Music you and your kids both enjoy
February 22, 2016 7:18 AM   Subscribe

I'm in search of specific suggestions for music you and your kids both enjoy listening to. I'm thinking primarily of music targeted at adults, though am open to suggestions for particularly awesome kids' music as well (See: Here Comes Science). Recommendations for albums, individual songs, or Pandora channel seeds all highly welcome.

Of course the obvious answer here is "Listen to whatever it is you like" but I've never had a great popular music education - I was a socially awkward teen and just haven't ever really developed much in the way of musical preferences. I'm kind of stuck back at the mixtape my first boyfriend gave me in the mid '90s, which consisted of Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Green Day, a bit of REM, and The Offspring. I don't really want to listen to "Bad Habit" with my 5 & 2 year olds and I'd be happy to broaden my own horizons.

So: I'm interested in a vast array of suggestions for music that you yourself like, that is also enjoyed by a young person of your acquaintance. I'd prefer music that's reasonably kid-appropriate in terms of content and language - something I wouldn't mind explaining and would be happy for the kids to sing along with. (I am not the adult who finds it charming when a 2 year old girl is singing that she's "bringing booty back". To each their own.) In general, I detest radio edits and would prefer to just listen to swears on my own time. I suppose I could make an exception for one that was particularly well done.

That said, I'm not a total Victorian - if you've got suggestions that are not particularly kid-appropriate but have generated good conversations with your kids, please feel free to make a case for them (but remember I'm talking 5 & 2). Thanks!
posted by telepanda to Media & Arts (55 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
I'm that insufferable dad that plays all sorts of classic rock for my son and tries to get him to understand why he should have mad respect for the likes of Pete Townshend or John Bonham.

Almost nothing has stuck except for The Beatles. They have so many beautiful songs that are almost universally loved and every now and then they toss in a Yellow Submarine that is totally a "kid's song." On top of that their songs have been covered by so many people so sometimes he'll hear a song and go "hey, that's a Beatles song!"

Also, as I've gotten older I have gained so much respect for Weird Al Yankovic. His lyrics are brilliant, his band is amazing, and he's the most entertaining live performer I've ever seen. He's also a gateway into a lot of popular music because once a child knows the parody version of something you can then turn them on to the real version.
posted by bondcliff at 7:26 AM on February 22, 2016 [5 favorites]

At that age, I seem to remember them liking songs with silly lyrics such as They Might Be Giants
posted by crocomancer at 7:27 AM on February 22, 2016

My kid really loves folk and traditional English/Irish/Scottish music. (Some of it is easily explainable in kid language, some of it we have to heavily bowdlerize.) Check out Steeleye Span, Martin Carthy, The Chieftans, Planxty, the Inside Llewyn Davis soundtrack. One thing that our son really seems to dig is hearing different versions of the same song played by different people. Right now his favorite song is The Raggle-Taggle Gypsy (an old ballad of the border regions between England and Scotland--a man named Francis James Child collected hundreds of these ballads in the 18th century to collectively they're now known as the Child Ballads). We have a YouTube playlist that has a version sung by The Chieftans (+ members of Nickel Creek) and another one by Planxty. He can instantly distinguish between them and he knows they're the same song but different versions and he knows that his Daddy prefers the Planxty version, whereas he prefers the Chieftans. Previous editions of the "different versions of the same folk song" obsession (because it does kind of become a bit of an obsession for him) include Drunken Sailor and The Prickle Holly Bush/Gallows Pole.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:32 AM on February 22, 2016 [2 favorites]

My friends have had success with pirate sea shanties (and other sailing songs) but my friends and their children are perhaps on the strange side of things.

Paul Simon's Graceland is a time tested album that many parents and children agree on, and a good gateway into danceable world music. You might also venture into Manu Chao (if you can filter out his pot songs), Amadou & Mariam, New Orleans street music, and Balkan brass bands. I can't remember how inappropriate the lyrics get, but Gorillaz might also work.

On the folk side of things, Peter, Paul, and Mary and similar artists are often friendly to a wide range of ages and good for winding down music.

