Name four great Hanukkah songs. OK, then how about two good Chanukkah songs? Not easy, huh? “Dreidel, Spin, Spin, Spin” is a fun little ditty but let’s face it, it doesn’t exactly rock and/or roll. Even the great Jewish songwriters, from Irving Berlin to Lieber and Stoller, only wrote Christmas songs. The Festival of Lights could really use some tunes!
Two nice Jewish guys have taken up the important task of writing a bunch of great, rockin’ Hanukah songs. Adam Gardner (Guster) and Dave Schneider (the Zambonis) have joined forces and started a band called the LeeVees, and they have a new album of sweet and rockin’ indie-pop songs solely about Channuka called “Hanukkah Rocks.” Yes, every song is about Chanuka. Some say such a concept is a bit obsessive but Adam and Dave prefer the phrase “extremely focused.”
A little background on the guys: Rita and Robert Schneider’s son Dave founded the Zambonis 14 years ago. The Zambonis only write songs about hockey. That’s right, hockey. Barbara and Allan Gardner’s son Adam co-founded Guster 12 years ago. Guster does not write songs about hockey and yet they somehow manage to write really good songs anyway.
In April of 2005, the Zambonis went on tour with Guster. On the bus somewhere between Denver and St. Louis, Adam said to Dave, “We should write some songs together!” Dave responded with a blasé “Yeah, that would be fun” and strode over to the sink to make some tea. “We should only write songs about Chanukkah!” Adam exclaimed. Dave froze, his brain wheels spinning with excitement. He turned to Adam and was about to ask him if he was serious, but before he could even say it, Adam blurted out, “I’m serious.”
The two quickly grabbed some acoustic guitars, went to the back of the bus and wrote the first two LeeVees songs: the Beach-Boys-in-yarmulkes anthem “Latke Clan” and “Applesauce vs. Sour Cream” — in less than an hour. Fittingly, they wrote all the songs for the new LeeVees album, “Hanukkah Rocks” in eight days. It was a Hanukkah miracle!
The amazing thing is, these aren’t just songs about Hanukkah. They’re also just good songs. While making a rock Hanukkah record could easily rely on the novelty and kitsch factor of the concept, this album manages to stay on the right side of the line, offering up truly musical arrangements underneath witty and humorous lyrics.
Gardner and Schneider have a knack for asking the tough questions, like “How Do You Spell Channukkahh?” and setting it to catchy, fun music. The classic punk crunch of “Gelt Melts” provides plenty of fist-pumping sing-along action while the propulsive “Goyim Friends” overflows with playful pride and joy; “Jewish Girls (at the Matzoh Ball)” and “At the Timeshare” get downright wistful, even poignant.
Their producer friend and Dave’s neighbor, Peter Katis (Interpol, The National, Get Up Kids) has added his uncanny ability to make these rock songs sound like orchestral bombasts.
Adam hopes that the LeeVees’ festive, rocking Hanukkah songs will bring happiness to the Jewish community and to the world at large. Dave is hoping that being in a cool all-Jewish rock band will finally get him something he has never had: a date with a Jewish girl. Really, it would make his mother very happy.