Why are there so few quality commercial songs for Chanukah? For an industry long dominated by Jews, you would think we would have tossed ourselves a bone every now and then. I feel like the cobbler's children...never wearing good shoes because the cobbler sells all the good ones.
To be fair, percentage-wise there are very few quality Christmas songs as well. The difference is that Christmas has sheer volume on its side. For every 1000 pieces of Christina Aguilera/ Vanessa Hudgens/ Perry Como holiday treacle, the industry produces at least 10 pieces that you wouldn't mind hearing the other eleven months of the year, such as the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's Wizards in Winter (although even that has pretty much run itself into the ground).
I have four basic rules for judging the quality of commercial Chanukah music:
- It should not retell the story of Chanukah.
- It should not compare Chanukah to Christmas.
- It's sole purpose should not be to retread an old joke.
- I should be able to listen to it in July without vomiting.
For example, Adam Sandler's Chanukah Song violates rule #2 and comes close to violating rule #3. In fact, by now the song has been so overplayed, that it has become a joke of itself.
Mama Doni's song Chanukah Fever breaks rules #1, #2, and #4, although I might listen to it again just to hear the word "latkefied."
Chanukah in Santa Monica, an old song by Tom Lehrer, religously follows every one of the rules to the letter. It tells you absolutely nothing about Chanukah, It doesn't mention Christmas at all, it finds humor in geography rather than food, neuroses, or assimilation, and I still find it funny in July. Furthermore, any song that rhymes "Shavuos" with "St. Louis" is destined for greatness.
I am willing to bend some of these rules for music that is truly innovative, entertaining, or just plain different. For example, my pick for last year's Chanukah album of the year was definitely Erran Baron Cohen's Songs in the Key of Hanukkah. To quote his Website:
The record is indeed a collection of songs that brings the ancient music of Hanukkah kicking and screaming straight into the 21st Century.
The album is collaboration between Baron Cohen and an eclectic group of Jewish musicians ranging from Ladino singer Yasmin Levy to the black orthodox Jewish rapper Y-Love. My personal vote for the breakout song of the year was Yasmin Levy's Ocho Kandelikas who puts more passion into a single word than the rest of us put into our entire honeymoon. However, my family voted for Baron Cohen's own "Dreidel" which took what could have been simply another rehash of "I Had a Little Dreidel" and made it innovative, interesting, and very cool.
But that was last year. What is the breakout album or song for 2009/5770?
I personally am leaning toward Senator Orrin Hatch's Hanukkah Song. Hatch resides far, far outside my own political Zip code, but I love the idea of a Mormon U.S. senator writing the lyrics to a Chanukah song, putting the song to music by a Jewish woman who writes Christian songs in Nashville, and getting a Syrian-American woman from Terre Haute, Indiana to record it. I mean really...only in America.
I am also putting in a vote for Ocho Kandelikas by Hip Hop Hoodios because I am always willing to support a Jewish Latino Hip Hop group on novelty alone.
So, dear reader, I leave it to you. Who am I missing? What is the best new Chanukah song or album for 2009?