Let me tell you, it is no easier trying to figure out how to order the top sixth through tenth kids songs of all time than it is ordering songs 46 through 50. We're getting to songs that are ingrained in our (English-speaking North American) DNA, or should be.
10. "Mary Had a Little Lamb" - Sarah Josepha Hale (words) / Lowell Mason (melody): The fact that this agrarian-based song still has currency in spite of today's urban/suburban lifestyle speaks volumes of the text's popularity. (Wikipedia says that, like Academy Award-bait movies, it's inspired by true events.) Of course, the fact that you can play the melody, say, a Little Tikes one-octave (no-sharps, no-flats) technicolor toy piano (hypothetically speaking, of course) doesn't hurt, either. (You know the tune, so instead listen to Thomas Edison repeat the poem -- no music -- on the 50th anniversary of the first-ever audio recording of, well, anything here. Or you can watch Stevie Ray Vaughan burn through his version here. Or, and I'm not necessarily recommending this, you can watch Paul McCartney and Wings give their rendition here. People, why do you hate melody so much?)
9. "I've Been Working on the Railroad" - traditional, mostly: It's three, three, three songs in one! It's a railroad song, it's a nonsense set of lyrics, and it's a song about kitchens and banjos. (That last section was actually an older song credited to J.H. Cave folded into this one.) One of the depressing sidenotes of this whole Top 50 songs project is finding the racist undertones of many of the more traditional songs -- the first printed version of the song was done in minstrel dialect and was partially racist. And "Dinah" was a generic name for an African-American woman. Guess I have yet another reason for singing my kids' names instead from now on. (Listen to a ukelele-based version here. Raffi's and Laurie Berkner's versions are excellent, as is Johnny Bregar's, which you can listen to a sample of here.)
8. "Down by the Bay" - traditional: Y'know, if every time I came home, my mother insisted on asking utterly non-sensical questions, maybe I'd stay away, too. "For the last time, Mom, I've never seen a whale with a freakin' polka-dot tail! [Breaks into uncontrollable sobs]" Having said that, it's an animal song and a rhyming-challenge song, probably the best in that regard. (Raffi's version is the standard, but Candy Band's version at the link is a little more, uh, rocking. Loretta Lucas' version on the Family Hootenanny comp is appealing, too -- listen to a sample here.)
7. "Itsy Bitsy Spider" - traditional: Such a simple little song, the best hand/finger-motion song out there. Of course, as Ralph Covert noted on one of his Ralph's World songs, it's a very existentialist song -- the spider climbs up, the rain washes the spider down, and the spider goes back up again. (Now playing: The Camus Children's Album!) See Devon's thoughts here... though, I'm sorry, "eensey weensey" just sounds wrong to me. (Despite the fact that Gwendolyn agrees with Devon, I like her version -- click on the Get Up & Dance album to listen. Listen to a snippet of Ralph's version here, watch Carly Simon work it into her last big hit here. I remember that video. I don't remember it being nearly 7 minutes long, though...)
6. "Freight Train" - Elizabeth Cotten: This is a kids' song that was, well, written by a kid. Cotten wrote this song when she was just 11 or 12 years old. Now, she didn't record this song until nearly 50 years afterwards, when through a series of coincidences, she ended up working in the Seeger household. (Yes, those Seegers.) And it was at that point, when she was approaching 60, that she started her singing career. She toured for more than 30 years, until she was 90+ years of age. I love the way the song slides in between major and minor keys. It's about trains! (But, uh, much more.) (Watch Cotten perform her song here. I've also always been partial to Elizabeth Mitchell's rendition, which you can listen to here (click on "Flower," then "Listen").)