Great lullabies, terrible lyrics.
December 22, 2012 12:13 PM   Subscribe

A friend told me his baby was soothed quickly & consistently by Neutral Milk Hotel's "Oh Comely", despite its seemingly wildly inappropriate lyrics. What other songs have worked well as baby lullabies despite their actual meaning?

Just one example from the above song:
Your father made fetuses with flesh licking ladies,
While you and your mother were asleep in the trailer park.
posted by davebug to Human Relations (52 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I'm shocked that Cohen's "Hallelujah" has been co-opted by young children via Shrek. How the hell did that song even get in there? It's one of the more dark, complicated, and outright sexual songs about adult heartache I've heard, lyric-wise (complete with Old Testament references and obvious allusions to intercourse!). Not to derail, but I'd love to hear someone explain that to me at some point.
posted by availablelight at 12:21 PM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

When my son was a baby and at the stage where getting him to sleep required standing there with my finger in his mouth and singing until he went to sleep, I would sing him "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall" for forty minutes or so.

Now he's ten and he does the same thing when he wants to drive me insane.
posted by bondcliff at 12:22 PM on December 22, 2012

My mother often crooned her wee bairn off to Sleepy Land with this tender lullaby:

On the sidewalk, one Sunday mornin'
Lies a body oozin' life
Someone's sneaking 'round the corner
Could that someone, perhaps, perchance, be Mack the Knife?

posted by nacho fries at 12:31 PM on December 22, 2012 [4 favorites]

Are you only interested in relatively contemporary songs? Many lullabies have WTF-level lyrics.

When the bough breaks/the cradle will fall/and down will come baby/cradle and all...

I used to soothe a baby to sleep with Johnny Cash's greatest hits. The first song was "Folsom Prison Blues" I shot a man in Reno/Just to watch him die
posted by the young rope-rider at 12:33 PM on December 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

Ha, I was on my way to post the Rock a bye Baby lyrics, but the youngrope-rider beat me to it. Yes, lots of kids' stories/lullabies are pretty dark.
posted by sweetkid at 12:36 PM on December 22, 2012

My son loved Chet Arkins Teensville but no lyrics needed.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:46 PM on December 22, 2012

When my daughter was very very little, she liked Yeah! Oh Yeah!. A small sample of its inappropriateness (though not nearly as bad as that fetus reference):

I've enjoyed making you
miserable for years
found peace of mind in
playing on your fears
How I loved to catch your gold
and silver tears, but now my dear
What a dark and dreary life
Are you reaching for a knife?
Could you really kill your wife?
Yeah! Oh, yeah!
posted by lakersfan1222 at 12:48 PM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

A Cautionary Tale by the Decemberists.
posted by drezdn at 12:52 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Chet Baker worked for one of my kids, but Baker's problems were pretty abstract.
posted by R. Mutt at 12:52 PM on December 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

My neighbor's toddler LOVED "Beat On The Brat" by The Ramones. She'd get all giggly and flail around yelling "Baseball bat! Baseball bat!"

posted by BitterOldPunk at 12:53 PM on December 22, 2012 [12 favorites]

I would sing this cover version of Hey Ya to put my daughter to sleep every night for almost a year. Worked great, nothing to do with anything babies should be listening to.
posted by 1adam12 at 12:58 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

My kid like A Cautionary Tale, too, but his favorite music is reggae, which can be quit raunchy. He's partial to 54-46 by The Maytals, and Wet Dream by Max Romeo. Neither are really appropriate in content.
posted by OmieWise at 12:58 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used to rock my now-7-year-old daughter to sleep while singing her "Up on the Sun" by the Meat Puppets.
posted by AJaffe at 1:08 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Not my baby, but K.I.N.G by Satyricon has an impressive effect in this video.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 1:10 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Back in my baby-raisin' days Alanis Morisette's You Oughta Know was a go to. Hardly appropriate, but did the trick.
posted by trip and a half at 1:20 PM on December 22, 2012

My son loves when my husband sings "Losing My Religion" and Ed Sheeran's "The A Team" (about drug addiction).
posted by Safiya at 1:29 PM on December 22, 2012

My dad used to sing Wish I Was a Single Girl Again to me.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:33 PM on December 22, 2012

My kid loved Hot Chip, and one song lazily says "Fuck you, you fucking fuck", but it's so casual you don't notice.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:38 PM on December 22, 2012

Seems unbelievable, but I knew a baby who was really calmed down by dancing around to The Dead Kennedys / Too Drunk To Fuck. Not just any old DK tune, this one in particular.
posted by carter at 1:44 PM on December 22, 2012

When my daughter was a baby, Eminem's ouvre seemed to placate her unusually well. It didn't put her to sleep, but she would just lie there, rapt and silent. Something about the rhythm of his voice perhaps.

