What is the best children's music without branding & popular characters?
November 20, 2009 9:34 AM   Subscribe

What is the best children's music without branding & popular characters?

I've already found a couple of gems like Snacktime by The Barenaked Ladies and some of the TMBG stuff, but I would like some more music for my five-year-old daughter. I would love stuff that she and I can enjoy together. I'm only interested in albums that are not connected to massive marketing machines like Disney, Barney, Dora, and the like.
posted by raddevon to Media & Arts (59 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Robbie Schaeffer, Songs For Kids Like Us

Dan Zanes

Tom Chapin

I just discovered Weird Al has a very funny version of Peter and the Wolf.

My son was about five when I turned him onto the Beatles. He was totally into them until he discovered the Star Wars soundtrack. Now he won't listen to anything else.
posted by bondcliff at 9:40 AM on November 20, 2009

Ralph's World?
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:40 AM on November 20, 2009

Justin Roberts
posted by kestrel251 at 9:43 AM on November 20, 2009

Here are a couple of albums.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 9:43 AM on November 20, 2009

I agree with Beatles. You can also try Wings. Love me some Paul but seriously, his lyrics are something to wonder about. Although every night I do sing "Silly Love Songs" to my son before he goes to bed. It's an instant soother.
posted by stormpooper at 9:44 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Raffi. Raffi Raffi Raffi. Seriously, he's awesome.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:45 AM on November 20, 2009 [4 favorites]

We have enjoyed Laurie Berkner, Gemini, Tish Hinojosa, Trout Fishing in America, The Smithsonian Folkways Children's Music collection, the album Shakin' a Tailfeather, Ella Jenkins (both her original stuff and the tribute album cELLAbration!), Philadelphia Chickens by Sandra Boynton, as well as some of the people mentioned above.
posted by not that girl at 9:49 AM on November 20, 2009

I love the kids albums by Putamayo, especially this one, which has the awesome song Bongo Bong by Manu Chao.
posted by kimdog at 9:51 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I grew up on Rosenshontz. Love these guys.
posted by bookgirl18 at 9:52 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Mr. Stinky Feet and Funky Mama are two local musicians that are fun and you can order their CDs online.
posted by jferg at 9:55 AM on November 20, 2009

Also, Peter Paul and Mary have a children's album called Peter, Paul, and Mommy.
posted by bookgirl18 at 9:55 AM on November 20, 2009

Lucas Miller's Gotta Take Care of the Hive

Woody Guthrie's Songs to Grow On for Children and Mothers

Smithsonian Folk Ways Children's Music Collection

Seconding Dan Zanes

Clarissa and Katrina Nields Rock all Day, Rock all Night; and All Together Singing in the Kitchen

Lisa Loeb and Elizabeth Mitchell Catch the Moon

The Innocence Mission Now the Day is Done

I'm working on building a similar collection. I'll keep an eye here and add anything that doesn't show up that we've enjoyed.
posted by wg at 10:00 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you need some Wee Hairy Beasties in your life. Also, Cathy and Marcy are great.
posted by scruss at 10:00 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

It doesn't have to be children's music. My 3- and 6-year-olds are currently rocking out to the Beatles, Elvis and the Beach Boys, and they love it, love it, love it.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:02 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Putamayo is good stuff, actually.

Also, They Might Be Giants has a new album for kids, and it's awesome (obvs).
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:07 AM on November 20, 2009

They Might Be Giants have some albums for kids.
John Lithgow also has some good music for kids. His children's books are also very enjoyable.
posted by onhazier at 10:08 AM on November 20, 2009

sorry, just saw that you mentioned TMBG in your question.

Here's another guy I like that sings kids songs.

posted by Lutoslawski at 10:09 AM on November 20, 2009

Seconding Tom Chapin. I grew up on his music and I loved it. My parents enjoyed him, too. You can listen to some of his songs here and here to get a feel for whether or not you like him (unfortunately neither of those pages has my favorite songs, "Uh Oh, Accident," "Johnny Glockenspiel," "Nick of Time," and "Don't Play With Bruno," among others). Of the albums you can see here I'd recommend "Family Tree," "Moonboat," and "Great Big Fun for the Very Little One" quite highly.

