I am not a "Beluga Grad," but for many reasons, I am an ardent fan of Raffi. I find the putdowns of his music to be sort of like putdowns of the Beatles -- sure, you can say it, but to somehow suggest that Raffi (or the Beatles) wasn't a) very successful, and b) very talented is to be c) very
stupid lazy in your criticism. (We try not to use the word "stupid" 'round here.) People sometimes use Raffi and Barney interchangeably, which makes me wonder if they've ever listened to either of them.
Now, I totally get some of that criticism, and I am not a huge fan of Raffi's later work (especially as compared to his first three albums, which still get played at our house). But the man had a knack for simple but effective arrangements and, oh, that voice. In more recent years, Raffi has given up recording music for kids, and turned his attention to a variety of projects, including the Center for Child Honoring, a non-profit group Raffi founded "dedicated to advancing Child Honouring as a universal ethic, an organizing principle for societal transformation." I haven't enjoyed the music he's recorded recently very much, but the song he recorded in the wake of Egypt's social uprising, is, I think, a reminder of both his songcraft skills and his emotive voice.
Raffi - "Tweet Me Right" (The Cairo Tango) [YouTube]
When I originally talked about my latest piece for Education.com, "Albums To Tame the Savage Beast," with my editor there, she made it clear that she wasn't looking for a list of lullaby albums, because the site focuses on kids aged preschool on up. So these are five albums designed for quiet time for slightly older kids. Raffi's Quiet Time makes the list, natch, but rest assured that all five CDs will work well for times when everybody needs to take it down a notch. If you fall asleep on the couch while listening some afternoon and your kids pull all the pots and pans out of the cabinets while you're sleeping, I can't be held responsible.
Once again, somebody asked when the next entry in this series would be posted just as I planning the post. My readers are nothing if not persistent and possibly endowed with mind-reading abilities. Just another side benefit of reading this website. With this entry, your opportunity to enter my contest to guess the Top 5 is rapidly disappearing. All entries are due before I post songs 16 through 20, which I expect to do this upcoming week. Winner gets a free CD. You might want to look at the previous entries... Songs 26 through 30 Songs 31 through 35 Songs 36 through 40 Songs 41 through 45 Songs 46 through 50 25. "Teddy Bears' Picnic" - John Walter Bratton (music) / Jimmy Kennedy (lyrics): Amazing what you learn in putting these lists together. Did you know the music for this song was written exactly 100 years ago? And then when words were added 25 years later, the resulting recording sold more than one million copies? (Thanks, Wikipedia!) The lyrics are probably what amuses the kiddos, but I love the way the melody bounces up and around. Recorded by many (Trout Fishing in America and Garcia/Grisman, among others), but why not listen to the original million-seller here? 24. "We Are the Dinosaurs" - Laurie Berkner: Long after Jack's Big Music Show has ended production, long after CDs have stopped production for some method of music distribution we can't even fathom, little kids will be singing this song. The earworm-y beginning -- "we are the dinosaurs, marching, marching, we are the dinosaurs..." followed by the "WHADDAYA THINK OF THAT?!!" and the timpani drum is, well, the opening strains of Beethoven's Fifth of the late 20th century kids' music resurgence. (Watch Laurie's Noggin video here.) 23. "This Little Light" - Traditional: It's a Christian hymn, but it's been used in the civil rights struggle of the 1960's and in countless other secular situations. Can I hide this song under a bushel? No! (You can listen to one of my personal favorite renditions -- the very first song on Elizabeth Mitchell's very first kids' album You Are My Flower -- on Mitchell's website. Click on "flower," then "listen".) 22. "Row Row Row Your Boat - Traditional (lyrics), Eliphalet Orem Lyte (music): While I'm not quite sure I agree with Wikipedia's existential explication of the lyrics, it's definitely not the most mind-easing set of lyrics if the parent is really paying attention to the lyric. Luckily, the words are so ingrained in our brain we don't need to pay attention to it in order to sing it. (And, as a result, there is absolutely no need to give you a sound clip. It's already stuck in your brain now anyway.) 21. "Baby Beluga" - Raffi and Debi Pike: This is the biggest hit from the biggest children's musician of all time. Shouldn't this be, like, #2? I feel bad putting it at #21 instead of somewhat higher, but I don't think it's the easiest song for kids to sing by themselves. But there are a bunch of kids who are singing it with their parents (who sang it with their parents). (Listen to the song at Raffi's Myspace page.)
