Let's all sing the most sanctimonious song ever written!
April 12, 2014 7:29 AM   Subscribe

Baby WanKenobi loves the song Little Boxes. I think she likes it because it's bouncy. I love singing it because it's subversive and snarky. What other songs might we enjoy?

Draft Dodger Rag is also a favorite. Daddy is a big Tom Lehrer fan. I'm looking for songs that sound like kids' songs, but aren't, or are kids' songs with an edge. Easy to sing and memorize is a bonus.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi to Media & Arts (54 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
I always think of the Ramones as my first choice for music that's kid-friendly but not intended for kids. When I was a tot, they were a favourite on family road trips, and I was surprised later to learn what their songs were about.
posted by ITheCosmos at 7:38 AM on April 12, 2014

Best answer: Hey! How did I miss that she was born!? Congratulations! She is so beautiful!

I had fun singing Presidents of the United States songs to my little nephews and nieces. Chris Ballew performs children's songs under the name Caspar Babypants. His songs are simple and bouncy and mostly not normal subject matter.
posted by Jazz Hands at 7:39 AM on April 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Moxy Fruvous might have some songs that would fit. Then there's TMBG, but they tend not to be real subversive. Jonathan Coulton maybe has a few.
posted by BenevolentActor at 7:43 AM on April 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have no idea if this fits, but seriously: Kenny Roger's The Gambler. So easy to sing and memorize and a fantastic chorus. Subversive because it's an incredibly catchy song about a grizzled, chain-smoking, whiskey-swilling gambler who dies on a train to purgatory.
posted by mochapickle at 7:46 AM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, and Tiny Bubbles. It's a song about getting super tipsy and progressively lovey-dovey on champagne. My mom used to sing it to me when I was in the bathtub.
posted by mochapickle at 7:54 AM on April 12, 2014

Response by poster: Then there's TMBG, but they tend not to be real subversive.

Funny and weird is fine, too! Come to think of it, "Dr. Worm" would be perfect. Keep the suggestions coming, please!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:55 AM on April 12, 2014

Best answer: Roger Miller's King of the Road
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:08 AM on April 12, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Also (Roger Miller), Dang Me

Tom T. Hall, I Like Beer
posted by kmennie at 8:15 AM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I like Sixteen Tons by Tennessee Ernie Ford; it's got a fun, strong beat and is about owing your soul to the company store (I used to play it for my second graders and they loved it, plus we got to talk about unions).
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:17 AM on April 12, 2014 [8 favorites]

the bounciest (in tone, not content) song I can think of - Red Rubber Ball. Though Hit the Road Jack was also always fun to sing.
posted by mce at 8:18 AM on April 12, 2014

Best answer: I just got mine to sleep with Little Boxes! She listens to Indie Lullabies, a very good compilation of soothing songs. I have gotten the upbeat covers or original versions of some of them for her as a result. Cat Stevens and the soundtrack to O Brother Wherefore Art Thou is good too - Big Rock Candy Mountain is so great with the original lyrics.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:19 AM on April 12, 2014

Best answer: Klein Klein Jakkelsies by Chris Chameleon. Heard it on Metafilter first, no idea if it's subversive cause I can't tell what he's saying, but I can't imagine a kid not loving it.

Spanish Pipedream by John Prine.

Hit 'Em Up Style by the Carolina Chocolate Drops

Cute baby!!
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:20 AM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I also sing Little Boxes all the time to my 6 month old! This is serious earworm territory, but I also suggest I Would Be (500 Miles). Perfect bouncy rhythem and I change the lyric to "I'm going to be that mom..."
posted by gatorae at 8:25 AM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Tobacco Road might be a little dark, but its fun to sing!
posted by Requiax at 8:26 AM on April 12, 2014

Best answer: The Old 97s have some bouncy songs with dirtbag lyrics. Barrier Reef, e.g. Maybe the Bloodshot Records kids compilation?

