Israeli Rock of the 60s and 70s: Part 1

Well, it’s been a while since I was in Israel so by this point, I have processed that intense trip and I’m ready to talk about the rock and roll side of things and give you a guide to 60s and 70s rock bands from Israel.

Before I get started here, I must get this out of the way. We all know Israel’s a very contentious country. I am not going to talk politics in this post. I am just presenting facts about musicians and their music – not their political views. Please keep things civil in the comments section. Thank you!

Another note: Hebrew is one of those languages where there are a bunch of different ways to transliterate words, so I’ll do my best (the transliteration issue caused some confusion when doing research). I also have no knowledge of the language. I took one year of it when I was 10 and I was literally only learning the alphabet (basically preschool stuff). Since my main audience are English speakers, I found it was easiest and most efficient to just name track numbers.

First, I have to thank my family for helping me out with this topic. This post is dedicated to you guys and I hope you enjoy it.

How did rock and roll get there?

And now, let’s talk about how rock and roll got to Israel in the first place. Like many other countries, Israel didn’t openly embrace rock and roll from the start. Super religious Jews aren’t really that much different from super religious Christians. They weren’t really into rock and roll when it first started.

Things started off underground as a subculture. It wasn’t until the late 60s that rock and roll started to be embraced more. Songs weren’t even always rebellious like in the States or the UK.

The popular music of the time was Russian folk music and Eastern European klezmer music and there was a hegemony, with other music genres not being as appreciated.

Immigrants brought in music from their countries, like the Middle East, Greece, and the US.

The first bands played in clubs in Tel Aviv and Ramla (do not confuse this with Ramallah, which is in Palestine). These bands would play covers of popular British and American songs of the time. Sadly, many of these bands don’t have many recordings so it’s hard to find them.

The Beatles and The Shadows were two of the biggest influences from the UK, but these bands would combine these sounds with more Mediterranean/Middle Eastern sounds, creating something different.

The story of Israeli rock is diverse in sound and influence and the people are too. Without further ado, let’s learn about Israeli rock and pop history.

Acharit Hayamim: Israel’s first prog rock band. They were formed in 1971. They have a prog rock and psychedelic sound, so if you’re into those subgenres, you’ll like this band. You don’t need to know Hebrew to appreciate it. The band sadly only released one self-titled album and they remained rather unknown and short lived, breaking up after a year. Original pressings of their album are rare and sell for hundreds of dollars, but if you want to get your hands on a new pressing, you’re in luck. For a fraction of the price ($30) Apocalypse can be yours.

Highlights on the album are tracks 1 (translates to “There is No Place on the Electric Column”), 4 (translates to “Open the Door for Me”), 5 (translates to “Getting-up Exercise”), 6 (translates to “Under the Eucalyptus Tree”), and 8 (translates to “It’s My Birthday”).

Ariel Zilber: He was born in Tel Aviv in 1943. He lost his foot in a gun accident and started studying trumpet. In the late 60s, he spent time in England and France to work on music, but came back in the early 70s. During his time in France, he recorded some songs intended for a debut album, but that was shelved.

In 1974, he founded Tamouz (which you can find out about in part two) and they lasted until 1976.

He released his debut solo album in 1976. There are some good moments on it like “Tni Li Machase” (Give Me Shelter – no relation to the Stones song), “Derech Lelo Motza” (One Way Street), “Kacha At Ratzit Oti” (That’s How You Wanted Me), and “Muvta Blues” (Unemployed Blues).

Arik Einstein: Largely considered the biggest and most important Israeli rock star, often called “The Voice of Israel”. He was born in Tel Aviv in 1939. His family were into arts and sport.

In the 50s, Einstein joined the army and was in the Nahal Brigade army band, which was a springboard for Israeli musicians. He was a standout in the army band because of his voice. After his discharge from the army, he joined a few bands and did some acting, starring in a film called Sallah Shabbati, alongside Chaim Topol, who would go on to play Tevye the Dairy Farmer in Fiddler on the Roof.

In 1966, Einstein joined The High Windows and released their first and only album just before the Six Day War.

That same year, he released his first solo album, Shar Bishvileh (Singing for you). It’s a bit poppy sounding, reminding me of French chanson music. The album isn’t my taste, but I like the Shadows cover on track 4. Some of the songs are covers, and others were written by poet/songwriter Dafna Eilat.

Two years later, he released Mazal Gdi (Capricorn), which has more of a soft rock and folk sound. The album was a commercial flop, but personally I think this was better than his debut. Shalom Hanoch wrote most of the songs on the album.

In 1969, he released the album, Poozy, considered the first Hebrew rock album. The Churchills and frequent collaborator Shalom Hanoch contributed to this album.

