Suggest Children's Music
September 6, 2005 8:47 PM   Subscribe

I need quality music to play around my young kids.

I don't really like most of the Disney tunes -- hakuna matata and such. My kids are young (between 4 and 10), so I'm looking for nice, happy, catchy, well written music that is edifying and uplifting without being sappy or stupid (e.g., Raffi). The best example of what I'm looking for that I can think of is the Sound Of Music soundtrack. It's fun and playful at times, melodic and serious at other times, and always well written and catchy without a hint of cynicism. What other albums meet that standard?
posted by crapples to Media & Arts (48 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Meet the Beatles?
posted by Methylviolet at 8:51 PM on September 6, 2005

They Might Be Giants.
posted by Apoch at 8:53 PM on September 6, 2005

They Might Be Giants did a children's album that I've heard good things about.
posted by ludwig_van at 8:53 PM on September 6, 2005

Some good stuff in this old thread; slightly different topic [kids music by good adult artists] but with lots of appropriate suggestions.
posted by fionab at 8:56 PM on September 6, 2005

You could try Daddy A GoGo or Farmer Jason.
posted by spilon at 9:04 PM on September 6, 2005

Caveat: They Might Be Giants Bed Bed Bed Bed Bed is quality stuff, but you might feel shortchanged. It's comprised of a small book and a CD with 4 songs totalling about 10-15 mins.
posted by rolypolyman at 9:04 PM on September 6, 2005

Two great children's albums that are very adult listenable are:

Rocketship Beach by Dane Zanes
No! by They Might be Giants

I found the ABC's they might be Giants a little uninspired and I'm a huuuuge TMBG fan.
posted by any major dude at 9:08 PM on September 6, 2005

They Might Be Giants has three children's albums: No!, Bed Bed Bed, and most recently, Here Come the ABCs. All of them are completely infectious like all their other music. ABCs has an optional DVD version with video treatments of their songs. Bed Bed Bed comes with a book. You can find out all about them at their web site.

Their "grown up" music is equally quirky and fun, mostly suitable for kids as well. Especially the early stuff.
posted by ldenneau at 9:10 PM on September 6, 2005

any major dude, ABCs took me about three listens to get into it, and now I really like it.
posted by ldenneau at 9:13 PM on September 6, 2005

Guster - good pop, with bongos, singable.
posted by fionab at 9:14 PM on September 6, 2005

Maybe give other musical soundtracks a go. When I was little my mom frequently had stuff like Camelot, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Annie, The Music Man, Singin' in the Rain, Funny Girl, and The King & I playing on the stereo. The movie version of Grease came out when I was 5 years old and that's the first record I actively made my parents buy for that age I had no clue what some of the lyrics meant - it was just a fun record to dance and sing with.

And I do realize you said you didn't want Disney stuff but the Mary Poppins soundtrack really does have some fun songs on it - Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is still a fun song for me to sing at 32 years old.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 9:15 PM on September 6, 2005

Beach Boys. Endless Summer. Worked for me.
posted by SPrintF at 9:26 PM on September 6, 2005

How about John Denver? I loved Sunshine On My Shoulders when I was in kindergarden.
posted by CrunchyFrog at 9:32 PM on September 6, 2005

Madness! (full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes for that particular compilation.) Very fun, bouncy, enjoyable music for everyone. I don't know exactly how edifying it is ("House of Fun" is actually a veiled tale of buying condoms), but my nephews always seem to enjoy dancing around when they hear those ol' Nutty Boys.

Also, I personally worshipped at the altar of Revolver and Sargent Pepper's when I was 7, so that may work for you, too.
posted by scody at 9:34 PM on September 6, 2005

I, um, just bought two Dan Zanes songs on iTunes for myself, not for my daughter. So I'd second him.
posted by Ruki at 9:43 PM on September 6, 2005

Check out the DVDs of Pancake Mountain, a DC kids show put together with help from a lot of hip bands and people. The Arcade Fire's dance party with a bunch of children is great fun.

