Monday, November 1, 2010

Music That Won't Make Your Ears Bleed

Our children checking out the tunes
I grew up in a family where music was a big part of each day. My father could often be found playing the piano; working out a jazz-infused piece he had written himself, or passionately playing Bach and Beethoven from memory. I have vivid memories of album covers and songs and conversations about music. My mother, I remember, had a particular fondness for James Taylor and Bob Dylan. My dad shared music as varied as The Stones, Prokofiev's Peter and The Wolf, Little Richard and Mozart's The Magic Flute with me. It's funny how certain songs bring back such clear pictures in your mind; where you were, what you were doing, who you were with.

When our children were born I always had music on in their room or in the car. I sang often to them (bless them, they still like to listen to mom's off-key warbling). I know many people like to listen to their "grown-up" music with their children, but I guess I liked the idea of music that was just for the kids. Now that our son and daughter are older, they really listen to the lyrics and, while I still love Arlo Guthrie's "Coming Into Los Angeles", I don't want to have to explain to my kids what he means by "Bringin' in a couple of keys". Thus, my search for kids' music that mom and dad would like as well became more important. 

There are tons of CDs out for kids and everyone has different tastes; you can see mine runs a bit more towards folk and classic rock so you'll have to factor that in when you read this:
  • I began our collection with the daddy of 'em all: Dan Zanes. We have just about all of his CDs and my kids really like every one. Dan has one of my favorite voices in the kids music world and plays old folk tunes and ballads with a funky twist. He also collaborates with other great artists; among them: Nathalie Merchant, Sheryl Crow and Suzanne Vega. I'd say pick up Rocketship Beach if you're just starting your collection. Also, if you have the chance to do so, Dan Zanes is fantastic live. We saw him play at Royce Hall about a year and a half ago and our kids had a blast.  
  • Laurie Berkner is another favorite in our house and a mainstay in the children's music world. We've seen her play live (A "pajama party" where the entire audience, as well as the performers, were in their PJs) and had a great time. We have all of her CDs as well, but I think "Under A Shady Tree" might be our favorite. Laurie's music is smart, fun and doesn't talk down to kids.
  • Elizabeth Mitchell has one of the loveliest voices out there and luckily for us, she makes beautiful children's music with it. Like Dan Zanes, Elizabeth Mitchell was a successful musician before turning to children's music. We only have two of her CDs but they are among my favorites. Her style is a bit slower, perhaps gentler, but it doesn't need to be raucous for kids to love it! You can sample many of her songs on Amazon; pick up a copy of "You Are My Sunshine" to start with if you like her sound. 
  • Meet The Squeegees
  • Over the years we have stumbled on some more obscure music that has turned out to be really good. One of the most recent is The SqueeGees. Their album, Meet The SqueeGees has fun, upbeat songs that encourage living a healthy lifestyle, enjoying nature, eco consciousness, and other issues they believe in without coming across as preachy or too heavy. The CD itself is recyclable, printed with soy-based inks and has a great poster inside that the kids can color. Our children particularly like the songs "Apples, Oranges and Peaches" (about all sorts of yummy fruits) and "Ivan The Terrible" (about Ivan who is mean, has bad breath and growls...but turns out to just be misunderstood). We just got this one, but it is in heavy rotation in our car. You can read more about The SqueeGees in this Sprockster interview.
  • In that vein, we also really like Rocknoceros (pronounced like the animal, rhinoceros). We saw them perform this Summer at Topanga's Theatricum Botanicum and they were so much fun. We've had their album, Pink!, in our car ever since. 
  • Our son and his microphone
  • We got to see The Pop Ups perform their puppet musical, Pasta!, this Summer as well and bought their album, Outside Voices after the show. Our son is somewhat obsessed with Jason and Jacob, the singers from this band, and insists on wearing a pink, Madonna-style, microphone headset when he sings along to their tunes. Seriously though, the songs are inventive, fun and incorporate many different styles of music. One of the things I love about their music is that the tunes are rather sophisticated and pleasant to hear so that if the lyrics were slightly changed, they could easily be adult songs. 
  • Earlier in the year we got to see Princess Bean's Messy World, a really fun stage show about being yourself despite the world's insistence that you fit the mold of what a princess should look and act like. Since the kids liked it so much, we of course...bought the CD afterwards. Again, I like it because it's got a great message and each song has a different style. Even our son was enthralled (although, admittedly, he was going through a big princess phase at the time).
  • For The Kids is a compilation CD that includes songs by artists as varied as Sarah McLaughlin, Wilco, and Tom Waits. It's also the first in a series of 3 (with different artists on each) and is pretty eclectic and lots of fun. Our kids have some favorites on each album. These definitely don't feel like kid's CDs.
  • A Gift From A Flower To A Garden
  • Donovan's A Gift From A Flower To A Garden originally came out in 1967 and, as it was a gift from my dad, it's one of my dearest childhood memories. It was originally a 2 record set with the second album being particularly magical and wonderful for children. The images are strange and fantastical, but how much more perfect for kids can you get? Sadly, the album only exists on CD now (unless you get really lucky) so the beautiful artwork that accompanied it is reduced to minuscule CD case size, but Donovan's rich voice and beautiful lyrics remain. 
  • And since I'm going really old school here, I would be remiss if I didn't remind you to pick up a copy of Free To Be You And Me and The Best Of Schoolhouse Rock. Sometimes there's just nothing better than sharing a little bit of your childhood memories with your kids and watching them light up with joy over the same stuff you liked. I mean, how can you say no to "Three Is A Magic Number"?
Obviously, this is all subjective and this is a list that we like. If you want to check out some less well-known bands and singers, take a look at Sprockster; it is a great place to read about new music. Additionally, I recently found a cool blog called Minivan Blues that has reviews on tons of kids' music; most of it unique and left of mainstream. Definitely worth checking out. 

