Culture

Reclaiming the Language

Back in February, I briefly mentioned Stereo Sinai, a Chicago-based band creating contemporary music based on Hebrew scripture. They bill their music as “Biblegum Pop,” and at the time, I wrote:

Stero Sinai I will admit to being a little disappointed to discover that their songs are more Lisa Loeb than Leslie Gore, but taken on their own terms the songs are really lovely.

I’ve been mulling over this for a while, and I want to reclaim the term Biblegum Pop in the name of actual Bubblegum Pop artists who wrote songs on Biblical themes. Here’s to you, Neil Sedaka!

Unfortunately, my knowledge of bubblegum pop isn’t quite as deep as my knowledge of showtunes, and well, I can’t find a youtube clip of Cole Porter’s song about Solomon (trust me, it’s a doozy!), but I digress. Maybe all you people out there in internet-land can help me out. Surely Neil Sedaka isn’t the only bubble-gum pop artist to have written or recorded a song based on a Bible story. Help me build a playlist!

12 thoughts on “Reclaiming the Language

  1. Alan and Miriam are talented, ehrliche yiddelach.
    They’re not claiming or trying to be the next Matisyahu.
    They came up with an apt term to describe their pop sound.
    Don’t take it away from them for some cheezy playlist.

  2. Grateful Dead – Samson and Delilah (10-30-1980) take a listen:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XhRJK6W7Oic
    from Wikipedia
    “Samson and Delilah” is a traditional song based on the Biblical tale of Samson and his betrayal by Delilah. Its best known performer is perhaps the Grateful Dead, who first performed the song live in 1976, with guitarist Bob Weir singing lead vocals. It later appeared on their 1977 studio album Terrapin Station.
    Although Weir learned the song from Reverend Gary Davis, several earlier versions were recorded under various titles, including “If I Had My Way, I Would Tear This Building Down” by Blind Willie Johnson in 1927.[1] Rev. Gary Davis’s recording can be heard on the compilation album The Music Never Stopped: Roots of the Grateful Dead. The song has since been performed by a wide variety of artists ranging from Charlie Parr, Ike and Tina Turner to Peter, Paul and Mary, The Washington Squares, and Garbage frontwoman Shirley Manson, whose version appeared in the second season premiere episode (also titled “Samson and Delilah”) of the Fox television show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.

  3. As it turns out, we’ve gotten lots of interesting feedback about the term ‘biblegum pop.’ Everything from the usual eye-rolling at the kitschy play on words to appreciation for the unique description of our music. We’re proud to have coined that term, and we’re flattered that you’d like to use it describe a wider variety of musical styles. But ‘reclaim’ is the wrong term.
    Google ‘biblegum pop’ and the only listings you’ll get will be Stereo Sinai- because we made it up. It’s also anachronistic to ‘reclaim’ ‘biblegum pop’ for for a primarily 60’s artist when the term didn’t exist until just over a year ago.
    Please don’t try to ‘reclaim’ a term that we coined for something it’s not. The term ‘biblegum pop’ was created to describe a band whose music is EXCLUSIVELY, as you stated, “contemporary music based on Hebrew scripture.”
    So while we appreciate your definition of b-u-bblegum pop, which may in fact be a truer definition than ours (yours: Leslie Gore and Neil Sedaka, ours: Kelly Clarkson and Gnarls Barkley), we make biblegum pop. And Stereo Sinai is unique in the music industry because the only kind of music we make is biblegum pop. Neil Sedaka may be more bubblegum pop than Stereo Sinai, but no one is more biblegum pop.
    As for your challenge, here are some tunes that are bubblegum pop with biblical themes:
    “Samson” – Regina Spektor
    “Turn, Turn, Turn” – The Byrds
    “Forest” – System of a Down (thanks for that one, Y-Love!)
    “Halleluya” – Leonard Cohen
    Hope this helps get you started…

  4. ML- an author that some claim to be Solomon wrote Turn Turn Turn- with the exception of the words turn turn turn, the whole song is biblical text. Pete Seeger wrote the melody and recorded, though of course The Byrds made it famous. Either way, no mored “based” on the Bible than any prayer we sing from Psalms.
    And dlevy, you say your knowledge of bubblegum pop isn’t as deep as your knowledge of showtunes. Hawking’s knowledge of physics isn’t as deep as your knowledge of showtunes!

  5. Arie, fair enough. And I wrote the post from my office. Had I been at home with my music collection handy, I could probably come up with some others.
    And to Stereo Sinai, I hope it’s clear from everything above that I’m a fan. However, I think calling your music Biblegum does it a disservice. Bubblegum pop is not a generic term for pop music, and certainly doesn’t cover the likes of Leonard Cohen, The Grateful Dead, or the Byrds (or Pete Seeger). Bubblebum pop was a term coined to characterize songs like “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows” – songs that are sugary sweet and disposable, just like bubblegum. Don’t get me wrong, I love that kind of music, and the fact that I’m still listening to “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows” forty years later challenges the whole “disposable” bit. But I think the music you guys are doing has quite a bit more depth to it than the best of the bubblegum.
    I’ll have to listen to the Spektor and SoaD tracks when I can. But I’m suspicious that they might be serious artists. Christina Aguilera’s “Blessed,” on the other hand, might just fit the bill.

  6. My mind is kind of blown that anyone would even think of putting The Byrds, the Dead or especiallY LEONARD COHEN in the category “bubblegum pop.” I think that, along with Stereo Sinai’s use of “biblegum pop” to describe their music and their somehow connecting Gnarls Barkley and Kelly Clarkson to the bubblegum pop genre, shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what “bubblegum pop” is.

  7. What I mean was that the popular tune’s melody and arrangement were penned by Pete Seeger. Yes, of course Soloman wrote it, as the copyright was recently found in the dead sea scrolls.

  8. David, where I come from, “Zmiros” refers to a particular subset of Jewish music of which “Run, Samson, Run” most decidedly is not a part.
    Meanwhile, in my musical explorations this week, I picked up a reissue of some old Louis Bellson tracks. (Bellson was a dummer & bandleader who was also the husband of Pearl Bailey.) One of the songs was called “Land of Promise,” which featured the melody of Hatikvah coupled with English lyrics I had never heard before. They capture the general idea of Hatkivah (blah blah blah we’ve come to the promised land) without any of the particular references to the heart of the Jew, etc. It’s fascinating. I wonder if anyone here knows anything more about this song?

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