Why does “Children’s Music” exist? How did that become a genre? I don’t mean to degrade the work of Raffi, Laurie Berkner, Dan Zane, et al. I’m sure they are all very talented artists— actually, I’m not sure. Because I’ve never listened to them. Because although I have 2 children, I have no need for “Children’s Music.” I have a need for good music. And an abundance of the good music that I enjoy is music that my children enjoy as well.
Below are 5 stellar musician/album recommendations that you will (or already do) love, and that your children will love too. They’re absolute no-brainers — musicians and albums that are popular, positive and fun to sing along to.
1. The Beatles
A few years ago I attended a baby shower for a friend. On the registry was a compact disc titled All You Need Is Love: Beatles Songs for Kids. My first thought was, “We’re getting that! That’s brilliant! The Beatles are so great, and they have so many songs that kids will love –” Then I read the description, and learned that All You Need Is Love: Beatles Songs for Kids is a collection of Beatles songs performed by… not the Beatles. Which led to my second thought—“Wuck?” It made no sense then, and it makes no sense now. Because you know who does the Beatles incomparably well? The Beatles.
The Beatles are widely considered the greatest band in history. While their legacy is inescapably intertwined with their unparalleled impact on at least 2 generations of Western civilization (musically, socially, stylistically, and commercially), the reason they are revered as a band is simple—over the course of 8 years and 12 albums, the Beatles wrote and performed about 150 songs with mass appeal. Though the style of their music changed and matured dramatically over the course of their career, almost every song in the Beatles’ catalogue—whether poppy, sappy, sophisticated, deep, trippy, melancholy, or rockin’—possesses irresistible charm and powerful magnetism. This includes a prolific number of songs that are playful, positive, and catchy as hell—attributes appreciated by kids and adults alike.
The Beatles’ music is so diverse—even within the context of single albums—that it is difficult to confidently recommend 1 album over all the others for family listening. If forced to do so, I’d recommend either The Beatles (White Album) or Magical Mystery Tour. But why would I be forced to recommend a single Beatles album when iTunes and MP3s make it so easy to create a playlist? Below is a list of 20 Beatles songs, presented in chronological order, that fall into the “playful, positive, and catchy as hell” category. They’re fun to listen to and fun to sing along with. Both you and your kids will love them. Which may make you love both the songs and your kids even more. Enjoy.
1. Do You Want To Know A Secret (Please Please Me)
2. All My Loving (With the Beatles)
3. Til There Was You (With the Beatles)
4. Help! (Help!)
5. You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away (Help!)
6. I’m Looking Through You (Rubber Soul)
7. Yellow Submarine (Revolver)
8. Good Day Sunshine (Revolver)
9. When I’m Sixty-Four (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band)
10. Lovely Rita (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band)
11. Dear Prudence (White Album)
12. Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (White Album)
13. Blackbird (White Album)
14. Piggies (White Album)
15. All Together Now (Yellow Submarine)
16. Octopus’s Garden (Abbey Road)
17. Here Comes the Sun (Abbey Road)
18. Hello, Goodbye (Magical Mystery Tour)
19. Penny Lane (Magical Mystery Tour)
20. All You Need Is Love (Magical Mystery Tour)
2. Bob Marley
If you’re not already familiar with Bob Marley, get familiar. For both yourself and your children. Bob Marley’s music is exceedingly accessible—simultaneously chill and rhythmic. Most of his songs feature a bass line that gets heads bobbing and a chorus that’s easy to sing along to—2 elements that kids (and homo sapiens in general) latch onto.
The most difficult thing about playing Bob Marley for yourself and your kids is deciding which album to play. The easiest choice is Legend, which is a greatest hits album that doubles as an excellent introduction to Marley’s music. Songs like “Three Little Birds,” “Stir It Up,” “One Love,” and “Jamming” are easily recognizable, and for good reason.
If you’re already a Bob Marley lover, or just the type of person who prefers an “authentic” album to a greatest hits album, go with either Kaya or Rastaman Vibration, both of which feature a mix of Marley classics and deep cuts that are just as good.
Now, it is entirely possible that you are reluctant to play Bob Marley for your children because you associate his music with tapestry-and-smoke-filled rooms during college. Rest easy—your kids aren’t aware of those associations, and by the time they become aware of them, the fact that you listened to Bob Marley together will make you look a bit cooler in their eyes… and perhaps make you seem more approachable about mature subject matter like drugs/parties.
3. The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys music was fun to listen to in the 60s, and it’s fun to listen to now. Best described as pop featuring a 5-part harmony, The Beach Boys’ music begs to be sung along to. Out loud. At high volume. Your kids will catch on immediately.
17 of the 20 songs on The Beach Boys—20 Good Vibrations are simply irresistible sing-alongs. Highlights include “Surfin’ Safari,” “Surfin’ U.S.A,” “I Get Around,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “Barbara Ann,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,”… honestly, it’s highlights all the way through (well, until “Kokomo” spoils it at the end). It’s particularly enjoyable to dance around singing “Fun, Fun, Fun” with your kids and remind them at the end that just like the girl in the song, if they ever lie to you, you’ll find out, and that’ll be the end of their fun. The Beach Boys—great music, with morality lessons built in!
4. Harry Belafonte
Harry Belafonte’s All Time Greatest Hits volumes 1 and 2 are both phenomenal albums to play on a weekend morning. You and your kids will love listening to songs like “Banana Boat Song,” “Jump In the Line,” “Mama Look a Boo Boo,” “Monkey,” “Matilda,” and “Angelina.” And your wife will definitely want to put “Man Smart (Woman Smarter)” on repeat.
Put on Harry Belafonte for your kids. Put it on, and smile.
5. Buddy Holly
You can read about Buddy Holly’s influence ad nauseam. He was one of the first artists to write, perform, and produce his own music. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead, Credence Clearwater Revival, and Elvis Costello all claim him as a primary inspiration for their music. But Buddy Holly isn’t on this list for his influence—he’s on it for his music.
Buddy Holly’s music is entirely pleasant—quick-hitters (they all come in at around 2 minutes) that are both heartfelt and playful. Buddy Holly—The Definitive Collection features all the songs (except for “Dearest”) you’ll want to sing to your children, including “Everyday” “Midnight Shift,” “That’ll Be the Day,” “Not Fade Away,” “Oh Boy!,” “Peggy Sue,” “Look At Me,” “Take Your Time,” and “Well… All Right.”
In addition to enjoying Buddy Holly’s music together, you can discuss him as an example of a) how hard work can enable you to achieve greatness at a young age, and b) the need to seize the day, every day, because you never know what’s going to happen… you may die in a fiery plane crash, motivating some musician to write the longest and most boring #1 hit of all time.
Listen to the Beatles, Bob Marley, the Beach Boys, Harry Belafonte and Buddy Holly with your kids. Enjoy the music yourself. Enjoy your kids’ enjoyment of the music. And then check back with us… more recommendations of good music that doubles as kids’ music will be on the way.