You might recognise “The Ballad of John and Yoko” (track 4). Arik Einstein often performed this song with The Churchills before recording a studio version. Other songs I liked were “Ksheat Bocha At Lo Yafa” (When You Cry, You Are Not Beautiful), “Kam Cham” (How Hot), and “Hayo Haya (Lezigi)” (There Was Siggy).

In 1970, Einstein released two albums with Shalom Hanoch, Shablul (Snail) and Plastelina.

My favourite tracks on Shablul are “Ma Ata Ose Ksheata Kam Baboker” (What Do You Do in the Morning), “Layla Shel Kochavim” (Night of Stars), “Ani Shar” (I Sing), “Ma Sheyoter Amok Yoter Kachol” (The Deeper the Blue), and “Shout” (bonus track). Most of the songs on the album were written by Shalom Hanoch. A few songs on the album were covered decades later by bands Rockfour and Zikney Tzfat.

My favourite songs on Plastelina were “Ma Iti” (What), “Asur Levater” (Don’t Give Up), and “Eshet Haikar” (Farmer’s Wife).

In 1971, Arik Einstein and Miki Gavrielov (of The Churchills) released Badeshe Etzel Avigdor (At Avigdor’s Grass). The album has a folk-rock sound. Yaakov Rotblit wrote most of the songs on this album and Arik Einstein wrote three: “Ani Veata” (Me and You), “Ani Ohev Lishon” (I Like to Sleep), and “Ani Mevin” (I Understand).

In 1972, he released a solo album, Jasmine. The reason that he went solo was because the musicians he would frequently collaborate with were in Europe, while he was in Israel. On this album, you’ll find covers of Elton John’s “I Need You to Turn to” and The Beatles’ “Here, There, and Everywhere”.

In 1973, he released Good Old Eretz Israel, an album full of reworked classic Hebrew songs. The album title translates to “The Good Old Land of Israel”, a household phrase. This album is the first in a series of albums of this theme and title. Einstein released sequels to this album throughout the 70s. Einstein collaborated with Avner Kenner on parts two and three of this series of albums, released in 1976 and 1977, respectively.

Aris San: Born Aristides Saisanas in Kalamata, Greece and moved to Israel at the age of 17. In the 60s, Greek music was very popular in Israel. Aris San would play in nightclubs and his shows were popular even among politicians and army officers. He was well known for his guitar playing. Despite being a gentile, he got Israeli citizenship because his music was so loved and influential to the rock and roll scene. In the 70s, he moved to the US and opened a nightclub. In the 80s, he got involved with the mob and got in legal trouble. He moved to Budapest and he passed away there.

He released Aris in 1968. I like tracks 2 and 4-6.

In 1969, he released Songs of the Mediterranean. I like tracks 5 and 6.

I really like his album from 1974, Record Seven. My favourite on the album is track 5.

Avner Kenner: Progressive rock musician who has worked with Arik Einstein and Yoni Rechter.

In 1975, he released the album 14 Octaves with Yoni Rechter. The album is a jazzy kind of progressive rock album and the name of the album comes from how they both played piano on it and each of them having 7 octaves. This album was their only collaboration. Highlights on this album include tracks 1 (“Omka Gumka”), 3 (translates to “No Prize”), 4 (translates to “Minor Section”), 5 (translates to “The Soap in the Shower”), 10 (translates to “Evening in Tel Aviv”), and 11 (translates to “Seven Times as Much”).

“Bridge” is one of his better known prog rock songs. If you like Gentle Giant, Yes, and Genesis, you might like this song.

Bezalel and the Sabras: Garage rock band. They released a couple of albums in the late 60s. The first one was Jerusalem of Gold, released in 1967. I could only find a couple of the song from that album on YouTube, The Shadows-esque “Falafel” and “Eastemen”, a Turkish folk song.

Their second album, was self-titled and released the following year. Highlights of that album include “The Lonely Bull”, “Please Don’t Tease”, “Move It” (Cliff Richard cover, not as good as the original, but interesting to hear), “Find Me a Golden Street”, and “Anna”.

The Churchills/Jericho Jones: Considered Israel’s best rock band and one of the first rock bands in the country. When talking to family in Israel, this band came up all the time. Basically, if you must listen to only one band on this list, pick this one, you won’t regret it.

They were founded in 1965 in Tel Aviv. The lineup changed five times between 1965 and 1973. Later lineups of the band were a bit more international, with talent like Stan Solomon from Canada and Robb Huxley from England. Robb Huxley is distantly related to Brave New World and The Doors of Perception author Aldous Huxley. Robb Huxley was previously in The Tornados, the band famous for the chart-topping “Telstar”, the song that marked the beginning of The British Invasion. The Tornados were one of a few rock bands from the west that ended up in Israel, and they actually broke up there while touring.

The Churchills would often collaborate with Arik Einstein, their most notable collaboration, Einstein’s album Poozy.

