Ben Folds has five songs on the soundtrack to the upcoming animated kids'movie Over the Hedge. The soundtrack, to be released tomorrow, includes "Rockin' the Suburbs." I know what you're saying, you're saying "Rockin' the Suburbs?" Could there be a more inappropriate song for a kids' movie soundtrack? Was "Brick" somehow unavailable? To be fair, Folds has written new lyrics for the song. In its original version, Folds takes aim at Limp Bizkit and their fans with lyrics such as Let me tell ya'll what it's like Being male, middle class and white It's a b----, if you don't believe Listen up to my new CD Sham on And it only gets more profane and more angry from there, until it ends in a fury of cheesy rap-metal. It all seemed a bit too much; making fun of Bizkit and the attitude of their fans (even at the time) was akin to shooting fish in a barrel. Sleepy fish in a barrel. It was overkill, perhaps, but amusing, and fully thought out in execution. So now for this new movie, which tells the story of some timid wood animals facing an encroaching suburbia, Folds has turned his aim from 20-year-old white males to, er, soccer moms? Let me tell y'all what it's like Watching idol on a friday night In a house built safe and sound On indian burial ground Sham on (Rest of the lyrics are here) From there, Folds turns his aim to cookie-cutter suburban development and how houses all look the same. It's as if he thought that five-year-old kids have a working knowledge of Jane Jacobs, enough to nod sagely at the critique. It's a song lobbed completely over the kids' heads at their parents, and, sadly, it's not telling us anything we don't know. (You either agree completely, or don't care at all.) Now, the song also includes a bizarre voice-over by frequent Folds collaborator William Shatner, which must be in character (Shatner does have a part), as Shatner rails on and on in the persona of a slightly too nosy neighbor. Again, vaguely amusing for the adults, kinda odd for the kids. And, most strangely, the song ends in the same cheesy rap-metal that's part of the original, only now it's devoid of any context. I really like Ben Folds, and I'm sure he was excited to help out with a kids' movie soundtrack (as he has at least one child of his own), but this is one song mostly likely over the he...ads. You can check out the Over The Hedge soundtrack website (with radio) here. If you think I'm gonna link to a Limp Bizkit song, you're nuts, but if you go to the Ben Folds Five website and click on "Music," you can hear my favorite Folds song, "The Battle of Who Could Care Less."
Last night I went to an open house at the school where our daughter will be attending kindergarten in the fall. The youngster was a bundle of nerves -- so hyper that a brownie and ice cream calmed her down. I was trying to encourage her to say hello to her (prospective) teachers, to look around, but she just bounced off the walls with her friends. I can tell she's really going to enjoy kindergarten (she went nuts -- or more so -- in the music room with all the instruments out), but there is also the realization that she's reaching another milestone. Let's start the "Song of the Day" with the "adult" song -- "Wake Up," off the Ditty Bops' eponymous debut album. The Ditty Bops write wry folk-rock songs -- think Suzanne Vega perhaps, but somehow "Wake Up" got played on XM Kids one day. Perhaps this is why: "Don't cause a scene / Mind your manners / Speak only if spoken to / You know what you are not do / Watch and learn What if you never were short for time / All meetings cancelled clocks stopped at nine / Without alarms the silence beams / Watch and learn" Yeah, OK. Kinda makes me wonder about all those boundaries we're setting. Would it really be so bad if the kids ran around outside until late at night? (Please don't answer that.) The lyrics are written to get adults to look at their own lives, but it's raising questions for the parents out there, no? For a similar perspective, but targeted much more at the parents, check out Brady Rymer's "Dilly Dally Daisy," which, in the midst of a song about a cute but perhaps frustrating-to-the-parent daughter, includes these lines: "Oh man, I wanna let her go And see the world her own way, ya know? 'Cause pretty soon they're gonna get her in line They'll say, 'Stand up straight! Tuck in your shirt! Know where you're going and get there on time!' " Those lines will go right over the head of the 4-year-old and right to the heart of the parent. There aren't a lot of songs about how one chooses to be a parent. Those two, one accidentally, one on purpose, are two of the few. Listen to "Wake Up" here. Listen to a clip of "Dilly Dally Daisy" here.
I don't know whether Dan Zanes intended to write a "lead single" for his new album, Catch That Train, but it's got one. "Let's Shake" is infectious, radio- (or at least Noggin-, er, Playhouse Disney-)ready, and not quite like anything else on the CD. Now, that's not a slam on the song, because Zanes' albums invariably sound a little like a Putumayo CD in their wide variety of cultures and musical styles, except that it's all from one artist and his band. But unlike the rest of the album, assiduous in pulling songs from other cultures and times, "Let's Shake" is a little bit of garage rock, sounding very 2006. It sounds similar to "House Party Time" off Zanes' last CD, House Party, except a little faster and even more stripped down. (Or as stripped down as any song with what sounds like a tuba among the instruments can be.) Lest I be misconstrued, I have nothing against "lead singles." U2's "Vertigo" doesn't sound much like the rest of "How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb." Doesn't mean that it (or the rest of the CD) isn't a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the streaming of Catch That Train! at Amazon has stopped, so for the moment you can't hear the whole thing. Go there to hear samples (and note an updated and stepped-up release date of May 9). Go here to see U2's page for the Vertigo single (you'll probably only be able to see/hear snippets).
