OK, it's not quite the brilliance that was "New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down," but this is kinda funny. While that video was an official video for the band, this video for "Dance Yrself Clean" from the soon-to-be-defunct LCD Soundsystem is unofficial, featuring the Muppets (and Cookie Monster) playing a Beatles-like gig above a Brighton storefront. I'd quibble with some of the instrumentation (really, why not have the sole female muppet taking the Nancy Whang keyboardist role), but the slow burn of the track lets the muppets do various things. Note: It doesn't reach Avenue Q levels of puppet inappropriateness, but they do go clubbing, Animal and Cookie Monster clearly have had too much to drink, and Kermit the Frog behaves rudely to Miss Piggy at the very end. So what I'm saying is: Watch it yourself before watching it with the kids. [One other note: I'm heading out to LA for the EMP Pop Conference to give my presentation, "Pay Me My Money Down: Dan Zanes, They Might Be Giants, and the (Un)Surprising Resurgence of Family Music" on Sunday at 4:15. LA folks are welcome to stop by (if there's room).] LCD Soundsystem (with Muppets) - "Dance Yrself Clean" 
I realize that picking my favorite kids music videos gets harder every year. But I do it for you, loyal readers. My list of videos I seriously considered was at least 40 (the number of videos I saw or even featured on this site was even larger). I knew that narrowing it down to 20, the size of last year's list, would omit some really good videos. So I bumped that total up to 25. There are many things that go into selecting the videos -- how much I like the song, if the song was actually released this year, if the video was actually released this year, personal whimsy -- but I think the list as a whole stands up as fairly representative of the year's best. Here, then, are my 25 favorite kids music videos from 2010 (2010 defined roughly as March 1, 2010 - February 28, 2011 -- I'm just assuming nothing else super cool gets released in the next 4 days). I'll start off with the #1 video of the year, rank the next 9, and another unranked 15. If you'd like, you can also watch the YouTube playlist... .... or you can watch the whole list at my YouTube playlist of these 25 kids music videos (excluding the Keller Williams video, not available on YouTube). 1. John Upchurch & Mark Greenberg - "A Counting Error" [YouTube] My appreciation for this video (and song) may border on irrational, but I think it's perfect in its own skewed way. This so completely needs to be on Sesame Street.
I think it was around Thanksgiving when I saw How To Train Your Dragon, released last year, at home on DVD. It was, as is often the case with movies for kids these days, elegantly executed and while not without roll-your-eyes moments and a fairly predictable plot line, a not unpleasant 80 or 90 minutes of movies. I was struck, however, by the song playing over the closing credits -- I wasn't sure all of it was even in English, and the parts that were in English were not exactly easy to understand. But the whole effect was something beautiful. Turns out that track, "Sticks and Stones" was by Jonsi, guitarist and vocalist for Icelandic band Sigur Ros (who, among other things, sang an entire album in a made-up language called Hopelandic). As I prepare for the EMP Pop Conference this weekend, I'm struck by this shift in the attitude of kids media toward musical artistry and vice versa. Here's a major motion picture targeted very specifically at kids for the closing credit pop song they've chosen an artist who fronts a band I guarantee you that 99% of the adults watching have never heard. And what's more, he chose to do it. The lines are so blurred now that it's hard to imagine going back to a time when that kind of action would've been bold. It's passe'. Anyway, in December DreamWorks cut a video for the song. The video's so-so, but the song is great. Jonsi - "Sticks and Stones" [YouTube]