And I would totally play most REM for kids.
posted by Candleman at 7:36 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

My daughter, who is three and a half, loves the following non-kids' songs:

Never Going Back Again - Fleetwood Mac
Loro - Pinback
Life on Mars - David Bowie
Alberto Balsalm - Aphex Twin
Mushaboom - Feist
St. Thomas - Sonny Rollins
Blackbird - The Beatles
Act Naturally - Buck Owens
Innocent - Hundred Waters
Deep in the Heart of Texas - Gene Autry
I've Seen All Good People - Yes
Attaboy - The Goat Rodeo
Barracuda - Heart
This Will Be Our Year - Zombies
Black Dog - Led Zeppelin
De Luxe - Lush
Cosmic Dancer - T Rex
Only Love Can Break Your Heart - Neil Young
New Slang - The Shins
Head Over Heels - Tears for Fears
46 & 2 - Tool
posted by saladin at 7:37 AM on February 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

You can stream previous weeks' shows of Musical Merry-go-Round, from terrestrial radio station KDHX (no link - blocked at work). The host is a former DJ of a ska show, now goes by "Grandfather Stark".
posted by notsnot at 7:40 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

A toddler i know loves Run the Jewels (thanks to her dad).

It was all good until she got really into screaming "black on black on black with the ski mask, that is my crook look" in the grocery store. Some people thought we were odd.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 7:40 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

I tried them on Morrissey but my older daughter told me "this is a very terrible music daddy"
posted by crocomancer at 7:41 AM on February 22, 2016 [12 favorites]

The Beatles have also been a hit at our house. Also, the Jackson 5 seems to get everyone dancing. John Lithgow put out an album for kids called Sunny Side of the Street, but it's mostly older hits with a kid friendly twist. Soundtracks can be a good source of either a whole album, or just a few songs - Mary Poppins, Singing in the Rain, etc.

I don't know if you would find it inappropriate, or if we're just a weird family, but we listen to a lot of Bob Marley. Our youngest really likes reggae music.
posted by dawg-proud at 7:41 AM on February 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

My parents used to play a lot of folk music, particularly Anne Hills (The Panic Is On), Simon and Garfunkel, John Pryne, Utah Phillips. I remember as a kid that I really liked "The Goodnight-Loving Trail" - it's pretty funny and child-appropriate.

My parents and my little brother both enjoyed the demonic musical stylings of Flanders and Swann, which was as the torments of hell to me on long car trips.

We also collectively enjoyed Tom Lehrer and Tom Paxton. (It turns out that Tom Paxton actually made a bunch of children's albums later in his career.) We listened to the funny Tom Paxton songs, not the sad ones.

My father and I both loved Paul Simon's (politically dubious) album Graceland, and indeed it is still my guilty pleasure album.
posted by Frowner at 7:46 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

My kids liked the Grateful Dead, specifically Skull and Roses and Europe 72. I played a lot of concert recordings I have, but they were not second set kids. I think I almost lost them entirely to the Dead with one particular 47 minute Dark Star. SHakedown Street was a kid favorite when it came on.

Interestingly enough, they also love The Four Tops. I also played the Four Tops Live and In Concert for them a lot. The Spinners Rubber Band Man went over well.

Grateful Dead -- Europe '72 (Album)
Four Tops -- Live and In Concert (Album)
Spinners -- Rubber Band Man
Aztec Two-Step -- Humpty Dumpty
Aztec Two-Step -- Baking
Neil Young -- Cinnamon Girl
Jerry Garcia and David Grisman -- Not For Kids Only Album. My kids especially like "Ain't No Bugs on Me".)
posted by AugustWest at 7:53 AM on February 22, 2016

The Beatles for sure!
posted by saradarlin at 8:01 AM on February 22, 2016

Response by poster: Wow, you guys are awesome. Keep it coming! I foresee a number of trips to our library's audio collection :)
posted by telepanda at 8:09 AM on February 22, 2016

My son loves the Beatles, and also the Ramones and Rancid. Rancid might be a little NSFK (not safe for kids) but I don't think the Ramones have any terribly objectionable content.
posted by lyssabee at 8:12 AM on February 22, 2016

The "Songs to Raise Your Kids To" playlist on Google Music (formerly Songza) is a great place to start. I can't see the playlist, but artists include Bob Marley, Beatles, Dylan, Van Morrison, and Sam Cooke. Almost all classics you've heard many times but which hold up for adults and are musically simple enough for kids.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:29 AM on February 22, 2016

We play nothing but regular "adult" music around our son and always have. He is now five and some of his favorites:

Neil Young / CSNY
Jazz (Bebop / Swing)
Grateful Dead live shows
Boards of Canada
Tame Impala
Do Make Say Think
Jolie Holland / Be Good Tanyas
Kate Davis
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:30 AM on February 22, 2016

