It’s Beginning to Sound a Lot Like the Holidays

An Offbeat Look at the Music of the Season

By

NEW YORK—The Holiday season seems to start earlier and earlier every year. We could barely get out of our Halloween costumes when stores were displaying gift items, neighbors started decorating their houses and Holiday music began to fill the airwaves. VMail Weekend, not known for always taking a traditional path, thought it would be fun to present an offbeat take on some obscure Holiday tunes. Learn the back story of Eastern States’ Jason Shyer and the Gods of Fire as they tackle Holiday songs with a heavy metal beat, watch The Maccabeats celebrate Hanukkah, and what would the season be like without some singing cats and dogs? To get into the spirit of the season, we invite you to take a listen.

Jason Shyer, managing director at Eastern States Eyewear, is part of a heavy metal band called Gods of Fire. Typical for heavy metal bands, their songs cover the traditional spectrum of horror, sci-fi or mythology. In anticipation of the holiday season, the band has recorded traditional Hanukkah songs in heavy metal style, titled “Hanukkah Gone Metal.” And just in time for Christmas, the band is wrapping up their rendition of a song called "Here Comes Krampus."

Here is Shyer’s take on how the band went from classic heavy metal to a holiday music mix.

“My band, Gods Of Fire, started gigging back in 2002 and our main influence was classic anthemic stuff like Iron Maiden and Judah Priest. We'd always been very into the performance aspect of playing shows and we all had ridiculous stage names and costumes to go along with it (mine was the Spinal Tap inspired "Saucy Jack" and I'd wear a three quarter blazer down to my knees, pleather pants, a top hat and generous amounts of guy-liner) and had all kinds of creepy yet corny decoration on stage, (skeletons, severed heads, etc). Our songs were traditionally about horror, sci-fi or mythology, very typical for a heavy metal.

Because we were so theatrical we got on the bill for a lot of quirky events—heavy metal fashion show, air guitar competitions, we even were the pit band for a play about Air Guitar. We met Eric Pavony through these comings and goings and he came up with an idea for an event called "Major League Dreidel"—a competitive elimination style tournament to see who could spin a dreidel for the longest.

Pavony invented a board game for it called "The Spinagogue" and he was eager to promote it. He asked us to play a gig to open the event on the condition that we'd play a bit of traditional Jewish songs in our heavy metal style. We ended up writing a song called "Spin for the Blood of Your Elders" for the event and we also played Hava Nagila (the one everyone hears at Bar/Bat Mitzvahs), the Hatikvah and a speed metal of Dayenu.

The first Major League Dreidel was a success so Pavony developed the Spinagogue as a proper board game and as a result wanted to grow the event. So, he asked if we would write a record about Hanukkah for it and perform at the event. We pretty much say yes to everything so we agreed and wrote our record “Hanukkah Gone Metal.” The record is a bunch of original songs about Hanukkah ranging from tongue and cheek "No Gelt, No Glory" to an epic about the Maccabean Wars called "Taking the Temple" as well as covers of "Oh Hanukkah" and "Shalom Alechem."

Fun fact: only half the band is Jewish. Making this experience even more rewarding is that my brother Evan, who is also with Eastern States Eyewear, is the singer on it. His wife is ironically the current Major League Dreidel Champion. Sadly, the last event was a few years ago.

Finally, in a twist of irony, we're wrapping up our Christmas song just in time for the Holidays. It's called ‘Here Comes Krampus.’”


The Maccabeats
The Maccabeats, an all male, Jewish a cappella student group at Yeshiva University, released their first album in March 2010, and in November of that year they debuted “Candlelight,” a Chanukah-themed video which garnered international attention. One of the band’s specialties is taking modern hits and “converting” them by giving them Jewish lyrics.

The song is a transformation of Mike Tompkins's a cappella cover of the Taio Cruz song "Dynamite." It became very popular on YouTube, with more than four million people having watched the clip.

“One thing I think is just amazing is the sort of sounds that can be reproduced by the human voice,” said band member Noey Jacobson who spoke of the band’s unique a capella sound. “You hear a synthesizer on our song ‘Candlelight,’ but really it’s just one of our guys making that sound. People don’t believe it.”

The song reached #1 on Billboard magazine's Comedy Digital Tracks chart in December 2010.


The Jingle Cats
VM’s web content editor Joe Bowen reminisces about his love of cats and Christmas.
“Years ago, my wife and I were in Tower Records (remember those?) looking at Christmas music and we came across a CD called ‘The Jingle Cats.’ We’ve had cats for a long time now, so we thought ‘how bad could it be?’ For your answer to that, check out the video above. Very cute, but a little of that goes a long way. From the Amazon.com listing—when George Frederick Handel wrote the immortal line ‘let heaven and nature sing,’ he probably didn't mean it literally. But ‘Meowy Christmas’ takes him at his word.”



Animals Sing "Jingle Bells"
For all those animal lovers out there, here’s a video of cats, dogs, ferrets, fish and even turtles, “singing” their rendition of “Jingle Bells.” A great way to ring in the Holiday season.



One Last Animal Video
A personal favorite of mine, from the 1958 hits archive: The Chipmunk Song with the music of David Seville. Is this what chipmunks really sound like (who knew they could sing?). Anyway, we were all so young at the time this came out we were up for believing anything, especially at Christmas.

For some more traditional music, Check out these selections.

 

Darlene Love
Darlene Love sang "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) for the first time on The Late Show With David Letterman in 1986. Love was an annual guest on the show around the Holidays, performing the same song every year. In 2014, some 28 years later, she stopped by the Ed Sullivan Theater to sing the Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home) classic for David Letterman one last time.


The Ray Conniff Singers
Growing up in the suburbs of New Jersey in the 1960s, it wasn’t officially the Christmas season for me until my Dad played this LP, over and over and over again. A true classic. Every time I hear this group, it takes me back to a simpler time.