Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Harvey and Sheila" vs "Hava Nagila" Death Match!

Today's NPR and NYTimes stories about the Hava Nagila movie brought it all back.

"Them's fightin' words!"

That's what hit me at the UCLA Film & Television Archive as I watched Sherman introduce his "Harvey and Sheila" parody with a direct challenge.

"The Christian name of this song is "Hava Nagila."


It was July 18, 1963. Sherman was back on the Steve Allen show, a top showcase, and "Hava Nagila" was one of the most popular songs in the country. Everyone sang it, from Chubby Checker to -- most famously -- Harry Belafonte.

And against this shmaltzy "Hava Nagila" love fest Sherman stood alone, with only one ally in the whole country who agreed that it was time for a "Hava Nagila" smack-down.

Bob Dylan.

In March '62, Dylan recorded "Talkin' Havah Negiliah Blues," though it would not be released for decades.

So what gives? What was Dylan's problem? What was Sherman's?

"Hava Nagila" let everyone off too easy, that's what. It was Jewish baby talk. To nearly all American Jews, it was just adorable gibberish. No parodist can let a target like that escape attack, and Sherman wrote a doozy in "Harvey and Sheila."

It's the winner in my book.

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