When you become a parent, suddenly your record collections can look very inappropriate for your kid’s ears. Prince? Yeah, no. Nick Cave? Hmmm, probably not. So then you start looking into children’s music, and it can be quite appalling as well. Let’s face it, it’s hit or miss – you either love it or you want to stick knitting needles in your ears. This horror is amplified because we all know that when a kid likes something, they want to do it again and again. You want your kids to have fun and enjoy music, but you also really like our ears. Sure you could just put something on and walk away, but family time is about shared experiences.
Parents also have to balance a desire to share music from our childhood with being open to albums we missed along the way. Passing on our musical and cultural heritage is what connects and reminds us of the past, but kids are their own people and get to pick, too. But there’s no need to fear children’s music. It can be as heartfelt and exciting as any other music. Kids get to learn language skills and learn about movement through rhythms, to recognize different instruments and above all, they get to sing their hearts out. And we can have fun right along with them. Unfortunately not a lot of newer children’s music albums get pressed to vinyl, but there’s still plenty to choose from. Here are ten albums on vinyl that’ll keep the kids happy and keep your ears free from knitting needles.
Children’s music does not need to be overly silly and hyper to keep a child’s attention. Music can be calm and deliberate and still have a huge impact. Ella “The First Lady of the Children’s Folk Song” Jenkins is known for incorporating multicultural rhythms into call-and-response songs and taking it to children in preschools and concerts around the world. Her bestselling album, I’ll Sing A Song And You’ll Sing A Song (1966), teaches young children traditional and original songs and makes music education a fun, interactive process. Jenkins’ warm voice and ukulele along with the Urban Gateways Children’s Chorus, engages young listeners (singing with them not at them) on classics like the title track, “Shabot Shalom,” “Did You Feed My Cow?” “This Train,” and “Miss Mary Mack.” If there’s ever been a music philosophy perfectly summarized in a song lyric it’s this one: “You’ll sing a song and I’ll sing a song and we’ll sing a song together, you’ll sing a song and I’ll sing a song in warm and wintry weather.” Fifty years old and still amazing, this album is a must-own.
Released in 1969, Yellow Submarine is a soundtrack to an animated film of the same name. It includes the previously released “Yellow Submarine” and “All You Need Is Love,” along with four other previously unreleased tracks as well as the orchestral score to the film on side two. “Yellow Submarine” is the perfect sing-along with the narrator of the song a sailor telling the tales of his life. It helps that Ringo’s singing style just makes you want to sing along. Families can dance and sing along to the likes of the title track, “All Together Now,” “Hey Bulldog” and “All You Need Is Love.” Having it all on one album side is actually the perfect length for young kids to get their sillies out then cool down and focus on a quiet activity while the score on side two plays in the background. Be prepared to have a separate copy for your own enjoyment as the kids will likely demand frequent plays of just “Yellow Submarine,” resulting in uneven groove wear.
If you have kids, then you probably already know about the Rockabye Baby series of albums, turning our favorite rock, pop, and rap songs into soothing kid-friendly instrumentals. One of the best of these is Lullaby Renditions of The Flaming Lips (2011) which has also been pressed on vinyl. Our friendly, neighborhood psychedelic rock band fits right in with these quirky arrangements using xylophones, bells, and chirping crickets. Want to imagine your toddler taking on giant pink robots and dreaming of supermen? Or how about putting on “Watching the Planets” while the baby gets some tummy time and the toddler shows off her newest play-doh creation? Other Flaming Lips classics include “She Don’t Use Jelly,” “Fight Test,” and “Do You Realize??” You know you enjoy a good mellotron instrumental, so stop resisting and embrace the croaking frogs and strange squeaking sounds – the power of the Lips compels you.
Pop quiz, hot shot. One kid is crying because a crayon broke and another is tantruming because she didn’t want to go outside so now she’s not going outside. What do you do? Sing-along dance party, of course! Fear not, intrepid parents. Total recall of children’s songs isn’t necessary when you’ve got Disney’s Children’s Favorites, Vol. 1. There are four volumes of Children’s Favorites from Walt Disney Records but this one from 1979 is the standard for traditional children’s songs and has been reissued on CD many times since release. Where else are you going to find “Mary Had a Little Lamb” followed up by “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” where short, sweet, and easy to follow along songs keep things moving for less-than-attentive kids? Larry Groce was a young folk singer-songwriter in the 1970s when he got a job as artist-in-residence for the National Endowment of the Arts, visiting schools and communities. His experience with children’s music led to these recordings with Disney, and they’re pretty much the only versions of “This Old Man,” “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” and “The Hokey Pokey” you’ll ever need.
