Revisiting All of Dave Grohl’s ‘Hanukkah Sessions’ Covers
Is it any wonder that Dave Grohl, rock 'n' roll's consummate party animal, goes all out for Hanukkah?
In 2020, the Foo Fighters bandleader and producer Greg Kurstin launched the "Hanukkah Sessions," covering one Jewish artist a day for each of the holiday's eight days. Grohl injects his off-the-wall energy into all of the renditions, which run the gamut from the Beastie Boys to Barry Manilow. Some performances, such as the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop," stay faithful to the originals; others, such as Lisa Loeb's "Stay (I Missed You)," begin normally and careen wildly into death metal.
Grohl, who is not Jewish, said that doing the "Hanukkah Sessions" with Kurstin, who is Jewish, helped him gain a greater appreciation for the holiday and the value of spreading joy. "This project, which initially began as a silly idea, grew to represent something much more important to me," he said at the end of 2020's "Hanukkah Sessions." "It showed me that the simple gesture of spreading joy and happiness goes a long way, and as we look forward, we should all make an effort to do so, no matter how many candles are left to light on the menorah."
Read on to revisit all of Grohl and Kurstin's "Hanukkah Sessions" covers.
Beastie Boys, 'Sabotage'
The first "Hanukkah Sessions" got off to a raucous start with a cover of the Beastie Boys' rap-rock classic "Sabotage." Kurstin played the song's meaty guitar and bass riffs on a fuzzed-out keyboard, while Grohl approximated Ad-Rock's vocals with his distorted, high-pitched shriek. The Foo Fighters frontman dropped a drumstick at the 2:07 mark, but he soldiered through the song and retrieved the stick without missing a beat.
Drake, 'Hotline Bling'
It's hard to cover the pop-rap smash that launched countless memes with a straight face, but Grohl and Kurstin stuck fairly close to the original arrangement in their "Hanukkah Sessions" cover. Kurstin nailed the track's moody synths, while Grohl delivered a straightforward vocal and replaced the song's electronic beats with his own drumming. Of course, reverence can only get you so far on a cover like this, and Grohl poked fun at the whole premise by replicating Drake's signature "Hotline Bling" dance moves while donning a backwards cap and holding a menorah.
Mountain, 'Mississippi Queen'
“Talk about making a mountain out of a mohel,” Grohl and Kurstin said in a statement introducing their cover of Mountain's hard-rock classic. “Named Leslie Weinstein at his bris, the singer of our next band built a wailing wall of guitar as Leslie West." Kurstin interpreted the song's thunderous guitar riffs on keyboard, while Grohl played the iconic cowbell part on a metal cup covered in duct tape, confessing, "I'm fucking this cup up so bad right now."
Peaches, 'Fuck the Pain Away'
Before you pass judgment, trust us when we say this cover actually works. Inarguably the most explicit —and perhaps most fun — "Hanukkah Sessions" performance, Grohl and Kurstin's cover of Peaches' electroclash hit "Fuck the Pain Away" is surprisingly faithful to the original, which consists mostly of heavy synthesizers and furious drums. Peaches — real name Merrill Nisker — even made a cameo, delivering her vocals from a separate studio.
Bob Dylan, 'Rainy Day Women #12 & 35'
One of the most revered musicians of all time, Bob Dylan made an obvious choice for Grohl and Kurstin's "Hanukkah Sessions." The duo paid homage to the songwriter born Robert Zimmerman with an appropriately ramshackle, drum-and-piano cover of his Blonde on Blonde track "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35." Dylan has long denied rumors that the song is about cannabis, but that didn't stop the duo from poking fun at the lyrics in a brief message accompanying the video. "So now everybody must get stoned (not in the Law of Moses sense) as we put some blood on this track," they wrote.
For night six of the 2020 "Hanukkah Sessions," Grohl and Kurstin looked across the pond to Britpop/alt-rock band Elastica, covering the song "Connection" off their 1995 self-titled debut, which topped the charts in the United Kingdom. The song fit the duo like a glove, with Grohl delivering an exuberant vocal and Kurstin playing the infectious synthesizer melodies, and fleshing out the tune with requisite hand claps. "From Brit Milot to Britpop…here’s one of the coolest tracks from the 90's….sung by the very cool…and Jewish…Justine Frischmann…ELASTICA!” Grohl enthused in the video's description.
