Would I be here on the web without Greasy Kid Stuff? Yeah, probably. Would anybody care? Well, I'm not so sure. Way back in 1995, when Belinda Miller and Hova Najarian started their weekly Saturday-morning "Greasy Kid Stuff" broadcast on WFMU in the New York area, there may have been a number of kids' music shows on the radio, but none were doing what Belinda and Hova did. Sure, they played "kids' music" (cartoon theme songs, the Chipmunks, and a Sesame Street song made their appearance on a randomly-selected playlist from November 1997). But they also re-appropriated kids' songs played byadult artists (Elvis Presley, the Mr. T Experience and Tanya Donnelly/Juliana Hatfield on that same broadcast) and, even more subversively, artists and songs that had never been anywhere near a kids' show. It wasn't just Jonathan Richman -- it was the Phantom Surfers, the Go-Nuts, and Yo La Tengo. In 2002, Belinda and Hova compiled their first Greasy Kid Stuff collection, filled with their broadcast's most popular songs from 7 years of Saturday-morning radio shows. This collection has a very goofy vibe to it that owes as much of its energy to Dr. Demento as it does 120 Minutes. Finding out from the liner notes that the very odd "There's a New Sound (The Sound of Worms)" was "without a doubt the most-requested song" on the show in the mid-'90s is a bracing tonic in thinking about what kids actually like to hear. Although I think the silly outweighs the rock, even the silly has a lot of rock to it (check out the surf "Ants in My Pants"), and the rock -- exemplified by the Mr. T Experience's cover of "Up and Down" from Schoolhouse Rock and the by-now-immortal "Jockey Monkey" from James Kochalka Superstar. The sequel, released a couple years later, is more at the 120 Minutes-end of the GKS spectrum. With tracks from Cub, Supernova, and They Might Be Giants, the album has much more of an indie-rock feel. "Dictionary" is another great indie-rock track, done by Muckafurgason (two-thirds of which would later become the kids' band The Quiet Two. But the less-familiar names also turn in enjoyable tracks, most notably the surprisingly sweet (with pointed commentary near the end) "The Dinosaur Song," from Drew Farmer. Both albums are appropriate for kids of all ages (unless you think kids shouldn't hear the "Mission: Impossible" theme as performed by chickens, then stay away from the original). But I think kids ages 4 through 10 will probably get the most out of the CDs. Samples are available at many fine internet superstores. It's hard to choose between the two CDs (if, indeed, you have to choose between them), but I think my rough stereotyping above -- Dr. Demento or 120 Minutes is a reasonably fair one. There are some awesome tracks on both CDs and your family will like both, if for perhaps slightly different reasons. With news that a third collection is in the works, Belinda and Hova will get to share their many discoveries with a music world that's, well, finally, sort of, caught up with them. Recommended. Obligatory conflict-of-interest note, which I forgot to include when originally posting this last night: Belinda and Hova have just started a new Greasy Kid Stuff blog at Offsprung, which is where I post, too. I could've written this review many months ago, long before they even joined the fold, but thought you should know.
Final day of first-round competition and final matchup pits "Willy Was A Whale" from Justin Roberts, the #1 seed in the Woody Guthrie Region against "Polar Bear" from The Quiet Two, the #4 seed. Vote in the comments below. Rules: Video with most votes wins. One vote per e-mail address, please. Votes due by Wednesday 9 PM-ish East Coast time. "Willy Was A Whale" - Justin Roberts Watch the video on YouTube here. "Polar Bear" - The Quiet Two To view this video, head to Jack's Big Music Show player and click on the right arrow. Roll over the picture of a kid in a polar bear costume.
