Let’s return to a simpler time, shall we? The year? 2002, long before the words “Jack’s,” “Big,” “Music,” and “Show” had ever been strung together in a television programmer’s mind. What happened late that year? The record label Nettwerk had this crazy idea -- let’s have a kids’ music compilation! For charity! And so the record entitled For The Kids was born.
With nearly 5 years of hindsight, the record actually holds up pretty well. By far the most popular track is Cake’s singular rendition of “Mahna Mahna,” from The Muppet Show. It doesn’t quite sustain a younger kid’s attention for all of its three- minute runtime, but it comes close, and as a kids’ novelty hit, it’s perfect. Even more successful as a kids’ song is “The Hoppity Song” from John Ondrasik (Five For Fighting). Ondrasik throws himself completely into the song -- his deranged near-shouting of lines like “You can’t outhop / The Hoppity Song!” is one of the gleeful highlights of the disk.
Indeed, the best songs here are the ones where the artists have fun -- the Barenaked Ladies’ snarky but earnest rendition of Joe Raposo’s Sesame Street song “La La La La Lemon” or Bleu’s “Snow Day.” Some people will find Sarah McLachlan’s rendition of “The Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie gorgeous, and it is, but there’s something about Kermit’s earnestness and banjo that makes the original far superior. Maybe it’s just hard for me to buy a singer with as lovely a voice and face as McLachlan singing about longing at this point. But that’s the adult in me, not the kid. The slow stuff, like Darius Rucker’s “It’s Alright To Cry” and the version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” doesn’t come off nearly as well as the uptempo material.
Based on the success of the first album, Nettwerk released For The Kids Too! in 2004. Unlike the first disk, which counted on major stars like McLachlan, Ondrasik, and Rucker, the second disk’s biggest stars are Matthew Sweet and They Might Be Giants. But just as Poison Ivy swapped out Drew Barrymore for Alyssa Milano, sometimes being the low-budget sequel isn’t such a bad thing. The sequel relies on more new songs, and there are some very good ones here. Butterfly Boucher’s “I’m Different” has a bouncy chorus and a message of self-acceptance. Paper Moon’s “Your Attitude Towards Cuttlefish” is the “Hoppity Song” of this album, as the lyrics to this indie-pop slowly become ever more ridiculous in explaining the amazing abilities of the little-known fish. The slow songs here -- Robyn Hitchcock’s “I Often Dream of Trains,” for example, or Nada Surf’s gentle and skewed “Meow Meow Lullabye” -- are, as a whole, much stronger than the first disk, though Jason Mraz doesn’t do any better with “The Rainbow Connection” than McLachlan did.
You can find samples of the tracks from the two 40-minute-or-so CDs at most major online stores or for the sequel here. More information on the charities supported by the two albums can be found here.
In the end these are both good disks. For The Kids has a bright constellation of stars and some excellent tracks. For The Kids Too! has a less bright constellation and some excellent tracks, too. I have a slight preference for the sequel, but I could see just as many families opting for the original. For collections put together prior to the current boomlet in kids and family music, they both done good. Sometimes it’s possible to like both Drew Barrymore and Alyssa Milano. Recommended.