This is a piece about the origins of rock and roll, the Jewish involvement in it, and what it says about Jews in America today. Enjoy!


          As you can see the picture above is an Orthodox Rabbi, rocking his heart out for the sake of Yom Tov and Shabbos Kodesh. Even though Jews haven’t had the biggest part in Rock N’ Roll, as you can see from the picture above, that doesnt mean that we dont like it. Jews have been present in rock in roll ever since the first rabbi decided to start headbanging to some Black Shabbos, i mean Sabbath. Jokes aside, Jews have had an everpresent appearence in rock and roll since it started. One of the biggest rock bands in the 60s near the start of rock and roll was the Turtles. The Turtles consisted of two hard rocking jews by the name of Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman. Their biggest hit was a song by the name of “Happy Together”, which is still popular today. The Turtles are a perfect example of how Jews have influenced rock and roll for many reasons; they have remained in rock and roll without putting in a Jewish influence.
   There are dozens of other Jewish rockers with the same sort of predicament; being in rock and roll without putting in a Jewish influence. From David Lee Roth (Van Halen) to Steven Adler (Guns N Roses), there have been dozens of these sort of Jewish rockers. A great example comes from the Jewish headbanger Scott Ian from Anthrax. In an interview, he is asked, “What being Jewish meant to his family (he was born Scott Rosenfeld)?” He answers “Nothing”. This is a prime example of Jews in Rock N Roll; they are definitely present, but they don’t bring much of the Judiasm to the table. For example, if you were asked, you probably never would have known that Steven Adler, the drummer for Guns N’ Roses, was a Jew. If you were asked, you also probably wouldn’t have known that Hillel Slovak, one of the founding members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, was also Jewish. Even Joey Ramone, of the Ramones (famous for their hit “Blitzkrieg Bop”) is Jewish, but not a lot of people would know this without a proper internet research. One of the few bands you would know was Jewish would be KISS, (Three of the members, of course including Paul Stanley, who’s real name was Stanley Isan,  Gene Simmons, who’s name he was born with was Chaim Witz ), but when you think of a KISS song (“Rock and Roll All Nite” will usually come to mind), you don’t exactly think of it as a song with a Jewish influence. There is a moment on the show Family Guy where Lois meets Gene Simmons and recognizes him as she used to date him, and there is this great moment where she says “Chaim!?”. Overall, you can see that Rock N Roll is a genre of music that non-Jews have a big part in and Jews have a part in, but don’t exactly influence.
Alright let’s backtrack. If we want to really look at the Jewish influence in Rock N Roll, let’s look at the origin of  Rock N Roll. The term “Rock and Roll”, dates back to the 17th century, a term used to describe the “rocking” and “rolling” of a ship in a storm. Songs were made about this term, and it slowly evolved through the next centuries to what it means now; a description of the genre that came to define pop culture in the latter half of the 20th century. Rock arose in Southern US in the 40s, originating from  from blues and jazz, the first Rock N Roll record was called “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenson, and some of the first rock n rollers were Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and Chuck Berry. Now of course you are wondering, where did Jews come into play here. As you probably know, even though some do, most artists, at least the famous ones, indeed to not write their own music. Thats where the jews came in. A prime example would in fact be two Jews by the name of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. They were songwriters, Jerry being the lyricist and Stoller being the composer. They wrote songs such as “Hound Dog” for Elvis Presley, along with a bunch of other hits including “Jailhouse Rock”, “Kansas City”, “Stand By Me (with Ben E. King)”, along with many other prominent early rock and roll songs. Other Jews writing hits for rockstars included Doc Pomus, Jerry Wexler, Jerry Ragovy, and Phil Spector. Then the 60s came. Sadly, back room composers were no longer needed as more and more Rock N Rollers began to compose their own music. Still, there remained a Jewish presence in Rock N Roll as very popular artists such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon (of Simon and Garfunkel), Lou Reed (of the Velvet Underground) and Leonard Cohen (Have you heard “Halleluyah”?).
Now, over the years, Classic Rock N Roll has split into an almost endless pool of sub genres. First things first, Rock originated from blues jazz folk music, country, blues, and soul music.There is alternative rock, Death Metal, Punk rock, Jazz Rock, Nu Metal, Thrash Metal, Indie Rock, Glam Rock, Funk Rock, New Wave, British New Wave, New Wave of the New Wave (new wave with in new wave=New waveception?), Skate Punk, Space Rock (Pink Floyd), Progressive Rock, Progressive Metal, and something called “Cowpunk”. Oi! That wasn’t even supposed to express a feeling, thats actually a sub genre of punk made in the UK. As you can see, there are a ton of genres of Rock and Roll; the important ones are the ones to concentrate on. Punk Rock, a subgenre of rock consisting of a lot of three chord songs that developed in the mid 70s with bands such as The Clash (who have a Jewish Member), The Ramones (Also has a Jewish member, Joey Ramone), and the Sex Pistols (who definitely weren’t Jewish). Another sub genre; Metal was started in the late 60s when bands such as the Beatles (Helter Skelter) and Jimi Hendrix (do I even have to give an example) started playing around with distortion. Some of the first metal bands included Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. This spawned a ton of subsubgenres such as British New Wave (Iron Maiden), Thrash Metal (Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Anthrax, who’s guitarist Ian Scott is Jewish), and even Progressive metal in the early 90s (Dream Theater and Queensryche). Another major sub genre would be pop rock, which mixes catchy pop choruses with light guitar based rock songs. Pop Rock has been around ever since the seventies, with artists such as Elton John and Billy Joel (Jewish), and more recently, artists such as Maroon 5 (whos singer, Adam Levine was Jewish) and The Fray. There are many other genres not covered here, but no matter how oddball the genre, there are Jews within.
Now lets go back; After learning all of this information about the Jewish people in Rock and Roll, it shows one thing. It acts as a metaphor for assimilation; how we have started doing what everyone else has been doing to “fit in”. Its the reason we haven’t exactly placed our Jewish influence into Rock and Roll but have still remained in it. Its the same reason Jewish kids today eat cheeseburgers and don’t keep Shabbos; they are bored with traditions such as sitting in shul along with other things, and want to try what everyone else is doing; whether it is rock and roll or shoveling down a Double Whammy; it is for the same reason and it is kind of sad. If only, the Jewish people could work on putting our Jewish influence into Rock and Roll, and maybe concentrate on not shoveling down so many Double Whoppers and instead appreciating Judiasm, maybe things would be better for the Jewish people, and we would have a brighter future.