Once upon a time, we were regulars at the Showbox and subscribed to RollingStone. But now that toddler-friendly tunes dominate our CD players, we´re more likely to be found rockin´ out to “We Are the Dinosaurs” than the White Stripes. Sound familiar? Resigned to at least another few years of kiddie music but refusing to settle for mediocrity, this week we went in search of the holy grail of children´s CDs: songs that will get little hands clapping and diapered bottoms shaking without driving grown-ups to tear out their hair.
With a little help from local music stores and RT readers, we´ve put together the following hit parade—all blessedly devoid of saccharine sweet lyrics and cringe-worthy hooks. (All CDs are available at amazon.com.)
- Sing-A-Longs & Lullabies for the Film Curious George (Jack Johnson, $9.48) Parents everywhere breathed a sigh of relief when everyone´s favorite surfer-boy-turned-pop-star released this charming soundtrack. The movie tie in and whimsical lyrics give it instant credibility with little ones, while Johnson´s trademark sun-kissed sound works for adults. No annoying rhymes or high-pitched squeals here, just smooth crooning and a sprinkling of lullabies by Johnson with collaboration from the likes of Ben Harper and G. Love. Download This: The catchy Schoolhouse Rock number “The 3 R´s” reinterpreted with an environmentally friendly message (“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”).
- Fascinating Creatures (Frances England, $12.97 each) Though this indie rocker’s follow-up CD, Family Tree, is as critically-acclaimed as her debut, we’re partial to her first effort, Fascinating Creatures, as it blew our socks off in 2006 when it first come out and we’re still not tired of listening to it. It also contains our favorite tune, “Tricycle.” Download This: The “Tricycle” video on youtube is a fun, quirky video the kids will watch over and over, shot in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.
- No! (They Might be Giants, $13.98) Although one reader warned that No! is best for those who are already fans of this cult-favorite band, the upbeat, dance-able TMBG children´s CD gets high marks from reviewers for providing a perfect bridge between the musical tastes of tots and their hipster parents (other releases include “Here Come the ABCs” and “Bed Bed Bed”). Download This: The title track (“No!”) or “Robot Parade” with the kid-pleasing refrain “Robots obey what children say!”
- Way Out and The Yellow Bus (Justin Roberts, $13.98 each) When it came to kid-specific artists, alternative country-inspired musician Justin Roberts just barely beat out fellow funny men Dan Zanes and Ralph Covert as an RT reader favorite (see Honorable Mentions below). Roberts´ original songs are silly enough for kids but tasteful enough to keep from grating on parents´ nerves. As one reader put it: “No purple dinosaurs here!” Download This: The Yellow Bus´ giggle-inducing “Tickle My Toes.”
- Bedtime With the Beatles (Jason Falkner, $13.98) Soothing lullaby versions of classic Beatles songs provide a sweet introduction to the Fab Four for your budding music fan. Die-hard Beatles lovers might find the arrangements a tad synthetic but we´re guessing most sleep-deprived moms and dads will love rocking baby to sleep to the soothing sounds of “Blackbird” and “The Long and Winding Road.” Download This: “And I Love Her” takes on a whole new meaning when cuddling with your daughter.
- For the Kids and For the Kids Too! (Various Artists, $10.98 each) On the original 2002 release, kiddie songs from the Muppets and Sesame Street are reinterpreted by well-known artists like the Barenaked Ladies, Tom Waits, Semisonic´s Dan Wilson and Cake. The second disc takes the indie route, rounding up slightly edgier stars like Paper Moon, Matthew Sweet and Robyn Hitchcock. The results? A silly, more traditionally child-friendly first album and a quirkier, more mature follow-up. Like any collaborative CD, there are a few duds—but isn´t listening to Tom Waits miss the mark better than suffering through another Raffi song? Download This: “The Rainbow Connection” by Sarah McLachlan, a sultry spin on the Kermit the Frog ditty.
- Catch That Train!, House Party or Family Dance (Dan Zanes, 12.98 each), Kid-approved wacky lyrics from roots-rocker Zanes joined by parent-friendly collaborators like Sheryl Crow, Lou Reed and Phillip Glass.
- At the Bottom of the Sea, Ralph´s World or Green Gorilla, Monster & Me (Ralph´s World, around $13.98 each), popular folksy kiddie tunes from a singer-songwriter whom reviewers have compared to Arlo Guthrie.
- Putumayo Presents: French Playground (Various Artists, $13.98), a lovely collection of French and French Creole songs.
- Sounds of the South (Various Artists, $69.98), This pricey set of gospel, blues and folk songs collected by a musicologist in 1961 includes a beautiful children´s folk CD. (Tip: try checking it out at the library).
- Mary Had a Little Amp (Various Artists, $10.98), follows the same formula as For the Kids, offering children´s songs covers from stars like R.E.M, Moby and Bonnie Raitt.
- Not for Kids Only (David Grisman and Jerry Garcia, $13.98), one of a collection of upbeat acoustic CDs from Grisman, a mandolinist, and the late Grateful Dead singer-guitarist.