Of all the many strange
things that make popular Christmas music such a fascinating cultural phenomenon,
Christmas records by Jewish artists have to be the strangest. I mean, Christ,
this just doesn't make sense. You'd think paying homage to the man that made
their Judaism irrelevant (or so I'm told) would be the last things on their minds,
but it happens with alarming frequency.
That said, Jews have a long tradition in show business (particularly in the record
industry), and Christmas music is big business. From that perspective,
it makes perfect sense. It was a Jew, after all, who wrote "White Christmas," the
mother of all modern Christmas songs - though Irving Berlin said it was the most
challenging musical task he ever undertook. Jews also wrote "Let It Snow" (Sammy
Cahn), "Santa Baby" (Joan Javits), "What Are You Doing New Year's
Eve?" (Frank Loesser), "There's No Place Like Home for the Holidays" (Al
Stillman), and "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth" (Donald
Gardner). That's quite a track record. (See www.interfaithfamily.com for an even bigger list of Jews Who Wrote Christmas Songs.)
More recently, a number of Jews have examined (usually with self-deprecating humor)
the enormous challenge of maintaining their faith during a season that celebrates
their downfall - witness Adam Sandler's "Chanukah Song" or Kyle's "A
Lonely Jew On Christmas" from the TV show South
Park. I even found a website that tackles the $10,000 question, "What
do Jews do on Christmas?"
Of course, there's some rock 'n' roll Chanukah songs, too, from artists as renowned
as They Might Be Giants and Brave Combo. But, as another Jew, Kinky Friedman, once
warbled, "They Don't Make Jews Like Jesus Anymore." So, the bizarre parade
continues, and each year more records join this incongruous canon. That nearly
all of them are pretty wretched is a point of contention (most have sold many more
copies than those on my Top 20 list), and I'll let you
draw your own conclusions. Regardless, you'll find my choices of the most notable
(not necessarily best) records below. Got a suggestion for this goyim shmendrik? Drop me a line...
- Barbra Streisand, A Christmas Album (1967)
Babs was at the full height of her powers when she recorded this holiday classic.
Though her days as a business mogul were far in the future, she was in the
midst of a string of artistic successes - Broadway-derived songs like "People," "Second
Hand Rose," and "Happy Days Are Here Again," - that would make
her an icon for singers, Jews, and drag queens alike. Though A
Christmas Album ain't rock & roll, it's far from traditional, and Streisand's
frenetic "Jingle Bells?" (note the question mark) is the best of
several memorable moments. (Streisand recorded another holiday record, Christmas
Memories, in 1994.)
- Neil Diamond, The Christmas Album (1992)
As with Rod Stewart or Sting, it's easy (or, rather, tempting) to forget that
Neil was once a relatively hip, musically valid artist. Starting off as a sort-of
Tin Pan Alley Bob Dylan, he wrote and/or recorded some great folk-rock before
drifting into pomposity and, eventually, mediocrity. The
Christmas Album and its 1994
follow-up (and a 2009 compilation called A Cherry Cherry Christmas) were waxed long, long after Diamond had become a paragon of poor
taste, resulting in such travesties as his desecration of John Lennon's "Happy
Xmas (War Is Over)." Eeewwww!
- Barry Manilow, Because It's Christmas (1990)
Depending on one's perspective (and I think you can guess mine), the Divine
Mr. M's holiday offerings - which also include Christmas
Gift Of Love (2002) and In The Swing Of Christmas (2007) - are either intimate classics or monumental snoozers.
There's very little here as fun as, say, "Copacabana," but there's
plenty of crap that makes "Mandy" sound like a masterpiece in comparison.
(Way back in 1977, Barry recorded a halfway decent original ballad, "It's
Just Another New Year's Eve," for Dick Clark's annual Rockin'
New Years Eve television extravaganza. But, that's not a Christmas song,
- Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, Christmas Album (1968)
Talk about your melting pot - a Jewish kid playing Latin-tinged
pop waxes a paean to a Christian holiday! That said, this ain't bad, though
it waffles considerable compared to the TJB's best records ("Spanish Flea," "Tijuana
Taxi"), upping the schmaltz factor while downplaying the spicy rhythms.
Reissued on CD by A&M in 1990, Alpert's Christmas
Album fell quickly out-of-print and fetched a hefty price on the collectors
market until reissued by Shout!
