When I started my "Play List" series, I hoped that others would join in and offer some play lists and mix CDs of their own. And they have. Today's list is from Chris Rosella, and he's been putting these together for awhile (as evidenced by the title). Got a mix tape of your own that you want to share? Let me know. But without any further ado...
Hi there. My name is Chris. I have been a music nut all my life. Back before the kids were born, I used to make my wife listen to all kinds of feedback and screaming, which she would usually just ask me to turn down, if not off. I also dragged her to some concerts that she endured more often than she enjoyed. Since the kids (3 ½ and 2) were born, I still like having music on in the background, but I find I am much more sensitive about lyrical content and scary sounds, even as young as my two are. So I have become increasingly interested in the wild and wacky world of children's music.
I've always liked to make music mixes to inflict on people, even innocent bystanders who hadn't specifically asked me for anything. When I made the transition from recording tapes to burning CDs, I discovered that it was even more fun to mass-produce my creations and inflict them on a grand scale. So it was only a matter of time before it occurred to me to try my hand at kiddie music mixes.
Of course, it's the parents who control the CD player; if the parents don't like it, they aren't going to let their kids hear it, so I tend to think of the parents more often than their kids. Speaking for myself, when I have my "Kid Stuff" playlist (29 hours and growing!) running in my living room or in the car, I'm listening to music I have deemed good enough for MY discerning ears as well as for my kids' innocent ones. I know there are parents out there who grit their teeth over some of the drivel their kids demand on those long road trips--I honestly do try to assemble a CD "the whole family can enjoy."
One more note. A good two-thirds of the below playlist are individual downloads, not entire album purchases. If not for Rhapsody, I wouldn't be in the "business" I'm in. I'm giving you all the artists' websites if you'd like to know more about any of them; you should also be able to find most of them on Rhapsody for full-length preview and reasonably priced downloading.
So below is the playlist for the fourth installment in the series I have titled Suitable for Little Ears. This one is subtitled "Three Chords and the Truth Mix" because that's the personality it eventually developed:
1. Tiny Dinosaurs--Lunch Money
2. We Are the Dinosaurs--Two of a Kind
3. Cave Baby--The Mudcakes
4. Dumpling--Dog On Fleas
5. Worms--Pencilhead and the Playground Punks
6. Are We There Yet?--Jam Toast
7. Cool to Be Uncool--The Jimmies
8. Superman--David Weinstone / Music for Aardvarks
9. Things You Want--The Hipwaders
10. Stop, Drop, and Roll--Doug Fleming, Jr.
11. Poo Party--The Mudcakes
12. The Veggie Song--Danny Adlerman and Friends
13. Fruit Salad--The Bad Goods
14. Eat Every Bean and Pea on Your Plate--Daddy a Go-Go
15. Monday Pants--Jam Toast
16. Bedhead--The Jimmies
17. I Scream, You Scream--Frances England
18. Space Song--Milkshake
19. Outer Space--Jetta and the Jellybeans
20. Skinnamarink--Debi Derryberry
21. Learning My Letters--The RTTs
22. I'm a Fire Engine--Uncle Rock
23. Back It Up, Dump Truck!--Mother's Little Helpers
24. Free to Be Me--Frances England
25. Go Wild--Milkshake
26. A Good Boy With a Bad Reputation--Dan Schorr
27. What a Wonderful World--Daddy a Go-Go
Some comments on the songs, and on the artists who created them:
1. Tiny Dinosaurs - Lunch Money
I dedicate the leadoff track to my son, who is all about dinosaurs. There does not seem to be a limit to the number of times in a row he can hear this. "Daddy! She said Triceratops! Daddy! She said T. Rex!" It's also one of the few songs he'll actually request out of the blue.
I'd also like to give a special shout-out to Lunch Money's lead singer, Molly Ledford, who wins my Favorite Singer in the Genre Award. Somebody else, I don't recall who, said that you can always hear her smiling. [Ed: That'd be me.] I would add that you can also hear her heart beating. This song is from their second album, Dizzy, but if you haven't heard their first one, Silly Reflection, I'd recommend starting there--it's a winner from beginning to end.
2. We Are the Dinosaurs - Two of a Kind
Two of a Kind are a husband/wife team from Pennsylvania with several albums out. To be honest, I find what I've checked out of theirs rather bland and forgettable, but this song, which I guess jumped out at me because of its title (see song #1) is an exception. Sort of a 70's riff-rock homage, and besides, it's about dinosaurs!