The Knack, 'Frustrated'
Grohl and Kurstin paid tribute to the Knack on the penultimate night of the 2020 "Hanukkah Sessions," but they bypassed the new wavers' chart-topping hit "My Sharona" in favor of album cut "Frustrated." "Tonight we’re featuring four nice Jewish boys whose biggest hit was a song about a nice Jewish girl … ‘My Shalom-a’ or something like that," the duo joked in a statement. "We’re huge fans of New Wave (as well as the 'old wave' that came after Moses parted the Red Sea) … so we were psyched to get to cover one of our favorites … the Knack!"
The Velvet Underground, 'Rock and Roll'
Grohl and Kurstin ended the inaugural "Hanukkah Sessions" with a cover of the Velvet Underground's proto-punk classic, and with it, a note of gratitude. "As 2020 comes to a close and another Hanukkah ends (my first!) I am reminded of the two things that have gotten me through this year: music and hope," Grohl wrote. "So, sing along one last time to 'Rock and Roll' by the Velvet Underground, a song about music and hope, and let’s keep spreading the joy and happiness. It goes a long way..."
Lisa Loeb, 'Stay (I Missed You)'
The 2021 "Hanukkah Sessions" began auspiciously with a cover of Lisa Loeb's 1994 folk-rock ballad "Stay (I Missed You)." The normality lasted for all of 10 seconds, as the camera panned to Grohl wearing a floral dress and crooning in an exaggerated falsetto. The tender arrangement then transitioned to blistering death metal, with Grohl unleashing a guttural roar over a furious breakdown and distorted guitar riffs.
Ramones, 'Blitzkrieg Bop'
Grohl was in his comfort zone on the second night of 2021's "Hanukkah Sessions," powering through a faithful rendition of the Ramones' classic "Blitzkrieg Bop." "Once upon a time, two nice Jewish boys from Queens named Jeffery [sic] Hyman and Thomas Erdelyi changed the world forever with their music….. as Joey and Tommy Ramone!" Grohl explained in the video's accompanying YouTube description. In honor of the holiday, the rocker changed the song's "Hey! Ho! Let's go!" chant to "Hey! Oy! Let's goy!"
Barry Manilow, 'Copacabana'
Grohl went full lounge lizard on his and Kurstin's cover of Barry Manilow's "Copacabana," switching between a sequined black tuxedo jacket/white shirt combo and a red jacket with aviator shades. Kurstin fleshed out the cover with hammy synthesizer licks and backing vocals, while the video featured a disco ball and cheesy, old-school wipe transitions befitting of the '70s pop anthem.
Van Halen, 'Jump'
Van Halen — and David Lee Roth in particular — were not known for their subtlety, so Grohl and Kurstin had to pull out all the stops for their cover of the group's chart-topping "Jump." The duo nodded to the song's music video with their drumstick twirls and slow-motion leaps, and Kurstin approximated Eddie Van Halen's synthesizer and guitar histrionics with a dazzling keytar solo. The cover earned the approval of of Wolfgang Van Halen, who tweeted the video with an affirmative "Oh fuck yeah!"
Amy Winehouse, 'Take the Box'
Grohl made his fifth Hanukkah cover of 2021 a family affair, inviting his 15-year-old daughter, Violet, to sing a cover of Amy Winehouse's "Take the Box." "Despite this song's mention of a 'Moschino bra you bought me last Christmas,' it's common knowledge that the amazing woman behind the song was actually Jewish. Gone far too soon," read the video's YouTube description. Kurstin accompanied the younger Grohl on piano, while a pair of backing vocalists bolstered the arrangement.
Billy Joel, 'Big Shot'
Grohl and Kurstin paid tribute to Billy Joel on night six of the 2021 "Hanukkah Sessions" with a spirited rendition of the Long Islander's 1979 hit "Big Shot." Grohl handled drums and vocals as per usual, while Kurstin tackled Joel's piano parts and played the song's tasty guitar licks on xylophone. And to prove they weren't total traditionalists, the duo unleashed dual kazoo solos during the "whoa-oh-oh" break.
The Clash, 'Train in Vain'
For their penultimate 2021 "Hanukkah Sessions" performance, Grohl and Kurstin busted out a piano, harmonica and drums rendition of the Clash's poppy single, "Train in Vain." Grohl gave a brief history lesson about the band and guitarist Mick Jones in the video description. "Michael Geoffrey Jones, born to Russian Jewish mother Renee Zagansky, would come to be known as punk rock legend Mick Jones, co-founder of the Clash," he wrote. "It’s London calling Jerusalem as we take a 'Train in Vain.'"