Factory in 2005. (more
- Kenny G, Miracles: The Holiday Album (1994)
The only Miracle here
is that Mr. Gorelick hasn't been dragged outside the city walls and stoned
to death by a consortium of Christians, Jews, and jazz lovers. There's just
no way on Jehovah's green earth to speak kindly about this travesty, and it's
a wonder that the Jewish Anti-Defamation League hasn't sued this sniveling
soprano saxophonist for his rooty-tooty rendering of "The Chanukah Song." Not
content with this dubious achievement, Kenny G followed it in with Faith in
1999 and Wishes in
2002 - all three subtitled Holiday Album in case
we were too dumbfounded to catch on. Feh! What a shmendrik!
lifetime achievement award:
Phil spector, Christmas Gift For You (1963)
Producer Phil Spector - whose holiday
album I consider the greatest rock 'n' roll Christmas record of all time
- is very, very Jewish. His father died when Phil was young, and the wunderkind subsequently
developed an abnormally close relationship with his mother. The psychosexual
guilt spurred Spector to ridiculous heights of ambition, paranoia, and abusive
behavior - of his wife, Ronnie, of himself, and of anyone in his rarified circle.
In a plot twist that would make Philip Roth proud, Spector was arrested in
2002 for killing a female acquaintance with one of his many, many guns. [read
- Simon & Garfunkel, "Star Carol" (1966)
The folk duo (both Jewish) released this song on A Very
Merry Christmas, an LP sold only in Grants department stores. They also
recorded "Comfort & Joy (God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen)," around
the same time, and they included a portion of a Christmas carol in a protest
song, "7 O'Clock News/Silent Night" in 1967. All three songs were included
on their Old
Friends boxed set. Also, Art Garfunkel lent his angelic pipes to "O
Come All Ye Faithful" on Acoustic
Christmas in 1990.
- Mel Torme, "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting
On An Open Fire)" (1955)
The Velvet Fog wrote this classic with lyricist Bob Wells in 1946, and Nat King
Cole recorded it that year. It became Cole's signature when he waxed his more
celebrated, string-drenched version in 1956. Torme first released his most famous
composition in a mid-50's live version (see Croon & Swoon),
but he committed it to vinyl many more times during his long career.
- Beck, Little Drum Machine Boy (1996)
In his own words, Beck "drops some Hanukah science" on this holiday
goof which, more than anything else on this page, fuses Jewish tradition to the
Christian celebration of Christmas. Not exactly pleasant, "Little Drum Machine
Boy" sounds like the Beastie Boys on Quaaludes. First released on Geffen's Just
Say Noel collection, later featured on Sleighed:
The Other Side Of Christmas.
- The Band, "Christmas Must Be Tonight" (1977)
As Greil Marcus points out so vividly in
his book Mystery Train, the Band had thoroughly lost
their way by the time they released Islands,
but this track is affecting nevertheless. It was written and sung by Canadian
Jew Robbie Robertson, and recently a previously unreleased, funkier version (sung
by Levon Helm) was included as a bonus track on a CD reissue of Northern
Lights - Southern Cross (1975).
- Carole King, "Love For Christmas" (2002)
This nice Jewish girl managed to navigate through four decades of Gentile hegemony
before she succumbed with this bathetic ballad. Not bad, but it's but a ghost
of the glorious artistry that made Tapestry one
of the greatest albums in history. "Love For Christmas" was released
in 2002 exclusively as a free download on the internet to promote her 2001 album, Love
Makes The World (though promotional CD singles were pressed). In 2007, it was added as a bonus track to a special edition of the album and eventually became available as an MP3 download.
~ Update ~
In 2011, Carole King finally went whole hog and dropped a while holiday album - A Holiday Carole.
- Ramones, "Merry Christmas (I Don't Want To Fight)" (1989)
Beatific punk Joey Ramone was of Jewish ancestry. The Ramones' Christmas song
(originally on Brain
Drain and collected on Rhino's Punk
Rock Xmas) is typical fare for the Ramones - loud and fast, with sad sack
Joey pleading, "Christmas ain't the time for breaking each other's hearts." Truer
words were never spoken.
~ Update ~
Shortly before his death in 2001, Joey Ramone recorded a solo EP, Christmas Spirit... In My House, highlighted by a slammin' version of Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World." Mazel tov, Joey, wherever you are.
