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The complete ranking of every pop song to ever sample ‘Hava Nagila’

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I have a confession: I do not like the hora. Circle dancing is bad (sorry), and you will never be able to convince me that the chair lifting is safe.

However, as a Jew, there is no escaping the hora — and, by extension, there is no avoiding “Hava Nagila.” As Renee Ghert-Zand wrote for the Forward in a history of the celebratory standard, the song came to life as a Hasidic melody around 1850. By the 1940s, “Hava Nagila” “could be heard at almost every bar mitzvah and Jewish wedding.” That’s as true as ever today.

But it’s not just in the Jewish world that “Hava Nagila” is ubiquitous. According to the crowdsourced sample archive, nearly 20 pop songs have sampled the iconic melody in songs of their own.

Therefore, we are happy — well, happy-ish — to present our conclusive ranking of “Hava Nagila” samples. This list excludes covers of the song like those by the late Harry Belafonte or Ben Folds — fodder for a future ranking? — and we cannot guarantee we haven’t missed a sample or two. With those caveats: Get into your best b’nai mitzvah mood, and read on.

Fourth tier: The bad

First up, the bad: A set of songs we think might have been better left on the cutting-room floor.

19. “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” by Twisted Sister

This group of Pittsburgh rockers, for whatever reason, decided to add “Hava Nagila” to a Christmas carol. It’s our song. Go away.

18. “Kaliya” by Ritual Tibetan, Ritual Version Mix

“Kaliya” places “Hava Nagila” in conversation with throat singing, a deep guttural rumble practiced in many traditional music communities. That might sound cool, except for the fact that there is no intersection between the two. Lasting six minutes and 50 seconds, “Kaliya” is a house song that a DJ at an AEPi frat party would insist you should like. You absolutely will not.

17. “Na Nana Nina” by Bingo

This song opens with a deep and distorted voice yelling “Nagila,” which caught my attention, but I have to admit to not understanding the sample choice. The song has two distinct parts — the “Hava Nagila” stuff and the rest of it. Neither funny, thematic, nor musically compelling, “Na Nana Nina” can go.

16. “Hava Nagila / Ich Wollt’, Ich Wär Ein Vögelein / Copacabana” by The Dave “Tricky” Collins Group

“Hava Nagila” sounds good on an organ, winning this otherwise bizarre medley a spot at the slightly-less-terrible end of this tier.

15. “I Can-Can You” from the Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards Soundtrack

“I Can-Can You” is not good to listen to, but the composition team for this video game soundtrack at least understood “Hava Nagila” for the corny song it is, and mashed it up with the classic “Can Can,” which feels right.

14. “S-hit” by Belgrade Ghetto

“S-hit” is groovy. I have no idea why a Balkan party song would sample a b’nai mitzvah tune, but among bad samples, this one is at least moderately listenable, and worth a chuckle.

Third tier: Um, why did you do that?

We can’t sugarcoat it: These songs are also pretty bad. But they’re worth a cautious listen based on shock value alone.

13. “La Bostella Hava Nagila A Banda” by Horst Wende

I spent much of the start of this song wondering how on earth it would incorporate “Hava Nagila.” The answer is: It simply doesn’t. There’s a regular folksy song happening — and then an abrupt detour to “Hava Nagila.” Bizarre!

12. “La Mauvaise Réputation” by Bruno Blum feat. Julie “Blunty” Vermeulen

Another super random sample. Bruno Blum covers an old French song, and tosses in “Hava Nagila” for … some reason, I’m sure. “La Mauvaise Réputation” earns its spot at 12th because as Blum finishes the sample, he wishes the listener “mazel tov.” For what? Who’s to say.

11. “Rhymin’ Man” by Frank Zappa

“Rhymin’ Man,” in which Zappa parodies Jesse Jackson, samples seven very pointed songs. When referencing Jackson’s checkered history with Jewish people, Zappa slips in “Hava Nagila” to drive home the point. The song is unsettling, and the use of “Hava Nagila” to stand in for Jews feels icky too. But at least the package is cohesive.

10. “You Fool No One (Live)” by Deep Purple

The only truly live song on our list, “You Fool No One” cracks the top 10 solely on the basis of the crowd cheering and clapping for the “Hava Nagila” sample at the top of the song. Very wholesome. The song as a whole isn’t very creative, but it’s not offensive, either.

9. “Another Irish Drinking Song” by Da Vinci’s Notebook

“Another Irish Drinking Song” sees the inherent corniness of “Hava Nagila,” and raises it an all-male a capella drinking song. “We’ll dance and sing and fight until the mornin’ light,” the band sings in the first chorus, before moving into a crisply arranged riff on “Hava Nagila” in the second — almost as if “Hava Nagila” is one of the songs they sing when drunk.

