Intro to Kindie: Laurie Berkner

Laurie Berkner, photo by Jayme Thornton

Laurie Berkner, photo by Jayme Thornton

In my Intro to Kindie series, I've focused thus far on people who've had the opportunity to listen to thousands (if not tens of thousands) of kids music songs to try to select the twenty or so songs that would serve as a good introduction to kids music for the 21st century listener.

That's meant that my respondents thus far (and in the future) have not been musicians, but radio folks and others who've made it their job or hobby to listen to 250 or more albums per year.

But there are a handful of musicians I'm planning to feature here, musicians whose appreciation of the history and modern context of kids music rivals (or supersedes) that of folks like me.

Laurie Berkner's Favorite Classic Kids' Songs album cover

Laurie Berkner's Favorite Classic Kids' Songs album cover

So I'm tickled pink to have kids music superstar Laurie Berkner be the first musician to offer her own list of twenty songs to introduce to the kids' music newbie.  Berkner's on a roll at the momeny -- just this week, for example, Simon & Schuster announced that they'd be publishing three picture books in 2017 and 2018 -- but most importantly for the purposes of this particular exercise, her latest album, Laurie Berkner's Favorite Classic Kids' Songs, is set for release next week.  It's a 2-CD, 57-track (!) set that features 51 traditional children's songs plus six "bonus" tracks of Berkner's own songs that could easily join those traditional songs.

I love all these lists, and Berkner's is no exception, with a wonderful introduction kicking things off.

For me, the songs that really represent an artist or a genre are the ones that move me. They might make my body move, move me to laughter or move me to tears, but they affect me deeply in some way.  All of the songs that I've chosen as an introduction to kids' music have some element that I think is moving, as well as being representative of the ever-expanding world of kids' music.  Some of these songs are for very young children, some are for kids already in school, some are more for the parents, but to me most of them have a lovely sense of something joyful or beautiful, and often it's from the child's perspective. 

It goes without saying that there are now so many wonderful musicians making great music for families that it would have been impossible to put them all on this list.  Instead I just tried to include a sampling of music more recently written along with music that has stood the test of time.  "Sammy" by Hap Palmer is an exquisitely written song that made me cry as a kid, with a message that I still appreciate as an adult.  "I am a Paleontologist" is only one amazing song of many by They Might Be Giants.  I happen to think this one is genius in the way it combines content that is truly of interest to kids with a super catchy chorus and a sound that hints enough at crunchy guitar rock to tickle parents.

Brady Rymer's "Jump Up (It's a Good Day)" is a song that really moves me to jump and just makes me feel happy every time I hear it.  I only included one song from a musical because I think that music is easier to discover without much research, but I think that many amazing kids' songs come from that genre (I could do an entire list made up of songs exclusively performed by Julie Andrews). I also couldn't help myself, but as a bonus 21st track, I included Paul Simon's "St. Judy's Comet" because even though he didn't put it on a kids' album, Simon wrote it for his own son.  I sang it to my daughter for years, and I think it's one of those songs that takes on deep meaning only once you become a parent.  

Here are my 20 (OK, 21) bits of kids' music pleasure, in no particular order.  Enjoy!

"Jump Up (It's a Good Day)" - Brady Rymer and the Little Band That Could

"Roller Coaster" - Kira Willey 

"Pop Fly"- Justin Roberts

"Spoonful of Sugar" - from Mary Poppins

"I am a Paleontologist" - They Might Be Giants (with Danny Weinkauf)

"Family Time" - Ziggy Marley

"Daddy-O" - Frances England

"Sammy" - Hap Palmer

"Glad To Have A Friend Like You" - Free To Be You And Me/Marlo Thomas and Friends

"Go Down Emmanuel Road" - Dan Zanes

"Good Morning My Love" - Vered

"The Garden Song" - Arlo Guthrie

"Upside Down" - Jack Johnson

"John The Rabbit"  - Elizabeth Mitchell

 "All These Shapes" - The Pop-Ups

"Music Everywhere" - The Dirty Sock Funtime Band

"Fly Birdy Fly" - Choo Choo Soul

"Walking With Spring" - The Okee Dokee Brothers

"The Marvelous Toy" - Tom Paxton

"Suppertime" - The Verve Pipe

"St. Judy's Comet" - Paul Simon

Photo credit: Jayme Thornton

Video: "Bird and Rhino" - The Pop Ups

Let's wrap up this (unofficial) Day of The Pop Ups -- sort of a pop-up Pop Ups site -- here at Zooglobble on a visual note.  We've had a review of Great Pretenders Club, the first kids music album to be released exclusively on Amazon Music.  And we've interviewed Jason Rabinowitz how the album came about and what we can expect in the future.

One of those things we can expect is a video for each of the album's 11 tracks.  The first video, for the track "Bird and Rhino," is already here.  It's purposefully slightly lo-fi animation nicely captures the track's occasional zaniness.  If you're going to stomp that fire out with a funnily voiced Rhino, that's not exactly something that cries out for verisimilitude.

You can watch the video directly on Amazon's website, but seeing as Amazon Music also has its own (embeddable) YouTube channel, let's go with that.

The Pop Ups - "Bird and Rhino" [YouTube]

Itty-Bitty Interview: Jason Rabinowitz (The Pop Ups)

Jason Rabinowitz with puppet

Jason Rabinowitz with puppet

Usually I like my interviews a little bit longer, but the speed of the release of Great Pretenders Club, the excellent album from Brooklyn duo The Pop Ups demanded something shorter.  Also, given its relative secrecy -- announced and released within a week -- I couldn't do something more extensive.  (I tip my hat to the band, though, for keeping such a tremendous work under wraps.)

