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.
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.