Best Kids Music of 2014: Top 30 Songs

know.  This is madness, right?  Trying to come up with a list of my 30 favorite songs from the past year? Completely. Nuts.

But that's what I'm willing to do for you, dear readers.  More so than a list of albums or debuts or videos, however, a list ranking favorite songs is ephemeral, subject to the whims of a particular moment.  More than that, it probably tends toward the poppy, upbeat, and lively.  Tender lullabies have to do more work to stand out in my (or your) memory if you've heard literally thousands of kids' songs over the past year.

But regardless of how different my list would next week (or late in the evening), these 30 songs are among the best that kids music offered us in the past year.  ("Year," as always, defined as Oct. 1, 2013 through Sept. 30, 2014, though that's harder to stick to given the prevalence of singles which might have been released on either side of that window.  Deal.)

Also, these are in alphabetical order -- if you think I'm going to attempt to rank all these, you're even more nuts than I am in deciding to pick them.

Anyway, I've combined these into a handy Spotify playlist found at the bottom of this list (click here if you're already in Spotify).  Enjoy!

Bears and Lions - "Pancakes"

The Laurie Berkner Band – "Fireflies"

Caspar Babypants – "The Girl with the Squirrel in Her Hat"

Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band – "When I Grow Up"

The Dirty Sock Funtime Band (w/ Laurie Berkner) – "We're in Love"

Laura Doherty - "I'm a Little Fish"

Django Jones – "Counterpoint"

Gustafer Yellowgold - "Toothloser"

The Hipwaders – "Kings & Queens"

Charlie Hope – "Harmony" (feat. Elizabeth Mitchell)

Hullabaloo – "Like a Bird Must Feel"

Jazzy Ash - "Throw Me Something Mista" (feat. Mista Cookie Jar)

Randy Kaplan – "Not Too Young for a Song"

Joanie Leeds and the Nightlights – "Food Fight"

Josh and the Jamtones – "Green and Spakkled Frogs"

Luscious Jackson – "Hula Hoop"

Walter Martin - "Hey Sister" (feat. Kat Edmonson)

Mista Cookie Jar & the Chocolate Chips – "My My My"

The Not-Its! - "When I Fell (The Scab Song)"

The Okee Dokee Brothers - "Through the Woods"

The Pop Ups - "All These Shapes"

Raffi – "Love Bug"

Recess Monkey - "Smooth Sailing"

Red Yarn - "The Fox"

Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could – "Just Say Hi!"

Secret Agent 23 Skidoo – "Imaginary Friend"

The Short Films – "The Mysterious Okapi"

Ben Tatar and the Tatar Tots – "The Grape Jam" (feat. Spare Parts)

Danny Weinkauf – "Oh No Oh Yeah"

The Whizpops! – "Sea Turtule"

Best Kids Music of 2014: Top 30 Albums

If I were more disciplined about my writing, I'd have written this three months ago when people were thinking about holiday gift lists rather than, well, now.  The advantage is that, rather than giving you a "hot take" about music that I might regret later, I can let a few weeks or months go by and make sure I'm not forgetting (or including) something time has given me more perspective on.

Given that it is approaching the end of February, I think I'll skip the think pieces, the "what does it all mean" text and jump right into the list.  As always, my year-end best-of list matches the Fids and Kamily year -- that is to say, from October 1, 2013 through September 30, 2014.  So some good albums from the last 3 months [waves at Lori Henriques] will just have to wait for next year's list.

One final comment: I originally titled this the "Top 25 Albums" but when I went over my reviews, I realized that limiting it to 25 was going to a difficult proposition.  So I've bumped it up to 30.  That's a good problem to have.

Edit: A couple days later, I was going through my spreadsheet and realized that I totally forgot to add Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke's Animal Tales.  Can't leave that album off the list.  So now it's a Top 31 Album list.

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#1 The Pop Ups - Appetite for Construction

Review - "The Pop-Ups know that you don't need your parent's smart phone to have the world at your fingertips."

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#2 Charlie HopeSing As We Go!

