As Jewish holiday after-parties go, the one the Rolling Stones threw post-Shavuot has to rank right up there (though Mimouna probably still tops it). Ha’avanim Hamitgalgalot, as Mick Jagger dubbed his band, brought much-needed levity to 50,000 in Tel Aviv, and in a greater sense to all of Israel. And they inspired me to compile a playlist of my favourite songs by Jewish artists:
• Sweet Jane, Lou Reed: In my mind, there are two kinds of Velvet Underground songs: the subversive tracks that require listeners to be in a very specific mood to “get,” and Sweet Jane, which is always just right.
• Ophelia, Robbie Robertson: My father has probably bought fewer than 10 albums for himself since I was a kid. But one of them was The Band’s Greatest Hits (a double-tape). People say all kinds of things about Robertson as a band mate, but no one denies his musicianship. To understand why, just watch him rock this song in The Last Waltz.
• (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, Carole King: Aretha Franklin made it a hit, but I prefer the songwriter’s stripped-down, piano-only version. King’s voice adds an entirely new layer of vulnerability to Aretha’s interpretation.
• Started From the Bottom, Drake: I’m not ashamed to admit I think this is a cool track. I am, however, a little ashamed to note it took me a while to realize I was listening to the edited-for-radio version.
• A Long December, Adam Duritz: One Friday afternoon in 1997, a pre-Shabbat entertainer cancelled his scheduled appearance at Baycrest hospital in Toronto, and a group of students from Or Chaim high school was thrust into emergency duty. This is what we sang.
• Stay (I Missed You), Lisa Loeb: It’s the song my daughter falls sleep to every night. Enough said.
• Last Nite, The Strokes: Guitarist Nick Valensi sets the tone with the opening double-C riff (and he’s Jewish). The Strokes’ debut album saved the world from bubblegum-pop overload in the fall of 2001.
• The Ballad of El Goodo, Alex Chilton: The eponymous protagonist affirms life gets tough sometimes, but ultimately it’s what you make of it – and that God will help you out. By the end of the song, you can’t help but feel at least a little bit better.
• “You Know I’m No Good,” Amy Winehouse. The British singer-songwriter was a phenomenal talent and never shy about her personal demons. This song is a case in point: A catchy, neo-soul number with the chorus “I cheated myself, like I knew I would. I told you I was trouble, you know I’m no good.”
• I am Trying to Break Your Heart, Jeff Tweedy, Wilco’s lead singer and songwriter, told The A.V. Club in 2009, “I wish I was Jewish,” so I’ll allow this one. When Wilco streamed this track and the album it opens online for free in 2001, it signalled a coming change to the way we consume music.
So there you have it, my 10 favourite songs by or featuring Jewish (and “Je-wishing”) musicians. Obviously, I left out a lot of great talent – Bob Dylan, Joey Ramone, The Beastie Boys, Leonard Cohen, Steven Page, Miami Boys Choir and so many more. Share your list at [email protected]