I remember kids music when I was young. A lot of it was Disney (or published by Disney), available on vinyl 45s that we played on our Mickey Mouse record player — you remember, the one where Mickey’s arm is the arm for playing the record, and his forefinger contained the stylus?
You don’t remember… You don’t even know what a 45 is? Frick, I’m getting too old for this.
Well, back when I was a kid, it was a lot of Burl Ives, singing bears, Raffi, and Sharon, Lois, and Bram. I never really liked those songs much, admittedly. Well, maybe except for Burl Ives — how can you not love that voice?
Anyway, I never really liked them because I always felt like I was being patronised. Like some adult was patting me on the head and saying: “There, there, little boy. We’ll sing you a nice song to make you happy.” Well, screw you, Raffi, I don’t want to listen to your happy song about flipping bays where watermelons grow. I know damn well what my mother will say, and it’s nothing about polka-dotted whale tales. I don’t think she’s even ever seen a whale, polka-dotted or not!
(For the record, I have nothing but the highest respect for Raffi and the work he has done not just in music, but in child advocacy. I just can’t listen to his music.)
It’s stuck with me all my life. To this day, I still can’t listen to most kids’ music. And I really can’t stand the “Purple Stew” song. Man, I hated that song when it was sung in school. I spent years — YEARS — skooching to the corner so no-one would pick me to end up in that damned purple stew. Unlike my other apparently-ignorant classmates, I knew what the stew was for, and I wasn’t keen on being eaten!
So naturally, now that I’m a parent, I’m worried. I don’t want to have to listen to kids’ music, the kind that has turned several of my friends insane because their kids want to listen to the same song a million times. If the song isn’t any good to begin with, you’re ready to commit sepuku. I’ve seen the blank stares on their faces, reminicent of the early-stages of zombification. I like music — no, I need music! Good music! Without music, there is no hope, no future, no salvation, nothing to carry me through a hard day!
Luckily, now being at an age where I can appreciate things more for what they are, I’ve managed to discover a few things.
First, not everyone writes crappy kids’ music. Witness Sesame Street and The Muppets. Jim Henson was more than a visionary when it came to children’s programming, he (or whomever did the music direction) totally hit the nail on the head when it came to the songs: Make songs that kids like to sing, that parents won’t yak at.
Remember, folks, good parents listen and watch every thing their kid hears and sees (be it music or TV). Parents who plunk their kid in front of a TV, go off to do something else and then bitch about what their kids are watching are BAD PARENTS. You’re being stupid. And yes, I’m a parent now, so I can say that with a certain amount of certainty. If you’re not willing to take an interest in your child’s activities, you’re not parenting. Just sayin’.
A few people have figured out to make decent kids’ music. I can listen to The Muppets (even the oft-maligned “Mah Na Mah Na”) until my ears bleed, and I don’t go crazy. That’s important.
A couple of months ago, I found out I wasn’t alone. It seemed that someone else had that idea. They created an album called “For the Kids”, which took a lot of the songs you knew as a kid, and had them played by people you listen to now. Examples: “La La La La Lemon” by the Barenaked Ladies, “The Rainbow Connection” by Sarah McLachlan, “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” by Chantal Kreviazuk, and even Tom Waits appears on the album. But admittedly, even though Sarah McLachlan does a wonderful rendition, I will always hear Kermit the Frog sing “The Rainbow Connection”.
I wonder if the experience of recording “La La La La Lemon” inspired the Barenaked Ladies, ‘cuz earlier this year they released their latest album — of kids’ music. “Snacktime” was a total surprise to me, though after listening to it a couple of times, it really makes sense. I mean, these guys are all late-30s children, for crying out loud. As a parent, I don’t just mind listening to it — I sing along to it (albeit very badly).
Jack Johnston pumped out the soundtrack to Curious George, which is fantastic! (Still need to pick that one up.) And several other compliation albums with good, listenable music are now freely readily available (see the Also Bought section in For The Kids Too).
So, parents out there suffering to annoying music, there is hope! Turn away the garbage, and pull out some new stuff. Sing with your kids because it’s not annoying! Once you get them interested in (better) music, you can slowly amp them up to more popular music.
And eventually, they’ll be screaming the lyrics to “Aces High”. (Just don’t say I didn’t warn you…)