Now that she's two, however, all hip hop is immediately greeted by "No like this song!"
posted by 256 at 1:55 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've had success with a few babies (including my own son) with The Dark Side of the Moon. Whole album played medium loud puts 'em out.
posted by Specklet at 1:56 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I watched a man singing to his sub-toddler-age daughter in a Second Cup. The song was Weebl's "Amazing Horse", which I will not link to here. There were stares, but he powered right through to the end while rocking her against his shoulder.
posted by Sternmeyer at 2:02 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Guys, I am so glad I am not alone in this world. I have made an ENTIRE PLAYLIST of this stuff. Honestly, this probably says more about my taste in music that these are the songs I can remeber a whole verse of at 3am, but still: officially probably not the worst parent in the world.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 2:04 PM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seconding Mack the knife. My little girl also loved/s everything by Flogging Molly, especially the quiet part (starts 3"05) of sentimental Johnny which is requested as "the Johnny song" each and every bedtime.
posted by dstopps at 2:11 PM on December 22, 2012

I loved Donna Summer's "Bad Girl" as a child, especially the part that goes "Toot toot! Beep beep!"... which, in the song, is the sound of johns looking for hookers.
posted by thebazilist at 2:15 PM on December 22, 2012

Leonard Cohen's "Who By Fire" worked great on my kid. Simple, repetitive, lends itself well to improvisation if sleep takes longer than expected. ("And who in that dressing gown... who in Funkytown...")
posted by No-sword at 2:32 PM on December 22, 2012

I trained my first daughter to sleep to Coltrane's 'A Love Supreme' not inappropriate, but sometimes really impractical. Now, 18 years later, her love of Coltrane gives her extra points with the boys, and I'm at odds wether that is a good or a bad thing....
Just saying, I did't repeat the experiment with no.2
posted by mumimor at 2:33 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dance: 10; Looks: 3 from the movie version of "A Chorus Line" worked pretty well on me when I was about toddler-aged. Even though it's not much of a lullaby, I would calm down and attentively listen to that scene of the movie. I also was calmed by "Hello Twelve Hello Thirteen", especially by my favorite line, "Then how can you have gonorrheeeeea?"

My parents weren't singing to me or playing these song specifically for me; the movie was just on TV enough that I picked up on it. Later, I got in trouble for singing both of those songs, despite that I had no clue whatsoever what either of them were about. My grandparents were a bit put out that I was chasing my cousin around accusing him of having gonorrhea.
posted by Coatlicue at 2:43 PM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

My 2-month-old will reliably calm down listening to anything by AC/DC.
posted by forza at 2:54 PM on December 22, 2012

My friend's kid loved it when I sang her Morrissey songs.
posted by at 3:34 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

While I was in school, on my maternity/newborn rotation, they learned I didn't really know anything about babies. So they put me in the nursery with kids who basically needed someone to just hold them and move quietly and stuff. I felt like I had to sing something so I went with the only things I could remember and didn't have guitar solos, which turned out to be mostly socialist protest songs and the less-appropriate Child Ballads. Worked just as well as anything else.
posted by cobaltnine at 3:37 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine posted a video of her baby on Facebook who goes wild for "At Last" by Etta James :-)
posted by mermily at 4:14 PM on December 22, 2012

A friend of mine wrote a musical setting of this W.H. Auden poem, which worked wonderfully for a baby I sat for once:

The desires of the heart are as crooked as corkscrews
Not to be born is the best for man
The second best is a formal order
The dance's pattern, dance while you can.
Dance, dance, for the figure is easy
The tune is catching and will not stop
Dance till the stars come down from the rafters
Dance, dance, dance till you drop.

Sorry little guy, better if you weren't born at all.
posted by ActionPopulated at 4:54 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mom sang bird on a wire to me by Cohen.
posted by PinkMoose at 5:20 PM on December 22, 2012

My foster daughter has always been amazed and quieted by me singing "The Grouch" by Green Day:
I was a young boy that had big plans;
Now I'm just another shitty old man
I don't have fun and I hate everything
The world owes me, so fuck you.

