its excellence. Like the haredim who cling to the dress of 19th century Poles for the simple reason that no-one else does, the day the rest of the world takes us Palwins, fishballs, khrein, borsht and almond pudding is the day we start to eat normal food.
So why are channukah songs so frequently lame? The answer is twofold. Firstly, the many excellent Jewish songwriters found themselves very busy at this time of year. Writing Christmas songs. Being wise Jews, they followed the money, realising that the real dollars were not in Yiddish shtick but Yuletide hits that sensibly left Jesus out the the picture. Only now, with a range of desparate philanthropists in the Judaism industry pouring in the cash, does it pay to be Jewish, making the creation of Judaeo-kitsch extremely lucrative.
Secondly, channukah songs frequently make the schoolboy error of explaining what to do at channukah. Come light the menorah……take a potato…we light 8 candles……we play the dreidle…..enough already. What is this, choreography for stupid Jews? This sort of thing can drive a person mad/make them donate to the UJIA. Imagine if Christmas songs followed this model ‘first we stuff the turkey…then we pull crackers….the queen always wears clothes from C &A……there’s a tree, it has tinsel on it‘. No, channukah is essentially banal, and a good channukah song needs to rejoice in its triviality. The less meaning the better. And don’t make the mistake of telling the story of the Maccabees either. Unless you want to write a full blown pro guerilla warfare, terrorism condoning toe-tapper, perhaps called ‘In praise of the Taliban’. In which case, go ahead.
Given all this, we at Jewdas realised that what Yidden throughout the land were calling out for was a list of channukah songs that were, if not actually good, then vaguely decent. An approved list, a playlist for the perplexed, a musical kashrut guide for our times. So we have obliged. Anyone playing any other songs at the channukah gatherings runs the risk of being excommunicated, Tough, but fair.
Here’s our top 10, which come, unlike the Torah, in the order in which they were written
1. Happy Chanukah – Moishe Oysher. They don’t em’ like this any more. Cantorial scat singing from the great master himself. Straight from the era when, if you were making an album and asked ‘can we have a backing choir’, the producer would reply ‘sure why don’t we add an orchestra as well’. Genius. Not on YouTube or spotify, but you can buy on iTunes or Amazon
2. Let’s Put the Ch back in Chanukah – Sid Wayne and Stanley Adams. Proper old school, American-Jewish comedy, back in the heyday. You actually learn a whole load of Yiddish vocab. Check out the whole album ‘Chanukah Carols’ all on Spotify.
3. Chanukah in Santa Monica – Tom Lehrer. The old classic, still one of the best. Wisely Lehrer does not attempt to say anything meaningful, preferring to rhyme Jewish festivals with American place names. He also keeps in under 2 minutes. An excellent move. On YouTube here
4. Ocho Candelikas – Flory Jagoda. This feels like its been around forever, but in fact dates back to the early 80s. Ok, it makes the mistake of explaining the choreography, but its Ladino, so no-one really understands it anyway. Lots of versions, but there’s a nice version by the anglo-sephardi band Los Desteraddos here.
5. Punk Rock Chanukah Song – Yidcore. Ok, this is a version of the Adam Sandler Chanukah song, which is totally unacceptable, but Yidcore make it just about ok with new lyrics and a great video. Not quite as good as their previous ‘Why won’t Adam Sandler let us sing his song, written before Sandler gave them permission.
6. How do you spell channukkahh – The Levees, from their album of the same name. This does come from a whole album of Channukah songs, which is a dangerous thing, but this does actually work. Some may be sad that 2 millenia of Jewish culture has been reduced to a debate about spelling, but screw them. Also check out ‘Goyim friend’s from the same album, on Spotify
7. Lonely Jew at Christmas – Ok, not technically a Chanukah song, but a classic for any jew with christmas envy. Find it here. For those who refuse to listen to any song with Christmas in title the South Park Dreidle song is also good.
8. Hanukkah Bitch – Brad and Barry, from the album Brad and Barry Stuff Your Stocking. We know nothing about this. But its surprisingly good for a hard rock channukah number. Find it on spotify
9. Feast of Lights – They Might be Giants. A decent song, which happens to have a Channukah setting. Hurrah! There are live versions on YouTube, but head for Spotify for the album original which is far better.
10. Miracle – Matisyahu. Hot of the press, this one came out last week, and is a catchy, radio-friendly delight. Seems like Matis is gradually dropping all his chabad baggage in favour of a loose neo-chasidism/pan mysticism, making him more entertaining, and, ahem, more marketable. Always nice when spirituality dovetails with profit margins. Kudos for this – it almost manages to create a ‘feelgood Judaism’. Almost. Don’t worry, its never gonna happen.
And a few of the worst. Don’t go anywhere near:
1. Anything from Eran Baron-Cohen’s ‘Songs in the key of Channukah‘. Feh feh feh feh feh. Made so much worse by its attempt to be cool.
3. Light One Candle – Peter Paul and Mary. Beloved by Batmitzvah girls who dream of winning the X factor.
4. Don’t u wanna touch my hannukah – Eric Roth (anathema). A shocker of the Jewish rap genre. The mind boggles
5. Eight Days of Channukah, by Utah republican senator Orin Hatch. The most wrong thing ever.
Happy Kwanzaa! And stay off the absinthe doughnuts.