Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sing for the Left

Jewish music has started to bug me a little bit. It’s not that I don’t like it. In fact, I am a huge fan of most singers and groups. But I gotta ask – what is up with the English songs? Jewish English songs have gotten so cheesy of late. They are all generic praising G-d songs, with bad lyrics and forced rhymes.

A particular thought that came to mind on this subject is that Jewish Singers don’t come out with songs that have nothing to do with Judaism. I’m not talking about love songs. I am talking about songs that have may have some sort of significance to many people, but aren’t about something intrinsically Jewish.

It’s true that there are Journeys songs like “What you’re Looking for,” “The Cat Ate the Canary” and “The Shadchan,” to which many people can either relate or at least understand. However, these songs are not going to be written by a non-Jewish singer.

“What You’re Looking For” has a lot of the same elements as Bon Jovi’s “Who Says you Can’t Go Home,” but it is clear throughout the song that the person is looking for religious meaning in his or her life, whereas the Bon Jovi song is simply talking about someone lost.

“The Cat Ate the Canary” is clearly a political song, but it is not about anything that is not related to Judaism. A song like that would have to be about some political Israel or Jewish topic in order to appear on an orthodox Jewish album.

“The Shadchan” is a story about the difficulty of finding love. Easy enough. But once you start mentioning a sefer on the dashboard or a hat and jacket or, oh yeah, a shadchan, it is automatically a Jewish song.

Even a song like “Be Brave, Be Strong” is only a song about Israel. A Jewish CD would not have a “We are the World” for a random other Nation. I am not saying that they should, just that they don’t.

But here’s my question: why don’t Jewish Singers have songs that aren’t about Judaism, but aren’t necessarily against Judaism? Something completely neutral would be interesting; maybe something like the struggles of growing up.

Now I posed this question to Erachet, and she offered that the reason is because of theme. Almost always, a band will put out a CD wherein all or many of the tracks will be of the same genre. In fact, many times a CD will have a running theme throughout the whole album. (An example of this is Shalsheles 2, which is all about the theme of peace.) Taking this into account, if most of an album is about Judaism, then having one track devoted to something else would ruin the theme.

This is okay in principle, but one could argue a few things on this. Firstly, if it's on an album with mostly Jewish-oriented songs, a neutral song may be looked at as a Jewish song (simply because of the artist and the songs surrounding it would be Jewish). Secondly, "Judaism" is a broad theme. It can encompass things that aren't explicitly written with Hebrew words and the mention of G-d and Jerusalem. A song that is not about an exact topic related to Judaism can still be about Judaism.

That doesn't mean that I want more of those love songs disguised as loving G-d or Jerusalem. That's not what I'm talking about. I merely want a song written by (or for) a Jewish singer that can stand by itself. It would just make words a lot less cheesy and forced.

It's not like there aren't any of these types of songs out there. In fact, I am adding a list of secular songs that would fall under the category of audience-appropriate songs (as judged by Jughead's Hat) that have nothing to do with religion. The list takes into account certain exceptions to what qualifies. Any songs that contain inappropriate content or do not apply to the types of productions made by Jewish artists will not qualify for this list. These exceptions include:

Love songs

TV Show themes (The Ballad of Gilligan’s Island, The Brady Bunch, etc.)

Songs made for movies or musicals (Friend Like Me, Defying Gravity, etc.)

Classical Music or Instrumentals

Songs about vices (Cocaine, Alcohol, etc.)

Songs that are about something else but mention or hint to love or romance (Sweet Child O’ Mine)

Parodies (Eat It)

Holiday Songs

16 Tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford (Rockapella Version)
Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty
Beautiful Day by U2
Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen
Celebration by Kool and the Gang
Dream On by Aerosmith
For What it's Worth by Buffalo Springfield
Have a Nice Day by Bon Jovi
How to Save a Life by The Fray
It’s My Life by Bon Jovi
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door by Bob Dylan
Like a Rock by Bob Seger
Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson
New York, New York by Frank Sinatra
The Final Countdown by Europe
Watching You by Rodney Atkins
We are the Champions by Queen
We are the World by Michael Jackson
Who Says You Can’t Go Home by Bon Jovi
With a Little Help from My Friends by Joe Cocker

Now, I am sure that writing a song like this cannot be an easy thing to do, otherwise there would probably be more. What are your favorites that didn't make my list? Remember, there are rules as to what qualifies. Also, am I missing any Jewish songs that would fit this category? And finally, am I wrong? Should Jewish singers keep their nose out of the


  1. I think Shwekey did a real good job adapting "You Raise Me Up" (made famous probably by Josh Groban's cover)

  2. 1) I didn't examine your list closely, so there may be other songs on it to which this applies, but "Walking on Sunshine" is very clearly about love. Have you ever listened to the verses?

