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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
Gwen Moore January 5, 2010, 7:51 AM

I suggest all mmommies checkout the ‘Beach Boys for Kids’ the Jumpitz out!

Michael April 7, 2010, 6:11 PM

Jam Toast’s Rock n’ Roll Playground. Punk rock for pre-schoolers, 3-chord fun for the whole family!

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Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.

Elizabeth Thorp December 2, 2010, 8:53 AM

Yay! Justin Roberts nominated for a 2010 Grammy Award!!

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