I feel compelled to note that this was more of an invitation for her to sing along than directed at her.
posted by SeedStitch at 6:09 PM on December 22, 2012

This video of Notorious B.I.G. calming this baby immediately springs to mind.
posted by absquatulate at 6:40 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and I used to babysit for a six-year-old who knew every word of the Beastie Boys' License to Ill.
posted by SeedStitch at 6:58 PM on December 22, 2012

"Time" by Tom Waits.
posted by Spinneret at 7:00 PM on December 22, 2012

My cousin was fond of the Pougues, Ramones, and Dead Kennedys when she was tiny. Because I lived across the street and was 14, I was the go to babysitter for most of her young life. She got a steady diet of punk and when she was overly fussy I played lots and lots of Dead Kennedys. She would giggle and laugh every time I played them for her. After I went off to college, I wasn't able to babysit her anymore and the flow of punk stopped.

It was only when she was in 8th grade did we find out how much she paid attention to the music. In class when they're learning about Cambodia, she rattled off the lyrics to "Holiday in Cambodia."
posted by teleri025 at 7:22 PM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

"I'm sticking with you" by the Velvet Underground. It is such a sweet little tune, and my little guy loved it.
posted by msali at 7:46 PM on December 22, 2012

My dad reported a few days ago that my toddler was dancing in his car seat to Dirty Old Man on the way to daycare. Luckily, we had no reports from his teachers about him wanting to "spank somebody."
posted by Leezie at 7:50 PM on December 22, 2012

My four month old immediately quiets down and visibly relaxes when you start playing Renegade.
posted by ThatSomething at 8:19 PM on December 22, 2012

The 9-month-old I used to babysit could be soothed back to napping with the last bit of the titular song from Cabaret:

Start by admitting
From cradle to tomb
Isn't that long a stay.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Only a Cabaret, old chum,
And I love a Cabaret!

In dire situations, I'd move on to "A Little Priest" from Sweeney Todd, because it's long and easy to speak-sing while you rock a kid.
posted by ausdemfenster at 9:07 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

HA. My godson loved to be sung to as a baby and I used to sing him Leonard Cohen songs. I was halfway through a late night, three octaves up rendition of "Everybody Knows" before I realized it was a COMPLETELY INAPPROPRIATE song to sing to a newborn baby. But he actually started to get fussy when I stopped, so I figured, "Eh, whatever" and kept going.
posted by Aquifer at 9:29 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

We sometimes sing The Decemberists' "Shankhill Butchers" to our kid. It's...arguably a lullaby, I suppose.
posted by linettasky at 9:30 PM on December 22, 2012

I used to babysit a five-year-old who liked me to sing the Magnetic Fields' "Papa Was a Rodeo" while he fell asleep.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 10:11 PM on December 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

My friend's 5yo daughter thought that "Who Let the Dogs Out" was a kid's song, and would march around singing,
Who let the dogs out? (Bark bark)
Who let the ducks out? (Quack quack)
Who let the pigs out? (Oink oink)
and so on...

A lot of traditional lullabies really did have some pretty dark and inappropriate lyrics.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 10:22 PM on December 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mine get a mi of bigband and jazz, with a bit of queen thrown in for good measure. #1 was largely impartial to anything, but #2 adores everything (except the high "meeeee" immediately prior to That Guitar Bit in Bohemian Rhapsody).

Interestingly, #1 now adores singing (age 3), and insists, every night, that I sing the bongobongobongo song before bed. She's even started doing the interjections.
posted by coriolisdave at 3:55 AM on December 23, 2012

I used to sing my l'il sprog to sleep with "Jesus" & "After Hours" by the Velvet Underground, "Alabama Song" by The Doors and "Elvis Presley Blues" & "I Want to Sing That Rock and Roll" by Gillian Welsh. However, the one bit of music that was total baby ambien was Nick Cave's "The Boatman's Call" album.
posted by echolalia67 at 9:45 AM on December 23, 2012

Radiohead's "Creep" and Bowie's Queen Bitch worked really well for my best friend's three-year-old daughter.

Plus it's cute when a kid suddenly busts out "FLIPPITY BOBBITY HAT."
posted by like_a_friend at 5:12 PM on December 23, 2012

OH OH, I just remembered that my dad used to sing "Stewball" to me when I was a kid. And "Bed of Rose's" by the Statler Brothers. And my grandmother used to sing "We've Got Franklin Delano Roosevelt Back Again". Grandma also sang a very depressing song I don't quite remember, about the Titanic sinking. All of these songs were soothing as hell to me.
posted by Coatlicue at 6:02 PM on December 23, 2012

I sing a modified version of Tom Waits' "Hang Down Your Head" to our 7 month old every night.
posted by kestrel251 at 7:30 PM on December 23, 2012

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