All of Thunder Lightning Strike by The Go! Team is clean, catchy, and upbeat. It reminds me of being a kid, so it stands to reason that a kid might like it.

I third the Beatles and TMBG.

Also maybe check out some of Modest Mouse, The Shins, and Sigur Rós? When my cousin (8) was looking through my iTunes, he liked some of each...
posted by rfordh at 9:55 PM on September 6, 2005

Sharon, Lois, and Bram. Kids entertainers from up here in Canuckistan. And I second the suggestion for other musicals. But please, for the love of whatever you hold sacred, not Webber, unless it's Evita, Joseph, or JC Superstar.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:10 PM on September 6, 2005

Kidz Bop?
posted by Serena at 10:21 PM on September 6, 2005

Beatles. And I was raised on Paul Simon/Simon & Garfunkel, Jim Croce, Dixieland, and Count Basie.
posted by Vidiot at 10:34 PM on September 6, 2005

Good call on Jim Croce, vidiot -- I loved him when I was a kid. I just remembered too that I adored Elton John's early stuff at that age. I used to sing "Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road" in the bathtub all the time.
posted by scody at 10:47 PM on September 6, 2005

Harry Nilsson's The Point is awesome for kids. The songs are insanely catchy and singable, and the album itself tells a story, with spoken interludes read by Nilsson.

I remember playing the crap out of this record when I was a kid. Sometimes I'd listen to it two or three times in a row. Hell, I still listen to it.

And yeah, anything by the Beatles. Except for maybe "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" or "I am the Walrus." (no kid needs to hear about yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog's eye. i didn't, anyway.)
posted by flod at 11:13 PM on September 6, 2005

Do NOT, under any circumstances, buy Kidz Bop. I found the whole concept vile, but my 3-year-old would come running and dance in front of the TV whenever the commercial came on, so I made the first true sacrifice of many and ordered it even though I found some of the song choices questionable. Apparently, my son only liked the people dancing on the commercial. There was even a song on there he already liked, but since it's other people singing with a chorus of children sprinkled in, it wasn't the same and he didn't like it at all (thank goodness!) He loves the Beatles, the Shins, Cream, some Clash, Foo Fighters (all without much encouragement from me) and since we took him to an Arlo Guthrie concert 2 weeks ago has been really enjoying that along with Peter, Paul & Mary. He's also enjoyed some of the XTC and Soul Coughing I've put on.
While we're on recommendations for children, check out both the soundtrack and the DVD The Point. Awesome story and great music (and I'm always amused when I see it quoted here).
posted by TTNoelle at 11:35 PM on September 6, 2005

Note that your enjoyment of the animated version of The Point will depend very much on your tolerance for Ringo Starr's voice.
posted by flod at 11:42 PM on September 6, 2005

Kids' music:

Hush, by Yo-Yo Ma and Bobby McFerrin, was conceived as a children's disc. It's a lot of fun, especially the rendition of Flight of the Bumblebee.

Also consider the work of Trout Fishing in America, although it may be a bit sillier than you're looking for.


Musicals aren't really my thing, so I can't recommend much here.

West Side Story is, of course, based on the tragic plot of Romeo and Juliet, but there's a lot of fun music in there and it's a good bet your kids will enjoy some or all of it. Then again, the lyrics to "Gee, Officer Krupke," while amusing, might not be entirely appropriate for that age group.

I don't know what's best for kids of this age, but I can recommend Stephen Sondheim as a source of absolutely amazing musicals. Into the Woods is one of my favorites.

Other stuff:

One thing that will really help here is if you can figure out what they like, and then steer them toward good music in that area while exposing them to a cross-section of many genres. Certainly, just because they're kids doesn't mean they need "kids' music," and they're old enough to have their own thoughts about music (not that it's too late to influence them).