Review - "It's traditional but not musty, sweet but not cloying, engaging but not pandering.  It's a gem of an album, definitely worthy of a comparison to Raffi."

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#3 Red YarnThe Deep Woods

Review - '"Mr. Rabbit" has an almost desperate urgency while "The Fox," which brings together "The Fox," "Midnight Special," and "Go Tell Aunty Rhody," is absolutely gorgeous.  This is a folk revival, in all the many meanings of the word "revival."'

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#4 Walter MartinWe're All Young Together

Review - "Whatever cool-points Martin may have lost by wadding into the kid's music world, the playful and sweet nature of this new album shows he doesn't care one bit. He feels very much at home."

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#5 (tie) The Okee Dokee BrothersThrough the Woods

Review - 'The title track, featuring a lovely descending bass line, is the spiritual successor to the last album's title track, but most of the songs are more content to celebrate tiny moments -- dancing with neighbors in "Jamboree," the gentle love song "Evergreen," the ode to keeping things loose "Out of Tune."'

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#5 (tie) Recess MonkeyDesert Island Disc

Review - "If the songs hold together in any particular way, it's more in their sound.  In the orchestrations (from Jherek Bischoff, brother of drummer Korum Bischoff), toned-down retro-rock, and love songs, this is easily their most Beatles-esque album since their little-heard debut Welcome to Monkey Town."

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#7 (tie) The Short FilmsKingdom Animalia

Review - "The entire album has a dream-like effect -- "Pegafox" is about a make-believe animal, for example, the body of a red fox with the wings of a red-tailed hawk.  "The Mysterious Okapi" is the kids song we never knew Portishead had written about an animal almost none of us know."

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#7 (tie) Elizabeth Mitchell - The Sounding Joy

Review - "The communal experience of singing in celebration is honored here, somewhat hushed, always joyful."

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#9 (tie) Danny WeinkaufNo School Today

Review - "You don't have to be a They Might Be Giants fan to appreciate this album (though TMBG fans are most likely to go nuts for this), just a fan of nicely-crafted, occasionally goofy, kid-pop."

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#9 (tie) Sólrún SumarliðadóttirSkýjaflétta

Review - "This is a thoroughly charming album and while I'm sure I will never get a chance to see the dance pieces these were composed for, I'm glad the album has a chance to cross the ocean for families with adventurous listening habits."

After the top ten, which I can give you because it matches my Fids and Kamily ballot, distinguishing between the rest of my list becomes a little more difficult.  So I'm taking the easy way out - alphabetical order for albums 11 through 31.

Laurie Berkner - Laurie Berkner Lullabies (review)

Bears and Lions - We're a Club in the Woods (review)

Edie Carey & Sarah Sample - 'Til the Morning: Lullabies & Songs of Comfort (review)

Caspar Babypants - Rise and Shine (review)

Danny Lion - First Songs (review)

Lucky Diaz & Family Jam Band - Aqui Alla (review)

Lucky Diaz & Family Jam Band - Lishy Lou and Lucky Too (review)

Laura Doherty - In a Heartbeat (review)

Gustafer Yellowgold - Gustafer Yellowgold’s Wisdom Tooth of Wisdom (review)

Thomas Hellman and Emilie Clepper (The Secret Mountain) - I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly (review)

The Hipwaders - Year-Round Sounds (review)

Hullabaloo - Shy Kid Blues (review)

Jelly of the Month Club - Introducing… (review)

Randy Kaplan - Jam on Rye (review)

The Not-ItsRaise Your Hand (review)

Papa Crow - Full Moon, Full Moon (review)

Raffi - Love Bug (review)

Recess Monkey - Wired (review)

Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could - Just Say Hi (review)

Secret Agent 23 Skidoo - The Perfect Quirk (review)

Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke - Animal Tales (review)

Itty-Bitty Review: If We Must We Must - The Good Ms. Padgett

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As kindie music families go, the Littletons are talented.  There's Daniel Littleton, an integral part of You Are My Flower, AKA Elizabeth Mitchell (Littleton's wife), not to mention their daughter Storey, who also appears on their albums.  There's also Daniel's brother Miggy, an integral part of The Good Ms. Padgett along with Anna Padgett (Littleton's partner) and 7-year-old daughter Penelope Littleton.