3. Cave Baby - The Mudcakes
The Mudcakes are an American/Australian husband/wife team, based in Melbourne but currently touring the US. I assume the third voice in the song is also its subject. This song is just all kinds of fun. "Cave baby you're so sweet / I wanna kiss your dirty feet." is such a great couplet that I can't blame them for not being able to top it themselves. I thought it worked well in the mix right after two songs about dinosaurs, even though we all know they didn't co-exist, right? (Right!)
4. Dumpling - Dog on Fleas
This is from the newest Dog on Fleas album, Beautiful World. Unlike their earlier work, this one still isn't available on Rhapsody, but I heard enough bits and pieces to be motivated to gamble on it. It's what I would call a boundary-pusher--a lot of unusual sounds--but it's very good overall.
I really like this song, so I wanted to make sure I got it in early. It seems to be more about insects than dumplings, but I don't especially care, because it's such a great pop song I wish it weren't over in under two minutes. (Q: What makes children's music mixes especially difficult? A: The songs are so freaking short!) "Come on, glowworm, lead the way...."
5. Worms - Pencilhead and the Playground Punks
I am a sucker for outrageous rhymes. "I like peanut butter / Mix it up with jam / Slap it on a slice of bread / And call it what it am." Genius! So it's a song about eating worms--a good gross-out plays well with the single-digit set, yes? And if any parents out there find themselves having to answer for "Worms do not have eyes / They are both girls and guys," well, didn't the kid have to learn that sometime, anyway?
6. Are We There Yet? - Jam Toast
From what I can tell, Jam Toast is a one-man operation named Michael McKinnon, a self-described "dude who fell in love with punk some 20 years ago and never looked back." I can't tell whether or not he's also the rhythm section, but whoever the drummer is, he puts his cymbal crashes in just the right places. I would have also downloaded "ABC" from the same album, except McKinnon is Canadian, so he says, "X, Y, Zed." Even though my wife is Canadian, that's one linguistic quirk our kids just don't need to acquire if they're growing up in the US!
Just a couple of months ago, our son uttered his first-ever "Are we there yet?" from the back seat. We just got back from a week-long vacation, involving a lot of driving time, during which we were treated to many, many, more of them.
7. Cool to be Uncool - The Jimmies
If you're a fan of this site, you already know about The Jimmies, so I won't go on too much about them, except to say that they've also appeared on my two previous mixes. How's that for a ringing endorsement? I hadn't been able to find a place for "Cool to be Uncool" until now--regrettable, as it's now July, and one might ask who needs a song about dressing warmly. However, I doubt this will be much of a problem, what with my listeners continuing to play this mix, obsessively, well into winter, and next year.....
8. Superman - David Weinstone / Music for Aardvarks
David Weinstone seems to be another Giant in the Genre, one whose work I have just recently discovered. I even caught him on the Noggin channel once, in between shows. This entire album, Runaround Kid, is excellent; "Superman" is a good sample of the rest. The song begins: "I've got a friend who's different from me / He's a different color and he talks funny," but it's no tiresome lesson-learner, as he goes on to talk about playing superheroes and coloring in coloring books. Another one I'm throwing in because I figure if my son likes it ("Daddy! He said Superman!"), other 3+-year-olds will, too, and, to paraphrase Bill Cosby at the beginning of Fat Albert, "If they're not careful, they might learn something before we're done."
9. Things You Want - The Hipwaders
Another lesson song, but also another one that doesn't let the lesson (minding one's manners) get in the way of the music. Even better, it's over once it gets its point across. This one is from a nice mini-album titled Goodie Bag. The Hipwaders also have two full-length albums, teaching all kinds of stuff, that are liked by a lot of people, although they're still a few years over my kids' heads.
10. Stop, Drop, and Roll - Doug Fleming, Jr.
Some listeners may consider a song about what to do if and when you catch on fire morbid to the point of inappropriateness. To this, I say it's never too early to teach fire safety. After all, even daycares have fire drills. And it rocks, too.
11. Poo Party - The Mudcakes
Another one from The Mudcakes, featuring a solo vocal from Sherry, all the better to let us hear your charming Australian accent, my dear. It wouldn't surprise me if Sherry and Rich are talking about how they themselves went about the gruesome task of potty training--all we fellow sufferers can say is, "If it worked for you, tell us more!" My son likes this one because they sing about about peeing and pooing (Yes, the toilet humor has asserted itself!). As for my two-year-old daughter, all I can do is hope something sinks in....
12. The Veggie Song - Danny Adlerman
Take away the lead vocal and this song is pure middle-period Who, right down to the direct "Happy Jack" quotation at the end, but it's also obvious to this impassioned Whophile that they meant it as homage, not parody. Regardless, I doubt Pete Townshend would object to it if he heard it--I'm sure he's got nothing against getting kids to eat their vegetables--and he's certainly been imitated more shamelessly in the past.