Kiss, 'Rock and Roll All Nite'
The second annual "Hanukkah Sessions" went out with a bang as Grohl and Kurstin covered Kiss' smash hit "Rock and Roll All Nite." The duo sported the band's signature makeup for the video, with Grohl dressing as Gene Simmons' "Demon" character and Kurstin copying Paul Stanley's "Starchild" look. Grohl thanked viewers for joining him in the festivities and implored them, "Let's rock and roll all nite and party everyday until next Hanukkah!"
Blood Sweat & Tears, 'Spinning Wheel'
Night one of 2022's Hanukkah Sessions got off to a somewhat silly start with a rendition of Blood, Sweat & Tears' 1968 hit "Spinning Wheel," performed by Grohl, Kurstin and director Judd Apatow, along with a brass trio. A few weeks prior, Grohl had hosted a secret show in Los Angeles where various guests, including Apatow, played in front of a real-life audience for the first time in the series' history. (The concert was recorded and filmed live.) "This is a song that means a lot to me," the director said before launching into the cover, which was reportedly inspired by a karaoke night Apatow had experienced in Hawaii with Grohl’s family.
Pink, 'Get the Party Started'
Night two of the 2022 Hanukkah Sessions series featured Pink taking center stage for a performance of her 2001 hit, "Get the Party Started." Pink was backed by Grohl on drums, Kurstin on keyboards, plus an array of backing singers. Comedian Jack Black made a special cameo toward the end of the song, singing one of the final choruses. "You don't have to sit!" Pink joked with the audience, encouraging them to get in the groove.
10cc, 'The Thing We Do for Love'
On night three, Grohl and Kurstin were joined by Inara George, the latter's bandmate in the Bird and the Bee, for a cover of 10cc's 1976 hit "The Things We Do for Love." Inara held the mic out for the audience to sing the song's call-and-repeat section of the chorus, while Jack Black and Kyle Gass of Tenacious D sang backing vocals. (As of 2022, Kurstin and George have released six full-length albums together as the Bird and the Bee, as well as a a number of EPs and singles.)
Janis Ian, 'At Seventeen'
Grohl's daughter, Violet, appeared on the fourth night of the 2022 series. Violet Grohl, aged 16, performed Janis Ian's "At Seventeen," playing acoustic guitar while backed by her father, Kurstin (who played a smooth solo in the instrumental break) and a small horn section. When the song ended, father and daughter shared a hug on stage to cheers from the crowd.
On night five of the 2022 series, Beck appeared to perform a rendition of his own hit song “E-Pro," from his 2005 album Guero. Beck handled guitar and lead vocal duties, and he was supported by Grohl on drums, Kurstin on keyboards and Inara George, who helped sing the song's chorus.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, 'Heads Will Roll'
"It's like every song is an encore," Apatow said after Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs finished an unrestrained rendition of their hit, "Heads Will Roll." Grohl and Kurstin did point out that O herself is not Jewish, but her two bandmates, guitarist and keyboardist Nick Zinner and drummer Brian Chase, are. "Leave it to us to get the only non-Jewish member of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Hanukkah-ize one of their signature songs," they wrote in their YouTube caption.
Rush, 'The Spirit of Radio'
Geddy Lee is, in his words, "a Jewish atheist," and though he doesn't observe Hanukkah in the religious sense, he does in the celebratory "getting together" sense. (Lee's parents were both Jewish survivors of Nazi concentration camps, after which they emigrated to Canada, where Lee was born.) Jack Black took on lead vocal duties for a cover of "The Spirit of Radio," and in Grohl and Kurstin's YouTube caption, they noted that Lee's mother, after his band had taken off, "was so proud of her son that she put Rush posters up all over their family store and gave away Rush albums to kids who didn't have money to buy them."
Randy Newman, 'I Love L.A.'
For the eighth and final installment of the 2022 sessions, Grohl and Kurstin brought out the whole crew for a rendition of Randy Newman's "I Love L.A." They affectionately described the number as their "nondenominational gift to you on this convergence of holiday cheer for the Jews and the goyim," thus concluding the year's Hanukkah celebration.