Compilations are notoriously hard things to compile. Any fool can put together a CD of good or popular songs, but their appeal as a single entity often fades after time. (Really, who listens to those Now! CDs, like, six months later?) The key is finding some loosely unifying theme or spirit to guide the collection. Park Slope Parents The Album (Vol. 1) has just enough theme to carry the day. The 17-track collection plucks chooses songs old and new, released and not, from mainly New York City artists. There are a few tracks that deal with life in New York City -- David Weinstone (Music for Aardvarks) contributes his simple "Subway" ("Bing bong / the doors open on the train / bing bong / All the people pile in") while Michael Leyden has a more rocking take in "I Hear a Train." Any compilation should also be measured by how well it does in helping you to discover new artists, rediscover chestnuts from old artists, and getting new tracks from your favorite artists. In terms of discovering new artists, Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel's "The Season Song" is a perfect pop tune from an adult band (whose members both teach in schools) writing a kids' song (specifically for this album). Dan Zanes contributes the "The Monkey's Wedding" from his Parades and Panoramas disk while Daniel Schorr's "Good Boy with a Bad Reputation" (off his first album) is a great example of his countryfied Dwight Yoakam-esque rock. And the new tracks. These, my friends, are why you should get yourself on the CDBaby waiting list and order the disk. Smack dab in the middle of the disk are two great new cuts. The Deedle Deedle Dees contribute their ode to New York City roadways (had to balance out the public transportation songs, I suppose) with "Major Deegan," which was recorded for their upcoming album. The loping song sounds timeless, especially with those "whoo-whoo's". And The Quiet Two continue their surreal attack on kids' music with the loopy and giddy "When I Dream." AudraRox's reggae song of tolerance "Moms & Dads" and the sometimes-out-of-control (in a good way) "Drunken Sailor" contributed by Astrograss (with backing vocals from AudraRox's Audra and Jen) are just as good. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the sweetest track, the album closer "Fools Will Try." Somehow these Brooklyn parents got Ralph Covert to contribute a track from his 1997 album Birthday, and it's nothing less than some of the best advice you can give to a child. This is one of those songs that should appear on a lot of new parents' mix CDs... The album is probably most appropriate for kids 3 through 8 (who probably don't care less about the appropriateness of a compilation and who just care whether a CD has good songs, which this one does in spades). The album is a fundraiser for Park Slope Parents, an informational website for parents in Park Slope, Brooklyn. For those of you who don't live in New York City, I'd recommend the CDBaby page, where you can hear samples. (The cover, by the way, is by children's author and illustrator Mo Willems, who contributes drawings that are more "Knuffle Bunny" than "Pigeon.") Though collected for kids living in New York City, Park Slope Parents The Album (Vol. 1) is appropriate for families visiting New York City, learning about New York City, oh, heck, lovers of good music. It's a great collection of music and it's definitely recommended.
Opening lines aren't quite so big a deal in songs as they are in novels, but the opening line in "Polar Bear," by The Quiet Two, is pretty cool: "Straight to the point, I wanna be a polar bear." Direct enough for kids, odd enough to pull in the parents. And now that the song has its own video on the debut Season Two episode of Jack's Big Music Show, it's about to go huge. Just like the song itself, the video is direct enough for kids (kids jumping around in polar bear outfits) and odd enough for the parents (the goofy animal masks and facial expressions). To see the video, go to the videoplayer at Jack's page. Want the lyrics or to singalong, karaoke-style? Go here. Want a snippet of the regular track? Go here. (And if you're not familiar with Make Some Noise, their debut album, you really, really should be.)
Or, at least, this sounds like it'll be cool. The first of many guest DJ sets at Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child can be heard this weekend from Andy Ure of The Quiet Ones. (Didja read the review?) At some point I'll have a guest DJ slot myself... I just need to figure out how to cram an entire musical philosophy into about 45 minutes. (Or maybe I should just play They Might Be Giants repeatedly.) Anyway, go forth and listen.
Unfortunately for New York band The Quiet Two (formerly the Quiet Ones), their 2005 debut Make Some Noise didn't, er, make some noise, or at least not as much as it should have. And while I can't answer the question of how in the name of They Might Be Giants did this album fly under the radar, I can do my best to explain why it shouldn't have. The Quiet Two are Chrstopher Anderson and Andrew Ure, 2/3rds of the band Muckafurgason, which toured with They Might Be Giants and whose final album was produced by John Flansburgh of the band. The They Might Be Giants reference is appropriate here, because the album is filled with lyrical flights of fancy that would not sound out of place on a TMBG album. Take, for example, "Polar Bear," a country-ish tune which starts out with the line "Straight to the point / I wanna be a polar bear," then comes back to the concept later on in the tune with the line "Back to the point of being a polar bear," a meta reference that is likely to amuse the parents within a very kid-friendly song about, well, being a polar bear. Or "Invisible Trousers," in which the narrator talks about how he "Wore them to the dentist & to the pet store / And everyone was pointing / Because they’d never seen invisible trousers before," which is a punchline that will reward the older kids and parents listening. For adults tired of listening to kids' albums with too many lessons, the lessons here are few and far between, with the band typically content to tell stories with subjects of interest to kids, like running ("How Fast Can You Run") and superheroes ("Ultrafoot"). Sonically, the album has a very British vibe, with some songs sound more like British Invasion bands ("Make Some Noise"), some like XTC outtakes (the amusing "My Keyboard"), and some like the Beatles (the lovely "I Remember Purple"). And, gosh, I've somehow managed to not mention my two favorite songs, the power-poppy "You Can't Hide Your Bike" (which is about exactly what the title implies), and the narratively exuberant album closer "Fizzy Milk." Well, kids ages 4 through 9 -- especially slightly silly ones -- will enjoy this album the most. You can hear samples of some songs here or all songs at the album's page at Amazon. You can also see the lyrics and hear karaoke versions of most songs here. Can you tell I liked the album? There are no bad songs here, just songs you'll like more or less than others. At just over the 30-minute mark, the album is short but very sweet. Fans of power pop or XTC or They Might Be Giants should check out the album post haste. Like, yesterday. As for the rest of you, the appealing goofiness and catchy melodies make Make Some Noise also worth your time. Definitely recommended.