Saturday, November 7, 2009

Cool Kidsongs: For Our Children Edition

Bruce Springsteen: Chicken Lips and Lizard Hips (from For Our Children)


Natalie Merchant: Come Take a Trip in My Airship (from For Our Children Too!)


Bobby McFerrin: The Wizard of Oz (from For Our Children - The Concert)


Confession Time: I taught preschool for eight years, which segued to being a director for four - I have listened to my share of children's music (most of it corny, schlocky and sappy - sounds kinda like a law firm, doesn't it?) ... and it was always a challenge to find Cool Kidsongs (as is our theme) to make everyone, including the parents, happy, especially for our Pre-K graduation extravaganza shows...

Imagine my delight in 1990 upon the release of For Our Children, a 20-song compilation featuring original and traditional children's music by a variety of exceptional performers, including Jackson Browne, Ziggy Marley, Brian Wilson, Bob Dylan, Sting, and Ann and Nancy Wilson. All proceeds benefit the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, with profits going to AIDS research, education and assistance to hospitals. The foundation was formed in 1988 by Elizabeth Glaser, Susan DeLaurentis, and Susan Zeegen. Glaser, the wife of actor Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky and Hutch), contracted the AIDS virus in 1981 from a blood transfusion she received during the birth of their daughter Ariel, who died of AIDS at the age of 7. This was re-released in 1999 as a 10th Anniversary Edition - "although tilted toward baby-boomer parents, the tracks have a timeless, ageless appeal. You'll be hard-pressed to find another five-star children's recording this satisfying..."

1996 brought the sequel, For Our Children Too! which, although possessing a few stand-out tracks, was mostly of the yawn/snore variety (as one review stated, Too! "is really a lullaby album and its predecessor is a party record." - all sales still aided the foundation, though...

For Our Children - The Concert came out in 1993, and was an audio release of a benefit concert which took place in 1992, for the patients and families of pediatric AIDS - it also aired as a TV special...

I have included a song from each: Bruce a fun romp through a gross-out menu, Natalie an adorable story of a magical adventure... and McFerrin an 8-minute wild-and-crazy encapsulation of the entire plot of the Wizard of Oz, complete with him (as Dorothy) throwing a glass of water in his own face (as the Wicked Witch) to make himself melt (YouTube video here of him performing the same skit at another event) - enjoy!

My illustration above is the cover of Every Child Deserves a Lifetime, a "Best of" the first two For Our Children discs...

Cool Kidsongs: Just a Few More Edition

Here are four songs that fit our theme. Other than that, the only thing they have in common is that I couldn’t choose between them for my last post this week.

Zak Morgan: When Bullfrogs Croak


One key element of great kid’s music is a sense of humor. Zak Morgan delivers that here. Don’t miss the kicker in the last verse.

Jerry Garcia and David Grisman: Jenny Jenkins


Our theme this week is called Cool Kidsongs, but it could just as easily have been Not For Kids Only. When Jerry Garcia and David Grisman chose to make an album of music for kids and the adults who would have to listen with them, that is the title they used.

Jerry Garcia was, of course, the leader of the Grateful Dead. He had known David Grisman from San Francisco, before either musician made a name for themselves. The two had even recorded together in the one-shot bluegrass project, Old and in the Way. Grisman and Garcia had continued to get together and jam whenever their schedules allowed. Most of these jam sessions were committed to tape, and many have been released since Garcia’s death.

Here, their take on the traditional Jenny Jenkins shows the easy comraderie of old friends. The comfortable feeling and low key approach fairly represent the quality of the album as a whole.

Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer: Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed?


One of the dangers of making kid’s music is overdoing the sweetness, and producing something cloying. Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer, both together and individually, avoid that trap. Their music shows that it is possible to be sweet without overdoing it.

Dan Zanes (with Rosanne Cash): Fooba Wooba John


Dan Zanes used to be in a band called the Del-Fuegos. When they broke up, Zanes’ career took a surprising turn: he became a kid’s music artist. All of his albums that I am aware of include guests who you wouldn’t expect to be doing kid’s music at all. Rosanne Cash’s guest spot here is a fine example. In recent years, many “adult” artists have taken a turn at producing kid’s music albums. Dan Zanes may well have provided the inspiration to do so.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Cool Kidsongs: The Voyage of the Moon

Donovan: The Voyage of the Moon


"The Voyage of the Moon" comes from HMS Donovan, a whimsical children's album Donovan released in 1971. Many of the songs were poems by the likes of Lewis Carroll, Yeats, and others that Donovan set music to, but this one is all Donovan. It's hard to imagine too many kids listening to his quaint English fairytales today, but as an adult, I am mesmerized by this beautiful song.

