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I need some toddler music that won't drive me crazy.
January 4, 2011 1:01 PM   Subscribe

Please suggest good, upbeat recordings of classic children's songs. Criteria: no actual children singing, no lite-pop instrumentation, preferably some harmony. Will also gratefully accept recommendations for singable, melodic and repetitive grownup songs that a toddler might enjoy.

My 20-month-old is starting to be interested in music we can sing along to, which means, I guess, that at some point soon I'm going to have to bite the bullet and purchase some actual children's music. (Her current favorites are Old Macdonald, If You're Happy and You Know It, B-I-N-G-O, and Jingle Bells, which should give a decent idea of what elements she likes-- lots of repetition, bouncy tempo, simple melodies, ideally fun sounds or motions to go with the song.)

I draw the line, though, at purchasing one of those horrible standard recordings featuring shrill children's choruses, annoyingly chirpy hippy chicks, or Barney-style candy pop instrumentation with heavy use of synthesizers and drum machines. Ideally, the recordings would sound as much like actual music as possible, while still being recognizable and somewhat singable by a toddler.

Any genre is fine-- bluegrass, folk, (real) pop, rock, classical, a capella, barbershop, whatever-- but there must be real adult singers, real instruments, and real settings, preferably including some harmony. The closest we've found to this is Raffi, but he's missing some key songs and doesn't have very much harmony. Have read these threads, but a lot of that music is not very singable for a wee tot. What else should I be checking out? We do iTunes and Amazon, so individual track suggestions are welcome, as well as whole albums. Thanks!
posted by Bardolph to Media & Arts (40 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
They might be Giants have several kids albums
Alphabutt - Kimya Dawson if you like that sort of thing -- not really harmony I guess
Mother Mother Has one great kids song "Polynesia" and might have more
posted by d4nj450n at 1:05 PM on January 4, 2011


Jerry Garcia, Not For Kids Only. "There might be bugs on some a you mugs, but there ain't no bugs on me."
posted by fixedgear at 1:06 PM on January 4, 2011


Dan Zanes is awesome. Laurie Berkner is awesome. You cannot go wrong with either of these artists.

The They Might Be Giants childrens' albums are awesome (I find myself singing "I Am Not Your Broom" remarkably frequently). Pete Seeger's children's records were recently reissued, as were the Smithsonian Folkways records.

Philadelphia Chickens is tremendous.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:06 PM on January 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Oh, dang. Missed the classic children's songs part. Sorry, got nothing.
posted by d4nj450n at 1:06 PM on January 4, 2011


This Putumayo album got alot of play time when our son was a toddler.
posted by ldenneau at 1:07 PM on January 4, 2011


My eldest goddaughter looooooooooooooved this. Loved it.

The thing about the classic songs is that they will learn them in school, if by "classic songs" you mean "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and "Old McDonald" and like that. You will be sick of them later, so I wouldn't start with them now.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:09 PM on January 4, 2011


I don't have a link handy, but you need to hear Rufus Thomas's version of Old MacDonald. Broken into 2 parts, part 1 is a little gospel-y and a little forgettable. But part 2, oh part 2, part 2 is where the funk comes in. It's actually amazingly good. I'll queue it up every once in a while. And I have no children, so I'm listening to it because I want to.
posted by .kobayashi. at 1:09 PM on January 4, 2011


Peter, Paul and Mary's Peter, Paul and Mommy is singable, very sweet, very classic PP&M, I love it even now that I'm grown-up. What you consider "classic" might be a little variable, but Puff the Magic Dragon and The Marvelous Toy both definitely ought to be on the list.
posted by gracedissolved at 1:09 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had a tape of children songs growing up sung by popular artists in a bunch of different styles. I found it a few years ago and (most of) the songs were still enjoyable. It's called For Our Children, and featured Bob Dylan, Elton John, Sting, etc. I'm not positive they've made a CD out of it, and I'd link to it but I'm on a mobile phone.
posted by riddler at 1:10 PM on January 4, 2011


Billboard's Lullaby Classics also has a few that we really liked. I'm partial to Peggy Lee's "La La Lu".
posted by ldenneau at 1:13 PM on January 4, 2011


.kobayashi., the Rufus Thomas funk cut is on the Putumayo record. You're right -- it rocks!
posted by ldenneau at 1:15 PM on January 4, 2011


Elizabeth Mitchell has lovely renditions of songs you'd consider classics for kids, plus she interprets songs like Velvet Underground's "What Goes On" to be both kid and parent friendly. Her voice is calm and subtle. Sorry no link possible now, but she's worth googling.
posted by keener_sounds at 1:24 PM on January 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Imagination Movers FTW!
posted by Citrus at 1:27 PM on January 4, 2011


Oh, yes, keener_sounds! I was trying to think of Elizabeth Mitchell and couldn't think of her name. She is just excellent.