- Allan Sherman, "The Twelve Gifts Of Christmas" (1963)
Best known for his summer camp ode, "Hello Muddah Hello Faddah," Sherman
also recorded this goofy tale of consumerism gone awry. Though similar in tone to "Green
Christmas" by Stan Freberg (who, like Bruce Springsteen, is not Jewish), Sherman's song is good
natured where Freberg's is just plain mean - though altogether hilarious. (Compiled
on Dr. Demento Presents The Greatest
Christmas Novelty CD Of All Time.)
- Marc Bolan, "Christmas Bop" (1975)
Dreidel-spinning glam rocker Marc Bolan first released several abbreviated Christmas tunes as part of a Beatlesque flexi-disc sent by his group T. Rex to their fan club
in 1972. "Christmas Bop" is a more fully realized track recorded in 1975 and intended as a Bolan solo record but not released until 1982. Both the flexi-disc and "Christmas Bop" appear on a Japanese Christmas compilation, and "Christmas Bop" has been compiled on numerous T. Rex CD retrospectives, including the excellent 2007 2-CD set Greatest Hits.
- Bruce Springsteen, "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" (1975)
No, the Boss isn't Jewish (that's Springsteen, not Springstein),
but his faithful drummer, Max Weinberg, sure is. But, you're right - I'm out
out on a limb here. Originally a rare, promo-only recording, Bruce's live "Santa
Claus" was later released as the b-side of "My
Hometown" in 1985.
- Elvis Presley
Diehard Christian Elvis Aron Presley actually recorded two complete Christmas
albums (read more) and several excellent gospel
records. So, what's he doing here? Well, Yahoodi.com claims "the
King has unbroken Jewish maternal ancestry," and I had to fit him in somewhere.
Nice to contemplate, but it's a bit of a stretch, don't you think?
Special Bonus Hebrew: Sammy Davis, Jr. This famous schvartze
proselyte (he converted to Judaism in the late 1950's) bowed "Here's A Kiss
For Christmas" in 1963. Released only to disc jockeys, the single promoted
the Christmas Seals charitable foundation.
We Wish Would Release A Christmas Record
- The Beastie Boys
Somehow, against all odds, the Beasties remain as vital today (or maybe more
so) as they were when they dropped "Fight For Your Right (To Party)" nearly
twenty years ago. Though at this point they're more likely to record a Buddhist
carol than a Christmas one, we can only hope they've give Ol' St. Nick a sure
~ Update ~
Beastie Mike D recorded an album called Country Christmas under the pseudonym of Country Mike in 2000. A limited edition pressed only on vinyl, the album was a gift for friends and family - though bootleg copies have since circulated.
- Lenny Kravitz
He's black and he's Jewish - how cool is that?
- Tie: Kiss and Van Halen
From Kiss, both Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley celebrate the Festival Of Lights.
In Van Halen, Dave Lee Roth wears the yamukah. Either of these bands would
rip it up royally should they tackle a Christmas tune, but I'm not holding
- Bette Midler
The Divine Miss M is long past her prime, but no one can sing sentimental tripe
with a more unique mix of sincerity and camp. Sounds like a match made in heaven
- Christian, Jewish, or otherwise.
~ Update ~
Midler recorded "White Christmas" in 2003 for her Rosemary Clooney Songbook and released a complete Christmas album, Cool Yule, in 2007.
- The Bangles
Doe-eyed singer Susannah Hoffs is Jewish. Okay, first we'd have to put the band
back together. And, no, "Hazy Shade Of Winter" (1987) doesn't count.
~ Update ~
Turns out, the Bangles recorded a wacky, 11-minute mash-up called "Bangle Jangle Christmas" back in 1983. They released it along with a new, similarly twisted track called "Holiday In Bangleonia" on a CD single through The Connextion. Then, in 2006, the band issued a new holiday song, "Light My Way," through iTunes.
- Bob Dylan
Mr. Zimmerman went through a Christian phase back in the 70's (with very mixed
results musically) and has since returned to the tribe. Never did a Christmas
record, though. Maybe son Jakob (Wallflowers) will take up the slack.
~ Update ~
Bob shocked just about everyone when he released the straight-faced Christmas In The Heart in 2009. Pretty dreadful, though.
- Lou Reed
With or without the Velvet Underground, this would be cool. Sorry, "Christmas
In New York" (from one of his last great records, New
York, 1989) doesn't count.
