Playlist of the Month: Christmas Songs by Jewish Artists

Hanukkah 2015 is already in the books. That means that from this point onward, people of all religions can focus on that other December holiday: Christmas. Sure, if we’re getting technical about it Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus – but it’s also turned into a cultural celebration where we put our differences aside and eat cutout cookies, decorate trees, and jam out to the likes of Barbra Streisand and Amy Winehouse. Who better to sing Happy Birthday to one of the most famous Jewish babies in the world?

Traci’s Picks

The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)
Mel Torme and Judy Garland

This tune is one of the iconic Christmas songs we all know and love, but did you known it was written by two Jews? Mel Torme and Bob Wells wrote it in 1945 in the middle of summer in an effort to cool down. Truth. Bob was randomly writing down wintery things on a notepad like, “Yuletide carols” and “Jackfrost” and “folks dressed up like Eskimos” because he was so damn hot, but when Mel (who was 19 at the time) took a look at it he saw them as song lyrics. The rest is history. This version features Mel on Judy Garland’s self-titled TV show, and also includes a sly Over the Rainbow ref. This is the kind of song that just warms your heart.

Happy Xmas (War is Over)
Adam Levine & Sara Bareilles

Many people have covered John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s iconic Christmas protest song, but there’s something special about the pairing of Adam and Sara. Adam has the right range for it, while Sara can literally sing anything and I’d be on board.

This Christmas
Carole King

This Christmas is one of my favorite modern day holiday jamz. Maybe it’s because I grew up listening to Platinum Christmas and heard R&B singer Joe’s version on repeat, but I associate this with pop and R&B acts, not folky types like Carole King. But that’s what makes me love this version that much more. She gives it a lived in, Tapestry quality to it that makes you want to curl up by the fire and drink hot cocoa.

From a Distance (Christmas version)
Bette Midler

Listen up. Sometimes I enjoy turning up to the easy listening radio station. I can enjoy a good Kenny G tune or Celine Dion power ballad every once in a while. I can also appreciate Bette Midler and her classic tune From a Distance. BUT, in doing research for this post, I found out she made an alternative Christmas version that is maybe even better than the OG? Maybe. But the Queen of the Jews singing “Joy to the World” at the end is the best. The best.

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
Amy Winehouse

No bit zone – I really think Amy would’ve made an amazing Christmas/holiday album. Her voice is already astounding, but her spin on classic songs would’ve been such a hit.

Molly’s Picks

Baby It’s Cold Outside
Idina Menzel and Michael Buble

Yes, this song is creepy, but this version subs out some of the skeevier lyrics, making it my favorite rendition.

It was only a matter of time before Idina Menzel released a Christmas album. This particular song is really just a winter song, but there are plenty of Christmas-specific tracks on the album.

White Christmas
Barbra Streisand

How about a two-fer: when he wrote White Christmas, Irving Berlin, nee Israel Baline, made the most important Jewish contribution to the Christmas holiday since the Virgin Mary. Then Barbra Streisand covered it, and while nobody, not even Babs, is Bing Crosby, this is still pretty darn wonderful.

Must Be Santa
Bob Dylan

If you ever doubt the extent to which Bob Dylan DGAF, just watch this video.

Christmas Must Be Tonight
The Band

Two things you may not have known: The Band performs a good Christmas song, and Robbie Robertson is Jewish.

Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want To Fight Tonight)
The Ramones

This is my second-favorite song about sparring on Christmas (after the fantastic Fairytale of New York) – and it proves that you don’t have to grow up celebrating Christmas to know that it’s a holiday that sparks a lot of arguments.

Whatareyoudoinghere: Unexpected Guest Stars of Gilmore Girls

You’re probably either two days into your Gilmore Girls binge, or waiting to launch it til over the weekend. A few symptoms that you need to take a break from Stars Hollow: are you snacking constantly? Running on excessive amounts of coffee? Talking really, really fast? And finally: do you think you see celebrities everywhere you turn? Because it seems like every few episodes in Gilmore Girls, you’re catching either a cameo from an established celeb or a before-they-were-famous guest spot. Here are just a few:

Madeleine Albright (Season 6, Episode 7)

 Look. If you’re trying to get someone on board with Gilmore Girls, just try the following phrase: “dream sequence with Madeleine Albright.” I’ve seen the episode, but still don’t quite understand why or how this happened.

Christiane Amanpour (Season 7, Episode 22)

Amanpour was Rory’s hero throughout college, so it was only fitting that the journalist herself had a guest spot on the finale. After all, Rory’s dream was to be Amanpour, whereas my college dream was simply to someday be a person with a job. And I did it – so hold fast to your dreams, kiddos.