(Because "Song-of-the-Whenever-I-Get-Around-To-It" isn't nearly as catchy...) The Little Red Riding Hood spoof Hoodwinked wasn't a huge hit -- wink-and-you-miss-it, you might say. (In any case, I winked, and I missed it.) But I've heard "Great Big World" a few times, and it's almost enough to make me want to see the movie. It's the typical "intro" musical song, where a character sets the stage, so to speak, for the events to follow. These seemed to be a lot bigger in the animated Disney musicals of the early 1990s ("Belle" from Beauty and the Beast is the best example, a textbook example really, of how to write one of these tunes.) Lyrically, "Great Big World" talks about just that, an apropos subject for a lead character who I'm assuming is about to walk into the woods. (Without having seen Hoodwinked, I don't know if it sets the stage visually as well as "Belle" does in its movie.) Sonically, "Great Big World" harkens back to those big bright poppy tunes of the 1960s, with a massive wall of sound, especially on the chorus. But it's Hathaway's delivery that fully sells me on the song. Hathaway has a clear voice that isn't perfect or pitch-corrected to death (at least, it doesn't sound that way to me). And she delivers the lyrics with a slightly sarcastic attitude that makes me smile ("They say that goodies / Make the world / Go round"). The combination of the retro-pop and Hathaway's voice reminds me of the Bangles in their late-80s heyday. Good song all the way 'round. You can hear a sample of "Great Big World" (and every other track from Hoodwinked's soundtrack here). You can see some Bangles videos, including the sorta "Great Big World"-esque (but not really) "Walk Like an Egyptian" here. (Go on, you know you want to.) And there are hundreds of sites where you can get mp3's from the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack, but you really ought to just see the movie if you haven't already. It's by far my favorite animated Disney musical (excluding those from the wizards at Pixar, of course.) And now, thanks to my daughter, I'm watching it repeatedly once more.
As a general rule, I prefer Dan Zanes' uptempo rockers to his slower, more acoustic tunes. He and his band have a ragged quality that encourages dancing and general tomfoolery. (I am in full support of general tomfoolery.) The acoustic stuff, more folky in nature, isn't bad, but it's not my first pick for what of Zanes to share with others. If there's an exception to my general rule, it's his duets, particularly those with women. Zanes has a knack for picking female singers with whom to duet. I'll gladly listen to Dan Zanes and Barbara Brousal sing just about anything, including the phone book (in Spanish, of course). "Waltzing Matilda," with Deborah Harry or "Loch Lomond," with Natalie Merchant (off the new album, Catch That Train!) -- both are great versions of classic songs. Zanes pairs his ragged voice with the angelic voices of his partners, and the result is wonderful. But there's no better duet in his discography than "Wild Mountain Thyme," with folk-rocker Dar Williams, on the Night Time! album. It's a wistful love song, itself a relative rarity in the Zanes discography. (He typically shies away from romantic love songs in his children's music albums.) Zanes and Williams take their turns on the verses, but sound best together, with Williams' clear voice matching perfectly with Zanes' voice. Zanes notes in the liner notes that the opening lines to the chorus, "And we'll all go together," are what he loves about the song, and it's what I love, too. It begs for singing along. Find a link to the song here. And, I know it's miles away from this song lyrically and musically, but I can't hear the chorus without hearing Billy Joel's "Goodnight Saigon," with its chorus "And we'll all go down together." To hear it, go here to Billy Joel's discography, click on "The Nylon Curtain" album cover and go from there.
Lunch Money is a band based in South Carolina. They play lo-fi children's rock and the songs of theirs I've heard create moments of ear-to-ear grins. So do other things, I suppose, but most of those are the result of family joy and not necessarily from children's music. Their song "Tricycle" creates a lot of grins for me. It's a very simple song, musically -- guitar, drums, and a surfeit of handclaps. It matches an eminently hummable tune with words that have meaning to both the 3-year-old and their 33-year-old parents. "This tricycle was my brother’s tricycle / and that’s why it has this dent in the fender." It's a goofy little song, but it's sooooo much fun. Listen to three songs off their first album Silly Reflection here. For another song with handclaps from a band with an occasionally lo-fi aesthetic, listen to the Shins' "Kissing the Lipless" here. (Hat tip to Bill from Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child for the Lunch Money advocacy.)