I dunno that I'd call this song easy to sing, but it is bouncy, sort of dark, and I heard a toddler sitting next to me at a show once sing along with it word for word. This one is so catchy that it actually makes my teeth itch, but I feel like a baby would love it.
posted by clavicle at 8:41 AM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How about Political Science by Randy Newman?
posted by tomboko at 8:41 AM on April 12, 2014

NO! by They Might Be Giants has many oddball songs, as you might expect from the band.
posted by TDIpod at 8:46 AM on April 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: How about Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash?
posted by essexjan at 9:03 AM on April 12, 2014

Stringband. Especially maple leaf dog, dief is the chief, and mail sort in man are great. And depending how rude you like to get, show us the length.
posted by chapps at 9:07 AM on April 12, 2014

Best answer: Kingston Trio, MTA

Herman's Hermits, Henry the VIII (snarky, I guess)

Johnny Cash, Rock Island Line (the alllllllllllllllll pig iron song)
posted by barchan at 9:08 AM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My dad used to play The Galaxy Song for us, my mom used to sing the song about being in love with Attila the Hun, and "ay-yi-yi-yi, your mother swims out to meet troop ships." ONLY that line, though.
posted by Coatlicue at 9:12 AM on April 12, 2014

NO! by They Might Be Giants has many oddball songs, as you might expect from the band.

Seconding this. I bought it for my nieces and nephews way back when, but my conservative sister "lost" it because she didn't like the "message" of some of the songs.
posted by donajo at 9:18 AM on April 12, 2014 [3 favorites]

My brother and I loved the hell out of I Eat Kids and Other Songs for Rebellious Children by Barry Louis Polisar. I don't think this one was our favorite, but it's the one I could find.
posted by Akhu at 9:31 AM on April 12, 2014

Best answer: I think you could keep mining the Proclaimers (since someone has mentioned I'm Gonna Be and King of the Road, which they covered). Maybe There's a Touch or I'm On My Way.

I could imagine a small child enjoying the chorus to Tubthumping. But it might drive you insane.
posted by hoyland at 9:46 AM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I love this question! My dad used to sing "Little Boxes" to us kids, most likely for the same reasons.

Lots of solidarity/union/civil rights activist songs are great for this--for example, Union Maid (this updated, more feminist version is from Pete Seeger's 90th birthday concert).

We Shall Not Be Moved--Mavis Staples
Solidarity Forever--Utah Phillips
This Land Is My Land--Woodie Guthrie
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:57 AM on April 12, 2014

Erm, Wheels on the Bus? (Mad Donna version.)
posted by epo at 10:11 AM on April 12, 2014

Maybe Teru Teru Bozu would qualify as bouncy?

...on re-reading the OP, it's actually a kids' song, though.
posted by XMLicious at 10:42 AM on April 12, 2014

Best answer: My parents used to sing Getting Better to me all the time, which is much darker than it sounds... (can't get no worse!)

Good Morning Tuscon by Jonathon Coulton
posted by like_a_friend at 10:43 AM on April 12, 2014

dig "the Workers Song" by Dropkick Murphys.
posted by BostonTerrier at 11:06 AM on April 12, 2014

These are all from a list of "adult music kids will love" that was in the Washington Post years ago:
The Knitters: "Poor Little Critter on the Road"
Bob Marley: "Three Little Birds"
Pixies: "La La Love You"
John Prine: "Daddy's Little Pumpkin"
Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers: "Abominable Snowman in the Market"
The Specials: "Enjoy Yourself (It's Later Than You Think)"
Richard Thompson: "Don't Sit on My Jimmy Shands"
Velvet Underground: "I'm Sticking With You"
Victoria Williams: "What a Wonderful World"
Yo La Tengo: "My Little Corner of the World"
Los Lobos: "I Wan'na Be Like You"
posted by amarynth at 11:22 AM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Johnny Cash put out a children's album, so that's a win-win.
posted by nushustu at 12:01 PM on April 12, 2014

The Meatball Song is fun to sing. I loved it as a child, and it's silly. I know my family had it on an album when I was a kid with a lot of other similar songs. Splurb about the song.