    2) A song that comes immediately to mind is "If Someone Falls in Love with Me" by Moshav Band. Not that I really have any clue what the song's about, but there's nothing specifically Jewish in it.

  3. Ella, you are right. I don't know why that was on there. It's off now.
    "If Someone Falls in Love with Me" would not count (even though it is by a Jewish artist) because the song is about love. I wouldn't hear Lev Tahor singing that song in a concert.

    a - he didn't "adapt" it. He covered it. And he did so because a special needs child asked him to. I am looking for an original song by a Jewish singer.

  4. I think there's a song by wotshisname from Waterbury about the responsibility of raising children. The chorus is something like "the best we can do is give them what you gave us." Sorry this is so vague but it's late and my brain is scrambled by not eating all day and then gorging afterwards.

    What about the Marvelous Midos Machine songs? Do they count?

  5. Bad 4 - Are you thinking of Baruch Levine? I don't know any of his English songs.

    I don't know about MMM songs. They all teach lessons that aren't necessarily Jewish themes (don't lie, etc.), but they are all "Jewed" up.
    I say, they don't count, but they are the best option that I have received so far.

  6. What Rush songs are inappropriate? You'd be hard-pressed to find one, and if you do, it's by a stretch of the imagination.

    As to themes for albums, you can always have the music as the theme, and not the lyrics. By this I mean, for example, that every song be in 5/4 time signature.

    Contemporary jewish music will always be subpar as long as the music takes the backstage to singing. We don't have jewish music today; we have jewish singing!

    And would someone remove the brass from the guitars and drums?! They don't complement each other if the brass is a rhythm instrument. Rather, it should be used as a lead instrument ala Dave Matthews Band or Coltrane or fusion.

  7. The song "My Awakening" by Blue Fringe (last song on their first CD) fits the profile. It also happens to be quite a good song.

  8. For the record - Watching You by Rodney Atkins has the line: We got back home and I went to the barn
    I bowed my head and I prayed real hard
    Said, “Lord, please help me help my stupid self.”

    You'll tell me it's not religious - but if it was a Jewish song the line would go something like: Later that night when I went to Shul,
    I davened real hard feeling like a fool,
    Said, “Hashem, please help me be mechanech my kinder.”

    If the song was an Abie Rotenberg song, it would be on the "about Judaism" list.

    Additionally, if Bon Jovi was a Jew, he would've probably quoted a Jew instead of Sinatra(Like Frankie said, "I did it my way"). Additionally, it says Tommy and Gina who never backed down which references his song Livin' on a Prayer - a song that you would probably classify religious in nature. Again, if he was Jewish, you would probably say that this song as well is a song about Judaism.

    I think the answer to your question is that an artist tries to paint the picture with detail. since Judaism is a lifestyle, you will always have Jewish details like the hat and jacket and the sefer - he's painting the picture. Another example would be the ninth man on the team - it's not inherently Jewish but they call him Rebbe and learn Rashi and Tosfos - they are just details that paint the accurate picture.

    It's not inherently that they don't want to write about anything else, but they write about what affects them and their lives, and being the fact that their lifestyle is full of Judaism, it will (just about) always come up.

  9. AEF - Good points, but the fact is that Bon Jovi is not Jewish and therefore not one of the things I consider Jewish. It's not fair to assume what a song MIGHT be like.

    I agree more with lawschooldrunk that "Contemporary jewish music will always be subpar as long as the music takes the backstage to singing." But I think it's even more than that. I think that as long as Jewish music lyrics take a back seat to the vocals (that is to say that putting any random lyrics to a tune just so a voice can sing), Jewish music will continue to be subpar.

  10. The question wasn't why Jewish music is sub par - there are plenty of reasons for that. (One of the biggest reasons is that since your audience is smaller, you don't have as much money to put into making it good.)

    The question was - why don’t Jewish Singers have songs that aren’t about Judaism, but aren’t necessarily against Judaism?

    The answer is that there are songs like that, but they will have Jewish references because the artist is painting the picture and since Judiasm is a lifestyle you will always have Jewish details. Additionally, the songs you mentioned would be considered Jewish songs if the author was Jewish.

  11. Check out Zacharia from Aish's Cd. He has a brilliant sound and is so talented, and somehow manages to come off as a neutral singer. I even played him for my friend and she was sure he wasn't Jewish. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but he accomplished what I think is a new trend in the Jewish music industry.

    The problem most people have with Jewish people sounding non-Jewish is that if they want to listen to non-Jewish music, that's exactly what they'll do (even if the quality is better than usual). I hear their point, but then again, I also believe that by the mere fact that the song is sung by a Jewish singer, even if it is neutral, it makes it purer and probably a better listening choice than any other option.