In 1979, an Israeli disco act took the world by storm
For years, The A.V. Club has delved into cinematic history’s dustbin with Films That Time Forgot, but far more records are released every year than films. If cinema has a dustbin of forgotten films, music has a giant Dumpster. In Albums That Time Forgot, we examine records few people would remember.
Artist: Milk & Honey (or Halav Udvash in its native Israel)
Album: Milk & Honey With Gali
Wait, who? In 1979, political strife forced the annual Eurovision Song Contest out of Yugoslavia and to the most peaceful place on earth, Israel. The host country needed to make a strong showing, so it created Milk & Honey—a name that references Biblical promises to the Israelites—to represent Israel with the song “Hallelujah.” Shmulik Bilu, Reuven Gvirtz, and Yehuda Tamir were joined by female lead vocalist Gali Atari, and together they rode “Hallelujah” to Eurovision’s top spot. Naturally, an album had to be cranked out in short order. To maximize its impact, it mostly eschewed the Broadway leanings of “Hallelujah” for the then au courant disco sound. (See, quick cash-in albums from goofy singing contests aren’t solely the domain of the American Idol era.)
From the liner notes: In lieu of liner notes are two pictures of the hirsute group. But a fan-made website for Milk & Honey provides some commentary, speculating that “Hallelujah” is “remembered the world over as one of the very best ever Eurovision songs.” Well, mostly: “Of course this fact inevitably is widely debated and disputed in discussion forums around the world, although sadly for the genuine music lovers out there, political motivation of a small minority in these discussions somewhat clouds the debate.” Sure, you can enjoy “Hallelujah,” but only if you ignore the cries of oppressed Palestinians.
Key songs: Continuing the Broadway theme, “Hallelujah” is the album’s big closer. What comes before it is disco-dancin’ dreck with ESL-grade lyrics. Maybe a clunky title/refrain like “The World Is Like A Roundabout” flows a little better in Hebrew? The lyrics are equally stiff: “Smile when you’re on top, and then you gotta smile when you get low, for you should know the world is like a roundabout.”
Another highlight is penultimate track “Happiness Recipe,” which goes literal with the title for nonsensical results: “You take a snowflake, mix it with a earthquake, hope that they will get along.” So the recipe for happiness is uniting snow with seismic activity, got it.
But the standout is “Chinatown,” which pays tribute to Chinese culture in the most stereotypical ways possible, from the ubiquitous Oriental riff to cringe-inducing lyrics like “Chinatown, Chinatown / On the drums the chopsticks pound! / If you got that China tea / Chinatown’s all right with me!” The song paints a picture of a person deep in thought, wandering the city until the areas he knows give way to parts unknown. Milk & Honey helpfully translates that into Chinese-takeout terms: “Changing by the hour / Sweet is going sour / No surprise I’m down in Chinatown.” During a breakdown later in the song, Gali sings, “I like the rice!” It’s just a notch above “Me likee the flied lice.”
Can easily be distinguished by: The band cover portrait, which looks like it was airbrushed onto a T-shirt on the Jersey Shore boardwalk. Also, all four members look like they lived on the Jersey Shore in the late ’70s.
Sign that it was made in 1979: The way every song sounds.