There's also The Yellow Rose Of Texas, which is supposedly about this legend. youtube.
posted by annsunny at 12:45 PM on April 12, 2014

Best answer: The Fixin to Die rag?
posted by sweetmarie at 12:54 PM on April 12, 2014

Best answer: Arlo guthrie's "motorcycle song".

Oh! And Taj Mahal did a whole acousticy rootsy bluesy album called "De Old Folks At Home" which my father played a lot when I was little and I loved. Just Taj and a banjo.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:59 PM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Baby sestaaak and I listen to a lot of Amy Winehouse, very minor key and bouncy, especially "Back to Black." I still don't know what to do about the line about how her ex "kept his $#%@ wet with his same old safe bet." Parenting!
posted by sestaaak at 1:09 PM on April 12, 2014

Best answer: Funny and weird fine too, eh? Then two recent favourites of the Boy and I:

Billy Bagel by The Macaroons. Obscure-ish band aimed at Jewish kids, now defunct. Reminds me of Camper Van Beethoven on a fun day.

Video Killed the Radio Star by The Wrong Trousers, also 'on hiatus'. I thought I couldn't stand to hear that record any more, but I was wrong. Harp solo!

And a bonus bouncy, Nine Bowls of Soup by They Might Be Giants. (I don't really like their stuff in general, he says very quietly.)
posted by danteGideon at 2:33 PM on April 12, 2014

Best answer: Mr. Meindee recommends It's the End of the World as We Know It.
posted by meindee at 2:57 PM on April 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: And while I think of it, Rockin' Leprechauns by Jonathan Richman, too! His Ice Cream Man stuff is pretty much all fun. Man, I wish my parents had had a better record collection.
posted by danteGideon at 3:56 PM on April 12, 2014

And! Again with the remini/senescence! The Boy used to love "I'm a Little Airplane" and "I'm a Little Dinosaur" from Modern Lovers Live.

Plus! Marvel as Jonathan wins over an audience of grouchy London punks who were expecting him to play proto-punk from the Modern Lovers original album, and got mainly acoustic stuff about dinosaurs and ice cream. The whole record is tremendous fun.
posted by danteGideon at 4:08 PM on April 12, 2014

Best answer: Love the question, wish I had hours to spend on this response. Here are a few favorites from the "educational/subversive" category, including some that came out when my kids were in school (i.e., not so much songs I sang to them, rather we sang them together in the car), but they could also work with little ones.

Btw, my kids are grown-ups—approaching 22nd and 25th birthdays—and we still talk about music. Fwiw, they both embrace the values/messages in these songs.

CSNY, Ohio (I send the kids a "Four dead in Ohio" text or email every May 4th)
CSNY, Teach your children
Buffalo Springfield, Stop children, what's that sound
The Ramons, Nothing can change the shape of things to come
Indigo Girls, Shame on you (big hit as a grade school sing-along because it contains the line "I keep fucking up")
Smash Mouth (no apologies, I don't get the hate), You might as well be walking on the sun
New Radicals, You get what you give
Soul Asylum, Stand up and be strong

Springsteen. (More songs than I have time to list. Bruce and I go back to the day I heard "Sandy" from the newly released "The Wild, the Innocent, and the E-street Shuffle".)

Finally, not subversive, just fun to sing to a baby daughter:
The Ramons, She's a sensation.
And for a grown-up daughter, Steve Earle's Sparkle and Shine.
posted by she's not there at 5:05 PM on April 12, 2014

Best answer: Oh again!

The bulk of Great Big Sea's catalog will also work well (bonus FPP on the band here). I am especially looking forward to sharing Lukey with my nephew someday.

And for some reason, someone in another FPP observed that little kids seem to go nuts for The Waterboys' song Fisherman's Blues.

