My goal at Oliver di Place is to present the best music I can find. This provides, I believe, a valuable antidote to the cookie-cutter mentality especially at the major labels that results in so much pop music sounding the same.
Nowhere is this approach more needed than in the category of kid’s music. The formula for kid’s music is to use simple-minded lyrics and the intrusion of squeaky high voices, that either are, or are trying to sound like, children. The playing and the arrangements are also simplistic. The result is often sappy and condescending at the same time. Actually, that’s not an easy combination to achieve!
But kid’s music doesn’t have to be like that. The best kid’s music also appeals strongly to the parents. Many of the finest talents in folk music have tried their hands at music intended for children Nowadays, there are also artists from other genres who find themselves recording music for kids. Many of them started writing and recording music for children as a direct response to becoming parents themselves. So there is a ton of great music to choose from. The trick is finding the wheat among the vast amount of chaff. Let me be your guide.
In putting this post together, I had to leave out a great deal of wonderful material. So this might become a series. Let me know in the comments if you would like to hear more.
Pete Seeger: Abiyoyo
Let’s begin with a classic from my own childhood. Pete Seeger combines music and storytelling in his telling of the tale of Abiyoyo. The tale delights kids because it is laced with humor. It also has characters the kids can identify with: two normal sized people must overcome a fearsome giant, just as kids must learn to deal in a world where everyone is a giant compared to them. And the giant turns out to love music, as long as it has a good beat. Kids often feel the same way.
Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer: Rhythm of the World
Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer were well known in the folk world, both together and individually, before they ever recorded a note of music for children. But they recorded a trilogy of albums for kids that is some of the best kid’s music out there. They have a sweetness that is never cloying, and the music swings and sways.
Trout Fishing in America: What I Want is a Proper Cup of Coffee
What I Want is a Proper Cup of Coffee has the same appeal to kids as the Dr Seuss classic Fox on Sox. This is a tongue twister, only set to music.
Trout Fishing in America has devoted their entire career to making music for kids and their adults. There are very few songs in their catalog that miss the mark. What comes through is their warmth, and their willingness to take kids seriously.
Billy Jonas: Some Houses
Billy Jonas plays percussion on found instruments. His stage set up includes plastic drums in various sizes, as well as other odd percussible items. The emphasis is on rhythm. Jonas also makes the point that anything can be an instrument, and anyone can play something. This is as empowering to kids as the tale of Abiyoyo.
Jessica Harper: A Crazy Machine
Did you know that Jessica Harper, the actress, was also a fine source of music for kids? This could easily be nothing more than a vanity project, but her kid’s music is the real deal. All of the key elements are in place: strong rhythms; sensitivity to a kid’s point of view; and a sweetness that never becomes cloying.
A Crazy Machine is about a toy that seemingly does everything, although no one is sure how. Yes, this is another take on The Marvelous Toy. It takes guts to take on a classic like that, but Harper pulls it off.