And For Our Children is also fantastic.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:29 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I strongly recommend Pete Seeger's Children's Concert at Town Hall. Not only will your children get exposed to Seeger (who is a national treasure), but they'll also hear wonderfully classic folk songs that they would probably not otherwise encounter.

My heart leaps with joy when I hear my children singing these songs around the house.
posted by DWRoelands at 1:31 PM on January 4, 2011


Bruce Springsteen, "John Henry" (hang in until 00:50, when the song starts).
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:43 PM on January 4, 2011


OMG I know this is so hard. The only album I've found so far that my 13 month son and I both REALLY like is Ziggy Marley's Family Time. But it contains no "classic" children's songs. Very singable, and several easily lend themselves to motions ("Ziggy says look to the left/ Ziggy says look to the right/ Ziggy says turn in a circle/ Ziggy says stop and say hi." I am not usually a reggae fan, but this is the best!
posted by LizardOfDoom at 1:46 PM on January 4, 2011


Posted without adding: Bruce Springsteen's "We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions" has fabulous versions of "John Henry," "Old Dan Tucker," "Froggie Went A'Courtin'" and "Erie Canal." It is a fabulous, furiously alive album. Might be too fast for her to keep up with, but you can sing these to her and she'll get it eventually.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:48 PM on January 4, 2011


"Yellow Submarine" I used to work in a day care center and man, that song would bring the school down with joy.
posted by effluvia at 2:07 PM on January 4, 2011


I know Disney's Children's Favorite Songs sounds like it would be awful, but it's actually an amazing set of clear, singable classic children's songs. There are no songs from Disney movies at all, just stuff like "Camptown Races" and "Old Macdonald". They're all sung by the same man, whose name I don't know, but I recognize his voice from the old Oreo commercial: "Just me and you and an Oreo cookie.." Just sayin', so you don't spend two years wondering why he sounds so familiar like I did.

For originals, we like Jessica Harper - bouncy, clever, bluesy.
posted by apparently at 2:13 PM on January 4, 2011


Oh, his name seems to be Larry Groce.
posted by apparently at 2:16 PM on January 4, 2011


Along the lines of effluvia's comment, my mom was (is) a huge Beatles fan, and I was in college before I realized that the Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was *not* a kids' album (for some reason I didn't realize it was the Beatles). We would sing along to that record over and over, and because all the words are printed on the back of the LP sleeve, when I was a little older I'd read along, too.

In general, early Beatles is almost always kid-friendly and singable, but in practice their entire oeuvre is pretty accessible for the under-7 set. I was definitely singing "you say you want a revolution..." long before I knew what a revolution was :)

The only real kids' music I had was a record on which the only song I remember is Supercalifragilisticexpialidocius; my parents must have thought that separate music for kids was pointless when my siblings and I were so happy with the Beatles.

Oh, and your kid's a little young for it, maybe, but the Beatles Rock Band game has all kinds of extra joy in it for me because it takes me back to childhood -- and reminds me what the words are!
posted by obliquicity at 2:23 PM on January 4, 2011


Pete Seeger: Children's concert. Or anything by Pete Seeger, actually.
posted by Melismata at 2:25 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Woops, Pete Seeger was mentioned in one of the previous threads.
posted by Melismata at 2:33 PM on January 4, 2011


The Curious George movie soundtrack (Jack Johnson, Sing-A-Longs And Lullabies For The Film Curious George) is a really good one. The stuff Carly Simon did for Piglet's Big Movie is also good, light and happy and mellow. Olivia Newton-John's Warm and Tender is also very nice - lots of both kid and adult classics.
posted by lemniskate at 2:33 PM on January 4, 2011


Seconding Elizabeth Mitchell, especially the song that was featured on Futurama, "Little Bird, Little Bird." You can order her CD's at youaremyflower.org.
posted by soelo at 2:39 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


This seems to come up on the green every once in a while. A few years ago, a similar AskMe led me to the Smithsonian Folkways collection (mentioned above), which I like a lot.
posted by etc. at 2:55 PM on January 4, 2011


I made this awesome folk-toddler Pandora station if you want to me-mail me, I'll email it to you.
posted by k8t at 4:16 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Many of the albums have already been mentioned, but here is my list of very listenable childrens music.

