Arik Einstein was considered one of the most beloved and enduring pop stars in Israel, remaining at the forefront of the Israeli music scene for decades. Often voted "Most Israeli Singer," Einstein seemed to encapsulate the quintessential Israeli-born "sabra." Throughout the years, his musical styles reflected the rapidly changing nature of the Jewish state. From his beginnings as a soldier/pop star in the '50s, he reinvented himself as a hipster crooner in the '60s and then again as a rock singer in the '70s. From the '80s into the new millennium, Einstein reigned as an elder statesman of the Israeli music scene. A self-confessed nostalgist, he continuously lamented the demise of morals and naïveté in modern-day Israel.
The son of an actor, Einstein grew up in Tel Aviv with the intention of becoming an athlete. He went on to become a junior high-jump national champion. In fact, a picture of him in action was later used as the cover of the 1987 album Al Gvool Haor (On Light's Border). In 1957, Einstein was drafted into the Israeli army. Following his father's advice, he decided to join the Nahal Infantry Brigade Band. At the time, the Nahal Band was just beginning its rise as Israel's top act. Its repertoire was comprised mainly of accordion-based harmless ditties performed to raise the troops' morale. Einstein's audience comprised the stars of the band: Chaim Topol (later of Fiddler on the Roof fame) and actor Uri Zohar, who would later become Einstein's artistic partner in many endeavors. Impressed by the comedic skills and the deep baritone of this gangly teenager, they accepted him.
Following his release from the army, Einstein recorded his first single in 1960, with four songs written by top songwriters. The most famous one was "Ir Levana" (White City), written by Naomi Shemer. Einstein spent the following years flexing his acting muscles, starring in the successful musical Irma La Douce and the film Nini. In 1964, Einstein joined the Gesher Hayarkon Trio, a supergroup including his fellow Nahal Band buddy Yehoram Gaon and Benny Amdurski. The group produced beautifully crafted songs with heavy Russian and French influences. But the emerging British Invasion also left its mark on the group, heard in its parodies: the song "Shake," performed on film with long Beatlesque wigs, and in "Why Don't You Go Out with Me," sung to the melody of "From Me to You." The Beatles would appear again in his work in 1966, as Einstein released "Mazal" (a song about a girlfriend taking her time getting dressed, set to the music of "Do You Want to Know a Secret"), as well as "Rak Etmol," a Hebrew version of "Yesterday." That same year, Einstein released his debut album, Shar Bishvilekh: Arik Einstein Sings for You, again showing the signs of change with the sounds of an electric guitar peeking out between the sweet, swinging songs
Einstein was a huge star. But he kept searching for a new, up-to-date sound. He found this sound when he met the duo of Shmulik Krauss and Pittsburgh-born Josie Katz: a couple both on- and off-stage. The superstar immersed himself in a team effort with the two lesser-knowns to create the High Windows, who would later be deemed the first Hebrew pop group. Krauss, a gifted musician with a notoriously short temper, wrote the music to all the group's songs. He modeled the trio's sound after the Mamas & the Papas and the Beatles' Revolver. As a result, all the songs on their debut album, The High Windows, produced by Benny Amdurski, were immediate hits and are played to this day on mainstream radio as pop classics.
Fueled by Israel's popularity after the Six-Day War (and undoubtedly helped by Katz's fetching looks and perfect English), the trio traveled abroad in 1967, performing throughout Italy, recording a live album at Paris' Olympia and receiving a recording contract in London. But Einstein's desire to return to Israel led him to leave the band behind and forge a new partnership that would prove to be one of the most significant duos in Israel's pop history.
Einstein met Shalom Hanoch when the latter was encouraged to sing on-stage during a party at the High Windows Club. They clicked immediately: Einstein asked the young artist (at the time still a soldier, and also in the Nahal Band) to write him material. In 1968 Einstein released a single with four Hanoch compositions, beginning with "Hagar," a pop-flavored song about the biblical mother of Ishmael.