Béla Fleck and the Flecktones make awesome, clean music that draws from bluegrass, jazz, rock, classical, and other genres and doesn't really fit in any. Their album Live Art is a great place to start. Béla Fleck also has an excellent classical banjo (!) CD called Perpetual Motion.

If you're looking for catchy, kid-friendly jazz, consider something from the Dave Brubeck Quartet, like Time Out. Great music and great tunes, and it shook up the music world when it came out in 1959.

The music of the Andean group Echoes of Incas is also worth a listen.

Then there's classical music... that genre is so wide, anybody should be able to find something to enjoy. I'd try mainly accessible, Romantic symphonic works. Some good bets include:
  • Beethoven's symphonies and overtures, especially the 5th and 9th symphonies.
  • Camille Saint-Saëns's 3rd symphony, the "Organ" symphony, used in the movie Babe. Pairs well with his Carnival of the Animals suite.
  • Antonín Dvořák's last three symphonies (7-9, 9 being the famous "New World Symphony")
  • Empire Brass's "Class Brass" CD and Canadian Brass's "Brass on Broadway" CD. These are two gems from beginning to end.
  • Movie music: John Williams, Ennio Morricone, Jerry Goldsmith, Erich Korngold, etc.
  • Aaron Copland: Fanfare for the Common Man, Appalachian Spring, Rodeo Suite (with the Hoedown from the beef commercials), John Henry, Lincoln Portrait... hard to go wrong with him.
  • Francis Poulenc, especially the chamber music. It's light, witty, and fun, and at least one piece is written specifically for children.
  • Of course, there's always A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra by Benjamin Britten, a significant piece in its own right.
And a couple more genre-busters I just remembered:
posted by musicinmybrain at 11:48 PM on September 6, 2005

Is Fraggle Rock any good? I heard of it a while back but just now thought to look it up.

Isn't Morricone a little too tense? Or is that just the spaghetti western themes? Or maybe it all boils down to associations I have with the Eastwood Trilogy?
posted by davy at 11:56 PM on September 6, 2005

Isn't Morricone a little too tense? Or is that just the spaghetti western themes? Or maybe it all boils down to associations I have with the Eastwood Trilogy?

Honestly, I sort of lumped him in with other film composers without giving it much thought, and of those I mentioned he's the one I'm least acquainted with, but the Morricone I've heard seems to soar rather than brood. I guess it depends pretty heavily in his case on what you listen to.

Is Fraggle Rock any good? I heard of it a while back but just now thought to look it up.

I haven't heard much about that, though I think I remember some people saying good things. Jim Henson's stuff was pretty reliably good, though, with the possible exception of that annoying Manah-Manah song from an episode of The Muppet Show that's making the rounds of the Internet these days. :-P
posted by musicinmybrain at 12:08 AM on September 7, 2005

I'd just flat out go for classic rock (but if you're not a fan already, this may not be such a good idea). I don't think I was ever given "kid" music, as a kid, but I did get to listen to a ton of Pink Floyd and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Jim Croce and Elton John too.

While you're at this, why not try and get them into some stuff that isn't in English? Caetano Veloso's late 60's albums might be kind of swell--listening to them now, I would have loved him as a nine year old. I probably would have loved J-pop too...

If you're feeling adventurous, there's a lot of indie-stuff out there right now that would be perfect for kids...Animal Collective's Sung Tongs springs immediately to mind. Someone else already mentioned the Shins (and so on...).

musicinmybrain: Turtle Island's viola player once remarked that their music was a nice mix of classical and jazz stretched over a grid of low-rent Americana...
posted by hototogisu at 12:59 AM on September 7, 2005

I have a similar experience to hototogisu, I think. I honestly think that buying children "kiddie" music is kind of a bad idea, but I'm not a parent, so I wouldn't know.

The suggestions here seem very heavy into the indie-rock stuff. I think you could do other things if that's not your bag, though. Personally, I'd just say play them whatever you like. They will likely pick up your enthusiasm for the music and like it even better - I know that the music I listened to when I was younger was just the stuff that my parents were playing anyway.

