Kids music that won’t make you stab yourself in the ear with a spoon

I thought I’d do a kids music post, similar to the kids read aloud book post from a couple days ago. Because, well, we love music. And because I just organized the girls’ music in iTunes, and I was reminded of a bunch of great music that we’d forgotten about, so it’s been a music day in our house. 🙂

If I’m picky about the books I read to the girls, I’m even pickier about the music they listen to. This isn’t from any place judgy- other parents can let their kids listen to whatever they want, that’s not my business. I’m picky because:

1. My girls pick up lyrics FAST. They can hear a song once and sing at least most of it. And if it’s a song with sketchy words, somehow that’s always the part that sticks. Tiny doesn’t always get the lyrics right (she has an awesome talent for completely mishearing lyrics) but she’ll still sing them. So I’m not going to play Lady Gaga when they can hear it because I don’t need them singing about how they want your ugly, or your revenge. I’ll just keep those songs on my iPod.

2. Quite a lot of songs are about love and they’re little girls and don’t need to be thinking about that right now. I don’t even play them the Beatles at this point. I will in the future, obviously, because they’re functioning members of society, but they don’t need to be singing about how she loves you, ya ya ya, right now either. (Obviously this does not apply to the non-love Beatles songs. They listen to Hey Jude and Sgt. Pepper and songs like that.)

3. I also have to listen to whatever they’re listening to. If I’m not having them listen to my music, they need to listen to something, and the easy answer is music made for kids. But a lot of music made for kids is not music adults want to listen to.  If I can’t stand it, it doesn’t go on the list.

4. Music is teaching them things. If they are listening to banal, insipid, uninspired music, what’s that doing to their brains? And what is it doing to their future musical taste? I don’t mean to pick on anything (ok, I totally do), but the music from Yo Gabba Gabba is a perfect example of this. Have you listened to it? The lyrics of one song were literally “I have a fish. I have a fish. I have a fish. I have a fish.” I want to give them music with interesting instrumentation, complex lyrics, thought provoking content. I want it to be beautiful.

Just to reiterate a previous statement- if you have a different opinion and let  your kid listen to other stuff, I’m not judging you. You know what’s best for your kid, I know what’s best for mine. I’m just explaining my criteria.

Luckily there are a bunch of awesome people making awesome kids music. Here are some of our favorites in alphabetical order.  (Click on their names to go to sites where you can hear samples of their songs.) You’re pretty much safe with any of their albums, I’ve put down if we have a favorite.

Bari Koral  Bari Koral’s voice is light and cheerful, and her songs are magnets for my girls. We favor her Rock and Roll Garden album.

Caspar Babypants Caspar Babypants’ lyrics are complex and awesome. He plays with language, and his voice is charming. We have all his albums and just cycle through them. I find myself singing Googly Eyes all the time.

Elizabeth Mitchell Elizabeth Mitchell has a light, folky, gorgeous sound. All of her albums are wonderful, we just got her album of Woody Guthrie covers, Little Seed.

Frances England Frances England is spunky, bright, and observant. At least her music is, I assume she is also. We love all her albums.   Her new album, Blink of an Eye, has a less “kiddie” sound, while still being kid appropriate. It would be good tween transition music.

Gustafer Yellowgold Gustafer Yellowgold is weird. There’s no way around it. With songs like Pancake Smackdown
and Panther Stamps Pants and Rock Melon , he is slightly surreal and completely entertaining and awesome. I’m sometimes not convinced he’s not actually Beck.

The Jimmies This is the girls’ second favorite band. Reeaaaally close to tied for first. This is an all girl band, and their style is all over the place, but purposefully so. They do rock, they spoof Gwen Stefani, they channel R&B,they sing the blues, all with smart lyrics that are really really funny. Gonna Get a Hamster is one of the funniest songs anywhere.

Justin Roberts
Justin Roberts’ lyrics are keenly observant and full of sharp little details and clever and often funny, and his instrumentation has trumpets and other fun things. I seriously can’t do him justice, you just have to go listen.

Laurie Berkner
Laurie Berkner kind of started the kindie rock movement, and she’s pretty awesome.The girls have always loved her, and ask for her music quite often. She’s like comfort food. She’s Tiny’s favorite.

Lucky DiazThis band is so happy sounding. We love their album A Potluck.

Lunch Money This is, hands down, Zoe’s favorite band. Their lyics are smart and insightful, and run the gamut from happy (Come Over to My Dollhouse) to bittersweet (Please Don’t Move (to Another Time Zone)) to oddly specific (Miniature Things (are neat)) I think the girls have listened to their album Spicy Kid hundreds of times.

The Okee Dokee Brothers We only have their Can You Canoe album, and we need to remedy that. They’ve got a bluegrass sound that is just lovely.

Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem This is a band that’s hard to describe- they fuse a lot of styles and they’re kind of bluesy, kind of bluegrass, kind of gospel, kind of swing. They made a kid album, Ranky Tanky, and it’s awesome. (Plus, the name Daisy Mayhem?? I’d totally name a kid that.) We sing They All Ask’d For You all the time. We make up new verses to get us through shampooing at bath time.

Renee & Jeremy This duo has a beautiful, soothing harmony thing going that works for me. We have their album A Little Love and love it. It’s covers of fun songs, including You’re My Best Friend by Queen, Yellow by Coldplay, and in a surprise move, Give It Awayby the Red Hot Chili Peppers- AND IT WORKS. I have no idea how, but it does.

Secret Agent 23 Skidoo 23 Skidoo is a rapper (he calls it kid hop) whose wife steps in with singing vocals on some songs, and his daughter, a little up and coming rapper herself, also takes part. (You have to click through and watch the video, his daughter’s on roller skates! And I love the part his wife sings. Seriously, they are such an adorable family.)  The songs have an emphasis on imagination and recognizing self worth. The songs are fun, and the girls really like them.

Steve Songs This is silly, funny, charming music. Your kids will laugh. You will probably laugh. 🙂

They Might Be Giants Oh come on, you know TMBG. And honestly, a lot of their albums are perfectly kid appropriate. But did you know that they have 4 kids albums? You might want to get on that.

Ziggy Marley Yes, that Ziggy Marley. Family friendly reggae you’ll love. If you love raggae.


They also listen to music from musicals (Sound of Music, Singing in the Rain, Wizard of Oz, selections from Pippin and Godspell, Mary Poppins). They used to really like listening to music from Backyardigans and Jake and the Neverland Pirates, but they’ve moved away from those a bit. They do listen to some Disney music, but really only from the movies they’ve seen, so Cars, Aristocats, Nightmare Before Christmas, and Brave even though they haven’t seen it. They’re not big on “princess songs”, though they do listen to them every now and then. There’s an album called Disney Cuties that has Disney songs (like It’s a Small World, Tiki Room, Winnie the Pooh) done techno style that they love to dance to. They love the soundtrack to the newer Muppet movie, though they haven’t seen that either.

I was going to make a playlist, but there are so many choices that it’s hard. So if you want a playlist, let me know what kind of music you’re looking for (happy, dance-y, calm, for boys, for girls, educational, silly, folky) and I’ll see what I can do. 🙂


4 thoughts on “Kids music that won’t make you stab yourself in the ear with a spoon

  1. Oh, and big hellos to your daughters and thanks for keeping us in the family soundtrack. I so agree with all you had to say about not bombarding them with adult concerns through music – my home playlist is very similar!

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