(Many of his songs tend to have a message of conservation and caring for the planet, which may or may not be a plus for you and your family, depending on your views. Personally, I think Tom Chapin's songs helped instill in me a strong sense of caring for the environment that I keep to this day, so I'm glad for that. YMMV.)
posted by Captain Cardanthian! at 10:12 AM on November 20, 2009

My kids still really like Laurie Berkner, who was pretty much a rock goddess to them in their toddler and preschool years. We actually flew to Portland once to see her in concert--it brought back a lot of memories of jumping in the car or on a plane to catch my favorite bands in other cities when I was young and unfettered.

There's a terrific Bloodshot Records compilation called The Bottle Let Me Down that's a perennial favorite at our house.

The Johnny Cash Children's Album is a delight.

Really Rosie, featuring Carole King performing Maurice Sendak's lyrics to her own music, is wonderful.

And a lot of the above mentioned artists are also favorites of ours. We've seen Dan Zanes perform live here in San Francisco three or four times, it's probably about as cute as it gets to see a small-child audience get down and funky.
posted by padraigin at 10:14 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Bottle Let Me Down: Songs for Bumpy Wagon Rides. I haven't heard it, but I like nearly all the alt.country stars on it.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:21 AM on November 20, 2009

"Greasy Kid Stuff" is a radio show of music for kids, formerly on WFMU in New York, currently airing on KNRK in Portland. It has a mostly alterna-rock slant, and many-- or even most-- of the songs weren't originally intended as kids music. It's pretty damn good (good enough that I'll listen to it sometimes even though I don't have kids). You might get some ideas from the set lists they post on their blog. They've also put out some compilation CDs.
posted by dersins at 10:22 AM on November 20, 2009

Seconding Cool Papa Bell. My kids have always listened to the music we listen to. They liked the simpler stuff when they were little and have come to love the more complex, harder stuff as they get older. They also liked some "kids" music, but really not as much as they like the stuff mom and dad listen to. I'm talking everything from classical to punk, from Simon & Garfunkel to Jane's Addiction. The only music my husband and I don't care for is country (and I don't mean bluegrass).
posted by cooker girl at 10:23 AM on November 20, 2009

My kids also like some of the non-kid artists mentioned above--Beatles, Beach Boys, Elvis, and also 60s girl groups. They dig the poppier White Stripes songs ("Fell In Love With A Girl", "Hotel Yorba", "Little Ghost"), early-to-mid-career Madonna, and lord help me, these children LOVE them some Abba.

Also, "Lovecats" by the Cure is a major part of our daily music diet.
posted by padraigin at 10:25 AM on November 20, 2009

I love the kids albums by Putamayo, especially this one, which has the awesome song Bongo Bong by Manu Chao.

This! All the Putamayo albums are great but man, do my kids looove that Bongo Bong song.
posted by GuyZero at 10:26 AM on November 20, 2009

My sister was a fan of Red Grammer
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 10:34 AM on November 20, 2009

Trout Fishing in America is worth a second mention.
posted by EvaDestruction at 10:34 AM on November 20, 2009

I grew up on Flanders and Swann.
posted by matildaben at 10:34 AM on November 20, 2009

I'll second Raffi - he's the first person I thought of.

When I was about five, I loved Anne Murray's There's a Hippo in my Bathtub. I also loved all Peter, Paul and Mary, though I don't know if we had the kid's album.
posted by jb at 10:35 AM on November 20, 2009

Nthing Putumayo. I got the World Playground album for my twentieth birthday and I loved it.

I also grew up on the Beatles and the Beach Boys, and I loved the older Motown singles as well.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:36 AM on November 20, 2009

No time to make links, but here are a few more suggestions--

John Lithgow (you heard me!) made a great CD several years back called "Singin' in the Bathtub" that is absolutely wonderful. Lots of old-timey songs and old-timey sounding songs. Love it.

also, a newish group from Seattle called the Recess Monkeys are totally great. Last I knew they had two or three recordings out. They're a bunch of schoolteachers for their day jobs and run a rock camp for kids in the summer. I (heart) the Monkeys!
posted by Sublimity at 10:39 AM on November 20, 2009

I also liked Fred Penner, who had a decidedly non-commercialised kid's tv show on CBC in the 80s.
posted by jb at 10:42 AM on November 20, 2009

I like the Sugarbeats albums - kids covering pop songs from the 60s through 80s
posted by twoporedomain at 10:42 AM on November 20, 2009

Nthing Laurie Berkner. Recess Monkey is a cool group of (former) Seattle school teachers, and they have several CDs out.

My all-time favorite kids' album, though, is The Bottle Let Me Down: Songs For Bumpy Wagon Rides.