Later that year Einstein released his second solo album, Mazal G'di (Capricorn), to which Hanoch wrote all the music, as well as lyrics to six of the songs. In the following Israeli Song Festival, Einstein performed "Prague," a dramatic, heavily orchestrated song written by Hanoch about the Soviet Invasion of the Czech capital, which had taken place only a few months earlier. The beautiful song, with its uniquely contemporary and aching lyrics, only reached seventh place in the festival competition, causing the disappointed Einstein to vow never again to participate in song contests.
Einstein brought the rock revolution into mainstream Israeli music with the album Poozy in 1969. The singer recorded the album backed by the Churchills, a psychedelic rock band (who would later achieve fame in Britain under the name Jericho Jones). This, in fact, was the first time the sound of an amped-up electric guitar was featured throughout an Israeli album. In 1970, Einstein and Hanoch released Shablool (Snail), this time billed as co-performers. With guitar solos and slightly obscene language, "Shablool" (featured heavily in a movie of the same name, directed by Uri Zohar), proved that Israeli rock had come of age. A few months later, the duo released another album, Plastelina (Plasticine). But the partnership was put on hold as Hanoch moved to Britain to pursue a solo career.
In his following albums, Einstein kept showcasing the talents of new young collaborators: Miki Gavrielov, the Churchills' former bassist with whom he created five albums between 1971 and 1987, as well as flutist/composer Shem Tov Levi, pianist Yoni Rechter, and guitarist Itzhak Klepter. In between, Einstein released children's albums and renditions of favorite old Israeli songs.
In 1979, Einstein and Hanoch reunited for a successful tour in Israel and the U.S., resulting in a double album and a decision made by Einstein to quit touring, a promise he kept in subsequent years. A serious car accident in the summer of 1982 resulted in his further withdrawal from stage and public performance. But in 1990, he found a new way to rekindle his popularity: a video film for children, called K'mo G'dolim (Like Adults), with songs and sketches that were immensely popular among toddlers. The success of the video produced a sequel, followed by the movie Kvalim (Cable), a straight-to-video parody he co-wrote and starred in about the multitude of TV channels.
A new stage in Einstein's career began in 1995. That year, he released his first adult-oriented studio album in seven years. Yesh Bi Ahava (I Have Love in Me) included his somber rendition of Aviv Geffen's "Livkot Leha" (Cry for You), originally written about a friend who died in a car crash. Shortly afterwards in November of the same year, it became the unofficial anthem for many Israelis grieving the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Einstein and Shalom Hanoch released a new studio album, composed and arranged by Hanoch, called Muscat. In effect, it was an Einstein album of Hanoch-composed songs, with the latter sharing vocal duties in two songs. After 2000, Einstein collaborated sporadically with other musicians and skipped between record labels. He released Shemesh Retuva (Wet Sun) in 2002, Shtei Gitarot Bass Tupim (Two Guitars, Bass, Drums) in 2004, and Regaim (Moments) in 2006. In 2007, Einstein released four singles from his collaboration with yet another young and relatively unknown songwriter, Guy Bukati. The resulting album was called Kol Hatov Shebaolam (All That's Good in the World), with Bukati receiving equal billing.
Arik Einstein suffered an aortic aneurysm in November 2013, passing away in Tel Aviv at the age of 74. Thousands assembled to mourn his passing in the city's Rabin Square, where Einstein's body lay in state prior to his funeral.
Along with very personal songs, Einstein focused thematically on critiques of modern-day Israel. If anything, the tone of his lyrics became more barbed and acidic as the years progressed. In 1986, he lamented: "My country, my homeland, you're going down the drain." Twenty years later, it was: "Tired of dreaming the same dreams/Locked up in the same walls/Tired of hating the same hate." Yet his most poignant lyrics were written for the pre-elections 2001 single "Francesca Politika," likening politics to prostitution, "Saying peace and making war."