Amazon List
posted by silsurf at 5:32 PM on January 4, 2011


Nobody mentioned Raffi yet? And yes, Elizabeth Mitchell.
posted by tamitang at 5:44 PM on January 4, 2011


Burl Ives.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:53 PM on January 4, 2011


Seconding Polansky's Animan Alphabet Songs. Its wonderful.
And I love love love For Our Children, featuring Little Richard, Sting, Elton John, Carole King,
Bob Dylan, etc.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:06 PM on January 4, 2011


Seeeeeeeeggggeeeerrr! seriously, Pete Seeger! I really like Bireds Beasts and Bugs

Other favorites of ours in the classic songs genre were (and still are):
Gene Autry's Always Your Pal (love this album!)
any of the children's albums by Woody Guthrie
Burl Ives
and
Ella Jenkins who seems like the quintessential songs to sing at pre-school singer. Although her albums feature kids singing. It's very sweet in that it's not as produced as modern kids music.

For modern kids music I really like:
Justin Roberts,
Dan Zanes,
Farmer Jason (alt country kids music)
posted by vespabelle at 9:02 PM on January 4, 2011


Seconding Ella Jenkins. That's the first artist I thought of.

The Really Rosie soundtrack by Carole King is wonderful. Loved it as a kid, still love the music as an adult.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:17 PM on January 4, 2011


John McCutcheon! He is a folk singer that I grew up listening too and still have extremely fond memories of. I believe he mostly does awesome cheesy-ass folk music now, but when his kids were little (around my age, hah!) he wrote them kids songs and those few albums are spectacular! The ones in particular I am thinking of are Mail Myself to You, Howdjadoo, and Family Garden.

Also nthing Raffi and Pete Seeger! They made me the sf-livin', folk-listenin' hippie I am today.
posted by ruhroh at 9:37 PM on January 4, 2011


Check out the 'Baby Loves....' series. I have the Baby Loves Jazz CDs and I'm 30, but also an idiot. There are some kids voices occasionally, but not a lot. Known musicians in a field collaborated to record kids songs.

Other albums, Baby Loves Hip Hop, Reggae, Disco, Blues, Salsa. I can't tell you what they are like, but attracted some big names and might be worth a listen.

Or you could just go straight for the Don Spencer.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 4:11 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is a three volume series starting with For The Kids. It has a range of artists, including Cake, Glen Phillips, Darius Rucker, Five For Fighting, and The Barenaked Ladies singing both traditional and new Childrens songs.
posted by vagabond at 1:07 PM on January 5, 2011


Woody Guthrie's children's songs, overdubbed by Arlo and the Guthrie family. This is a GREAT album for everyone.

You can sample them if you go to the link. Try "Don't you push me down." My sister and I sang that one (pushing each other down, contrary to the song's lyrics) in 1955, and I am still singing these songs today.

My favorite is "All Work Together." But they're all great.
posted by DMelanogaster at 5:43 PM on January 5, 2011


Thank you so much for all these great ideas, everyone! I marked a few best answers simply because in the course of working through all these suggestions I realized that what I was actually looking for was bluegrass or folk-styled recordings with fairly robust harmonies for multi-part singalong fun.

Will definitely be picking up the Woody Guthrie album to start with (why is it so expensive??), and I'll survey local libraries for a copy of the Disney collection and the PPM CD. Pete Seeger is so awesome-- I am annoyed with him for seemingly not ever recording anything with multiple parts, but perhaps we'll get some tracks anyway and try improvising our own harmonies. In any case, some combination of these suggestions should fill out the little one's playlist nicely. Thanks again!
posted by Bardolph at 7:34 AM on January 6, 2011


Thank you so much for all these great ideas, everyone! I marked a few best answers simply because in the course of working through all these suggestions I realized that what I was actually looking for was bluegrass or folk-styled recordings with fairly robust harmonies for multi-part singalong fun.

Will definitely be picking up the Woody Guthrie album to start with (why is it so expensive?), and I'll survey local libraries for a copy of the Disney collection and the PPM CD. Pete Seeger is so awesome-- I am annoyed with him for seemingly not ever recording anything with multiple parts, but perhaps we'll get some tracks anyway and try improvising our own harmonies. In any case, some combination of these suggestions should fill out the little one's playlist nicely. Thanks again!
posted by Bardolph at 7:34 AM on January 6, 2011


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