But Jason Rabinowitz, one half of the duo, did answer a few questions last week about the process of creating the album, his influences, and what we can expect in the weeks and months to come.

Zooglobble: “Great Pretenders Club” is the first kindie “instant album” (meaning, released almost as soon as it’s announced) -- how long have you been working on it?

Jason Rabinowitz: From the moment we started writing until the moment it came back from mastering was about 3 months. It was hard to keep it under our hats that whole time. 

How did the association with Amazon Music come about?

Our manager (at mTheory LLC)  was at Amazon for a meeting (not about us) and threw our hat in the ring. (I'm going to try and mention the word "hat" in every answer here.)

The album has a definite ‘80s vibe, even more so than your other albums -- do you have any favorite albums from that era?

Purple RainThriller, Graceland: the big three. 

Remain In Light. Doolittle. She's So Unusual. Voices. Freedom Of Choice. Tom Tom Club. Even Worse. Spike

Anything by Men Without Hats. 

Also a lot of 70's albums. Too long to list but some highlights: Tusk. #1 Album. Fulfillingness First Finale

More more more!!!

What else will you be doing with the album and the music from it?

We're making a video for all 11 songs on the album that will stream as a Pop Ups block on Amazon Prime! Very excited about that! So... Hats off to that idea!

Review: Great Pretenders Club - The Pop Ups

The Pop Ups - Great Pretenders Club album cover

The Pop Ups - Great Pretenders Club album cover

It's a brave new world in kids music.  I thought that the genre would have a few more years where CDs would be the primary mode of transmitting music (and funding musicians' careers), but if I had a dollar for every kids musician I've heard in the past year or so describing the collapse of their CD sales, I'd have enough money to go down to my favorite local record shop (literally) down the street and buy a couple albums.

As a keen observer of the music industry -- and someone for whom the CD is still my most preferred listening medium -- I, too, am nervous by what appears to be a shift to streaming services, which could lead to viewing music as a commodity.  What happens to commodities?  They're viewed as raw materials, often easily substituted for and by other items, with price being the main victim.  In this scenario, if you're a producer of said "raw materials," that doesn't end well if you take your time with your craft.

Luckily -- maybe -- kids entertainment is one of the battlefields upon which the new streaming entertainment wars are being fought.  Netflix, Amazon, and other SVOD (streaming video on demand) players both major and niche are touting their own independent series and collection of entertainment.  Video isn't the only battlefield -- players like Rhapsody are developing their own special kids' area, it can't be long until Spotify joins in, and folks like batteryPOP are developing a video-channel hybrid focusing on kid-friendly music and entertainment.

You might be wondering, what in the world does this have to do with Great Pretenders Club, the fourth album from the Brooklyn duo The Pop Ups?


You see, Great Pretenders Club is the very first kids' album from Amazon Music (a second kids' album, from Lisa Loeb, will be released in October) and as such it's a trailblazing release.  It's available exclusively from Amazon Music, downloadable as well as in physical format (print-on-demand CD-R).  More intriguingly, it's being marketed primarily as being exclusively available for streaming on their Amazon Prime service.  In other words, selling the album seems to be a minor point -- what's more important is that you can stream it on Amazon... and not on Spotify, Rhapsody, Bandcamp, and so on.  Amazon has entered the kids audio entertainment fray, and they're using kindie to do it.

So often trailblazing releases are notable more for their context than their content, but in the case of Great Pretenders Club, the album's music is every bit as notable as the way it's been introduced to the world.  This is, simply put, one of the year's best albums.  From the minimalist bleeps and and zaps of album opener "Pretend We Forgot" to the trip-hop sound of title track at the very end (featuring HAERTS), Jacob Stein and Jason Rabinowitz give us eleven tracks of '80s drenched pre-K solid gold celebrating imagination and playfulness.  "We Live in an Orchestra" notices and turns into a song the sounds of everyday objects and adds a nifty guitar line and stringed accompaniment.  "On Air" wonders what it would be like to have one's own radio show (with a foam baseball bat), throwing in Duran Duran and Toto references.  "Googly Eyes" has for me a bit of Joe Jackson feel, while the groove of "Indoor Picnic" features in one part a descending melodic part that must be an homage to Tears for Fears' "Head Over Heels."  (I also can't believe that the part in "Make a Rainbow" that apes the Fifth Dimension's "Let the Sunshine In" wasn't intentional.)  I particularly dug the crunchy guitars of "Treasure Hunter," about playing hide-and-seek with different objects.  While there isn't a song that is as sublime as "Box of Crayons" or "All These Shapes," there isn't anything remotely close to a weak or even so-so track.

The 38-minute album will be most appropriate for kids ages 3 through 7.  You can preview or purchase (and stream if you're an Amazon Prime member) the album here.

A few years from now, the fact that Great Pretenders Club was introduced to the world, Beyonce-style fully-completed, as the first kids music Amazon Music release will have been forgotten.  While Amazon has the market power to significantly change the trajectory of kids music and kindie's relationship to kids music, its ability to do will also determine whether this particular album itself will be forgotten.  Great Pretenders Club is a great album, so don't screw this up, Amazon.  Highly recommended.

Video: "C Is for Cat" - The Pop Ups

The wonderful duo The Pop Ups are continuing their video series, and their latest, Episode 4, features a BRAND NEW SONG.  The song is called "C Is for Cat," and while I can't say that it reaches the level of bonkers that their video for "Robot Dance" did, it's still pretty darn good as it outlines feline preferences (cars and carp, among other things).  And that robot dance video didn't instruct you or your kids on how to draw a cat.  This one?  Nailed it.

The Pop Ups - "C Is for Cat" [YouTube]