At long last, a really good Hanukkah album is here. (Although, yes, Rachel Bloom’s 2013 Hanukkah comedy album remains a masterpiece.) The 12-track, 35-minute album Hanukkah+ dropped on November 22, and I haven’t been able to stop listening to it since. Seriously: Hanukkah+ is that good.
Music supervisor Randall Poster put the album together, inspired by the band Yo La Tengo’s annual Hanukkah concerts. “With the collision of these artists and songs, I tried to create a spiritual reflection of one of the three big Jewish holidays,” Poster said. “How do you make something where each song is part of a whole? I built it piece by piece, artist by artist.”
Yo La Tengo’s frontman, Jewish singer Ira Kaplan, explained “In the kind of Battle of the Bands between Hanukkah and Christmas, there are just too many Christmas songs. I think in the same way that doing the Hanukkah shows had an element of a joke to it, it doesn’t look like a joke at all. It’s completely serious. And yet, below the surface, there’s some kind of lightheartedness.”
Featuring our favorite Jewish sister band, Haim (who did not perform their amazing Hanukkah song!) alongside Jack Black, The Flaming Lips, Loudon Wainwright III, and more, Hanukkah+ truly delivers.
Naturally, we decided to rank our favorites. May we present our completely subjective unofficial ranking of the Hanukkah songs on Hanukkah+ from worst to best:
12. Chad Gadya (Passover Bonus) — Jack Black
This is a ranking of Hanukkah songs, so Jack Black’s bonus Passover song naturally has to be last. How did Chad Gadya, the song sung at the end of the Passover seder, end up on a Hanukkah album? Our guess: Jack Black was asked to contribute to the Hanukkah compilation, realized he will never be asked to contribute to a Passover album, and insisted on adding this. Black has called “Chad Gadya” the “original heavy metal song.” He really sounds like he’s having a fantastic time singing this, the sound effects made me smile (plus the “there’s no sound for God”), and it’s truly a joy. Thank you, Jack Black. (Cue “BLACKJACK” by Aminé: how could you not like Jack Black?!)
Hanukkah points: -50 for Passover, +5 for accurate pronunciation of “Chad Gadya,” +5 for accurate pronunciation of “zuzim,” and +15 for Jack Black’s clear joy in singing this song
Score: -25, unfortunately, this is just not a Hanukkah song.
11. Sing It Now, Sing It Somehow — The Flaming Lips
The original song begins: What it’s about / seems kinda weird / something to do / with the fight about love / If that’s what it is / well I hope they win / for what is a life / if it’s lived without love?
I’ve never really thought about Hanukkah as a love story. More of a story of religious extremism, you know? Welp, the Flaming Lips have taken it as a story about sing it to the dark in your darkest hour, which is cool. Maybe we can read this as an interpretation of proclaiming your Jewishness loud and proud in 2019? Maybe? It’s still a nice song to listen to!
Hanukkah points: -20 for kinda missing the Hanukkah story, +10 for love
Score: -10, sorry Flaming Lips!
10. Dedication — Tommy Guerrero
There is something deeply soothing about “Dedication,” Tommy Guerrero’s contribution to Hanukkah+. However, there are no lyrics, so technically this could also not be a Hanukkah song. Guerrero is a super talented musician and skateboarder! The more you know.
Hanukkah points: There’s really no points here because there are no lyrics, but it sounds great. Still into it!
Score: 0, again, not exactly a Hanukah song.
9. If It Be Your Will — Haim
Okay, I wanted to rank this so much higher (it is one of the standouts on the album to me), but this 1984 Leonard Cohen song has never been a Hanukkah song! However, it is about God and spirituality, and that is Jewy. So I totally get why this was included on Hanukkah+, and could be perceived as a Hanukkah song. Also, I will never ever complain about a Haim cover of Leonard Cohen. Rolling Stone writes that the song is a “devastatingly gorgeous update,” and I am deeply inclined to agree.
If it be your will / That I speak no more / And my voice be still / As it was before / I will speak no more / I shall abide until / I am spoken for / If it be your will
Hanukkah points: +5 for Judaism!
Score: 5. Haim, I still love you!
8. Hanukkah Dance — Watkins Family Hour
Happy Hanukkah and around and around you go
This one’s just a lot of fun! A bluegrass song about dancing on Hanukkah. Not a lot of substance, but repeating Happy Hanukkah, and singing about around and around you go.
Hanukkah points: +10 for Happy Hanukkah, +5 for dancing around and around as maybe implying dancing the hora?
7. Eight Candles — Yo La Tengo
It was a bit challenging to decipher the lyrics on “Eight Candles,” but I gather it is all about eight candles and shadows, and waiting for the sun to go down to light the candles. (Genius, why haven’t you posted lyrics for Hanukkah+?!)
