Since turning 30, I’m often asked — usually by folks in their late 20s — how my life has changed. My response: children. No, not my own. Just children in general. They’re everywhere now. All of a sudden — and somehow, it seems, with much less than nine months warning — everyone I know has one or more of the dribbling bundles of joy and boogers.
Christmastime offered a perfect example. The holiday coatroom morphed into a makeshift baby-changing station; eggnog and shot glasses were bounced from the bar in favor of apple juice and sippy cups; and the normal holiday musical fare (not that I loved it all that much) was swapped out for mixtapes loaded with Raffi, The Wiggles, bastardizing Kidz Bop, and Barney (yeah, apparently that Mesozoic purple foam fuck has yet to go extinct).
It’s the musical affront that we’re concerned with today, though.
My mother used to joke (and, yes, it was a joke, mostly), “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out.” Admittedly, a hard line to take with a preschooler, but I’m starting to appreciate her logic. If you go through all the trouble of bringing a child into this world, lovingly nurturing it, and de-prioritizing yourself for at least 18 years (closer to 30 these days, they’ll move back in with you several times), surely it’s not unreasonable to expect a little consideration and compromise in areas like the minivan CD changer.
Starbucks recently announced their Music for Little Hipsters compilation, a collection of songs designed to appeal to kids without making parents want to dump their scalding Ventis in their laps just to distract themselves from the pain in their ears. So, before Starbucks corners this market too, we give you 15 songs we actually wouldn’t mind listening to with our kids (theoretical and otherwise) on those endless rides to and from soccer practice.
Beach Boys – “Barbara Ann”
With its “Bah bah bah bah bah bah ran” and ridiculously high falsettos, this song is perfect for singing and playing with children. Let’s be honest: When singing this song, parents and children couldn’t care less about the actual lyrics. They just want to scream out “bah bah bah bah bah bah ran” over and over again, and can you blame them? The infectiousness of the titular line is certain to be coupled with laughter and smiles. –Len Comaratta
They Might Be Giants – “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” or “Birdhouse in Your Soul”
If you’re a music-savvy parent, odds are the Johns are already teaching your offspring the ABCs, 123s, and science through They Might Be Giants’ trio of children’s albums. If that’s working out for you, why not introduce your kiddos to some of the choicer material off Flood? The silly swing of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”, complete with Tiny Toon Adventures cartoon video, will give them an edge in social studies class, and you’ll feel like there’s a beautiful birdhouse in your soul when your son’s second grade teacher calls to inform you that your boy serenaded his sweetheart with the line “Say I’m the only bee in your bonnet.” –Matt Melis
Wilco – “My Darling”
Apart from getting a jump on indoctrinating your kid into the cult of Wilco, “My Darling” is a sweet, reassuring sentiment to pass along. All that child needs to know is he/she was made with love. The kid appeal comes from the quirky sounds and warm, hazy harmonies.They won’t even know their parents are getting all sappy on them. –Erin Carson
Shirley Ellis – “The Name Game”
Here’s a singsong game that explains the rules as you play and adapts to anyone’s name atop an infectious, Motown-era, sweet soul beat. Parents will love how it can bring a smile to their child’s face, especially when pulling in more non-traditional names. Children will also get a kick out of how many names can actually lead to bad words. Parents beware: Chuck, Mitch, and Ruby are names that will not end well with this game! –Len Comaratta
OK Go – “This Too Shall Pass”
OK Go is famous for their motion-centric videos, but the Rube Goldberg machine in “This Too Shall Pass” is a winner with the preschool set. A pleasant song combined with continuous movement and lots of readily identifiable objects makes for one mesmerizing watch. I played this for my then-three-year-old pal, and he made me play it five more times. The verdict? “This song is full of cars. I like that one.” –Megan Ritt
Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs – “Li’l Red Riding Hood”
Folktales are often dark, and Little Red Riding Hood has it all: deception, transvestism, a grandma and little girl eaten alive, a bloody ax, and a disturbingly torturous, agonizing death for the wolf. Luckily, parents have been wise enough over the years to tone down the tale into the beloved children’s story it is today. Of course, while your kids are listening and humming along to the story of the big, bad wolf, Sam the Sham’s actually talking about chasing girls. If you have a son, it’s an early glimpse into the teen years ahead; if you have a little girl, it’s a cautionary tale. Either way, the whole family will have fun howling along with Sam. –Matt Melis