Me - I was raised on some classic rock, a lot of jazz, and a lot of soul and funk music, with a really really occasional smattering of hip-hop. I was exposed to all of this before I was 10. There were some songs that might have been a bit suggestive for some, but as a kid, I sure as heck didn't understand it. "Brick House" was a song about a strong lady made of stone, and if you would have told me that Pink Floyd spent most of their recording budget on coke, I would have told you that I liked Pepsi better anyway. As long as there's no explicit lyrics, your kids should be fine.

Also as an added bonus, if you give your kids good music, there's a chance that they'll grow up to be musically inclined, land a recording contract, support you in your old age, and shout you out in their triple-platinum record.

Either way, you can't go wrong with The Whispers, any Motown at all, Average White Band is aight, Earth, Wind, and Fire, etc.

When they become of age, though, be sure to remind them that what you listened to as a youngun was the best music in recorded history, and their music is trash. It worked for my parents.
posted by dihutenosa at 1:53 AM on September 7, 2005

I met a family whose little kids were into Grandaddy. They were impressed that I knew all the words too.
posted by kmel at 4:18 AM on September 7, 2005

Try the Candy Band
posted by k8t at 4:44 AM on September 7, 2005

Jazz! Swing! Salsa! How some Louis Prima or Xavier Cugat? Spike Jones, Cab Calloway, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles. FUN.
posted by mimi at 5:17 AM on September 7, 2005

I highly recommend the album Come Sit Beside Me by Francine Wheeler. She wrote the songs while teaching young children at a school here in NYC. The songs range from silly and fun to beautiful (the version of "All the Pretty Little Horses" is gorgeous), but they're all well-written songs, not gimmicks.
posted by papercake at 5:35 AM on September 7, 2005

Check out Imagination Movers: kids music that even a parent can love. The Movers are informed by eighties & nineties sensibilities, and their music reflects it. They've got some downloadable tracks at their site. (My Favorite Snack is good.)
posted by jdroth at 5:52 AM on September 7, 2005

Putumayo have some good albums aimed at the younger market.
Although they do get criticised for the short (60min) length of their compilations by some.

I would like to add Ska, Soca, Samba, Reggae and just about all African music to mimi's list. Check out 'Ladysmith Black Mombaso' (sound on load) and the Muppets! Both together and seperately.

African music tends to be lighter and more delicate than the music of the Northern hemisphere. See Youssou N'dour, Oliver Mtukudzi, Rokia Traore, Oumou Sangare and then up the coast to DRC and environs for some jump-up soukous.

Oh, and I love Konono No.1! And so does everybody I play it to!

Berlioz 'Symphony Fantastique', Holstz 'The Planets' and Prokokiev 'Peter and the Wolf' are all great for kids.

All links have sound samples.

Also, Yann Tiersen, who we all love from Amelie.
posted by asok at 5:57 AM on September 7, 2005

Taj Mahal, Shake Sugaree, among his other children's albums. Great for kids and grown-ups!
posted by Pollomacho at 5:59 AM on September 7, 2005

The Apples in Stereo; dementedly happy power-pop.

Oh, and flod, the yellow matter custard quote is originally from a playground song. So kids know it already.
posted by scruss at 6:33 AM on September 7, 2005

My 5 year old son likes:

Elvis Costello
Adam Ant
Peter Gabriel
The Incredibles soundtrack
Willie Nelson's version of The Rainbow Connection (very good)
The Village People
Kool and the Gang
Earth Wind and Fire
Andrew W.K. (forgive me, it was on sale)
posted by Scoo at 6:57 AM on September 7, 2005

I don't have kids, but I've heard that Jonathan Richman goes over well with them, and that makes sense to me. Might start with I, Jonathan and see how that grabs them (and you).
posted by willpie at 7:21 AM on September 7, 2005

I have made a number of Kids Songs mix CDs for my kids and my nieces and nephews. Some great (and well received) Cds not mentioned so far are worth checking out. There are alot of "adult" selections here, but there are many kid's CDs that are fun and more appropriate for young children.