Little rock star
It's been really great watching our children develop their love of music and performing over the past couple of years. Our daughter seems to have been a hippie in her former life as the Gayatri Mantra is actually her favorite piece of music to listen and dance to these days. Our son is going the more traditional route with his own "rock and roll" band at preschool and a predilection for the drums. Either way, I'm glad our kids are getting enjoyment out of music; though I do hope I won't have to outfit our garage to house our son and his drum kit in a few years! What about you? What music do you like to listen to with your kids?

Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach

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6 Great Comments Made By Clicking Here!:

Jackie said...

This is a GREAT list! I love Elizabeth Mitchell and Dan Zanes but the others are new to me. I will definitely be checking them out. Great holiday gift ideas! Thank you.

The Twin Coach said...

Thanks Jackie! Yes, I am on the hunt for new music for the holiday season too...and we've got tickets to see Dan Zanes again in the Spring!

Pam said...

A couple of years ago I discovered Frances England. She sings about good books, tricycles, blueberry pancakes and lots of other happy things. I also like the CD In Harmony from Sesame Street. It includes many mellow songs by various artists including the Bee Gees and Bette Midler. I'm excited to listen to Elizabeth Mitchell. I'd never heard of her. Great post. Thanks Gina.

twinspot said...

Thank you for this cool list. I've already started downloading some of the music from iTunes. While I regularly sing 70s tunes to my twin girls, I have been on the lookout for good children's music, and I'm very excited to have so many new artists to check out. Thanks for making it easy on me!

Nadia said...

A friend sent me information on a personalized childrens CD and it has been AWESOME! I have given several gifts of it as well. The songs are so catchy and easy to sing along to, and I love hearing my 18 month old "trying" to sing along in the car. I know she loves hearing her name throughout. The site is and it's so much fun !

The Twin Coach said...

Thank you Pam and Nadia for the great music ideas! I'm excited to check them out. And twinspot, I'm so glad you liked my musical suggestions...I hope the kids all enjoy them all as well!

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