And because now I can link -

Motorcycle Song

And from Taj Mahal -

Linin' Track
A Little Soulful Tune
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:24 PM on April 12, 2014

Perhaps the album 'The Point'. By Harry Nilsson? Hard to link on the tablet, but the songs are fantastic, Me And My Arrow, Think About Your Troubles/Poli High... Plus there's a trippy 70s movie to go asking with it.
posted by edgeways at 6:41 PM on April 12, 2014 [1 favorite]

Metamora, Little Potato
posted by leahwrenn at 7:06 PM on April 12, 2014 [2 favorites]

I can't be live I didn't include Life During Wartime (Talking Heads) in the above list. With that manic pace, lyrics that reference everything from peanut butter to "why go to high school", and a refrain that everybody loves to sing, this song is good for all ages.

This ain't no party, this ain't no disco,
This ain't no fooling around.
No time for dancing, or lovey-dovey,
I ain't got time for that now!

posted by she's not there at 8:26 PM on April 12, 2014

My son loved Janis' Mercedes Benz. It was one of our regular road trip songs.
posted by maggieb at 11:21 PM on April 12, 2014

And, John Prine's Paradise because we did a lot of riding around in the nearby coal counties.
posted by maggieb at 11:25 PM on April 12, 2014

Oh boy, when I was a kid I loved Another Brick in the Wall by Pink Floyd. Lots of great parts for shouting!
posted by lollymccatburglar at 8:41 AM on April 13, 2014

A Clean Song and Shaving Cream have fun melodies and leave out the "kid inappropriate" words.
posted by doctord at 7:54 AM on April 14, 2014

My little guy greatly enjoys several songs by the Flaming Lips, specifically:

She Don't Use Jelly

and his very favorite song ever:
Bad Days

There's a fun/bizarre moment hearing your kid sing, "You hate your boss at your job, but in your dreams you can blow his head off."

Other not kids songs that worked well as kids songs for us:
Paul Westerberg - Mr. Rabbit
The Ramones - Surfin' Bird
Nirvana - Sliver

And on a related note, the nice people on Ask also helped me put together a playlist of blues songs for my kid, when he it turned out he was a fan.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:16 AM on April 14, 2014

I can vouch that the Bloodshot Records kids album - "The Bottle Let Me Down" is fantastic. I have no kidlets and it's on regular rotation in my house (and in my head).

Also, Dan Zanes! His album Parades and Panoramas is all from Carl Sandburg's American Songbag and is truly one of my favorite albums. It's singalongable, and utterly wonderful.
posted by bibliogrrl at 4:58 PM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

"At The Zoo" was even made into a children's book!
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:45 PM on April 15, 2014

Maybe you'd enjoy some calypso? They often have easy going melodies. The lyrics are often filled with innuendo, or some sort of hidden meaning revealed at the end.

For instance: Mighty Sparrow - Don't go, Joe. The song starts out about the singer's sister (Millicent) who is heartbroken when her lover (the Yankee soldier, Joe) has to leave. The chorus repeats her pleading "So Don't go Joe, don't go", with the reveal in the last lines "Say he brain ain't bigger then mine / I was crying but I pick his pocket same time".

Or Rum and Coca Cola (here recorded by the Andrews Sisters), which sounds sweet but really is about the rise of prostitution in Trinidad caused by the US military presence.

If you enjoy calypso at all and want more, I suggest listening to the archives of Muriel's Treasure.
posted by bjrn at 2:58 PM on April 15, 2014

Pink Martini might fit the bill:
Tea For Two (once you get past the intro, anyway)
Dosvedanya Mio Bombino
Hang On Little Tomato (skip straight to the lyrics here)

Or Nellie McKay:
The Dog Song
Ding Dong

Quite a bit of Kirsty MacColl's Tropical Brainstorm is in this vein, too, although maybe more melodically complex than what you're after.
posted by EvaDestruction at 10:54 AM on April 18, 2014

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