Grohl & Kurstin’s Hanukkah Sessions Are 8 Nights of Awesomeness

“I’m Greg Kurstin, and I’m Jewish.”

“I’m Dave Grohl, and I’m not Jewish…””

That’s how acclaimed music producer Greg Kurstin & Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl announced their latest collaboration, which has us spinning like dreidls with excitement: The Hanukkah Sessions.

The foo fightin’ drummer boy went on to explain that instead of his annual Christmas song, he and Kurstin are celebrating the eight nights of Hanukkah by releasing eight recordings of them playing songs by popular Jewish artists. 

These fellas know a thing or two (or 23, if we’re talking their combined Grammy wins) about catchy music hooks, and with this teaser I was personally hooked.  

Oh, and who am I, you might ask? I’m Alyssa Daniells, and I’m not Jewish.

I’m writing this for Biff Bam Pop’s editor-in-chief Andy Burns, and he’s Jewish.

Andy and I grew up together in Thornhill, a predominantly Jewish suburb of Toronto. I like to think of myself as an honorary (ok, wannabe) Jew, with an understanding and respect for Judaism thanks to childhood friends and extended family. In fact, by the time I was 13 I’d been to synagogue more times than church with all the bar and bat mitzvahs I’d attended — including Andy’s!

Our true shared religion, however, is music. Before we parted ways by attending different high schools, I had Andrew Burns to talk to about music, unlike my girlfriends whose musical interests were based on bands who had at least five male singers with frosted hair tips and synchronized choreography.

I was filled with envy when he was allowed to see U2’s Rattle & Hum with his dad when it was first released. My mother took the PG-13 rating like gospel–religious reference used loosely, of course– and deemed me too young for it.

So folks, what I’m getting at here, is my first creative involvement with Andy basically mirrors the artistic collab between The Foo and The Jew, and that’s why I’m here to tell you about it! 

(If Andy hasn’t edited that last part out, he’ll be ready to light a shamus under my tuchus by now.)

So without further delay, here are a) my original music nerd guesses as to who I think the eight Jewish artists will be — with a bonus guess on behalf of Andy b) what they’ve released so far, plus the videos.

Each night at sundown, we’ve been treated to one of the songs. I’d love to know what your guesses are so far (be a mensch and hit us up in the comments section!)

Hanukkah Sessions: Alyssa’s Hypotheses

  1. Leonard Cohen – “Hallelujah”. If it weren’t for Leonard writing this, I wouldn’t have known that hallelujah, a word with such overt Christian overtones, actually comes from Hebrew. This selection might come first on my list but I think Greg and Dave might save this one till night 8.
  2. Drake – “Hotline Bling”. Another Canadian! I’ll admit though — I didn’t think of Aubrey straight away. Another Jewish man of colour, Sammy Davis Jr., came to mind immediately. Yes, the late crooner before Drake. I’ve totally lost my Thornhill cul-de-sac street cred.
  3. Neil Diamond – “Sweet Caroline”. If a bubbie is in your bubble, let’s hope the fellas play this one , at least for her. Love it or hate it (I’m the latter), I think some fun could be had with this schmaltzy singalong classic.
  4. Barbra Streisand – Undecided. I’ve already ‘fessed up to my oldie references, so let’s put Barbra here, not just for your bubbie again but because Babs has remained relevant all these years. I just can’t think of a song at the moment I can hear the boys playing but we need a lady on this list, so why not a strong, powerhouse diva?
  5. Beastie Boys – “Intergalactic”. Desperate attempt to win back some cool points? You got me. I’m just not quite sure how well matched the Beasties are to this music duo, but hey it IS Dave Grohl and Greg Kurstin.
  6. Simon & Garfunkel – “I Am A Rock“. Speaking of musical duos, I’d love to see the Foo & Jew rocking out to “I Am A Rock” in a drum-forward heavier version than Paul and Art’s original masterpiece.
  7. Bob Dylan – “Mr. Tambourine Man”. I’ll be surprised if the fellas don’t include ol’ Bobby Zimmerman. But if they don’t, maybe it’s because it was too obvious. This quintessential Bob song has been covered many times over the years and would be cool to hear theirs.
  8. Billy Joel – “Piano Man”. A bit of a music man theme in the last two, I realize! 2020 could totally warrant “We Didn’t Start The Fire” with a whole slew of new lyrics (I neglect my Tik Tok but I imagine people have beat me to that); but all those spitfire verses take time so perhaps this one, or possibly Uptown Girl.
  9. Geddy Lee. *BONUS! Ding-ding!* Unlike the all-Jewish Beastie Boys, RUSH is only fronted by one, but it IS the one and only Geddy Lee. This is a bonus because I picked it just for the Geddy Lee and RUSH superfan himself, Andy Burns. I’ll confess my secret bonus wish: Chris Cornell, as his mother was Jewish, but he wasn’t practicing so I won’t hold my breath, even though I might collapse hearing them play him.