Cool Kidsongs: Classic Disney Edition

There seems to be a love/hate relationship with Disney for many people. Some people look at them as corny or overly corporate, but it's hard to deny that over the years there's been some absolutely brilliant music that's been produced for their films. These days, Disney music is often nominated for Oscars, but most people forget that there were many famous musicians that graced Disney films back in the day.

Louis Prima: I Wan'na Be Like You


Perhaps one of the most impressive (to me, at least) pieces of music in the Disney library is the classic "I Wan'na Be Like You" from The Jungle Book (1966). The song was sung by the legendary Louis Prima in a scat jazz style (though written by the amazing Sherman Bros.). As fun as this song is, and as accessible to children, it's difficult to miss the talent and grown-up styling to this music. It's one of my favorites. The character in the movie that sings the song is King Louie, fitting.

Roger Miller: Oo-De-Lally


Roger Miller seems like the perfect fit for doing a kid's song considering his music is often on the silly side, or at least, smirk-worthy. That is part of his charm, part of the reason I like him at least. He wrote and performed the theme the Disney's 1973 telling of Robin Hood. He also did a number of other songs for the movie and had the part of the story-telling rooster Alan-a-dale. I love this song, I think it's classic Roger Miller and could easy stand alone in his catalog without the movie.

Peggy Lee: He's a Tramp


Last, but not least, the fantastic Peggy Lee. She co-wrote all the music for Lady And the Tramp (1955), including the famous "Bella Notte", and performed a few of the songs herself, including this one, "He's a Tramp". The character in the movie who sang the song was named "Peg", after Peggy, and sung in Peggy's signature sultry nightclub style. There's really nothing childish about the song other than the use of dog barks for backing music, but even that somehow doesn't seem like it would be so strange back in the day when things all seemed more innocent. This is one of those things that I always thought was just "sung in the style of Peggy Lee" and was surprised later to find out that it was, in fact, the REAL Peggy Lee, and she had written it herself. Fanastic.

Cool Kidsongs: The Ballads Of Davy Crockett and Pancho Lopez

The Kentucky Headhunters: The Ballad Of Davy Crockett


When I was a kid many Sunday evenings were spent watching The Wonderful World Of Disney. One of my favorite shows from those days was Davy Crockett. And even though Fess Parker also played Daniel Boone, I always remember him for his portrayal of Crockett. Here's a guy who 'killed him a bar when he was only three'! I always figured I had a lot of catching up to do.

Lalo Guerrero: The Ballad Of Pancho Lopez


Then there's this guy, Pancho Lopez. If there's an antithesis to Davy Crockett it would be Pancho Lopez. Lalo Guerrero recorded this to the tune of Davey Crockett. Unlike Davy, killing bears, Pancho 'could 'eat twelve tacos when he was only three'. I doubt even Davy Crockett could match that! Purchase link is to Guerrero's Myspace page.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Cool Kidsongs: You Are My Sunshine

Elizabeth Mitchell: You Are My Sunshine


Gray Sky Girls: You Are My Sunshine


Norman Blake: You Are My Sunshine


You Are My Sunshine was a popular song written in a time when the audience fragmentation of modern culture had not yet taken place; songs back then were for everyone, and other than playground rhymes, the conceit of "children's song" was a meaningless term. But like so many innocent love songs from the era - see, for another example, Bushel and a Peck - switching its subject from lover to son or daughter only makes the song that much sweeter. And so the song has come to be associated with childhood, a perfect pitch from parent to child, despite the undertone of fear and loss which flavors its lyric.

A few years ago, just before their divorce was finalized, my parents overheard my wife and I singing this song to our daughter, and noted that they had sung the song to me, together in harmony, when I was just a tiny thing myself. It was the last time I saw them smile together, and since then, it's harder to sing without choking up a bit. But we still sing it, just the same.

Cool Kidsongs: Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas)

They Might Be Giants have released several albums of songs for kids, but they're not all that different than the songs they've been releasing for adults for the past 25 years. In fact some songs have appeared on releases for both audiences. "Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas)" is one of those songs.

