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Kids' Music that Doesn't Suck

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Rockin' kid songs DO exist if you look hard enough. Here's a cheat sheet.
Family in concert

Elizabeth Thorp: Does an aging hippie with an acoustic guitar patronizingly singing "The farmer in the dell, the farmer in the dell ..." make you cringe? Do the Wiggles make you break out in hives? Do you think Barney is creepy? Are you a rock 'n' roll parent who waited in line (or online) for hours to score tickets for the Police reunion tour or the U2 360º Tour? If you answered "yes" to any of the above questions -- you don't have to suffer any longer. Holla! After seven years of personal research, experience, and talking with other parents, I've collected the best children's music that doesn't make you want to poke your eye out. Actually, you'll probably sing along and shake your booty.

1) Justin Roberts and the Not Ready for Naptime Players -- Our family's overwhelming favorite, Justin Roberts Band is a groovy indie group for the youngest rockers and their hipster parents. The band mixes folk, punk, pop, and eighties ballads with a little Schoolhouse Rock. The songs are about our universal childhood/parenthood experiences: tantrums, sibling rivalry, grandma's cooking, getting glasses, school picture day, and summer camp, among others. The band's lyrics are smart, funny, touching, and not patronizing. The live shows are so rocking and fun for parents, I always forget it's a kids' concert and look around for the bar. Why Disney or Noggin hasn't snapped them up for a TV show is baffling ... If you like Paul Simon, They Might Be Giants, Loudon Wainwright III, or Elvis Costello, you'll be a Justin Roberts groupie in no time.

2) Dan Zanes -- Another indie rocker, Dan Zanes was a member of the popular 1980s band The Del Fuegos. After having a baby and noticing a dearth of really good children's music, Zanes started the Dan Zanes Trio in 1994. Nine successful albums later, the Grammy Award-winning Zanes is the children's folk-tinged rock czar. Our family favorites are "Jump Up" and "All Around the Kitchen." Zanes is affectionately known by our children as "the singer with the crazy hair." Cheggit out.

3) The Sippy Cups -- A cool band with a clever name, the San Francisco-based group The Sippy Cups was founded by the parents of preschoolers. They are inspired by their children, and sometimes their music is cowritten with their children. The rock/pop ensemble combines their catchy original songs with some great Beatles, Ramones, and Velvet Underground covers. One of the band's core values is: celebrate family and life with rock 'n' roll music! Who can argue with that?

Other contenders:

They Might Be Giants -- This college/indie rock band released their first album "for the entire family" in 2002. They followed it up in 2003 with their first book, an illustrated children's book, Bed Bed Bed, with an EP included. Just like their grown-up rock music, their children's music is the ultimate in nerd power pop.

• Elizabeth Mitchell -- Mitchell is a coffeehouse-style folk/rock singer and guitarist. Her pretty voice and calming instrumentation is a great option for quiet time. If you like Ella Jenkins, you'll love Elizabeth Mitchell. Our favorite is her minimalist cover of "Three Little Birds." This is sweet music for sweet children.

63 comments so far | Post a comment now
Robin October 28, 2009, 6:43 AM

Justin Roberts is one of our cd regulars. His music is fun sand he is a really nice guy. When he came to do a concert we met him at the meet and greet and during the concert he dedicated “Willie was a Whale” to my son (so cute!).

You should also have Bare Naked Ladies’ Snack Time on the list(my son is obsessed with the popcorn song).

I just came across a song that I really enjoyed yesterday that people might like called “The Fox, the Crow and the Cookie,” (it’s off of a fable) and is available on iTunes.

MarMar October 28, 2009, 6:47 AM

I always found Laurie Berkner songs to be catchy and not too annoying, but I wholeheartedly agree with the above suggestions as well.

Gennyfer October 28, 2009, 6:50 AM

Trout Fishing in America. Without them your list is not complete.

GingerD October 28, 2009, 7:55 AM

We LOVE the Justin Roberts Band — also Lisa Loeb has a good kids album out too. I totally agree with you — Barney is totally creepy not to mention annoying…Will check out Sippy Cups and others — good work!

littlepeapie October 28, 2009, 10:15 AM

Where are the Imagination Movers? My 2 yr old LOVES them and so do my husband and me! It’s so much fun to listen to one of their songs and try to figure out a certain “riff” or part that we know as a grown up song….and they are super guys..we met them at a meet and greet and they made my child feel like the only one in the room. You’re good to my kid and you’ve got my vote.

Maria M3 October 28, 2009, 10:20 AM

Is there anything more annoying than Raffi?! We’re longtime fans of Dan Zanes and have recently discovered Justin Roberts — my husband and I fight over the CD! Great list…

Kevin October 28, 2009, 10:33 AM

Leaving out Stan Ridgway/Pietra Wexstun’s “Silly Songs for Kids?” C’mon folks, give your kids something slightly off center … everybody profits from it. And yes, it is THAT Stan Ridgway …

Black Iris October 28, 2009, 11:19 AM

I like the Wiggles and Raffi. The truth is, it’s not the music. It’s hearing it over and over and over again for two or three years. :-)

Joe Jonas October 28, 2009, 11:41 AM

Woah. I am more talented than those lame (and I might add creepy) Wiggles! How on earth did they ever get popular? Youre brain has turned to mush. I love Paul Simon and classical for the kids but of course have also been sucked in to KidsBop.

ScaryB October 28, 2009, 7:38 PM

You need to add Hullabaloo to the list. We have 3 of their 5 CDs and we all enjoy singing along. Many of their songs are original and they add a great retake on the clasics.

Miranda October 28, 2009, 8:05 PM

Right now the Little Man loves classical music! I downloaded the 100 Best Classics, performed by such greats as the New York Philharmonic and the London Symphony Orchestra. His favorites are the 1812 Overture and The Four Seasons - anything with varying noises will do.
I was given a collection of Kids CDs (Baby Baluga, Raffi, etc.) and I just can’t bear to listen to them, especially over and over again.

Kathleen October 28, 2009, 11:59 PM

What about Beethoven’s Wig? They take classical music & add (very amusing/kid friendly) lyrics to it. It’s amazing!

Kids Music October 29, 2009, 2:13 AM

Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

Daniella's Mom October 29, 2009, 7:38 AM

So much of the kids’ music is just awful, I agree. I actually think it makes me cranky and short tempered. We were just given a Justin Roberts CD for baby girls’ bday and love it. I have regifted the sappy annoying CDs like Raffi — don’t tell!

Owens Dad October 30, 2009, 11:57 AM

Let’s get all the fun cool parents together, crank the above music and have a 3 martini playdate!

Grace October 30, 2009, 1:17 PM

What a great list! I’m getting tired of listening to the same stuff, and our “kid music” could use a tune up. I’ll definitely be checking out some of these bands!

Taylor November 10, 2009, 2:41 PM

Great List! I don’t mind Curious George. The new christmas soundtrack that just came out will probably be a staple from now until the new year.

Taylor November 10, 2009, 2:42 PM

Great List! I don’t mind Curious George. The new christmas soundtrack that just came out will probably be a staple from now until the new year.

Caroline December 1, 2009, 6:16 PM

Might I suggest Lunch Money? They are amazing.

Charley's Momma December 7, 2009, 5:44 PM

A friend sent me your link and I’m finally going thru my backed up emails — LOVE this list! I agree with you on Justin Roberts — we’ve seen them twice and were blown away. How are they not famous?? We’re also fans of They Might Be Giants and the St. Jude’s Children’s albums, not to mention School House Rock. How is it that I am middle aged already??

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