By now you’ve all heard that after years of holding out, Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono have struck deals with major music streaming services including Spotify and Apple Music, and have allowed the complete Beatles catalog to be available to those who stream music online.
Both Spotify and Apple allow users to create playlists of their favorite tunes – what we used to call “mixtapes.” What follows is my playlist of the top 10 Jewish Beatles songs:
“Hello, Goodbye”: This is basically a transcription of Jewish family dysfunction: “I say ‘high,’ you say ‘low’ … you say ‘goodbye,’ I say ‘hello.’” This Paul McCartney composition has often drawn comparisons to the George and Ira Gershwin song, “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.”
“She’s Leaving Home”: One of the best tracks on the landmark “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album, this song is basically a parental guilt trip over a daughter who finally chooses independence over living at home – “Why would she treat us so thoughtlessly; how could she do this to me?,” the mother asks. It’s also one of the few Beatles tracks that doesn’t feature any instrumental contributions by the Beatles themselves. Instead, the song is powered by a string ensemble featuring violinist Erich Gruenberg, who studied at the Jerusalem Conservatory and who led the Palestine Broadcasting Corporation Orchestra fro 1938 to 1945, as well as harpist Sheila Bromberg. In an interview years later, Bromberg said of McCartney, “He didn’t know what he wanted, which was very annoying.”
“Baby’s in Black”: Often mistakenly thought of as a lament for a girl who has chosen another man, in fact the woman in question - “She thinks of him, and so she dresses in black” – is clearly thinking of Him, and has joined up with a Hasidic sect.
“Inner Light”: One of the rarest of Beatles recordings, this number is really a George Harrison solo track that got tacked on as the B-side of the single version of “Lady Madonna.” While musically and lyrically the song is ostensibly influenced by Indian thought and music, it’s often been noted that principles of Buddhist meditation bear a close kinship to mystical Judaism (see Rodger Kamenetz’s brilliant study, “The Jew in the Lotus”), and Yiddish and Indian music are both modal-based forms, thereby sharing a natural affinity.
“Taxman”: My father was a CPA. My father was Jewish. Hence, this is a Jewish song.
“Something”: Mistakenly thought to be written for his wife, Pattie Boyd, even composer George Harrison stated clearly that by this time in his career, his love songs were directed to a higher form of love. In a 1976 interview with Rolling Stone, the intensely spiritual Harrison confirmed what I always heard in this song when he said, “All love is part of a universal love. When you love a woman, it’s the God in her that you see.” In other words, this a love song to the Shekhina.
“Hey Jude”: Having spent the better part of two years in Hamburg, Germany, playing small nightclubs early in their career, the Beatles picked up more than a little of the local lingo. “Jude,” of course, is Jew in German. “And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain/ Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders” is advice worthy of any rabbi.
“Good Day Sunshine”: An obvious loose translation of the very first blessing a Jew offers upon rising: “Blessed are You our God Who gave the heart understanding to distinguish between day and night.”
“Across the Universe”: While John Lennon’s composition was heavily influenced by his interest in Transcendental Meditation – it invokes “Jai Guru Deva. Om” – it also hinges on the Kabbalistic belief in the Creation story that resulted in shattered vessels of divinity when he sings about, “Images of broken light, which dance before me like a million eyes/ They call me on and on across the universe.”
“The Word”: This Lennon/McCartney composition is the last word on the Beatles preoccupation with “love” as “God.” Cheekily quoting the first line of the Bible, they sing, “In the beginning I misunderstood/ But now I’ve got it, the word is good.”
Seth Rogovoy frequently mines popular culture for the Forward looking for Jewish affinities in the unlikeliest of places.