Empathy begins with learning about other people, and folk singers like Suni Paz know that children enjoy earning about other people’s cultures through song. Her 1977 album on Folkways Records, Canciones para el recreo, is full of delightful folk songs Paz learned in Argentina and Chile. Her work helped to increase the use of multicultural music in music education at schools as part of the bilingual education movement in the ‘70s, exposing children to Latin American culture and showing them that fun music doesn’t necessarily have to be in English. There are songs about getting up in the morning (“Llega la mañana”), an unfortunate rooster (“Cocoroco”) and a Chilean folk dance (“Resfalosa de mi escuela”). The intimate arrangements will please adults and, as it comes with song lyrics in both Spanish and English, kids from all backgrounds will have a blast hearing Latin American instruments, learning Spanish words and connecting to the rhythms.
As many musicians do after they have kids, singer-songwriter Laura Veirs became interested in doing a children’s album but didn’t want to choose the typical “Old MacDonald” fare. Instead she looked to the past, at old Civil War-era tunes and folk traditionals as well as contemporary tunes. Tumble Bee: Laura Veirs Sings Folk Songs For Kids (2011) may have “for kids” in the title, but the gentle and haunting arrangements of these 13 tracks work for grown-up enjoyment, too – it’s a kid’s album that doesn’t sound like it’s a kid’s album. Life isn’t being sugarcoated when “The Fox” is telling some ducks he’s going to eat them or a woman is singing a lullaby to a child while another is possibly being neglected in “All The Pretty Little Horses”. The good news is that this darkness is evenly balanced with fun songs, too, like “King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O” and “Little Lap Dog Lullaby,” making this soulful folk album a must-have for family time.
Hell yeah, Johnny Cash made a kids album! In 1975, The Man in Black, outlaw country singer-songwriter and legend, released The Johnny Cash Children’s Album which offers 11 tracks (most of which were written by Cash) of straight-shooting gold that’s fun to listen to during family game nights. Cash was at his most domesticated at this time, appearing on TV variety shows and Sesame Street, and it made sense for this collection of songs to be released. “Nasty Dan,” about a miserable man, his miserable wife and their miserable son, made an appearance on Sesame Street in ’74, which surely pleased Oscar the Grouch. There are songs about a dinosaur, animals galore, and even a bit of math (“One and One Makes Two”). When you’re wondering how to introduce your kids to the smooth bass-baritone of Johnny Cash and his knack for simple yet compelling storytelling, look no further.
Harry Nilsson’s 1971 album The Point! is an allegorical pop masterpiece. It’s supposedly inspired by an acid-trip where Nilsson was out in the woods looking at trees and he noticed everything had a point. He made up a story (which became a made-for-TV animated movie for which this album is like a soundtrack) about a land where everything has a point; the people all have conical heads except there’s a boy named Oblio who has a rounded head – he’s pointless. He gets exiled along with his loyal dog Arrow, meets some weird individuals in the Pointless Forest, and eventually realizes that the pointless things he encounters all have a point so maybe he does, too. Get it? It’s meaning of life stuff, man, yet Nilsson doesn’t hit you over the head with the moral. With songs like “Me and My Arrow” and “Think About Your Troubles,” Nilsson uses catchy tunes and a warm narration style, complete with audible page turns, that makes repeated listening a must.
First released on CD in 1995, Platinum All-Time Favorites saw a first-time ever vinyl release in 2015, and that year it was also inducted into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress for its cultural, artistic, and historical significance. Yeah, that’s right. “I Love Trash” as sung by Oscar the Grouch is in the Library of Congress. The album compiles Sesame Street’s more popular tracks from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and early ‘90s. All the classics are here, from the 1970 version of the “Sesame Street Theme” to Ernie’s “Rubber Duckie” to “Sing” to the Count’s “Lambaba” (counting sheep and sending up the lambada dance fad). Feel like hearing Kermit the Frog wax philosophic about the hardships of “Bein’ Green” or how about dancing around to “Elmo’s Song” with Elmo, Big Bird and Snuffleupagus? Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street? This album will show you.
It is my opinion that Mary Poppins is the greatest movie musical soundtrack ever released by Disney. Ever. Better than Frozen. Better than The Little Mermaid. Go ahead and drown yourself in all your angry emojis, you know I speak the truth. Released in 1964, the film set a standard for movie-making for years to come, introduced actress Julie Andrews to movie audiences (she also won an Oscar for her role as Mary Poppins), and the Sherman brothers gave us many classic songs like “A Spoonful of Sugar,” “Jolly Holiday,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” and “Feed the Birds.” Start to finish, the soundtrack will take its listeners through the movie, reliving the magic and fantastical adventures. Be prepared for kids to bounce off the walls as they try to dance and sing along to the film’s larger than life musical numbers (“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Step in Time”). But there will also be quiet moments like with “The Perfect Nanny,” “Stay Awake” and “Feed the Birds.” It is a charming mix of upbeat numbers and lullabies made for a lifetime of enjoyment.
Marcella Hemmeter is a freelance writer and adjunct professor living in Maryland by way of California. When she's not busy meeting deadlines she frequently laments the lack of tamalerias near her house.