The Go! Team is in heavy rotation here (specifically the whole of the Scene Between album). Fun, danceable, singable, nary an Explicit Content lyric in sight. Also it's just really good (although I prefer the older albums).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 8:34 AM on February 22, 2016

My kids have grown up listening to John McCutcheon, folk singer and songwriter, enormously talented on banjo, piano, guitar, autoharp, mouth harp, fiddle and hammer dulcimer. He has 3 kids' albums: Howjadoo, Mail Myself to You, and Family Garden, and they enjoy his non-kid music just as much. Highly recommend.
posted by Ginesthoi at 8:36 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do you have access to Spotify? This is a list of songs that has been collected at the request of my 6 year old and almost three year old. It's a mix of my music, my husband's music, today's popular hits, and stuff from school.

We also love the Hamilton Soundtrack, although I keep waiting for them to ask me about some of the topics in there.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:38 AM on February 22, 2016

My kids got me listening to Flume. I took it as a sign that my music taste had rubbed off on them, because a lot of Flume sounds very informed by the kind of music I've listened to since my kids came into my life.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:49 AM on February 22, 2016

Our girls enjoy Weird Al and ask for his music on car rides. He really is an excellent and creative musician!
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:53 AM on February 22, 2016

Coming back to add Reggae. Specifically, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. Van Morrison Brown Eyed Girl too.
posted by AugustWest at 8:55 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

A lot of Motown is kid-friendly: The Jackson 5, The Supremes, Martha & the Vandellas, etc.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:58 AM on February 22, 2016 [3 favorites]

Since you mention Pandora, I'll mention our most successful technique: we set a station to TMBG Kids' and downvoted any obnoxiously kiddie music. The result is an interesting mix of cheerful music we all like. For example, now I know that Barenaked Ladies made a kid's album which is fun in the same kind of way as Here Comes Science/ ABCs/etc. A lot of musical soundtracks come up too; Frozen, Mary Poppins, Sound of Music, Muppets. I suspect you'd get more variety by not narrowing it to "Kids". (Maybe I'll try that this weekend and see what happens.)

We've gotten a different but also-fun mix by making a Harry Belafonte station which has resulted in a lot of slightly-gimmicky 1960's pop. Now the kid knows how to limbo and do the Twist. A Motown station would cross over well, too.

I second the Beatles, Paul Simon, and the Jackson 5. My kid looooves Queen, as I did at that age.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:01 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

There are a couple of good past threads with lots of pop recommendations for kids, if pop is your/their thing (something about the upbeat/soaring/synthy combo seems to appeal to kids*). Here, here and here.

*also me
posted by terretu at 9:01 AM on February 22, 2016

John Langford, currently of the Waco Brothers and most famously of the Mekons, is the kind of guy who puts two new bands together before breakfast. One of his many projects, along with his fellow Chicago alt-country talents Sally Timms (Mekons), Kelly Hogan and the band Devil in a Woodpile, is the kids-music band Wee Hairy Beasties. They released a single album, "Animal Crackers."
posted by Sunburnt at 9:08 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

My kids love classic rockabilly, like Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry and Johnny Cash and Bill Haley and early Elvis. A nice danceable beat, good tunes, clean lyrics, and lots of classic American songs that everybody just "knows."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:09 AM on February 22, 2016

Nthing reggae. Recommend 10 ft Ganja Plant, specifically Hillside Airstrip. Really fun and danceable.
posted by pintapicasso at 9:14 AM on February 22, 2016

A sample from our house:
Daft Punk, Around The World.
White Stripes, Hotel Yorba.
Sweet, Ballroom Blitz
Brian Eno (can't work that one out).

You never know what kids will latch onto as their thing so try it all.
posted by N-stoff at 9:27 AM on February 22, 2016

You never know what kids will latch onto as their thing so try it all.