I've found that Land of Nod has an interesting non-majorly-commercialized selection of kids' music I can actually tolerate, and even enjoy, listening to over and over and over.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 10:43 AM on November 20, 2009

Marnie Grey is a favourite in our house. Current non-children's music favorties include ABBA (Mamma Mia), Tina Turner (Proud Mary) and Chuck Berry (Johnny B. Goode). My kids are 3, 2, and 1.
posted by Abbril at 10:52 AM on November 20, 2009

Raffi for sure
posted by radioamy at 11:12 AM on November 20, 2009

Check out this Kids Place Live fan blog. KPL is the XM/Sirius kids channel and plays all the "big" names in kids music. Robbie Schaeffer (mentioned downthread) is a DJ on the channel.

Our kiddo loved The White Stripes and the Ramones, but now she's seven and only listens to the abysmal Radio Disney stuff. Sigh.
posted by girlbowler at 11:12 AM on November 20, 2009

The amazing jazzy, funky, rockin organ drums and bass trio Medeski, Martin and Wood have a great children's album - Let's Go Everywhere.
posted by saul wright at 11:14 AM on November 20, 2009

Raffi for sure!

I had a great book/tape as a kid called Kids Songs. Looks like the new version has even more songs than mine did. Some are songs you'll be familiar with, some not. I particularly like "Chicken lips and lizard hips."
posted by radioamy at 11:14 AM on November 20, 2009

I asked a slightly different question once that might have relevant answers for you.

And I'm nthing Laurie Berkner and Trought Fishing in America. Also: the Philadelphia Chickens CD, with lyrics by Sandra Boynton, sung by famous people.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 11:17 AM on November 20, 2009

I really love Wee Sing. If I'm not wrong, it was started by two housewives; the cast generally comprised of their children, friends and neighbors. Two of my favorites are Wee Sing Together and King Cole's Party. To my knowledge, none of the characters repeat - there are different characters for each video.
I like Wee Sing because it comes across as a lot more organic and genuine than other children's music videos/albums (with the exception of the "Sillywhim" character from "Wee Sing in Sillyville", imo). I loved watching those videos when I was little, and I still love watching them now as an adult. The singing and music doesn't have that bright, overproduced Disney-ish sheen, and the dancing isn't perfect - but it comes across as very heartfelt.
posted by aielen at 11:26 AM on November 20, 2009

There are lots and lots of great bands/artists playing songs on the DC-based kids' show Pancake Mountain.
posted by citron at 11:39 AM on November 20, 2009

You owe it to your own "secondhand smoke" listening to try the songs on the SteveSongs "Marvelous Day" album. I love them as much as my kids do. Even our youngest (under 2 y.o.) wants the CD and dances along in the kitchen.

For some reason his domain name (www.stevesongs.com) dumps you into PBS.org, where you can listen to samples of some of the songs. Very catchy, not patronizing, excellent musical craft.
posted by wenestvedt at 11:43 AM on November 20, 2009

I was really into Elton John at 5 or 6. I know it sounds crazy, but Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (minus "Funeral for a Friend," which I just found creepy) was pretty much my favorite record in kindergarten and first grade, with the Beatles' Revolver and Rubber Soul a close second. Then in second grade I discovered Sgt. Pepper and it blew my mind by a whole new order of magnitude and the world was never the same again.

So, yeah, nthing the suggestion that it doesn't necessarily have to be "children's music" for children to love it. Other bands/artists I really responded to as a young'un, or have seen my nephews respond to at a similar age, include Elvis, Beach Boys, Motown (esp. Supremes/Temptations/Four Tops/Stevie Wonder), They Might Be Giants (both the official "kid" stuff and the non-kid stuff), Ramones, Madness, and Split Enz.
posted by scody at 11:56 AM on November 20, 2009

Oh shit, how could I forget one of our new favorites, which cracks the household adults up so hard:

Sam's Rot'n Pot'n Pan Band.

Also, seconding Pancake Mountain.
posted by padraigin at 12:01 PM on November 20, 2009

See You on the Moon! is a bunch of indie artists recording kids songs.
posted by metaname at 12:02 PM on November 20, 2009

My family loved this album. It is hands down the only alphabet song set I have ever enjoyed. Have not listened to it in years, but I can still remember some of the lyrics.

I'm glad to see its still available.