Of course, in both cases, the women are the ones in front singing and writing the songs.  And on The Good Ms. Padgett's third album If We Must We Must, Padgett takes a page out her sister-in-law's playbook by mixing in some choice covers amidst her originals.  Compared to the folksier and often hushed Mitchell, however, Padgett cranks up the volume, if not to 11, at least to 8 or 9 on a few tracks.  It's hard to go wrong with Jonathan Richman, and her take on his "Hey There Little Insect" is nicely crunchy.  "Mommy's Lips," a reimagined version of the Vaselines' "Molly's Lips" (made famous via a Nirvana cover), is sweet and swirly and indie-poppy.  Padgett's originals can be roughly divided into two camps -- rocking songs like the title track and "Tattle to the Turtle" that tend to have a lesson to share, and mellower songs like "Beach House" and "I Love Your Heart" that tend toward the more atmospheric and simple.  I tend to prefer the latter, but the energetic and organic sound of the band (which also includes Daniel Littleton on a number of instruments, Elizabeth Mitchell on vocals and "poncho coordination," Jean Cook on violin, and Tara Jane O'Neil on "ecstatic tambourine") makes those tracks listenable for far longer than those types of "teaching" songs usually are.  (Side note: LOVE the cover, designed by Tae Won Yu.)

You can stream the 33-minute album, most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 6, here.    If I had to choose between the two bands, I'd still pick You Are My Flower (hey, we've been listening for more than a decade), but If We Must We Must is The Good Ms. Padgett's best album yet, and it stands up entirely on its own.  Recommended.

Review: Sing As We Go! - Charlie Hope

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Singer-songwriting Charlie Hope has a bright, clear voice that appeals to many ears.  In attitude, temperament, and vocal quality, I've previously compared her to Raffi, and I think the analogy still holds.

On her recent release, Sing As We Go!, Hope continues with the formula that has won her fans on both sides of the Canadian-United States border.  Take a batch traditional songs, mix in a handful of poppy folk originals, add a dash of kindie royalty, and stir.  Hope's voice and producer Dean Jones' unfussy musical choices give a fresh spin to the traditionals.  A simple touch like the toy piano on the old camp chestnut "I Love the Mountains" helps give the song new life to the adult listener who may have heard the song more times than they probably should.  While some of the titles like "When the Ice Worm Nests Again" and "Little Rooster" might not sound familiar, the melodies probably will, with Hope occasionally writing some new lyrics for the songs.

The originals here are lovely -- from the lost '70s AM-radio tune "With You" (co-written and performed by Hope and Gustafer Yellowgold's Morgan Taylor) to Jones' "Harmony" (a duet between Hope and Elizabeth Mitchell) and Hope's own gentle ode to the parent-child bond "From You" -- and feel just as timeless as the actual classics they're next to.  (And speaking of kindie royalty, Molly Ledford, Randy Kaplan, and Chris Ballew aka Caspar Babypants also appear on the album.)

The album is most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7.  You can listen to extended clips from each song on the album here.  Also, I happen to find the album art here particularly delightful, an artful mix of hand-drawn, computer-drawn, and knitted illustration from Zooglobble favorite Charlotte Blacker.

I first listened to this album months ago, set it aside as real life took over, and when I came back to it recently in preparation for writing this review, I was struck by just how delightful this is.  It's traditional but not musty, sweet but not cloying, engaging but not pandering.  It's a gem of an album, definitely worthy of a comparison to Raffi.  Highly recommended.

My Favorite Kids Music Videos of 2013

It's been a couple years since I last tackled the kids music video world.  After years of organizing KidVid Tournaments, I think I just needed a break.  Plus I was organizing a talk on great kids music videos and my video curation energies went there last spring.

