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Before the Maccabeats created a sensation on YouTube with their Hanukkah song, and before the scores of individuals recorded Jewish parodies on video, and before Jewish outreach organizations used popular music to connect with unaffiliated Jews, there was Lenny Solomon and Shlock Rock.
For 25 years the Jewish rock band has been teaching Jewish ideas through music using song parodies, original music in English and Hebrew, and children’s songs.
Last year, Shlock Rock celebrated its silver anniversary, and to mark the occasion the band is releasing two new CDs containing 25 songs.
One is a Broadway compilation called “Still Not Quite on Broadway” that features songs from musicals such as "Wicked," "Hairspray," "Rent" and "The Sound of Music."
The other is a classic Shlock Rock parody album title “Kosher Cake” featuring songs from contemporary artists Taylor Swift, the Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga as well as classic rock bands such as Deep Purple, Bon Jovi and Pink Floyd.
The CDs are due out on Jan. 31.
“I really love all 25 of the new songs," said Solomon, who praises the quality of the recordings.
Solomon, who lives in Israel, says he recorded the music between last May and August with the help of song sponsors.
"During the last three months, our fans have been receiving a new song every Monday and Thursday via email, which they could download," he said.
Shlock Rock has released 32 albums, staying true to its mission of encouraging Jewish pride, identity and awareness - and helping promote Jewish continuity through music. The band has sold nearly 200,000 albums and performed more than 2,000 live shows in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Australia, South Africa, England and Israel.
Solomon says the group, which still tours three to four months each year, teaches Jewish education with its legal song parodies. (Solomon says the group pays licensing fees for every album on the advice of its lawyer, though some say it is not necessary.)
“Fortunately, we have not had any difficulties with any of the original artists," he said. "In fact, I heard through the grapevine that The Drifters liked our version of ‘Under the Boardwalk’ [titled 'Under the Chupah']. But I don’t know if this is really true; I never met them personally.”
Solomon lists his musical influences as the Beatles, Billy Joel and the Diaspora Yeshiva Band in the music field, and Weird Al Yankovic, Tom Lehrer and Allan Sherman in the parody field.
Much has changed since Shlock Rock first started recording in the 1980s.
“The actual recording is now immediately transferred to hard drive instead of tape,” Solomon explains. “This makes the recording a little easier, as everything is digital."
He says the real advantage is in the technology of getting the music to the public, noting the instant publicity from YouTube.
"In the past there would be only two ways for people to get exposed to the music: Either we came to your city and performed, or you went into your local Jewish bookstore and picked up a CD," Solomon said. "Now with the Internet, you can immediately get the album via download.”
Although the industry may have changed, Solomon believes that his music carries the same power to reach unaffiliated Jews as it did 25 years ago.
“I believe the parody songs are a critical tool in helping teach Jewish concepts and in making people feel good about Judaism," he said. "It also inspires people to learn more about their heritage. It is as strong as ever.