Animal Alphabet Songs by David Polansky

I am an alligator, I can think of nothing greater!
Eating what I please, under my cypress trees........
posted by SLC Mom at 12:09 PM on November 20, 2009

Elizabeth Mitchell is also worth a second mention . . . that is, if you think it is adorable for your little ones to know age-appropriate Velvet Underground and Bob Marley tunes (the jaydees, at least, find it waaay adorable).
posted by deejay jaydee at 12:14 PM on November 20, 2009

The Chenille Sisters.

Music for Little People has an audio store which has, among other things, their own series of recordings entitled "A Child's Celebration of...." My kids, now 18 and 12, grew up with half a dozen Child's Celebration CDs in the car, as well as Trout Fishing in America, Peter, Paul, & Mary, and Tom T Hall's Country Songs for Children (that one was because my eldest heard me singing Sneaky Snake and insisted on learning the words).

Mary Had a Little Amp and its successors have established "adult" performers doing songs for children. For the Kids is the same type of thing.

Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, 70's and 80's pop, and a lot of early rock (especially Motown stuff) is great for kids. My mother tells me that I liked ragtime and Carmina Burana.
posted by jlkr at 12:24 PM on November 20, 2009

Spare the Rock Spoil the Child is an awesome radio show/podcast full of music that fits your needs.
posted by a22lamia at 12:48 PM on November 20, 2009

I just remembered: my coworker's son (he's 7) is CRAZY about the new Steve Martin record, particularly that most excellent ditty, "Late for School."
posted by scody at 1:05 PM on November 20, 2009

Hunt down old albums by Raffi, and by Sharon, Lois & Bram. Excellent childrens entertainers from Canada.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:05 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have to third (fourth?) Elizabeth Mitchell and Trout Fishing in America.
One is good to listen to even as an adult and the other is goofy and fun.

One of my family favorites is a fellow (and his family) out of Asheville NC.
Secret Agent 23 Skidoo
It's kid oriented hip-hop by a lover of the old school. His daughter and wife sing on the albums.
It's all a little bit crunchy and the Appalachian connection shows through too.
It's one of the few kids albums that stands up under multiple listenings.

If you live in Texas, the Biscuit Brothers have a locally produced PBS tv show and several albums (Willie has a speaking role on the show). The music isn't to my liking all of the time, but they cover a huge number of genres and all of their songs are generally pretty fun. We went to see these guys play a couple times. Every time they take a break, they spend every minute of that "break" talking to the kids who are there to see them. They generally stick around until the last kid has had a chance to say "hi" and has been shuffled off by their parents. I can appreciate that.
posted by Seamus at 1:23 PM on November 20, 2009

I love Bobs and Lolo and so do my kids. They have fun, jazzy, catchy music that aims to foster interest in the world and the environment. Bobs is a former teacher and Lolo has worked in science education for kids, so they have done a fantastic job of making great music that entertains and educates. It's perfect music for people who care about their kids' content. Plus they came through the same public school music programs that produced Diana Krall, Alison Crowe and David Gogo, among others. (Nanaimo, BC has one heck of a school jazz program.)
posted by acoutu at 3:02 PM on November 20, 2009

My ABSOLUTE FAVORITE tape when I was a kid is called Late Last Night by Joe Scruggs. It is full of songs that are really about using your imagination, I would dance around the living room acting them out over and over again.

I've listened to them recently (bought for two cousins) and the songs aren't annoying repetitive kids songs (like Barney & Dora), in fact I ripped a copy and sometimes I listen while I'm cleaning the house or something but I'm kind of a dork like that.
posted by magnetsphere at 3:45 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]

Reiterating the fabulousness of Dan Zanes, Justin Roberts and The Recess Monkeys. I'll throw in Captain Bogg and Salty (kids pirate music), and childrens albums by Micheal Feinstein, Willie Nelson and Rosemary Clooney.
posted by rosebengal at 4:49 PM on November 20, 2009

Jerry Garcia & David Grisman: Not for Kids Only

Also, seconding don't limit yourself to music for children.
posted by fogovonslack at 5:51 PM on November 20, 2009

Trout Fishing in America and Sandra Boynton cannot be recommended highly enough.

Minnesota Public Radio's online stream Wonderground Radio plays a great mix of music "for kids and their grownups". I sometimes even put it on at work.
posted by Flannery Culp at 7:58 PM on November 20, 2009

First start with Pete Seeger.
posted by pianomover at 9:54 AM on November 21, 2009

I just came across The Jimmies who are pretty cool in their own right, and IANAKid / IANAParent
posted by hibbersk at 10:05 AM on November 25, 2009

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