Paul Anka (Season 6, Episode 18)

To be fair, there were a few Paul Ankas on Gilmore Girls (again, reasons you should be watching this show if you haven’t seen it already. Or even if you have). While Paul Anka The Dog had more frequent appearances, Paul Anka The Human showed up in – you guessed it! – a dream sequence. Why didn’t we think it was weird that season 6 was chock full of plus-aged celebs starring in the Lorelai’s dreams?

Adam Brody (Season 3, Episodes 3 onwards)

I could be wrong, but it seems like the same actors are on all of our Whatareyoudoinghere features – like all of these folks were making the network/cable rounds in the early 2000s, just waiting for their lives to start. Adam Brody, Jane Lynch, Jon Hamm… you get the gist. Before he stole our hearts as Seth Cohen, Brody stole Lane Kim’s heart as Dave Rygalski. He was in her band until he had to go off to college…. in California.

Sherilyn Fenn (Season 3 Episode 21, and Seasons 6 and 7)

 Here’s where Gilmore Girls goes all Law And Order. Fenn appeared in three seasons of Gilmore Girls, playing two different characters. In Season 3, she guested as Sasha, Jimmy Mariano’s girlfriend. And a few seasons later, she was Anna Nardini, Luke’s baby mama. Last year I was trying to get into Twin Peaks and I realized I knew Audrey Horne from somewhere. But where? Well, it’s not surprising that it was hard to pin down, since she was two different characters and all.

Max Greenfield (Season 4, Episode 4)

Pre-Schmidt, this New Girl star was filling up the Douchebag Jar as Lucas, a drunk friend at Dean’s bachelor party.

Jon Hamm (Season 3, Episode 5)

Appearing as a pre-Don Draper Don Draper-type, Hamm played Peyton Sanders, a flash-in-the-pan love interest of Lorelai. This was over a decade ago, so it shouldn’t be shocking that Hamm was so baby-faced here, right?

Victoria Justice (Season 4, Episode 3)

If you need further proof that the teen sensations of today are really, depressingly young, look no further than Victoria Justice’s guest spot on Gilmore Girls. We’re still trying to cope with the fact that this show started literally half our lives ago, but we can’t deny it when we look at tiny baby Victoria acting opposite Melissa McCarthy. This girl is DRINKING AGE now, everybody. Sunrise, sunset.

Carole King (Season 2, Episode 20; Season 5, Episode 18; Season 6, Episode 10)

Granted, King is technically in every episode of Gilmore Girls. But it went beyond the theme song – she had an acting role as Sophie, owner of Stars Hollow’s (only?) music store.

Traci Lords (Season 4, Episode 5)

If you were watching Lords as interior designer Natalie Zimmerman, and thinking “wait, I know her from somewhere”: Porn. You know her from porn. So I hope you didn’t cop to that one out loud.

Jane Lynch (Season 1, Episode 10)

Is there one of these lists that Jane Lynch hasn’t made? Lynch made a brief appearance as a nurse when Richard landed in the hospital with Heart Attack Numero Uno.

Seth MacFarlane (Season 2, Episode 21)

You’d be forgiven for not recognizing MacFarlane’s face, since he’s usually a disembodied voice on bro-ish Fox cartoons. However, he also appeared as Lorelai’s classmate on her graduation day. Fun fact: Family Guy’s Alex Borstein also appeared in this episode (shame Rory missed it). For keen listeners, Seth also provides the voice of Bob Merriam (the lawyer who calls Lorelai on her answering machine) in season 3, episode 11, I Solemnly Swear.

Norman Mailer (Season 5, Episode 6)

This may have been a brief guest role, but Gilmore Girls viewers are unlikely to forget Mailer’s cameo as himself… because they must have said “Norman Mailer” 500 times in that episode. When you think about it, running an inn/restaurant is the smartest way to shoehorn in cameo appearances that otherwise wouldn’t make sense. Well, that and dream sequences, but that was more of a season 6 thing.

Chad Michael Murray (Season 1)

Like many hearthrobs of the 90s and early 2000s, Murray is an actor so nice, they named him thrice. I really do always forget that Gilmore Girls began as long ago as it did, but Murray’s turn as assy Chiltonhead Tristan DuGray (hello, made-up-sounding typical rich boy name!) predated his turn on One Tree Hill by a few years, and was even a year before he appeared on Dawson’s Creek.

Nick Offerman (Season 4, Episode 7 and Season 6, Episode 4)

Although Offerman is capable of playing more than just shades of Ron Swanson, how perfect is it that his Gilmore role was Beau Belleville, big brother to resident farmer Jackson?

