The World Health Organization warns that the majority of kids’ music that’s available out there causes adults to bleed from the ears.
What modern parent hasn’t cringed in pain at the grievous saccharine platitudes of Barney’s lip-synched and syrupy songs? Who hasn’t been Disneyed to death and ee i ee i ohed to the point of bovicidal fury?
Our eldest son’s nanny, whom we otherwise absolutely adored, had introduced into our home a cassette of children’s songs that featured in large part choral numbers by children whose British accents were so honeyed they simply had to be affected, and which chidingly admonished us to never “play cards with a cheetah,” or “shake hands with an octopus,” or “smile at a crocodile,” until I wanted nothing more than to take my kids to the zoo to do just these things in order to vent my frustration with these invidiously cloying English glee clubbers.
It was while bemoaning the very existence of this tape that some friends of ours turned us on to two kids’ CDs that everyone can enjoy, that don’t induce adult cranial hemorrhaging.
The first is Sandra Boynton’s “Philadelphia Chickens.” You may know Boynton from her fabulous kids’ books, but you may not know that many of her little rhyming ditties were put to music and released as an album voiced by such stars as Laura Linney, Scott Bakula, Eric Stolz, Kevin Kline, Natasha Richardson, and Meryl Streep (we all knew she could act, but damn, that woman can sing). I find myself in the car belting out the Bacon Brother’s (yes, Kevin Bacon’s band) swing version of the title song, wailing “there’s nothing like a chicken who knows how to swing, poultry in motion is a beautiful thing!” It’s all great fun, and chances are you’ll like it as much as your kids do.
The second disc our friends slipped us was “No” by They Might be Giants, best known for their cover of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” from their 1990 album “Flood.” Many of the songs on “No” are quirky – “Fibber Island,” for example – and some are simply bizarre, like “Violin,” which is essentially a list of random objects, including a hippo, a mop, a speck of dust, and three quarters of George Washington’s head. The songs are infectious for kids and adults, though, and are something everyone can enjoy.
They Might be Giants have put out several kids’ albums, including “Here Come the ABCs,” “Here Come the 123s” (which won a Grammy), and “Here Comes Science,” which is geared toward slightly older children. To promote the albums the two Johns, Flansburgh and Linnel, who founded the band, put out a series of Friday Night Podcasts and videos, which are awesome and which you can find on YouTube or access through their official site. Our favorite videos include “I am a Paleontologist,” “Why Does the Sun Shine,” “High Five,” and “Nonagon,” but they’re all great, really. “No” and “The Philadelphia Chickens” are two CDs we always have on hand in the car, and Mommy and Daddy never moan inwardly when they’re requested.
Another musician we’ve found who doesn’t grate on adult ears is Eric Herman, who has a lot of fun videos on YouTube, including “Blackbeard, Bluebeard & Redbeard,” and “The Elephant Song,” which is great for younger kids. Definitely check out his stuff.
Our kids also love the videos put out by Big Green Rabbit, which generally center around various animals. “The Green Anaconda Song,” “The Iguana Song,” and “One Thousand Steps” are particularly catchy.
You don’t necessarily need to suffer when the kids want to listen to their own music or watch videos designed for little ones. Have a look at some or all of these, and you’ll find your musical lives transformed. We did.