Paolo Nutini – “New Shoes”
It’s 1993. You’ve just Velcroed on a brand-new pair of sneakers — the kind that light up when your foot hits the ground. You’re going to own the second grade. Both parents and kids will understand that there are days when you just feel good, whether or not it’s got anything to do with footwear. This song’s bulletproof good vibes and eminently singable chorus will make it a favorite because you don’t need an excuse when you’re wearing your brand-new shoes. –Erin Carson
Fleet Foxes – “Mykonos”
This one’s kid value is in the video’s calm colors and simple shapes that combine and swirl into larger configurations. My two-year-old, geometry-obsessed nephew loves identifying the shapes and, in the process, has memorized the rhythm (between cries of “Triangle!”, he even sings along with the drum part). My brother, meanwhile, loves that it’s actual music. –Megan Ritt
Wham! – “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”
I know. You’re thinking, “Wham!? WTF?” But dig this: For ’70s/’80s kids having kids, there’s the nostalgia factor; for the ’90s and aughts hipsters, it’s the campiness; and for the actual kids, it’s getting to jump around and scream words like jitterbug and go-go. And bonus factor: Who among us wouldn’t smile just a little at a child saying, “You put the boom boom into my heart”? –Len Comaratta
Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear – “Movin’ Right Along”
From the original Muppet Movie, “Movin’ Right Along” is a wonderful buddy song sung by two of the closest Muppet buddies next to Bert and Ernie: Kermit and Fozzie. Filled with goofy lyrics, even goofier voices and inflections, and a bubbly beat led by a saloon-style piano, kids will love it because it is for them, and parents will appreciate some of the adult jokes spliced into the song, a la classic Muppets. –Len Comaratta
Red Hot Chili Peppers – “Love Rollercoaster”
Here’s the thing about “Love Rollercoaster”: It’s definitely inappropriate to play this song for your kid, but it’s also a helluva lot of fun. So, before you get yourself in hot water, honestly assess your situation. Will your kid be able to funk out with you and rap, “Move over, Dad, ‘cause I’m a double dipper/ Upside down on the zip-zip-zipper/ 1, 2, 1, 2, 3, I’ve got a ticket so ride with me” without going to school the next day and telling his or her teacher, “Your love is like a roller coaster, baby, baby/ I wanna ride”? You know, eh, just skip this one. Not worth the risk. –Matt Melis
Keegan DeWitt – “Say La La”
“Say La La” is a joyous wave of a song. Hand claps and happy voices are frequently infectious elements in both songs for children and adults, and this song has both. And, thanks to the unmissable tambourine hits, you can use “Say La La” as a chance to teach your kid how to keep a beat. And that is a valuable life lesson, folks. –Erin Carson
The classic show has always taught kids their numbers and letters, but Sesame Street also finds time to present a primer in pop music. In between monster puppets, the show features legit musical guests that parents will recognize, including Norah Jones and Elmo singing a spoof of her hit entitled “Don’t Know Y”, Feist doing an adaptation of “1, 2, 3, 4” that features a whole host of creatures, and India Arie teaching us the alphabet. After seeing the Jones spot several times, my preschool pal recognized her voice singing another song on the radio. Yep, turns out there’s a whole wide world of music out there, friend. Welcome to pop culture. –Megan Ritt
Bob Marley – “Three Little Birds”
Off of Bob Marley’s classic Exodus, “Three Little Birds” is one of the reggae legend’s gentlest songs, but packs a wallop of positivity with its infectious chorus, “Don’t worry…about a thing…..Every little thing is gonna be alright.” Parents can appreciate the positive message relayed by Marley, while children will simply be happy to sing about birds. –Len Comaratta
The White Stripes – “We’re Going to Be Friends”
Sadly, sweet childhood scenarios like a simple walk to school through a park with a friend probably don’t happen much anymore. (Mind you, your kid probably poked or texted about two dozen Facebook friends during his or her morning commute.) Still, this is a beautiful little ditty and perfect entry point into Jack White’s catalog. Be warned, a few years later, your White Stripes CDs and vinyl may start to go mysteriously missing. On the bright side, maybe your son or daughter will let you tag along to a Jack White concert during those hellish teen years when you feel like you have nothing in common with him or her anymore. So, you have that going for ya at least. Chin up, Mom or Dad. –Matt Melis