Danny Pudi (Season 6, Episode 13 & 14; Season 7, Episode 6 & 7)

From Yale to community college? Well, yes. Pudi was Raj, Rory’s associate on the paper.

Krysten Ritter (Season 7, Episodes 4 Onwards)

After Veronica Mars, before Don’t Trust The B–, Ritter played Lucy, Rory’s acting major pal at Yale. It’s nice the performing arts community accepted Rory after the whole, you know, ballet debacle.

Danny Strong

Danny Strong is finally getting his due, but for years he was “that little guy on that show.” Like actress/vampire Bianca Lawson, Strong started off playing a teen on Saved By The Bell: The New Class, and then played a teen on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and eventually landed on The CW/WB. By the time he was on Gilmore Girls playing Paris’s boyfriend Doyle, Strong had finally aged up to “college student” on TV – but in real life, he was 33 years old. Would it be weird to write him asking for his diet/sleep/exercise routine so that people stop calling me “ma’am” at 28?

*2016 Update: NBD, but he co-created a little show called Empire. Or as Amy Sherman-Palladino said about him at the ATX Television Festival, “I love that Danny, between The Butler and (Empire) has become the voice of Black America. It’s the weirdest… finally they found somebody to speak for them!”

Rami Malek (Season 4, Episode 11)

*2016 Update: Rami, as Andy, was a huge advocate of Assistant Pastor Eric when he was one of Lane’s Seventh Day Adventist classmates, but now he’s busy being a hacker and winning Emmys thanks to Mr. Robot.

Nasim Pedrad (Season 6, Episode 16)

*2016 Update: I had no idea Nasim was on GG until like, a year, ago. Her scene was super short and because I’ve watched all these episodes so many times, I tend to not pay attention as much to details. Anyways, she quickly waited on a v drunk Rory after a dramatic fight with Logan. At the time, Nasim only had two other credits to her name. Now she has five seasons of SNL under her belt, which is not too shabby at all.

Abigail Spencer Pedrad (Season 6, Episode 16)

*2016 Update: In that very same episode, Abigail Spencer, that woman you’ve seen in multiple things but can never remember what (Formerly Rectify, currently Timeless), played Megan, one of the bridesmaids that stir shit up during Logan’s sister’s wedding.

Masi Oka (Season 2, Episode 4)

*2016 Update: Did Masi Oka use his Heroes time-travel skills to appear in this ep with Alexis? He played a Harvard student who got in a nerdy debate with Rory after she snuck into a class. Lo and behold, he ended up sharing the screen with another GG alum, Milo Ventimiglia, in Heroes a few years later.

Highs And Lows: The 2014 Tony Awards

As we discovered last year, even hardcore theater lovers have to admit that not every Tony Awards moment can be the best. The 2014 awards were no exception. There were some great moments, some so-so ones, and that weird period where Hugh Jackman hopped around tracked by a steadicam. Whether you watched as a theater nerd or as a confused CBS viewer who just wanted The Good Wife, I think you’ll agree that the awards were a mixed bag. On to the highs and lows!

Low, like literally vacillating between 0 and 5 inches off the ground: Hugh Jackman, hopping for the entire opening sequence

At first I thought this was a reference to something … theatre-y, or Australian, or pop cultural that I didn’t know about. But according to Twitter, if there was a reference, nobody got it. Is hopping something that’s happening? The new parkour?

Middle, like a food that is neither sweet nor sour nor delicious nor necessarily awful (eg, Musical Soylent): The Les Mis number

Man, we do like Les Mis (I mean, we liveblogged the movie), but this was just dull. I spent the whole of the number contemplating whether to eat this mini Twix bar I found outside earlier today. I didn’t, because while my standards are low enough to bring garbage candy inside from the ground, they are higher than eating candy that, I reasoned, could have been peed on. Like, that life decision was more interesting to me than watching Les Mis.

Lower, like I guess my expectations should have been: Aladdin: The Musical

I love Disney, musicals, and – I’ll admit it – musicals based on Disney films. So why did that Aladdin number do absolutely nothing for me? One of my earliest theater memories is going to Cats with my family and my dad, during intermission, asking with incredulity: “I don’t get it, is this supposed to mean something?” Exactly, dad. Exactly.

[Evidently my dad thought that Cats was so stupid that he assumed that it must have been existing at a deeper level for so many people to like it. Like, We are all Cats. Or something.]

Higher than most people can sustain for a comfortable amount of time, like that high note at the end: Idina Menzel singing Always Starting Over

This lady is always a pro. Also, it feels like a true honor and privilege to hear her singing something –  anything – other than Let It Go.