And don't shy away from classical, maybe by watching a video of "The Nutcracker" but one of my 3 kids got really into classical after getting into that.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 9:36 AM on February 22, 2016

My 2 1/2 year old's top tunes this week are the Bowie narrated Peter and the Wolf, Kate Bush singing Wow and Wuthering Heights, Petula Clark - Downtown, UB40 - Rat in my Kitchen, Good Day - Nappy Roots, and, Puirt-A-Beul Set: Ribinnean Riomhach - Julie Fowlis.
posted by merocet at 9:48 AM on February 22, 2016

We really enjoy all the different Putamayo albums for kids and it was a nice way to get some diversity into our listening. Also, Graceland, Fleetwood Mac, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Johnny Cash. My preschooler loves the rather dull but soothing Jack Johnson soundtrack to the Curious George movie. The Blues Brothers soundtrack.
posted by bluebelle at 9:52 AM on February 22, 2016

For a low-key, light music option, I recommend the album "Piano" by George Shearing. There is no singing, it's just George playing tasteful jazz piano. I used to put it on as background music when my kids were young, while they were drawing or stacking blocks.
posted by see_change at 9:57 AM on February 22, 2016

When I was a kid, I loved the Beatles and the B-52s.
posted by gone2croatan at 10:42 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

A good source of piratey/chantey type of stuff is Great Big Sea - sadly, they are no more; they were a band from Newfoundland, Canada, that did a lot of folk and folk-influenced rock; in addition to some traditional stuff, they also did Celtic-folk covers of 80's and 90's hits like "Run Runaway" and "It's The End Of The World As We Know It" (they actually play that faster than REM did, which is ASTOUNDING).

Another good album would be the Waterboys' "Fisherman's Blues" - the title track has seemed to especially captivate kids for some reason. My best friend runs a day care, and said that once she put it on to distract a couple of toddler boys who were squabbling over a toy car and within 30 seconds they were dancing to it, arms around each others' shoulders in full-on "i love you, man" bro mode.

An album my father had that I loved when I was little was Taj Mahal's double album Giant Step/De Ole Folks At Home, especially some of the songs off the "Ole Folks At home" part - it's real rootsy bluesy stuff, covers of traditional blues stuff like "Linin' Track" and some original bluesy stuff. I especially liked his A Little Soulful Tune and Cluck Old Hen.

Finally - the B52s are appropriately oddball enough that they could get the "silly" angle (Quiche Lorraine, Love Shack, Is That You, Mo-Dean, Rock Lobster....)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:52 AM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

My 7 year old loves a lot of Louis Prima's novelty numbers, (Yes, We Have No Bananas, Please No Squeeza Da Banana (what is it with him and bananas?), Hey Boy / Hey Girl , Beep Beep... the list goes on and on), which are a delight.

Moanin' by Charles Mingus is hard not to love.

A lot more good suggestions in this previous Ask
posted by Mchelly at 10:54 AM on February 22, 2016

Shakira - Waka Waka
Janelle Monae - Power of Yet
A lot of old school No Doubt is really great
Colbie Caillat - Bubbly
Jason Mraz and Cobie Caillat - Lucky
Paula Abdul - Opposites Attract
Whitney Houston - I Wanna Dance With Somebody
All of those clever OKGo videos!
Michael Jackson

I guess pop music is popular for a reason! :D
posted by jillithd at 10:55 AM on February 22, 2016

My daughter loved Weezer's Island in the Sun when she was younger, but that may be entirely down to the video which featured lots of baby animals. It played on the radio on Friday and she didn't remember it at all.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:57 AM on February 22, 2016

My almost 3 year old loves Kishi Bashi more than any other artist (kid or adult oriented). Of other music on my iPhone he also enjoys Junius Meyvant, Asgeir, Air Traffic Controller, and Dry the River. I let him pick the music for the car ride to day care each morning, and I'd say he picks one of those artists as much, if not more than, the more kid oriented music I have available.

> All of those clever OKGo videos!

posted by noneuclidean at 11:20 AM on February 22, 2016

Janelle Monae - Tightrope

And my local radio station has the WoodSongs Old Time Radio Hour every Sunday morning, which we all enjoy a lot, and sometimes they even have child musicians on there.

Prince's Raspberry Beret was a favorite as a child, too. (And now)
posted by jillithd at 12:13 PM on February 22, 2016

Here's a playlist my ridiculously awesome kid likes. It's a mix of awesomer-than-usual kids music, forgotten kids tv/movie themes, and the hand-picked rock, indie, roots, blues, and soul tracks my kid found tolerable from my collection. (FYI: chillens love The Flaming Lips.)

Lots of winners on there, but one kids' album by an indie person that gets no love represented there is Alphabutt by Kimya Dawson. The title track is basically the ne plus ultra of obnoxious kids songs. It's a delight.