Tom Glazer & Dottie Evans: Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas)

[out of print]

It's also one of those songs (see also "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" that sounds like it was written by the band, but wasn't. In fact, it was written by Hy Zaret and Lou Singer, and appeared on Tom Glazer & Dottie Evans' 1959 album "Space Songs".

They Might Be Giants: Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas)


They Might Be Giants first released their version on an EP in 1994, before they started making records specifically for kids. The arrangement doesn't stray too far from the original, but it's so dang catchy, it's safe to say their version brought the song to a whole new audience.

Speaking of whole new audiences, after they started recording kids albums, it became a staple at their kid-oriented shows. It's become so popular, they've rerecorded it for their latest kids album, Here Comes Science.

They Might Be Giants: Why Does the Sun Shine? (The Sun Is a Mass of Incandescent Gas) [live]


For their regular shows, they've revved it up and reinterpreted it as a rocker. It works surprisingly well. The live version I've included here comes from their Severe Tire Damage live album.

Fun though it is, the song contains a funamental inaccuacy: The Sun, it turns out, is not a mass of incandescent gas. It's made of incandescent plasma. To rectify this error, Here Comes Science also includes the self-penned correction, "Why Does the Sun Really Shine? (The Sun is a Miasma of Incandescent Plasma)".

Cool Kidsongs: Shortnin' Bread, This Old Man, My Grandfather's Clock

The Tractors: Shortnin' Bread


This week's theme is somewhat out of my area of expertise. Not being a parent I only have my own childhood to draw from. But from my earliest days there always was music in our house. If there wasn't something playing on their old Packard-Bell, our folks would make up for it by singing songs to us. Shortnin' Bread was one of those songs. I remember even then that I thought it was a silly song and even sillier was the idea of my mom singing it to me. But years later I heard a version of the song and all the memories of her singing that song came back like it was yesterday. I'd give anything to hear her sing that to me now. But I'll have to settle for the few versions of this I have, including this great one by the Oklahoma based band The Tractors.

Yellowman: This Old Man


Another one I remember from those wonderful days of innocent youth was This Old Man.. I should mention here that the Tractors have a great version of this but I've chosen to post the Yellowman version. There's just something about reggae that can make even the most mundane song sound great.

Sam Cooke: My Grandfather's Clock

[Out of print]

Years later, during music class in about the fourth grade,I got in trouble for acting off during our singing of Grandfather's Clock. The trouble was I was innocent! But it didn't matter...I was in trouble and that was all there was to it. My teacher made me stand up in front of the class and sing the song solo. Needless to say it made me hate the song for years.. or so I thought. The truth is I've always loved the song and no fourth grade teacher was going to spoil that for me! My first choice was to post the Johnny Cash version but I've chosen the Sam Cooke's because Johnny Cash has already been posted this week.

Cool Kidsongs: Dino-Soaring

Dirty Sock Funtime Band: Dino-Soaring

Note: Dino-Soaring does not appear to be available on any album. However, you can:

[purchase a selection of music from Jack‘s Big Music Show here]

[or go here to purchase albums by the Dirty Sock Funtime Band]

Our theme, Cool Kidsongs, is deliberately limited to songs that parents can enjoy as well. So that leaves out songs that are cloyingly sweet, or nauseatingly cute, or just downright irritating. And there are far too many of these. So a kid’s show on TV that features a bright blue boy puppet and his best friend, a yellow girl puppet, and his pink puppet dog, would not seem to be a promising source of material.

But the show, Jack’s Big Music Show, deserves a closer look. In one episode, Jack won a visit from the king of swing, who was played by Buddy Guy. In another, Jack broke Mary’s brand new hammered dulcimer (!), and the only way to fix it was to summon the magical Dr. Strings, played by Andrew Bird (!!). Jack’s Big Music Show is a half-hour show intended for preschoolers. To hold their attention, the show is divided into shorter segments. The segments are separated by music videos. The creators of the show put a lot of effort into seeking out the best possible kid’s music artists for these videos. And that is where I first heard of the Dirty Sock Funtime Band, and heard Dino-Soaring.