The list continues. I'd been planning to post this entry this morning, so I found the fact that somebody just posted a comment on the last list of "Hey, whatever happened to the rest of the list?" amusing. And to think I originally thought I'd crank these out in about two weeks. In any case, here are the previous entries: Songs 36 through 40 Songs 41 through 45 Songs 46 through 50 And don't forget, there's still time to enter the contest. You can win a free CD! 35. "All Through the Night" - traditional: A traditional Welsh lullaby with less than straightforward lyrical hurdles to jump ("Soft the drowsy hours are creeping / Hill and dale in slumber steeping"), it's the melody that makes this classic. I'm amazed that this isn't covered more -- it's not like the lyrics are that difficult -- easily within the reach of a parent tired of singing more familiar lullabies. (Listen to a sample from Mae Robertson's rendition here.) 34. "Skidamarink" - traditional: Most uptempo lullaby ever. Actually, I'm not sure it's even a lullaby -- I just first heard it on a lullaby album. Compared to the very serious lullabies (see #35, for example), this is a refreshing alternative. (You can hear a sample of the version that introduced me to the song here. Listen to a sample from the Old Town School of Folk Music rendition here. A bit more uptempo.) 33. "Skip To My Lou" - traditional. There's the innocuous version ("Fly's in the buttermilk / Shoo, fly, shoo") and the embittered, scorned-preschooler version ("Lost my partnet / What'll I do?... / I'll find another one / Prettier than you"). (Raffi does the innocuous version, Bullfrog Jumped includes the other version.) 32. "If You're Happy and You Know It" - traditional. One of those songs that if you're the least bit cynical and tired you're just not going to appreciate. But it's a very simple song that kids have fun with -- who doesn't like clapping their hands or stomping their feet when they're 3? (The Old Town School of Folk Music -- who else? -- does a fun version on Songs For Wiggleworms -- sample here.) 31. "BINGO" - traditional. Actually, this is kinda hard for kids to completely master, though they'll have fun clapping. Now that I think about it, by the time the song gets to "clap, clap, CLAP CLAP OH!," I still have problems with it. Unfortunately, I can't think of any must-hear versions of the song -- it's too prescriptive for massive creativity. (Still, you can always go back to Wiggleworms Love You here.)
For those tuning in late... Songs 41 through 45 Songs 46 through 50 Contest On to the songs... 40. "The More We Get Together" - traditional: "Traditional," but when the single most influential kids music artist of all time starts his very first album off with this song, it's forever owned by Raffi. (Listen to a cheesy government-funded instrumental version here. Shudder. Or another version here. I'm not even gonna try it. Clear out your brains with a 30-second sample of the classic version here.) 39. "Mr. Rabbit" - traditional: "Mr. Rabbit, Mr. Rabbit / You've been in my cabbage patch / Yes, my friend / And I ain't never comin' back / Every little soul must / Shine shine shine." Excuse me? What? That's, like, 3 non-sequiturs of a lyric. And somehow it's still catch and popular. (Sorry, no links. Johnny Keener's got a nice version on Elephants Over The Fence.) 38. "Rainbow Connection" - Kenny Ascher and Paul Williams: This would be a lot higher on the list, but I tell ya, that key change halfway through is just a difficult one to handle. Kermit's version is classic, of course, but almost too banjo-y, if such a thing can be said to exist. I think I actually prefer the Dixie Chicks' version on Mary Had A Little Amp. (Watch Kermit on YouTube.) 37. "My Hair Had a Party Last Night" - Trout Fishing in America: They've had a bunch of good songs ("Alien in my Nose" came close to making this list), but this is the one that's been covered a number of times already. "It started out friendly but there must've been a fight." (Listen to a sample of a live version here.) 36. "Pig on Her Head" - Laurie Berkner: One great thing about Laurie Berkner is that she writes kids songs that parents can actually sing. Admittedly, she's writing for toddlers, so that's on purpose, but we still sing this song with our youngest and occasionally oldest kids. Great imagery. (Imagery illustrated by the Noggin video, which can be accessed on this page.)
David Byrne recently posted a few thoughts on the past, present, and future of album art. Byrne's main point? We shouldn't necessarily mourn the loss of album art (which was often designed without the artist's input) with the rise of the iPod et al. Bryne posits a future in which recorded music is free while graphic designers develop ways to entice those listeners to pay for other stuff (merchandise, etc.) associated with the artist. (Thanks to Stereogum for the original reference.) What does this have to do with children's music? I don't know whether many children's music artists spend much time considering album art. Even if they do (and they probably do), the results often doesn't show that. Raffi's early albums, while pretty darn good, could hardly be considered to have great album art. Those covers are pretty good compared to some I've seen. Aside from the Wiggles, who have very consistent art direction (THE WIGGLES! SMILING! FUN, BRIGHT COLORS!), there aren't a lot of kids' artists whose art direction I love. Dan Zanes is a conspicuous exception (it helps if your brother-in-law is an artist), and there are some other exceptions, too. (The packaging of Lunch Money's Silly Reflection is fabulous, for example. By the way, do you have that album yet? Why not? Go!) I think much of children's music is trapped behind packaging that screams "you, the adult, will tolerate this and that's all." And I think that may explain partially why certain albums do or don't do well. Flipping through the small kids' music section at your local Borders... what are you going to choose? If you're trying to decide what to give as a gift for your niece's 4th birthday, what are you going to choose? How about looking at covers online? (Yes, I realize that, considering the current plainness of this website, this is a bit "pot-calling-the-kettle-black.") While bad album art won't always win (Raffi's CDs are still very popular), it takes an awesome album to overcome that art. While Byrne may be right that album art in general may fall by the wayside, I think that day is further away for kids' music than for most music. And just because I dig the Talking Heads, here's a page with some Talking Heads audio samples. The obvious choice for this site is "Stay Up Late," a funky tune from Little Creatures, but how can you not listen to something from Remain In Light? Go have fun. What's your favorite children's music album cover/packaging?