Seems like it should be super high but actually isn’t, like when you get up close to Cinderella’s Castle at Disney: Rocky: The Musical

Movies can make great musicals, and over-the-top technological feats can spice up a show – part of me is still the 9-year-old who was blown away by the crashing chandelier in Phantom Of The Opera and the helicopter in Miss Saigon. Yet, the high-tech snippet of Rocky left me a little cold.

Way, way up high, like when I was watching this and my heart felt like it was being elevated by the fluttering wings of butterflies: Pinkham Bryce’s performance in A Gentleman’s Guide To Love And Murder

I think I get frustrated with some shows that seem like they’re catering to the least common denominator. That’s why it’s so refreshing when a show is actually clever. And Pinkham Bryce, well … he’s sort of easy on the eyes, isn’t he?

Soaring high, like an eagle: Audra McDonald’s historic Tony win

Who needs to EGOT when you can just collect ALLLL the Tonys instead? Audra McDonald is a true living legend and a class act, and it doesn’t even get old seeing her win. Although, I’m sure there’s a reason this wasn’t classified as a ‘musical’ but I’m not positive of what it is.

Soaring high, like a bird that flies in a more fun way than an eagle does, maybe a pelican or something: The Hedwig And The Angry Inch performance

Okay, while I love smart musicals, there’s something awesome about shows that are just a lot of FUN. The actors and crowd alike were having an absolute blast during this number, and ultimately that’s what theater is all about. I mean it’s also about expressing the human experience, but sometimes the human experience is fun, okay? Also, bonus cameo by NPH’s adorable husband David Burtka.

Just sort of flitting along, like a bird that doesn’t really go up quite that high – perhaps a baby sparrow or a hummingbird: The Commercials

CBS really out-CBS-ed itself. Is it just me or was ad for Old People Medicines, insurance, and cat food?

High, like a person on meth, I guess?: Bryan Cranston’s win

We ragged on Cranston’s sub-par headshot on the Tony website = not exactly “Faces Of Meth” level, but just not trying. But clearly, he didn’t need to try too hard. The Tony was already in the bag.

 Higher than I would have thought, like my cholesterol even though I’m a vegetarian who works out, I mean what the hell: Violet

If the wedding episode of Full House taught us one thing, it’s that incorporating a robed gospel choir can only make things more spectacular. And Sutton Foster – Jo March of my heart – is always a great fit for those “small town girl makes good” roles.

Lower than I would have thought, like the depressed spirits of so many Irishmen: Sting

He looked and sounded completely like someone that my uncles would hang out with at the Ancient Order Of Hibernians. Not sure if he’s playing an Irish character or just, you know, a sad guy.

Mid-range, like the kind of blah clothes that end up in the ‘donate’ pile when you pare down your wardrobe : For Good

The only thing that a 10 year anniversary of Wicked accomplishes is reminding me that 10 years passed in the blink of an eye. I would not have the mental fortitude to sing Elphaba in front of Idina Menzel herself, and frankly, I don’t think the actress last night did, either. The blending was so-so, both vocally and on Galinda’s wig cap, which covered half of her forehead. Does she have a giant, weird hairline? A facial tattoo? WHY?

Low, like the droopy flopped arms of a white person standing around not knowing how to dance: LL Cool J and TI doing that Music Man thing

They rapped about the Music Man. They told the crowd to get on their feet. The crowd obeyed. Then they all stood there, self-consciously unsure of what to do with their arms. I know the feeling.

High, like the pitch of the audible gasp I let out: Carole King’s appearance during the Beautiful performance

I knew King was there, obviously. I knew Beautiful was performing, of course. But it somehow never occurred to me that Carole King would sing with them. If this made Jessie Mueller nervous as hell, as it would for most humans, she didn’t let on.

Low, like the pit deep in my stomach: Bullets Over Broadway and the reawakening of latent Woody Allen feelings

You know, when all this Woody Allen stuff came back up, I thought “man, it would make it easier if someone would just tell me the proper way to react to this.” Then everyone DID tell everyone else the proper way to react. And it didn’t particularly help. Anyway. Catchy song, right?

Low, like something that just draaaags on and on, like maybe something hanging from the fender of a car: Hugh Jackman’s song before the Best Actress In A Musical award

It was 10:50 pm. Yet, an 11 o’clock number, it was not.

Low, like my glasses would be, on the bridge of my nose, in disapproval, like a librarian from yesteryear: Finding Neverland

I liked Finding Neverland The Movie. I already hate Finding Neverland The Musical That Doesn’t Exist Yet But Is Somehow Performing At The Tony’s. The former was charming, the latter involved Jennifer Hudson in a modern, sequined dress wailing about Neverland as small Edwardian boys jump on a bed and a female, Ginnifer Goodwin-y Peter Pan flitted around.