In the 70s, they became Jericho Jones and released two albums under that name.

Going through their discography, you’ll find songs with a psychedelic, progressive, or blues rock sound.

The Churchills made their debut in 1968 with the single, “Too Much in Love to Hear”.

The Churchills released their debut album, Churchill’s [sic] in 1969 and it’s a gem and perhaps one of the 60s’ best kept secrets. You can’t even use the excuse, “Well, it’s in a foreign language so it’s not marketable,” because the album is in English.

Songs on this album would not sound out of place on a classic rock or oldies station and would be a refreshing change from the usual music.

Some classics I enjoyed were “Open Up Your Eyes”, the Cream-esque “Song From The Sea”, the edgy “Comics”, the Doors/Jefferson Airplane-esque “When You’re Gone”, “Straight People”, and the Mediterranean sounding “Subsequent Finale”.

Simply put, I’m adding this to my perfect albums list.

Between Churchill’s and Junkies, Monkeys & Donkeys the band released a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Living Loving Maid” with “Signs of You” as the b-side. Definitely one of my favourite singles they released.

The Churchills relocated to England and changed their name to Jericho Jones because they didn’t want to offend. They released Junkies, Monkeys & Donkeys in 1971. The sound on this album is harder and proggier with a lot more jams. “They deserved better” was a thought that ran through my head while listening to this album.

My favourite songs on the album are “Man in the Crowd”, “Yellow and Blue”, “No School Today”, “Junkies, Monkeys & Donkeys”, “Time is Now”, and “What Have We Got to Lose”. There are five bonus tracks on album and those are all worth listening to.

The following year, they released their last album, Jericho as Jericho. This album has five tracks on it. It’s worth listening to. My favourite songs on the album are “Ethiopia”, “Justin and Nova”, and “Kill Me With Your Love”.

Dani Litani: Singer who was born in Haifa and grew up in Jerusalem and on a few kibbutzim and learnt to play accordion and guitar as a kid. In his late teens, he got into American blues and soul music. Later on he was influenced by Bob Dylan. He started releasing music in the late 60s, however, I cannot find any of it. I however, was able to find a 1976 album he did with Jonathan Geffen (Aviv Geffen’s father), Miki Gavrielov, Haim Romano, and Danny Pe’er. There is some spoken word on the album and the general sound of it is blues rock. I found tracks 3, 5, 7, 8, and 15 enjoyable.

Litani also released an album in 1978 called Sympathy. Judith Ravitz did lead vocals on a few tracks. I enjoyed tracks: 1, 4, 6, and 10.

Besides music, he also is a voice actor. He’s been the voice of some characters in Disney films when they were dubbed in Hebrew.        

Efraim Shamir: One of the members of Kaveret (I will be talking about them in part 2). He was born in the USSR and raised in Poland from age 8-17. He and his wife, Esther, released a self-titled album in 1977. Much of it is softer pop.

Esther Ofarim: Recently, I was talking to my friend, Esteban about Israeli music and he mentioned he loved the ye-ye music of Esther Ofarim. She was born Esther Zaied in Tzfat in 1941 to a Syrian Jewish family. When she was 18, she met the man who would later be her husband, Abi Ofarim.

She became internationally successful in 1963, when she represented Switzerland in Eurovision and got second place with the song “T’en vas pas”. This placement was controversial because initially the song won, but Norway changed their score, flipping the placements of Switzerland and Denmark.

Esther and Abi Ofarim recorded albums together from the mid 60s to the late 60s. Most of their music was in German, but they also recorded music in English. Below is a cover of a Barry Gibb-penned song called “Morning of My Life”.

The duo’s biggest hit was “Cinderella Rockefella”, which topped the charts in multiple countries, including the UK. They even appeared on the Tom Jones show and performed with Cher.

Esther and Abi Ofarim divorced in 1970 in Germany. In the 70s, Esther went on her own and had a solo career.

Gazoz: Short-lived pop-rock band formed in the late 70s. Half of the lineup, Danny Sanderson and and Gidi Gov, were in the band Kaveret. They released two albums in 1979. Neither are on Spotify, but a 20 hits compilation released in the 90s is available to listen to. My favourite tracks on the album are tracks 3, 4, 6, 8, and 11.

Gabi Shoshan: Moroccan-born Israeli pop musician of the 70s. He had a successful career in that decade with multiple hits. In the mid 70s, he moved to the US in the hopes of getting more success, and it worked out okay with him performing for mostly Israeli immigrant audiences and appearing in some films and adverts. He took his life in 2016.

He released his debut album, Black Eyed Boy, in 1973. The album has some songs in English. My favourite songs on the album are “Ain Bli Dim’aa”, “Robert Katz”, “People Get Together”, “I’ll Be Gone”, and “Black Eyed Boy”.