Happy Hanukkah folks! Keep checking back here for your Foo Fighter Festival of Lights updates (each of the Hanukkah Sessions are released at sundown PST.)

Hanukkah Sessions – What’s Released So Far

Dave Grohl drumroll, please!

  1. Beastie Boys – “Sabotage”

Phew, maybe I’m not so horahble at this after all (unlike that joke). This version got me “Body Movin'” and although I didn’t call this exact song, I did guess these boys would play The Boys.

2. Drake – “Hotline Bling”

Winner, winner, latke dinner! It was second on my list and it was the Foo & the Jew’s second night pick, too. I’m starting to latke this challenge a lot. This was such a playful rendition and it’s enhanced by Dave’s signature whimsy, a humour the original version latkes, er lacks (ok I’ll stop.)

3. Mountain – “Mississippi Queen

Nope, I never would have guessed this one and Dave nailed it. Check out his makeshift cup-percussion, so funny. Listening to it, I thought this was their best night so far and whaddya know – at the end of the video, Dave & Greg say the same thing.

4. Peaches – “Fuck the Pain Away

OMG OMG OMG! This was not the Canadian Jewish artist I was expecting but wowee, such a great pick and so good! I chose Barbra as a female powerhouse I wanted to see on the list, but picking the badass, bisexual, brilliant Peaches was one cool move, bravo fellas.

5. Bob Dylan – “Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35”

A rendition to make the Jewish music G-d that is Bob proud! I predicted Dylan’s appearance in the Hanukkah Sessions, seeing it as borderline blasphemy for him to be omitted. Greg Kurstin steals the show here, doubling up by tickling the ivories (er, white polymers?) and twanging a mean harmonica with chutzpah!

6. Elastica – “Connection”

As this anthemic Britpop song of the 90s starts, “Oooh-ahhh!” which also sounds like my excited outburst tuning into Night Six’s release and hearing that unmistakable keyboard intro. Disappointed with my male-centric Hanukkah Sessions “guess-list”, I’m super-stoked to see Elastica featured, fronted by Jewish gal Justine Frischmann. This authentic version’s keyboards, vocals and drums are on point and I loved tonight’s video effects, showing their layered process.

7. The Knack – “Frustrated”

I’m realizing I may not have a “knack” for these Hanukkah Sessions predictions after all, which leaves me “frustrated.” Oy vey, never in a Methuselah’s age would I have chosen The Knack! Their only song I know is, “My Sharona” so tonight The Foo and The Jew taught me The Knack did have a distinct sound, which they captured in this recording of “Frustrated.”

8. Velvet Underground – “Rock And Roll”

As the final candle is lit on the menorah, these guys fired up another surprise by selecting this iconic band, fronted by the late (and yes, Jewish) Lou Reed. After discussions with a friend (a self-described “Red Sea Pedestrian” — had to share that one!) I’d have placed my bets on The Ramones (Joey Ramone was a Jew) instead. This rendition was an uplifting choice that leaves the project on a high note. Speaking of high… from dropped drumsticks to unable to find the stop button at the end, maybe the menorah candles weren’t the only things smoking. 😉 Those little incidents just added to the laid-back humour and fun of the entire project.

Well that’s it for The Hanukkah Sessions 2020. I hope they make this an annual tradition. (Heck, maybe next year we can convene in groups to watch The Hanukkah Sessions 2021!)

I might have had just as much fun with the updates as Dave Grohl and Greg Kurstin had with this musical endeavour. Challah to my Jewish homies! Thanks for following along.

Happy Hanukkah 2020, it’s a wrap!

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