It's not easy to review Ella Jenkins albums for a couple reasons. First, she is a legend. I know that people throw around the word "legend" too easily, but if you don't use that word for Jenkins, then you may as well not use the word at all, at least in the kids music genre. And it's hard to review a legend because their outsized reputation, no matter how well deserved (and it totally is in Jenkins' case), provides an odd context. The second - and trickier - reason is that her albums are not designed for listening idly to while zipping off to T-ball practice. Her albums generally feature Jenkins along with a group of kids -- Jenkins singing to the kids, the kids singing to Jenkins. It's like dropping in on a kindergarten music class with the recorder running. These sorts of albums are not the kinds of albums that a lot of casual listeners necessarily respond to. Jenkins' just-released album A Life of Song is her first album of new material in eight years. Over the course of almost 45 years and nearly 30 albums, Jenkins has been a mainstay of Folkways/Smithsonian Folkways recordings, and the new album is, in some ways, a retrospective of her career. Not in the sense of a greatest hits collection, because all the tracks here are new, recorded with elementary students enrolled in an after-school program. The album starts off with "Pick a Bale of Cotton," first popularized by another Folkways artist, Leadbelly. Ella tells a story in her gentle voice, and the kids trade off verses. You can hear Jenkins say, near the end, conducting the group, "A little softer," getting the kids' chorus to sing quieter as the song ends. Jenkins is a master of leading the kids, showing how sometimes it's better to talk quietly than loudly if you want to get kids' attention. And the kids enthusiastically respond in their call-and-response (they're kinda adorable singing out the names of various people in "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands"). Your family will enjoy the album more if you sing along, or even more so if you take the songs here and lead your own song circle. Jenkins moves on from playground songs to spirituals to songs made popular in the civil rights era, even onward through the blues and Gershwin. It's a nifty, albeit brief, survey of songs important to African American (and frankly, American, no qualifier needed) culture. This is to be expected since the album is part of the African American Legacy Recordings series, co-produced with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. (This focus means that another important part of Jenkins' oeuvre -- bringing songs of diverse global cultures back to the States -- plays no part in this recording.) As the album progresses, the children's chorus makes fewer appearances, which gives Jenkins more of a chance to shine. Jenkins' voice is soft but effectively displayed on tracks like "I Want to Be Ready" and "Somebody's Talking about Freedom." And tracks like "Summertime" and "The Cuckoo," where she lends a little more expressiveness to her voice, are simply wonderful. Praise must also go to her fellow musician Rita Ruby, who accompanies Jenkins on guitar on many tracks and has a lovely voice of her own (she even gets an a capella turn on "Amazing Grace"). The 36-minute album will be most appreciated by kids aged 3 through 8. You can listen to samples from all the tracks this video if you want to understand how much other musicians and educators revere her.) On A Life of Song, Ella Jenkins shows that, even at 86, she can capture audiences spanning generations. This is an album hat encourages you to turn off the CD player and sing with others. Luckily, it's good enough to listen to that doing so might prove difficult. Essentially mandated for early childhood music specialists and definitely recommended for everyone else.
I've been a fan of the British magazine for kids Okido for a little while now. But only from afar. You see, it's a bit pricy to have it imported to the States. It's a quarterly, ad-free magazine for kids ages 2 through 7, sorta like Highlights with about 80% less "play-nice" preachiness. (Or the preferred mag 'round here, Ladybug, with about 30% more funkiness.) See the last issue about the natural world and biodiversity for an example or read it after the jump. (I'm telling you, iPad subscriptions would be gold.) Anyway, their latest issue is about robots. And their latest video, entitled "Robots," is kinda funky, good for getting the kids up and at 'em. Illustrations by Alex Barrow, animation by Chris Lam, and music by ZOOE. (Or maybe it's Zooey. I'm going with Zooey. Definitely not Zooey Deschanel, though.) ZOOE - "Robots" [YouTube]
Time for a video for a gentle little ditty -- a gentle little ditty called "Bears" that involves the use of the word "maggots" and seems to condone eating seals and kids. It's cute, really it is. It's courtesy of Randall Goodgame and Andrew Peterson, the duo behind Slugs and Bugs and is on their Slugs and Bugs and Lullabies disk. Not that they asked for one, but my tagline for the video would be "This ain't no teddy bears' picnic." Slugs and Bugs - "Bears" [YouTube]