I like that image, of a group of drinking buddies singing fun songs from cultures not their own. Wholesome points triumph again, and Da Vinci’s Notebook takes the top spot in this confusing middle-of-the-pack tier.

Second tier: Musical memes (compelling, but weird)

These are wacky songs that created subpar results through clever ideas. Should I reward the clever sampling? Punish the bizarre results? Split the difference and put them in tier two.

8.“Carousell” by Mandragora and Groovaholik

This song is mainly an unhinged remix of Mozart’s “Rondo Alla Turca,” which you will recognize by tune if not by name. “Carousell” bounces from idea to idea, never finishing one before the next appears. I counted at least three different genres in there, so why not sample two songs and level up the chaos?

The “Hava Nagila” sample two minutes in leads into a clever musical sleight of hand that keeps “Carousell” in Tier 2 instead of Tier 3, and the bassline that appears in the high-energy moments keeps an otherwise long song moving.

7. “Hava Nagila” by Azoto

Azoto’s Italo-disco cover of “Hava Nagila” leaves you thinking “what did I just listen to?”

This song is a cohesive item, with a vision, and even so, I was constantly surprised by the way its use of “Hava Nagila” develops. The curiosity of Azoto’s cover locks it into tier 2.

6. “Shakin’ It” by Francis Mercier and Kriss Kriss

If you’re going to sample a classic, you have to build on it, which “Shakin’ It” does with “Hava Nagila.” As in “Carousell,” the multiple bass lines of “Shakin’ It” give the track forward momentum that distracts from its somewhat repetitive sampling. With this, we’ve entered the “definitely listenable” section of the ranking.

5. “Hava” by Steve Aoki, Timmy Trumpet and Dr Phunk

Steve Aoki’s “Hava” feels like the archetype of a “Hava Nagila” remix. Fast, pounding drums push the sample into a party mood, and classic calls of “aaaaaare yooooooou readyyyyyyyy.” The result: an incessantly annoying track that does justice to “Hava Nagila” while comfortably placing it in an entirely new musical world. Aoki, an electronic dance music legend, delivers on exactly what you expect from him.

First tier: This is… good?

I will unironically listen to these songs after this article publishes. (Maybe.)

4. “I’m the Man” by Anthrax

“I’m the Man” is an ugly song. There’s no way around it. The lyrics are vile and the music is grating. But the ironic interpolation of the main riff of “Hava Nagila” adds entertaining depth to the music.

Anthrax’s roster boasted two Jewish members at the time this song was recorded. And the song is almost certainly a direct shot at the Beastie Boys, who are also Jewish. So the use of “Hava Nagila” feels like an inside joke for us Yiddin. And a fun fact: “I’m the Man” went platinum in the U.S.

3. “Ava” by Atenna

Similar to Steve Aoki’s remix, Atenna’s “Ava” gracefully transports “Hava Nagila” to a new genre, this one a softer brand of electronic music than Aoki’s. I happen to prefer this type of music, but the details in Atenna’s remix are what put this one over the top.

Unlike most of the other songs on this list, Atenna samples the second “Hava Nagila” melody — the lesser-known part that starts “Hava Neranena.” My favorite detail, though, is the occasional “HEY!” in the back of the song, yelled by a crowd of people, as if they were actually at a b’nai mitzvah party. Your cousin who fantasizes about trips to Ibiza but never actually goes will definitely want this cover on their wedding playlist.

2. “Jewish Metal” by 66Samus

I do not usually like metal music. But at just 88 seconds long, 66Samus’ “Jewish Metal” riffs hard on the musical motifs of “Hava Nagila” in a traditional metal style that, even to me, is surprisingly winning.

You can listen to this song four times in the amount of time that it takes to get through some of the other songs on this list, and for that reason alone, I’d love to hear “Jewish Metal” at the next b’nai mitzvah party I attend.

1. “I Can’t Dance” by Dirt Nasty ft. LMFAO

If Steve Aoki’s “Hava” is the archetypical “Hava Nagila” remix, “I Can’t Dance” is certainly the archetype of a “Hava Nagila” sample. A cringey dance song about not knowing how to dance is absolute bat mitzvah party fodder.

“I wanna dance/ I can’t do it,” LMFAO confesses with all too much aggression during the pre-chorus. Why not? “I can’t dance/ I’m too Jewish.”Dirt Nasty and LMFAO are looking us right in the eye with this one, and saying: “We see you.” B’nai mitzvah all-stars and chair-lifting specialists, you all deserve an anthem. Will you be mocked? Naturally. But not in a way you wouldn’t do to yourself.

The post The complete ranking of every pop song to ever sample ‘Hava Nagila’ appeared first on The Forward.

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