With Passover a few short weeks away, our thoughts naturally turn to the contributions of the chosen people to the finest pop/rock music of the past half century.
The mid-'60s British Invasion spawned an army of rockers who honed their skills at Temple and made their first public appearances at their own and their friends' Bar Mitzvahs. The Shlepping Stones (Shtick Jagger, Charlie Plotz, Bill Whiner, קית or קייט Richards and the late Brian Cohen) were the most notable, but The Who Knew? The Dave Clark Fyvish ("Kvetch Us If You Can"), The Small Portions, Black Shabbat, Joe "Alta" Cocker and The Challas ("Bus Shtupp") were no shmegegges.
One time, an interfaith rivalry surfaced when The Stones released the sinister single "Unter Mein Grober Finger," a naked attempt to bully a Buddhist outfit called The Monks. But the Monks forsook their trademark equanimity to put the kibosh on that affair with the searing answer song, "I'm Not Your Shlepping Stone."
Jewish-American heroes of the Viet Nam era were led by guitarist extraordinaire Jiminy Shmendrik, who played his first gig at a Seattle synagogue and fooled no one when he claimed, "Music is my religion." Other ground breakers included folkmeister Richie Mavens, country rockers the Boids, surrealist pioneers the Velvel Underground, surfpop masters The Beach Boychicks, anti-war protesters Country Joe and the Gefilte Fish, San Francisco hippies Jefferson Shtarkership and pioneering horn-rockers Blood, Sweat and Tsuris.
Any conversation about post '60s schlock begins with Jersey's own Bruce "Spring" Stein, whom A&R legend John Haimish tried to pass off as "a good Catholic boy." After The Buss, the deluge: L.A. girl group The Bagels ("Walk Like an Egyptian Slave"), Georgia's PHLEGM, Australian idealists Midnight Moyel, Canadian new wavers Men Without Yarmulkahs, Irish poseurs U Nu, hip squares Huey Jewess and the Nudnicks, classic rockers Shticks ("Come Sale Away"), rockabilly revivalists Stray Katz and hard rock supergroup Guns and Rosens, whose frontman Axl Rosenzweig and lead guitarist Shmush perfected the art of diving into the nosh pit and consuming vast quantities of lox, bagels and stuffed derma.
Many are unaware of the Jewish heritage of our two greatest one-named superstars, the diminutive artist formerly known as Blintz ("Party Like It's 5770," "Nothing Compares to Jew") and Kaballah devotee Shoshonna ("I Like a [Plastic] Surgeon," "Pre-1967 Borderline"). And it's an even lesser known fact that during their pre-teen years, all four members of Swedish pop sensation shABBAt harmonized for hours around the Shabbat table every Friday night at the Stock Home of Benny Anderssonsschein's parents Schlomo and Esther.
Timeless rock era tracks written and/or performed by Jewish songwriters include "Be My Bubbe," "I Who Have Bupkes," "Kvells Like Teen Spirit," "Gut Vibrations," "Heart of Golda," "All Things Must Passover," "Gasoline Bialy," "Oy Oh Oy," "Blintz-erely," "Kreplach and (Kaiser) Roll High School," "One In A Minion," "Just One Shnook," "Stone Soul Pupik" and Peter Easthampton's "Show Me the Vey," in which his guitar speaks passable Yiddish. Self-hating Jewish songsmiths composed such standards as "Where the Goys Are," "Gentile on My Mind," "Today I Met the Goy I'm Gonna Marry" and Blondie's "Shiksa One, Half Dozen of the Other."
Scholars and fans alike agree that the greatest concert film of all time is the 1976 Yom Kippurim documentary, The Last Schmaltz, which features definitive performances of "Bubbe Let Me Challah You Down," the touching evocation of a grandmother's search for a slice of bread, and "Dry Your Chaserais," a Jewish mother's lament as she poses the three questions to her slacker son -- "What's with the tears? What? Seinfeld was cancelled?" And who can forget "Fan-ish Goy," the harrowing tale of a born again Christian stalking a Jewish bluesman?
As for rock & roll's holy trinity, Elvis was Christian to his core, but JAPs the world over melted whenever he sang, "I Can't Help Falling in Love With a Jew." The Beatles weren't Jewish, but songs like "You Say Shalom, I Say Shalom," "Give Shalom a Chance" and "Shmeer, There and Everywhere" show a deep respect for Jewish tradition. (Paul may be Catholic, but to this day he closes every show with "Hey Jew," whose Na-na fade out is a valentine to the girls, now Nanas, who screamed their lungs out for the Fab Four 50 years ago.) Babka Dylan's music, of course, speaks for itself.
(Tips of the Yarmulkah to David Finkle, Bob Merlis and Gene Sculatti)