Kid’s love music with a strong beat. My five year old son loves ska and XTC, as well as more typical kid’s fare. So the ska-ish flavor of Dino-Soaring is right up his alley. Other tunes I have heard by the Dirty Socks do not have so strong a ska flavor, but they still are a lot of fun.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cool Kidsongs: Really Rosie

Carole King: Really Rosie

Carole King: Pierre


Remember when you were younger and wanted to put on a show? - through the combined magical genius of a favorite author of children's books and a famous composer of pop music, Rosie and the Nutshell Kids do exactly that...

A half-hour animated television special aired in 1975, based on Maurice Sendak's books The Nutshell Library and The Sign on Rosie's Door and directed by Sendak, with Carole King (of Tapestry fame) voicing the title character.

The story revolves around a demonstrative little girl who used to sing and dance on the stoop of her building, which Sendak observed while he was a little boy growing up in Brooklyn - the plot follows a hot July Saturday in the life of neighborhood friends Pierre, Alligator, Johnny, and Chicken Soup, who are bored... and Rosie, the self-proclaimed sassiest kid on the block of Brooklyn's Avenue P, who entertains everyone by imagining herself as directing and starring in a movie musical about her exciting, dramatic, funny (and slightly exaggerated) life....

"A kids' album even grown-ups can love. A." ~ Entertainment Weekly

"Captivates taller listeners as well." ~ People

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cool Kidsongs: A Manatee Sneezed On Me

John Flynn: A Manatee Sneezed On Me

[purchase, scroll down to the bottom]

John Flynn is a rare artist, in that he writes powerful and poignant songs for adults, but he is also adept at creating wonderful music for kids. Very few artists can do both equally well. Flynn understands that kids find bodily functions funny, and here he lets their parents in the joke too. He tells the story of an unfortunate encounter at the seashore. What happens? The title says it. Musically, Flynn does a great job of creating a rhythm that kids enjoy.

I was introduced to the music of both Billy Jonas and John Flynn by Kathy O’Connell. O’Connell is the host of a show called Kid’s Corner on WXPN out of Philadelphia. You can stream the show on line live when it is broadcast. If you enjoy the music we are presenting this week, I highly recommend this as a source of further research. To learn more about Kid’s Corner, go here.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Cool Kidsongs: Here Come the Martian Martians

Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers: Here Come the Martian Martians


Jonathan Richman has never released a real children's album, but with some of his mid-'70s albums, he came pretty close. The songs were not meant for kids alone however, as anyone who has experienced Jono playing "Here Come the Martian Martians" to a 21-and-over crowd will attest.

That song, from 1977's, Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers, is pretty typical of his kid friendly material: a mix of '50s rock and roll and childlike earnest exuberance. In an era when UFO paranoia was in full swing (at least it was in my nine-year-old mind), Jonathan made the Martians fun again.

If your kids can take his "I've got a perpetual cold" voice, a complete kid's album can be culled from his early albums. Several years ago, an acquaintance of mine did just that for his young son, and he gifted me with a copy. I passed it on to a close friend's daughter, a special-needs kid with wide-ranging musical tastes, and it took hold. It has been a bond between us ever since, and for that I am eternally grateful. Never underestimate the power of a good mix CD!

Cool Kidsongs: Nasty Dan

Johnny Cash: Nasty Dan


The lead track on Johnny Cash's 1975 children's album was actually written for the Man in Black by composer and television writer Joel Moss of Sesame Street fame; it had made its debut several years earlier on the show in the admiring company of Oscar the Grouch. Cash and Grouch were a perfect pair, and the two minute sketch remains one of my favorites.

Sans Oscar's interjections, the song remains a fun little ditty, wry and somehow sweet. Heck, the whole album is an underrated gem.

Incidentally, today's feature marks the tenth Johnny Cash post in Star Maker Machine's history. Five posts a year isn't bad, kids, but I think we can do better.

Cool Kidsongs: What Kind of Cat Are You?

Billy Jonas: What Kind of Cat Are You?


I've written of Billy Jonas before - in my opinion, he's one of a handful of musicians who writes and performs children's music that adults not only don't mind listening to and sitting through... but actually enjoy. His style is "bangin' and sangin' ", as he uses homemade recycled object instruments to kick up the fun and the rhythm - Billy engages everyone with his charm, wit and melody...

He often encourages audience participation... with "call-and-response lyrics, open-ended questions, and quiet instructions that inspire movement and imaginative thought" - this song is a challenge to kids of all ages, as the questions become increasingly more difficult!