- Dire Straits
Guitarist Mark Knopler (and his brother David, who left the band while recording
their third album) is Jewish, and I can only imagine what this lyrical guitarist
could do with a good Christmas tune. How about "Santas Of Swing"? "Presents
For Nothing"? Well, you get the idea.
- Stan Getz
Suggested title: "The Goy From Ipanema." Sadly, Getz is dead, so that
puts the kibosh on this one....
- Arlo Guthrie
Were Arlo to apply his unique brand of gentle satire to the Christian holiday,
the results might well be as memorable as "Alice's Restaurant" (which
revolved around Thanksgiving). It was Arlo's mother - not his famous father,
Woody - who was Jewish (though Woody went through a phase where he was fascinated with Judaism).
~ Update ~
I discovered that Arlo recorded a song called "The Pause Of Mr. Claus" on his 1968 sophomore record, a live album simply called Arlo. Santa Claus, as it turns out, is a Communist.
Honorable Mention. I'd love to see the Red Hot Chili
Peppers release a funked up Christmas record in a weird tribute to original guitarist
Hillel Slovak, who was born in Haifa, Israel, in 1962 and died of a heroin overdose
We Hope Never Release A Christmas Record
- Billy Joel
Don't even get me started. Despite his promising start (like, a million years
ago) as a gritty, yet tuneful singer-songwriter, Joel has become one of the
most insufferably pompous rock stars ever. If he were to cut a Christmas record,
he'd probably make Neil Diamond sound like Phil
Spector by comparison.
~ Update ~
In 2007, Joel wrote a song called "Christmas In Fallujah" to protest the war in Iraq. Perhaps wisely, he gave it to young singer Cass Dillon, who released it briefly as an MP3 single, though Joel's own live performance snuck out on an Australian CD single a year later. (The song is unrelated, by the way, to either Jefferson Pepper's 2005 release or Andy Mason's 2007 release of the same name. Popular topic, that.)
- Twisted Sister
We're not gonna take it - at least, I hope not. Singer Dee Snider - who bears
an uncanny resemblance to Barbra Streisand in A
Star Is Born - is the Jew in the band.
~ Update ~
There must have been ice skating in Hell after the band released A Twisted Christmas in 2006.
- Guns 'n' Roses
Like Lenny Kravitz (above), Slash (real name, Saul Hudson) is black and Jewish.
Axl Rose is neither.
- John Zorn
This avant-destructo jazzman should stay away from all sorts civilized of music,
~ Update ~
The End Days are near. Zorn unleashed A Dreamer's Christmas in 2011.
- Culture Club
Boy George's boy toy Jon Moss is a Yid kid. I'm still not sure what Boy George
- k.d. lang
I was surprised to learn that this Canadian twanger was Jewish. I had thought
she was lesbian. But don't get me wrong, some of my best friends are lesbians
- I just don't want them making Christmas records.
- Jane's Addiction
Yowling frontman Perry Farrell is Jewish, which may be why he frequently sounds
like an off-key cantor being poked with a cattle prod. That I can do without.
- Tie: Bush and Counting Crows
Jews Gavin Rossdale and Adam Durvitz, respectively, lead these two mediocre alternative
bands, and let us pray to our respective gods that they stay the fuck away
from the Christian holiday.
- The Clash
There was never really was a chance in hell that the Clash (featuring Yeshiva
student Mick Jones) would make a Christmas record. Now that Joe Strummer is
dead, I doubt they'll make records of any sort. Nevertheless, I'm on record
that it's bad idea.
- Tie: Randy Newman and Leonard Cohen
Newman releases so much soundtrack material these days, he may have slipped a
Christmas ditty by me. He vacillates between outrageously caustic humor and
unabashed sentimentalism - neither of which makes for good Christmas music.
Knock on wood.... Cohen, on the other hand, likes to sing about crack and anal
sex. 'Nuff said.
Credits and Disclaimers. Assuming anyone is paying attention,
someone is eventually going to take offense at my meager attempts at humor. Let's
just say, it's all in good fun. If I poke fun, I try to poke it without discrimination
- at Christians and Jews equally. If I had a religion, I'd let you poke fun at
it. And, by the way, Yahoodi.com, Mistletunes.com,
and Koshernosh.com were invaluable
to me while researching this page, as was an article by Tina Plottel in the Washington
City Paper. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and zay gezunt!
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|Now, you can hear the Christmas music I write about! My Christmas Jukebox is bulging with over 350 tracks, and I'll be adding more rockin' Yule tunes throughout the year. [listen now]