He released his second album, in 1974. My favourite tracks on the album are 4-6 and 9-10.

Gene Simmons: Of course, I am including arguably, the best known Israeli rock star to international audiences. He was born Chaim Witz in Tirat Carmel, which is near Haifa. He and his family immigrated to the United States when he was 8 and he speaks both Hebrew and English. His parents were both Hungarian-born and his mother was a Holocaust survivor. Chaim Witz became Eugene Klein in the United States and from there, Gene Simmons.

Before Kiss, Gene Simmons formed Wicked Lester with Paul Stanley. Wicked Lester recorded an album, but never released it. Simmons and Stanley wanted to form what they called an “ultimate rock band”. Peter Criss placed an ad and they formed a trio. They were missing a lead guitarist so they put an ad in The Village Voice and they found Ace Frehley.

Gene Simmons was the bassist and driving force for the merchandising with his trademark demon makeup, which was inspired by the comic book character Black Volt.

He sang lead vocals on the songs “Rock and Roll All Nite”, “A World Without Heroes”, “I Love It Loud”, “Calling Dr Love”, “Unholy”, “Boomerang”, and “You Wanted the Best”

Gene Simmons is a big fan of comic books and sci-fi. He made a homecoming visit to Israel in 2011, visiting family members, and called it a life changing experience and identified more as an Israeli than as an American.

Gidi Gov: Musician and TV host who was in Gazoz and Kaveret. He released his first solo album in 1978, simply titled (when translated to English) First Album. It’s a really relaxing soft pop album.

Grazia: Grazia Peretz recorded her first album as a teenager in the 70s. As a kid, she was involved in the Jaffa folk scene, singing at Turkish weddings and at Mediterranean nightclubs. Grazia recorded the album with Koliphone Records, a label specialising in Greek, Turkish, Yemenite, and Moroccan music. The album combines Turkish music with psychedelia and proggy synths. Only 1,000 copies were pressed at the time of release and it was a flop – kind of forgotten, but reissues have been pressed decades later and the album can be found on Spotify. Sadly, because of the poor sales, Grazia stopped performing by the end of the 70s. Not much else is known about her. More information on her album can be found here.

The High Windows: Also known as HaChalonot HaGvohim, this pop band active from 1967-1968 released one album in 1967. This trio were made up of Arik Einstein, Shmulik Kraus, and Josie Katz. Kraus and Katz were a couple and Arik Einstein suggested they become a band.

Their band name was meant to be a tribute to The Doors. Uri Zohar, friend of Arik Einstein, suggested the name “The High Windows”, getting the inspiration from looking at an office building in Tel Aviv.

The High Windows’ sound is all about harmonies and their songs range from simple soft pop to psychedelia. Some songs I like on their album are “Yechzkel”, “Eynech Yechola”, “Ahava Rishona”, “Az Ma”, and “Horoscope”.

Ilan Chester: Born Ilan Czenstochowski in 1952 in Israel to an Ashkenazi family who survived the Holocaust, his family moved to Venezuela when he was a year old. His father was a diplomat.

His first name means “tree” in Hebrew. His biggest influences were the Jewish, French, and Italian music of his childhood and the American soul and British rock music of his teenage years. He also loves classical, jazz, Afro-Caribbean, and Venezuelan folk music. He was a could play Jewish songs on the piano from the age of 3. When he was 5, he appeared on Venezuelan television

When he was 19, he met Hare Krishna devotees and he was given the name Havi Das. He converted from Judaism to Hinduism. The Hare Krishna faith was another influence on his sound. He visited Israel when he was 20 and it was a trip that really moved him.

In the late 70s, he was in the band Ananta. Venezuelans Ilan Chester and Jorge and Charly Spiteri formed the band in London with Mark Francis, Patrick Bernard, and Dave Early. Ananta released their first album, Wheels of Time/Night and Daydream in 1978. George Harrison, Neil Diamond, and Bob Marley were listed in the album as special thanks (likely as inspirations for the album). The album has an interesting mix of sounds, but progressive and art rock probably describe it best. My favourite tracks on the album are “Vrindavan”, “Behind the Mask”, “The Game” (reminds me a bit of Jethro Tull), “Fill Your Heart and Mind”, and “Night and Daydream”.

In 1979, he released his first solo album, Por Principio… Fin. The album was recorded in Venezuela and has some jazz and prog elements to it. The album is in Spanish. Some good tracks are “Dulce Hogar” (Sweet Home), “Gracias Te Doy” (Thanks I give you), the instrumental “Quema Que Arde” (Burning), “Amorosa Radha” (Loving Radha), and “Gusto Particular” (Particular Taste).

And that concludes the first part of my series on Israeli rock musicians. Part two is here. Discovered a song or a musician you like? Share your thoughts in the comments section! 🙂

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