Various Artists: Black Sabbath

These songs were not hits. Instead they are novelty numbers, carefully culled from research into the archives of famous black artists.

Various Artists
Label: Reboot Stereophonic
Title: Black Sabbath, The Secret Musical History of Black-Jewish Relations
US Release Date: 2010-09-14

What, no Sammy Davis, Jr? How can one compile a collection that chronicles the musical history of black-Jewish relations during the past 100 years without including Sammy? Sure there’s Little Jimmy Scott here, whose short stature and immense talent may rival Davis’s, but his version of “Exodus” lacks the spirit and passion that makes Scott such an interesting and important artist. Can he sing it? Sure, Scott could sing the Yellow Pages and make it sound like a Wagnerian opera, but the track is far from Scott’s best.

How about the contributions of the great Jewish Brill Building songwriters like Carole King, Ellie Greenwich, Cynthia Weil, Jerry Lieber, Mike Stoller, Neil Diamond, Doc Pomus, etc. and all the hits they wrote for black Girl Groups like The Shirelles, The Crystals, The Dixie Cups and black pop Doo Wop acts like The Drifters, The Platters, and The Coasters? Their work isn’t present either? Well then what’s on here instead, The Temptations performing a “Fiddle on the Roof Medley”. Oy! Again, what a waste. The Temps in their prime could sing the alphabet and make it sound cool and heavy. Hearing them go “Diddle diddle dum” just makes one want to squirm.

Maybe the black Jewish artist Whitney Houston appears and does one of her legendary soulful renditions of emotional material. No Whitney either, instead we have the Queen of Soul covering George Gershwin’s “Swanee”, made famous by the Jewish Al Jolson in blackface. Couldn’t the anthologizers find a better show tune (“Swanee” originally was part of the score to the Broadway revue Demi-Tasse) by Irving Berlin, Oscar Hammerstein, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Jule Styne, etc. made famous by a Jewish performer like Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor, Sophie Tucker, and so on. Perhaps The Drifters version of Berlin’s “White Christmas” (that reached #2 on the R&B charts in 1954) would have been better. Sure, Aretha like Scott and The Temptations, has enough talent so that she could perform any tune and make it sound big, but one could go through life without ever hearing this cut and be none the less for the lack of experience.

The album’s producers seem to think the connections between blacks and Jews in the history of American music has been a secret. That’s an absurd premise. The cultural connections between the two minorities were well-known in the past to performers, artists, club owners, songwriters, label owners, and to everyone in the industry and the audience. The conceit here is that blacks liked Jewish music as much as Jews like black music. Then why were none of these tracks popular with black audiences? These songs were not hits. Instead they are novelty numbers, carefully culled from research into the archives of famous black artists.

I understand, to a point. I remember the thrill I felt when first hearing Billie Holiday sing “My Yiddishe Mama” on The Complete Billie Holiday on Verve box set, but it’s a minor song recorded at a house party somewhere and never meant for an official release. If you want to hear a real black-Jewish collaboration, listen to Holiday croon the anti-lynching ballad “Strange Fruit” by Jewish composer Abel Meeropol. That’s the real deal. No wonder Time magazine called it he song of the century in 1999.

The songs here seem to be chosen for their novelty value, and with musicians as talented as Cab Calloway, Lena Horne, Slim Galliard, Johnny Mathis, and Eartha Kitt, there are some good tunes. Cannonball Adderley’s jazz take on the “Sabbath Prayer is especially poignant and beautiful. And blues great Alberta Hunter’s heartfelt version of the Yiddish torch song “Ich Hob Dich Tzufil Lieba” (loosely translated as, “I Love You Much Too Much”) certainly merits attention. But there are too many songs on this album that seem to be chosen simply because they are unfamiliar. That’s a shame, because there are many great selections that would seem to be well suited to this project, from Paul Robeson bellowing “Ol Man River” to Harry Belafonte swinging “Hava Nagila”. Maybe that album will come out sometime in the future.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.