My family and I are driving to the Baseball Hall of Fame next week, then on to Niagara Falls and Toronto. This means roughly nine-plus hours in the car with an 8- and 2-year-old—and iPads, books and the scenery in upstate New York can only carry us so far. We need music!
So I’m coming up with themed playlists for the car ride. In a prior life, I was the “curator” for the Jewish Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—yes, there once was such a thing!—where we compiled essays, artifacts, trivia and memorabilia from everyone from Bob Dylan to Lou Reed to Lenny Kravitz and Adam Levine. (I even interviewed him, and his mom, Patsy, sent me a shoebox of photos from high school. Blush.)
As such, I’ve created a Jewish rock star playlist for the ride. This is partially for my own enjoyment and research, but also because my older son’s favorite song is currently “Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake, and my younger one begs Alexa to play “The Elmo Slide.” It’s time to expand their horizons on this trip. The thing is, some of my favorites (Bob Dylan, Carole King, Lou Reed) are a bit slow and mellow for this crew. We need bouncy and loud. And so:
- “My Old School” by Steely Dan. Donald Fagen is Jewish, and he writes about this in his snarly 2013 autobiography, “Eminent Hipsters.” In fact, his mother was once a singer in the Catskills. This song is a brassy, up-tempo remembrance of a 1960s drug raid at Dan’s alma mater Bard College, which just so happens to be in upstate New York. My kids won’t understand the lyrics; the chorus is catchy enough on its own.
- “I Love L.A.” by Randy Newman. “Crank up the Beach Boys, baby. Don’t let the music stop! We’re gonna ride it till we just can’t ride it no more.” Ah, yes, Los Angeles is easier to rhapsodize about than, say, Utica, New York. Fun fact: The Kardashian clan restaged this video as a birthday gift for a 30-year-old Kris Jenner in the 1980s. That version features cameos from O.J. Simpson and Michael Jackson, as well as shout-outs to The Cheesecake Factory. Must be seen to be believed.
- “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel. Infectious, and a history lesson, too. Followed, of course, by “New York State of Mind.”
- “Intergalactic” by the Beastie Boys. Their catchiest song, and their most G-rated.
- “Graceland” by Paul Simon. Because, of course, my traveling companion is almost 9 years old. Fun fact: In Simon & Garfunkel’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech, Simon—who has long loathed childhood pal and collaborator Art Garfunkel—grudgingly admitted that his voice was so good, “It was SRO at his bar mitzvah.”
- “Walk Like an Egyptian” by The Bangles. 1980s songstress Susanna Hoffs reportedly had her bat mitzvah at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. My son, Andy, already does this dance without knowing it. Best to give him a soundtrack.
- “Jump” by Van Halen. David Lee Roth is proudly Jewish. His uncle, Manny Roth, owned famed Manhattan music and comedy club Café Wha in the early 1960s—a place that helped give Jewish performers like Bob Dylan and Lou Reed their start.
- “Walk the Dinosaur” by Was Not Was. I recently introduced Andy to this 1980s hit, with that inimitable refrain: “Boom boom acka-lacka lacka boom! Boom boom acka-lacka boom boom.” The poets behind this lyric, Don Fagenson and David Weiss, are Jewish.
- “Rappin’ Rodney” by Rodney Dangerfield. Born Jack Roy in New York City, the long-suffering Dangerfield considered himself an atheist despite his Jewish roots. This 1980s quasi-rap lists his litany of woes dating from childhood. “I was an ugly kid, always alone. On Halloween, I had to trick-or-treat over the phone,” he laments. The video is worth watching for the choreography alone.
- “Hello, Muddah; Hello, Fadduh (Camp Granada Song)” by Allan Sherman. The Jewish Sherman rhapsodizes about his unfortunate adjustment to summer camp. Midge Maisel he is not: “I went hiking with Joe Spivey/He developed poison ivy. You remember Leonard Skinner/He got Ptomaine poisoning last night after dinner.”
Hopefully our trip goes better than that.