That doesn't mean, however, that I've lost interest in finding great videos to share with your family, friends, and strangers in line at the grocery store.  In fact, I went back and looked -- across the site, I featured nearly 100 new videos.

It's a new year now and with that I have a little extra energy to give you a brand new list -- my favorite kids music videos of 2013 (-ish).  Let's define the video year as I have in the past -- new videos featured on the site between March 1 of the prior year and February 28 of the current year.  (So, March 1, 2013 through February 1, 2014.)  Let's also say only one video per artist (though there were a handful of artists I considered breaking that rule for).  As always, I'm interested in visual creativity, a decent level of post-production values (which doesn't necessarily mean expensive), and a really good song.

PS: Miss the KidVid Tournament?  Then I might just have something up my sleeve for you.  Stay tuned.

Without further ado, then, in alphabetical order by artist, my 25 favorite kids music videos of 2013.  Whether this is the first time you've seen some or all of these, or the tenth, please enjoy.

"Similes and Metaphors" - The Bazillions

"Stump Hotel" - Caspar Babypants

"Thingamajig" - Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band

(Oddly enough, removed from YouTube for violating its Terms of Service.  I've had similar problems with YouTube regarding videos I've had specific permission to upload.  I can imagine how frustrating it is for an artist.)

"Bunny in the Moon" - DidiPop

"Palindrome" - Dog on Fleas / Readeez

"Brussels Sprout Shout" - Duke Otherwise

"Midnight Sun" - Elska

"Day You Were Born" - Frances England

"Cakenstein" - Gustafer Yellowgold

"How Big" - Eric Herman

"Dinosaur" - Lori Henriques

"From You" - Charlie Hope

"End of a Summer Storm" - Alison Krauss (via Sandra Boynton)

"Spicy Kid" - Lunch Money

"Cocodrilo" - Mister G

"When I Get Bald" - Alastair Moock

"Snow Day" - Zak Morgan

"Skateboard" - The Not-Its

"Tambourine Submarine" - Recess Monkey

"Recess" - Justin Roberts

"Bigga Bagga" - Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke

"Turn! Turn! Turn!" - Dan Zanes & Elizabeth Mitchell

In Memoriam: Pete Seeger (1919-2014)

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Pete Seeger, the American folksinger whose clear voice entertained and inspired millions, died on Monday night at the age of 94.  Seeger's grandson, Kitama Cahill-Jackson, reported that he died of natural causes at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

I cannot hope to write an appropriate tribute to Seeger, a man with a tremendously long career who made many, many friends and lived his life with a sense of dignity and principle that I could only hope to live up to.  And, reading the obituaries that have been published since last night, most of them touch upon his work making music for families only briefly.

But with Seeger, distinctions between "kids music" and whatever you want to call music that wasn't "kids music" didn't exist.  He sang for audiences of all ages drawing upon the deep well of folk music of America and around the world.  His viewed his folk music as a way of communicating his ideals of community -- and if you were going to sing of a world where everyone was pulling with the same oar -- why wouldn't you want to reach the kids in addition to his parents?

Seeger was a prolific recording musician -- he recorded 38 albums for Folkways just between 1950 and 1964, for example.  He one one Grammy for his children's music, for 2010's Tomorrow's Children, but that was not his best work.  And while his Smithsonian Folkways work is essential, if I had to pick just one Pete Seeger family album to recommend to you, it would be his 1963 album for Columbia, Children's Concert at Town Hall (affiliate link). It's Pete at the prime of his career, a fine banjo player and his amazing voice (THAT VOICE!), all in service of bring an entire audience together in song.  It's joyous, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to someone of any age.

It is not hyperbole to say that without Seeger we wouldn't quite have "kindie" as we do today.  Set aside the artists such as Dan Zanes and Elizabeth Mitchell whose debts to Seeger are much more obvious and you'd still have countless others in genres often far afield from folk who carry on the idea that music can and often should be made for listeners of all ages.  We've lost a powerful voice with Pete's passing, but I think he'd expect us to pick up the melody and pass it along.