Yes, it’s time for another holiday concert, this time in celebration of Thanksgiving. I offer the two classic American Thanksgiving songs, “We Gather Together” and “Over the River and Through the Woods.” Also, the two familiar Hebrew classic (to my mind) songs of thanksgiving, “Tov LeHodot” from Psalm 92 and “Hodu Lashem” from Psalm 136. Also, Debbie Friedman, Mickey Katz, jazz great Slim Gaillard, They Might Be Giants, the Four Lads, Allen Sherman and the little-known Lovin’ Cohens doing an ode to delicious, overabundant food, “Noshville Katz.” We end with Groucho Marx acting out his thoughts on Thanks.
“We Gather Together” is performed by Celtic Woman, a group of Irish women who sing (wonderfully) a broad repertoire in Irish traditional mode. The group was put together in 2004 by David Downes, who was one of the musical directors of Riverdance. Here is their story, and here is their website.
I guess the Hebrew equivalent is “Tov Lehodot Lashem” (Psalm 92: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord”), sung here by a very credibly rockin’ New Zealand band, Simcha (here’s their website). The familiar tune is Reb Shlomo Carlebach’s. (Or, if you like, try this version, sung in doo-wop by Varsity Jews, a University of Toronto a capella group.)
The other classic American Thanksgiving song, of course, is “Over the River and Through the Woods.” This is a kids’ version. I found two other versions that are real gems — This one is performed by Danny Kaye and the Andrews Sisters], while this one features Alvin and the Chipmunks — but they’re both sung as Christmas songs. Great fun to listen to but wrong for the holiday at hand.
And the other classic Jewish song of thanksgiving, “Hodu Lashem Ki Tov” (Psalm 136: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever”) performed here by Ken Burgess, a ’60s-era British rocker who is now a religious Jew living in Israel. (Here’s his story.) (Your other choice is an absolutely ethereal version, set to a more familiar (to me, at least) melody, performed in pure mountain country style by the Bezalel School of International Dance and Pageantry, which is a Christian operation in Maryville, Tennessee. The singer is one Batya Segal.)
No respectable Thanksgiving concert that calls itself Jewish would be complete without Debbie Friedman’s vegetarian hymn to the holiday, “Happy Thanksgiving, hurray, hurray, hurray.” This is why the holiday’s other name, so it’s said, is the Turkeys’ Yom HaShoah.
Turkey being the holiday’s heart and soul (and kishkes and stuffing), one who has not heard the Classic Song of Turkey has not fulfilled the holiday’s commandments. So here it is: “Istanbul (Was Constantinople),” performed by They Might Be Giants with accompanying visuals by Warner Brothers’ Tiny Toons. I’m pretty sure the accordion is played by the Forward’s own art director, Kurt Hoffman. Also highly, highly recommended: the great 1953 version by the Four Lads — it’s one of my favorite tracks of all time (plus the words are easier to follow).
Now we have arrived at the true heart of the holidays, lots and lots of food. Here’s the immortal Mickey Katz singing his ode to the delicatessen, “Sixteen Tons.”
Speaking of Jews and food, here is an incredible find from 1946, “Dunkin’ Bagel,” sung by an unjustly neglected jazz guitarist and songwriter with strong early rock-rhythm and blues leanings, Slim Gaillard, performing here with his band, the Baker’s Dozen.
Allen Sherman, he of “My Son, the Folk Singer” and “Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda,” sings an ode to food he calls “Hungarian Goulash,” I suppose because it highlights things you might like to eat if you’re hungary.
Make sure you’re sitting down for this one. It’s a killer: The Lovin’ Cohens, apparently a one-hit wonder group about whom I know nothing, doing a great send-up of the Lovin’ Spoonful, called “Noshville Katz.”
Finally, I leave you with Groucho Marx and his brothers in an excerpt from “A Day at the Races” in which Groucho gives us a (dubious) lesson in the uses of “Thank You.” Chag Sameach to all.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).