The rest of the album, Listen Up!, sounds like a lot of other people, in a similarly respectful way--not surprising when one sees it also features Jim Babjak of The Smithereens, a (sentimental favorite) band who spent most of the 80's mixing and matching other people's ideas and making something new out of them. Not only can you tell how much fun they had making the album--you can also tell it was made by a bunch of people with awesome home music collections. (Hey kids, if you like that album, try out this little trifle called the White Album...)
13. Fruit Salad - The Bad Goods
The Bad Goods, from Stockton, CA, don't seem to have a website, just a MySpace page. Of course, the singer is just affecting a Cockney accent for the benefit of this punk-style song, as elsewhere on this album, all about food, titled Family Recipes, the listener is treated (subjected?) to similar explorations of reggae, Krautrock, rap, cajun, etc. Overall, it all works pretty well. They have another album, Green Album, which is all about saving the Earth, where they pull more or less the same schtick. Their MySpace page only gives you a synopsis of Green Album, but you will hear just enough of "Farmer's Market Girl" to make you want to hear the rest of it. Trust me.
14. Eat Every Bean and Pea on Your Plate - Daddy A Go-Go
Sometimes I think Daddy a Go-Go spends so much time trying to make parents laugh, he forgets he's trying to sell himself as a children's music artist, but here's a song where he does a good job reaching both audiences. How do I know this? My son recognizes that it's about eating your vegetables, and I'm all over the throwaway gags. And if any parent out there has to explain "Melons? I'll say!" see Song #5.
15. Monday Pants - Jam Toast
Another one from Jam Toast. I don't know about any of you, but I can totally identify with this song. My mother never let me wear the same piece of clothing to school twice in the same week, so over the years there were assorted articles I always wore on Mondays, because that was always the soonest I could wear it again. Anyone else?
16. Bedhead - The Jimmies
Here I am following Jam Toast with The Jimmies again. Maybe they should tour together--McKinnon could even borrow their rhythm section. I dedicate this song to my daughter, who comes by her Shirley Temple curls naturally. Here the song's video -- eat your heart out, Laurie Berkner!
17. I Scream, You Scream - Frances England
As with The Jimmies, if you're a follower of this site, or of the genre in general, you've already heard plenty about Frances England, so I'm not going to say anything you haven't already heard elsewhere. This is from her second album, Family Tree, which frequently gets away from her first album's me-and-my-guitar atmosphere. (I was disappointed to find that she didn't play the gut-simple electric rhythm guitar parts on this one and others, but I don't necessarily hold that against her, either.) Who can argue with a song about ice cream? My favorite song of hers, by the way, is "The Books I Like to Read," from her first album. I used it to open my second mix; it refuses to get old for me.
My second grade teacher had a model of the Solar System hanging from her classroom ceiling. It was a just bunch of different-sized balls representing the Sun and the planets, but what intrigued me about it was that she stuck pearl-topped straight pins in some of them to signify their moons. Up until this point, I hadn't known that other planets had moons. I credit that teacher for getting me interested in astronomy, even though I really only ended up a science fiction reader.
I recently thought of making something similar for my kids and hanging it in the playroom, but there are just too many moons now. Jupiter, for example, had only 12 known moons when Mrs. Allbee made her model; there are 63 known as of this writing. So for right now, I'll settle for throwing in two songs that namecheck the planets, even poor, demoted Pluto.
These two are dedicated to you, Mrs. Allbee, whatever planet you're living on now. Thank you.
20. Skinnamarink - Debi Derryberry
Debi Derryberry is also a cartoon voice-over artist. She is the voice of Jimmy Neutron, whoever that is.
I was prepared to write the word "Skinnamarink" off as some simple nonsense word which originated solely between Debi Derryberry's ears, but my hindbrain wasn't totally satsified. So I Googled the word. This is what I found:
"The song Skid-dy-mer-rink-adink-aboomp (Means I Love You), known to most as Skinnamarink, originated in the 1910 Broadway musical The Echo, a comedy production by Charles Dillingham. While the show closed after a few months, the song endured, and was repopularized in the 1950s by Jimmy Durante. In the 1980s, the song's chorus became synonymous in Canada with children's entertainers Sharon, Lois & Bram, who after featuring the song in every episode of The Elephant Show, started a series called Skinnamarink TV. Spellings of the title include "Skid-dy-mer-rink-adink-aboomp", "Skiddy-Mer-Rink-A-Doo", "Skinamarink", "Skinnamarink", and "Skiddamarink", the original."Allrighty then. I liked the song well enough without all the backstory. I didn't particularly care whether or not it made any sense. I just think she and the musicians backing her do a great job with it. My daughter was recently heard singing along with this one from the back seat--nowhere near in unison, of course, but she was definitely paying attention to it.
