Can I Interest You in Hanukkah Songs … that Aren’t Sung by Adam Sandler?

8 Dec

Anyone who knows me knows there are few things I love more than Christmas music. I made Very Marty Xmas mixes for 10 years, and continue to maintain an “Ultimate” playlist version of the mix on Spotify that includes everyone from Mariah Carey to Andy Williams to Harry Connick, Jr. to Darlene Love singing festive tunes, and is updated all the time to include new tracks.

But here’s the rub: I’m Jewish. And one thing that bothers me every year is that, despite how much I enjoy the Christmas season and all the music, I wish Hanukkah was better represented. Unfortunately, while Jews have written many of the most beloved Christmas songs (it’s true!), we haven’t done a very good job of writing songs for our own holiday. So those Members of the Tribe who are looking for seasonal music are often stuck with Adam Sandler’s “Chanukah Song” — which was funny the first few times, but now, 13 years later, it’s just tired (not to mention totally outdated).

Which is not to say there aren’t other options, some of which are much better than Sandler’s tune (and its multiple sequels) and are more than worthy of some play. They’re also way better than the silly parodies and a cappella versions that always get social shares this time of year.

So I thought I’d do a public service and call attention to eight original, modern Hanukkah songs that should be listened to more often this and every other December holiday season.

Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – “8 Days (of Hanukkah)”

No doubt, the best modern-day Hanukkah song is this jam from the incomparable Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Yes, really. The band’s Motown-infused sound is cool and funky, and Jones sings lyrics like “Gotta keep that shamash going right to left” like she actually knows what she’s talking about. Even better, unlike some other Hanukkah songs, this one isn’t filled with obvious rhymes and puns — just another reason why it should definitely get radio play every year.

Matisyahu – “Miracle”

This song by Hasidic hip-hop artist Matisyahu is a pop-reggae jam. The lyrics celebrate that sometimes, while we’re bound to struggle and fall, our “strength comes not from man at all,” and it features a catchy beat and hook you can actually dance to. Yes, it’s another miracle: Matisyahu proves you can communicate some of the depth and spirituality inherent in the holiday in a legit radio-friendly package.

Jon Stewart & Stephen Colbert – “Can I Interest You in Hannukah?”

Some people just need a little convincing, and in this fun duet from Stephen Colbert’s 2008 TV special, Jon Stewart tries to do exactly that, calling the Jewish holiday “a sensible alternative to Christmas.” The song is predictably funny, with the two comedians’ personalities coming through loud and clear (remember, this is from back when Colbert was doing The Colbert Report), but it’s also really catchy. Credit for that goes to songwriters David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger.

Erran Baron Cohen – “My Hanukkah (Keep the Fire Alive)”

Rather than spotlighting the more well known “Dreidel,” off Erran’s Songs in the Key of Hanukkah album, I went with one of his original tunes from that album. This song’s hip-hop/klezmer sound is fresh and reminiscent of ’90s songs with its female-sung chorus. (And yes, while Erran is Sasha’s brother, his music is no joke.)

The LeeVees – “How Do You Spell Channukkahh”

It’s one of the greatest mysteries of the season: How do you spell Hanukkah? Does it start with a C or H, and how many Ns and Ks are there? Everybody seems to have their own preference, and in this song, the guys in this Guster-spinoff Jewish rock band (that, sadly, only produced one album) lament that there’s not a definitive answer — and that even words like antidisestablishmentarianism are easier to spell.

They Might Be Giants – “Feast of Lights”

I wouldn’t call this track by the “Istanbul” and “Particle Man” duo festive, but it has the same offbeat charm that made They Might Be Giants a favorite of my youth. The bittersweet song is a lament and plea to stop fighting before the last night of Hanukkah so the song’s couple can enjoy the holiday for once.

Tom Lehrer – “(I’m Spending) Hanukkah in Santa Monica”

Satirist Tom Lehrer is no idiot: In this playful, rhymetastic ditty, he shares his plans to escape “those eastern winters” at Hanukkah time, then rattles off the warm-weather locales he’ll be visiting for each of the other Jewish holidays. Not all of the rhymes are obvious — going to “Mississippuh” for Yom Kippur, for example — and that’s part of the fun.

Peter, Paul and Mary – “Light One Candle”

Finally, there’s this song, which probably qualifies more as classic than modern, but its timeless message makes it more relevant now than ever. Peter, Paul and Mary’s tune starts out like a classic, familiar campfire song, and builds to its climax, with the trio singing “Don’t let the light go out!” The lyrics talk about the light being justice, memory, and peace, and how these days, it’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure we keep those lights on and burning bright — long after the Hanukkah celebration is over. Amen.

You will find all eight of these songs mixed in on my “Ultimate” Xmas playlist. But if you’re not a fan of Christmas songs and only want these, I’ve created a separate Hanukkah-only playlist just for you. (It includes a bonus ninth song by the Indigo Girls.)

Happy Hanukkah!

2 Responses to “Can I Interest You in Hanukkah Songs … that Aren’t Sung by Adam Sandler?”

  1. Lisa Sparks December 8, 2017 at 3:57 pm #

    8 Days of Hannukah by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings was my favorite.

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