Get Into the Groove: Adult-Safe Kids Music — by Guest Mom Joslyn Taylor

November 8, 2007

You’d have to be confined to a small, windowless room not to catch on to the fact that music aimed at very young kids has relatively recently become a very big industry. I’m not talking about music aimed at “tweens”, like the Duff sisters’ stuff (our parents called it “teeny bopper” music — not much seems to have changed there). Rather, tune into Noggin during daylight hours for 10 minutes, and chances are you’ll see/hear an example of what I’m referring to. What started a few years ago with Dan Zanes now has practitioners aplenty, some up to the high standards set by Sir Dan, many — sadly for parents — a few rungs lower.

Music was an ever-present aspect of my upbringing, and I can assure you that “kid music” never made it into my parent’s repertoire. To them, all music was kid music. Unfortunately the musical gene didn’t get passed down to me, but despite my shortcomings I did manage to marry someone who can play multiple instruments. “Family band” is a staple of our Saturday mornings, granted my husband pretty much carries the ensemble, but Audrey and I can rock the tambourine and maracas like nobody’s business.

Audrey showing off her moves

Before my husband and I had kids and became aware of the children’s music boom, we used to talk about music we thought our kids would enjoy. The conversation would always come down to a list of the “top” songs we wanted to try out on them. The list was always made up of pop and folk music, much of which we had enjoyed as kids but wasn’t expressly written for children. There’s a million of these lists out there now, but here’s a rundown of favorites, tested and proven on our daughters and guaranteed not to annoy mommy and daddy.

1. “Yellow Submarine” (Beatles) — It would be easy to make an entire list like this composed of nothing but Beatles songs. Catchy choruses, simple lyrics. Just steer clear of “Helter Skelter” or “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road”, and you’re golden.

2. “(Take Me) Riding in My Car” (Woodie Guthrie) — We always liked the original from the 1930s, but Elizabeth Mitchell (who has several good children’s CDs out) does a great version that our oldest loves to sing with

3. “ABC” (Jackson 5) — Michael was so cool at age 8.

4. “1, 2, 3, 4” (Feist) — You probably know this one from the iPod nano commercial, the dancers in colorful shirts swirling around a warehouse in the background. If you haven’t heard her other stuff, it’s terrific music for grown-ups. But this one…I’ve never seen my daughter so rapt by a tune. She begs me to “turn it higher” every time it comes on. Kind of sad lyrics, but cloaked in a tune like this, even a funeral dirge would make you want to dance and sing.

5. “Doctor Worm” (They Might Be Giants) — “My name is Doctor Worm; I’m not a real doctor, but I am a real worm”. Not much else to say.

6. “The 3 R’s” (Jack Johnson) — “Reduce, reuse, recycle”. I think this one from the “Curious George” soundtrack doesn’t qualify for “not written expressly for kids” status, but it’s cute and gets them singing along. Plus, it’s a good message.

7. “Rock Island Line” (Johnny Cash version) — Johnny does indeed have a high gear. Just check out the chorus. Cows, pigs, sheep, mules – they’re all here.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 chelsea November 8, 2007 at 3:11 pm

That’s a great post. most of the music written for kids drives me crazy. Our alternative station here in Portland (OR) has a great Saturday morning music program for kids.


2 Lindsey November 8, 2007 at 4:24 pm

We LOVE They Might Be Giants. Just today when we were listening to Dr. Worm, my daughter told me it was her favorite song. (Then she said that about each one after that.)

Love these great tips on music.


3 Ricci November 8, 2007 at 6:03 pm

add Rock Lobster by the B-52′s… my daughter loves it!!!


4 laurie November 8, 2007 at 11:04 pm

Great post. Great song recommendations. We have created a series of mixes called “Music for Kids that’s not Kids’ Music.”

A couple of my girls’ favorites are De Do Do Do, De Da, Da, Da (The Police), I’m Sticking With You (Velvet Underground), Bongo Bong (Manu Chao), The Fox (Nickel Creek), and Daydream Believer (The Monkees).

I didn’t have some of the ones you listed so I’m thrilled to have som enew suggestions for my next mix!


5 Joslyn November 9, 2007 at 2:01 am

laurie: so excellent…i’m definitely adding The Police and the Velvet Underground to our rotation!


6 Nan November 10, 2007 at 11:58 pm

Several of those are on our regular listening list in our iTunes! :^D


7 TRS November 14, 2007 at 2:54 am

My sis-in-law used to play the Sister Act 2 soundtrack in the car. It was really beautiful hearing the kids sing along to ‘Oh Happy Day’

it also has a beautiful version of Joyful, Joyful (rif on we adore thee) and a fun version of Ain’t No Mountain High Enough… that you’ll remember from the movie. Fun to sing along.


8 Anonymous November 20, 2007 at 3:56 pm

This is excatly what I’m looking for, thank you! I want a fun adult music compilation to dance with my baby daughter to. I had come up with Isn’t She Lovely, Upside Down (Jack Johnson, CUrious George soundtrack) and the banana Boat song, but then I was stumped! I will use a lot of these songs! Please keep posting new ones!


9 Kids Music September 29, 2009 at 1:41 am

Good advice in your blog. Thanks a lot.


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