21. Learning My Letters - The RTTs
According to their homepage, "The RTTs are also known as The Rhodes Tavern Troubadours, an award-winning rock and roll band from Washington, DC." CD Baby goes on to make an NRBQ comparison. That's about right, I'd say. Not funky so much as...slinky. I'll give this one the nod for the best-played song on this mix.
22. I'm a Fire Engine! - Uncle Rock
What is it about any vehicle on the road besides a car for grabbing kids' attention? I guess it's just that they're big and colorful and they don't look like cars. This is another one with a nice groove to it, which I thought worked well in sequence with #21. And, by the way, you absolutely must hear Uncle Rock's "Superhero Medley," at least once. He makes me laugh quite often, but that song is especially a hoot, at least for kids like me, who grew up on superheroes and morphed into music geeks....
23. Back It Up, Dump Truck! - Mother's Little Helpers
I must have found out about them on a kindie music site somewhere, but now I can't retrace my steps. What's worse, either their website is down now or they just don't have one. Their two albums seem only available for purchase at CDBaby but are both out of stock. For right now, you can listen to both on Rhapsody and assorted other downloading sites.
For a while, it was nagging at me who the singer sounded like. Finally, I made the connection. I never imagined Lou Reed as a children's music artist, but that singer's voice....This guy probably even has Metal Machine Music on CD. The kids in the audience should just get into another song about trucks, but all this writer can picture in his head is the cover of Street Hassle....
24. Free to be Me - Frances England
When I used to make party tapes, if I put something on that was a little off the beam, I would always follow it with something guaranteed to get people back in the room and dancing again, so that's why I followed Mother's Little Helpers with Frances England. If you don't like this song, I'm checking you for a pulse.
I had to download the lyrics from her website to get that the kids are answering, "Everything!" to her question, "What makes me so different from you?" I think I must be out of practice in deciphering lyrics--the singers I used to listen to most often could take some elocution lessons from your average kindie music artist, that's for sure.
25. Go Wild - Milkshake
And here I am following Frances England with Milkshake again. Perhaps they should also tour together. I wonder if they started with that power-chord riff and built the song around it. "Air guitar!"
26. A Good Boy with a Bad Reputation - Daniel Schorr
I guess I can't dedicate a song to myself, so I'll dedicate one more to my son, who, at 3½ , can't seem to get through one day at the daycare with a clean record. He has already been sent home once for giving a bloody nose; I know it's only a matter of time before he receives his first, and I also know I may not be able to blame the other kid. Just this morning, I heard he bit somebody there.
I'm not singling him out. According to the teachers there, he's no better or worse than his other partners in crime. Sometimes, when I get there in the afternoon, the play area more closely resembles a mosh pit, except with crying, but I still can't help but worry if he's going to turn into the same kid I was. Remember the kid in elementary school who always had to put his desk either out in the hall or up next to the teacher's? Yeah, that kid. (I told me dad once how it's my son's intentional misbehavior that unsettles me the most. You know what my dad said to that? "There IS a God!") At least I always got good grades, too, so they were forced to mainstream me.
"People look at me / And they point their fingers / And they say / There he goes again." The kid in the song is trying to tell people that he's trying not to be the bad kid they all remember. I was that kid, too.
The song is from an album titled Monsters Are Absolutely Not to Be Trusted, but, as I regret to say, I don't care much for the rest of it, I'd instead like to plug the compliation album I pulled the song from, called Park Slope Parents: The Album (Vol. 1). The original link to it seems to have gone away, but here it is at CDBaby. Here also is our man Stefan's original review of it. All I'll say in addition is that I used it heavily for Suitable for Little Ears, Volume 2, so now you know it's good.
I like Daniel Schorr's second album, Every Word I Say Is True, much better, by the way.
27. What a Wonderful World - Daddy a Go-Go
A fellow Mix Tape Grand Imperial Wizard Master I once knew taught me a good trick--at the very end, there should be something that lets the listener know the tape is over. (He liked to tack on bombastic classical, or, my favorite, live opera at 45 RPM, but I never plagiarized him.) Consequently, I always like to end a mix with either a long fadeout, a joke song, or an appropriately twisted cover. Of course this isn't Izzy Kamakawiwo`ole's version--it isn't even Louis Armstrong's version--but as a closer, it works for me.
I gotta say, I find being a dad pretty damn wonderful..
Thanks for reading,