Hanukkah points: +8 for eight candles, +10 waiting for sundown.
Score: 18. Life!
6. Sanctuary — Craig Wedren
Jewish singer Craig Wedren sings about sanctuaries. It’s soothing, and it feels like you’re wrapped in a hug. It’s the song on the album that sounds most like something you would hear in a synagogue. Even though Hanukkah isn’t a holiday you really associate with going to synagogue, there is always a Shabbat that falls during the 8 days.
Hanukkah points: +10 for sanctuary, +10 Maccabees, +3 apple cakes, +3 for li li li which just sounds very Jewy to me.
5. Eight Nights a Week — Loudon Wainwright III
“Shall I sing you a song about something I don’t know much?” Loudon Wainwright III sings at the start of his Hanukkah song. His song was inspired by Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” the classic Christmas song written by a Jewish man.
“When [Randy Poster] asked me to write a Hanukkah song my initial thought was ‘Why me, Lord?'” Wainwright III said. “But then I remembered that I’ve been referencing my non-Jewish-ness in song for decades.”
He talks about Hanukkah being the fun one, unlike Yom Kippur which is all about atonement. (True!) He thinks Hanukkah is “less fraught and more fun” than Christmas. Props for recognizing he doesn’t know much, and that “singing of Hanukkah might seem faux,” and for shouting out Irving Berlin as a Russian Jew.
Hanukkah points: +10 for Irving Berlin, +8 for eight nights, +5 for dreidels, +5 for latkes, +3 for oil
4. Hanukkah In ’96 — Alex Frankel
Alex Frankel is a Jewish synthpop musician (he’s part of the band Holy Ghost!) and founded the Jewish deli Frankel’s in Brooklyn. The song is deeply personal, talking about his Jewish NYC roots. The song begins:
My dad was a reporter / And my mom was a New York shrink / We were living on the border / Between the Hudson and Walman Rink.
In an article on withguitars.com, Frankel said, “I want to thank my hazzan [cantor], Ari, at Temple B’nai Jeshurun on 86th, for not believing in me because it fueled me to the highest levels of Judaic song. Happy Holidays to All.” He sings about drinking with his cousins in the basement, dancing and getting wasted, laughing about the New York Knicks, and wishing the holidays were shorter.
Hanukkah points: +45 for telling your own family memories of Hanukkah, not going to judge someone’s own feelings on the holiday!
3. Oh Hanukkah — Jack Black
Why isn’t this cover of the classic Hanukkah song first, you ask!? Well it’s unfair because we all know this song, and it is Jack Black, and it is just so much fun. This is officially my new favorite version of “Oh Hanukkah.”
Hanukkah points: TBH, this exists outside of our framework because everyone knows this song and it is the iconic Hanukkah jam
Score: It’s Jack Black covering “Oh Hanukkah,” we have no numeric value to place on this!!! That’s why it’s going third!!!
2. Give You Everything — Buzzy Lee
Buzzy Lee is the stage name of Sasha Spielberg, Steven Spielberg’s daughter. Her contribution is a love song, singing about wanting to give her love everything — from applesauce to diamond rings.
The first night I let you / light the shamash / I wanted to tell you / I loved you so much.
She also sings let me be your gimmel / take all that I got, which is just such a good understanding of Hanukkah and the rules of dreidel! Sasha! You’re amazing! She writes on her Instagram the song isn’t about Leonardo DiCaprio, but “it could be.”
It’s the most romantic Hanukkah song I’ve ever heard and takes its rightful place at near the top of this list.
Hanukkah points: +8 for eight nights, +20 for mentioning shamash, +15 for playing on the meaning of “gimmel,” +10 for applesauce
1. Dreidels of Fire — Adam Green
The second track on Hanukkah+ begins with a brief and delightful re-telling of the Hanukkah story, with musician Adam Green talk-singing and then asking, “how the heck do you explain that shiz?!” Green, a singer-songwriter, is Jewish and called “Dreidels of Fire” his “fascinating new Hanukkah song.”
It was the greatest miracle of all time / I know there was a talking, burning bush, and God parted the Red Sea / but one night’s worth of oil burned for eight nights straight!
Then it goes into dreidels, hanging out with his love, and mentions gelt, the festival of lights, and so much more.
Hanukkah accuracy points: +20 for Judah and the Maccabees, reclaiming the second temple, +15 for lighting the menorah, +10 for it burned for eight nights, +10 for gelt, +10 dreidels, +10 for “gimmel” and “nun” mentions.
Score: 65. TBH this wins. So many references!
Header images (clockwise from top left): Loudon Wainwright III via Wikimedia, Tommy Guerrero via Wikimedia, Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan via Flickr, Haim sisters by John Shearer/Getty Images, Jack Black by Rick Kern/WireImage/Getty Images, and Sasha Spielberg by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for The Art Of Elysium.