One of the favorites is Steven Weeks, who has two volumes of his Alphabet Songs out. They are fun and different, and kid's love them. Check out the free MP3 downloads on Amazon to check him out.

Other favorites are the Schoolhouse Rock songs (fun and educational), John Lithgow's Singin in the Bathtub, Really Rosie by Carole King, and Saturday Morning, where punk bands cover Saturday morning cartoon themes. Alot of fun to hear the Ramones cover the Spiderman cartoon theme.
posted by genefinder at 8:23 AM on September 7, 2005

Broadway Muscial Soundtracks , yes! The more the better
Beach Boys/Four Freshman for harmonies.
Cab Calloway, yes.
Fats Waller, Big Joe Turner and Joe Williams
Tom Waits Ballads - (I vowed that if I ever had children I would play him from the crib onward)
Buddy Holly, Elvis pre-army
Michelle Shocked, Burl Ives, Ethel Merman.
posted by goalyeehah at 8:29 AM on September 7, 2005

Zap Mama's first CD, Adventures in Afropea (back before they added the drum machine) is also great. So many different sounds and rhythms
posted by winston at 9:08 AM on September 7, 2005

In the Four Freshmen vein, the first song my son tried to sing along to was "Where or When" by Dion & The Bellmonts - he loves doo wop and Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett and such, and Glenn Miller. Glenn Miller is particularly fun to listen to. Doesn't matter which albums particularly - he loves it all. I don't know if it's the music or that we dance around the room to it ever since he was an infant. I grew up with my parents listening to oldies and "expect" him to have the same respect! He does drive me crazy trying to get me to keep Missy Elliott on the radio though!
posted by TTNoelle at 9:20 AM on September 7, 2005

I'm listening to Aretha Franklin right now: Chain of Fools and Respect in particular.

*head bobbing fool*

That means I'm agreeing with the suggestions for older artists listed above. Starting kids on good music (which, of course, is subjective) at a young age gives them a good basis for music later in life. That doesn't mean s/he won't listen to crap, but hey, you've done what you could.
posted by deborah at 9:41 AM on September 7, 2005

There were some songs that might have been a bit suggestive for some, but as a kid, I sure as heck didn't understand it.

Indeed. I loved the Hair soundtrack when I was about seven.
posted by Vidiot at 10:40 AM on September 7, 2005

Komeda - What makes it Go?
posted by safetyfork at 10:54 AM on September 7, 2005

Good folk music. I recommend Mike Seeger and Peggy Seeger (half-siblings to Pete Seeger, who's good too). They both have solo recordings, and they did a wonderful album of children's music that I love as much now as I did when I was a kid called American Folksongs for Children. Mike Seeger's stuff as part of the New Lost City Ramblers is also very good.
posted by bubukaba at 2:54 PM on September 7, 2005

I was raised on a steady diet of the Beatles, Elvis and Ella Fitzgerald. My mind does not seem warped, at least not in my bathroom mirror.
posted by signal at 3:01 PM on September 7, 2005

Until Disney re-issues the movie soundtracks, you should make do with The Muppet Show: Music Mayhem and More

If you have kids between 4 and 10 and you're not showing them The Muppet Show (especially since it just came out on a sweet new DVD set), you're shortchanging them one of the more valuable creative expressions of the last 20 years.

That said, the stuff above is also great. You might also try the Yellow Submarine 'songbook' from the movie, which is pretty much a Beatles Greatest Hits but also includes things like "Octopuses Garden" that arent on "#1".

"Childrens Music" seems to me a particularly insipid and condescending genre overall. Music that is appropriate for children, however, is far and wide.
posted by softlord at 5:12 PM on September 7, 2005

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