If you're down with alt-country, the Bloodshot records kids album The Bottle Let Me Down is a wall-to-wall delight at any age.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:19 PM on February 22, 2016 [1 favorite]

That's a Spotify playlist. I can screenshot the contents if you don't do Spotify.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:24 PM on February 22, 2016

I played Interstella 5555 for the kids, and after that they've loved Daft Punk.
posted by Harald74 at 12:27 PM on February 22, 2016

And we dragged our 11 yo daughter to the opera yesterday, with promises of an evening dress, jewelry and makeup. She didn't hate the experience (La Traviata) so we'll see how it pans out in the long run.
posted by Harald74 at 12:29 PM on February 22, 2016

My six year old girl loves The White Stripes in a big way right now. I bought their Elephant album for her a few months back, after she wore out White Blood Cells. Also big:

Tom Petty
Johnny Cash
OK Go (first the videos then the songs)

I have experienced moderate success with:
Daft Punk
Four Tet
Yo La Tengo
posted by Kafkaesque at 1:00 PM on February 22, 2016

Greasy Kid Stuff. The DJ's are a little obnoxious, but the music more than makes up for it.

2nding the Flaming Lips. My kid loves Yoshimi and At War with the Mystics
posted by furnace.heart at 1:13 PM on February 22, 2016

I have an almost 3 year old. currently on rotation on our turntable: the Beatles, tom petty, david Bowie, michael Jackson, Elvis Costello, and the Christians. he is also obsessed with music for aardvarks, which I admit can be pretty catchy. a bunch of albums are on Apple Music.
posted by sabh at 3:19 PM on February 22, 2016

Seconding (or thirding or fourthing) the Beatles. They also have some songs with beautifully simple lyrics that little kids can understand, like "I wanna hold your hand" or "hello goodbye".

The Beach Boys were a big hit with my toddler -- great harmonies. Actually, this was the first grownup music he seriously latched on to when he was very young, not even two. Just hard to resist the Beach Boys.

Recently, he's picked up the Temptations.

And in the 'shaping their musical tastes' department, which you can totally do -- Bob Wills, who on a good recording is both rocking and very melodic. Louis Armstrong, just "Saints Go Marching In" at first but then it evolved to other compositions. Oh, and for a while he was obsessed with one of Sleepy Labeef's rockabilly album, 'Detour'. Also a CD of Arab club dance music.

I guess you really can shape their tastes.
posted by zipadee at 5:38 PM on February 22, 2016

I grew up constantly listening to the Talking Heads album Stop Making Sense. My dad and I would bounce along and sing. It's very bouncy and happy and funky. The whole concert was on YouTube last I checked and is amazing. It's still the album that I can put on anytime and never get tired of and also have the lyrics tattooed.
posted by Crystalinne at 6:51 PM on February 22, 2016

My six year old loves Fallout Boy. I mean loves them, and is really pissed (still!) that last year I saw them live without her.

She also likes MIA, some Tool (so many are not safe for kids though), Florence and the Machine, Taylor Swift, Monster (the Meg Myers version and the Imagine Dragons versions), Hozier, and Lorde.
posted by geek anachronism at 2:33 AM on February 23, 2016

I don't think it's been mentioned so Swedish band I'm From Barcelona. Themed like Barenaked Ladies kind of, there's tree houses and chicken pox and it's all pretty PG. it's the band and a choir of all their friends, and they sound like their having a total blast!

Lullatone does really pleasant modern instrumental music for kids, but I like it too.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:47 AM on February 23, 2016

I want to put in a plug for my old friend, Dan Zanes. Formerly of Boston's Del Fuegos, now he does more family-oriented music. I took my kids to see him when they were little and oh, did they rock out. And the best part is that it's kid music but you won't want to plug your ears because it;s still kinda groovy.

Also Raffi. Raffi rocks. Baby beluga...
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:10 AM on February 23, 2016

There is a wonderful series of CDs called "A Child's Celebration of..." Examples are: Song, Folk, Showtunes, Soul, Rock n' Roll, and there are many others. I had a very low tolerance for stereotypical kid music when our kids were young and these saved my sanity.
posted by Bresciabouvier at 1:12 PM on February 23, 2016

My kids have been fascinated by this YouTube Channel where Stephen Malinowski has been uploading famous classical works with an animated score. The recordings he's using as base are usually very good as well.
posted by Harald74 at 11:37 PM on February 23, 2016

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