Why are there no great pop or rock songs about Hanukkah?
It’s a question many a music-loving Jewish person has asked, especially after listening to Bruce Springsteen’s “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” day after day on the radio, year after year.
But Adam Gardner of the rock band Guster and fellow musician Dave Schneider of The Zambonis decided not to merely lament the lack of rockin’ tunes to celebrate Hanukkah. They decided to do something about it.
They formed a band called The LeeVees and wrote an album full of tunes with titles like “Apple Sauce vs. Sour Cream,” “Gelt Melts” and “How Do You Spell Channukkahh?”
On Sunday afternoon, they’ll perform their creations, including songs from the album “Hanukkah Rocks,” at Port City Music Hall in Portland. The show is presented by Portland Ovations.
Hanukkah begins Dec. 24 this year, so the concert will give everyone a good head start. Because the members are in other bands, the LeeVees don’t perform often, just a few shows each year. One of the shows is at Port City Music Hall this year at least partly because Gardner lives in the Portland area.
The band is named for Gardner’s rabbi when he was growing up. His last name was Levi, but Gardner thought people would think The Levis were named after the jeans company.
The idea to write Hanukkah songs began with Gardner and Schneider sitting on a tour bus about 12 years ago, when their bands were on tour together. During small talk, they discovered they were both Jewish. The talk then turned to music and Hanukkah songs, or the lack thereof.
“It was July, in Peoria (Illinois), and we just started writing the songs,” said Gardner, 43. “We wrote the whole thing in eight days. It was a Hanukkah miracle.”
Gardner says Hanukkah isn’t an overly religious holiday, so the songs he and Schneider wrote are about food, family and fun.
“Apple Sauce vs. Sour Cream” for instance, is about having to choose one or the other for your latkes, delicious fried potato cakes. The chorus tells us, “Life has many decisions/It moves in all directions/This is just one huge, enormous decision.” The tune features clapping, fuzzy guitar licks and an up-tempo rock beat.
Most of the songs are up-tempo, with guitars and high harmonies. If you didn’t listen too closely, you’d think the songs were from Guster, or some other indie rock band.
One song from the LeeVees, “Gelt Melts,” is a punchy, fast-paced homage to the Ramones. The lyrics are about chocolate coins, and how you shouldn’t put them in your pocket.
“How Do You Spell Channukkah?” is about the dilemma we all face when the holiday seems to be spelled differently in different places. At one point, the singers lament that kids at a spelling bee can spell oligarchy, epistemology and insouciant but they can’t spell “Channukkahh.”
Here’s “How Do You Spell Channukkah?”
Other songs in the LeeVees’ repertoire include: “Kugel” (“You were once sweet and creamy, now you’re low-fat”), “Jewish Girls (at the Matzoh Ball)” and “Goyim Friends.”
Guster is an alt-rock band that broke nationally in the late 1990s, getting radio airplay with the songs “Fa Fa,” “Careful,” and “Amsterdam.” The band is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary, with several “Guster 25” shows scheduled.
Gardner isn’t about to give up his role in Guster to do The LeeVees full time. But then, he doesn’t have to. Hanukkah comes but once a year, no matter how you spell it.