Kid music: Back to the tried and true

In recent months, I realize this column has focused on new releases, especially folks exploring new genres for kids’ music or pushing in new directions. This month, I’m shifting gears. Instead of the bright and shiny CDs, let’s look at the beat-up ones, where the jewel case is cracked and the liner note booklet is worn or outright missing. We go to these releases week in and week out for the radio show, and you could do a lot worse than using them to form a foundation for your kids’ music collection.

Dan Zanes & Friends: Rocket Ship Beach — Any current discussion of family music is required (if not by law, then by good judgment) to talk about Dan Zanes, and this 2000 release — his first for kids — is where it all got started. In a recent New York Times piece, John Flansburgh (of They Might Be Giants) called Zanes’s later Catch That Train “shockingly good,” and that was my reaction on first hearing Rocket Ship Beach, too, about a year after my daughter was born. It’s got all the ingredients that Zanes continues today to develop: a great band, savvy guest spots (here Sheryl Crow and Suzanne Vega), a good blend of familiar covers and instantly familiar originals, and gentle humor.

They Might Be Giants: No! — Speaking of TMBG, this release from 2002 was their first, and probably most eclectic, kids’ release. While their subsequent releases (Here Come the ABCs and Here Come the 123s) were themed, albeit sometimes loosely, this one wanders more, from the slightly creepy (“Robot Parade” and “The Edison Museum”) to almost traditional (“Clap Your Hands” and “In the Middle, In the Middle, In the Middle”) to the just weird but still engaging (“I Am a Grocery Bag,” “Violin”).

CandyBand: LolliPunk — Nobody does punk rock for kids better, and that’s not actually faint praise: a lot of people have tried. Put on this 2005 release, or any of their CDs for that matter, and you’ll realize that this is rock music done by four moms who actually listen to rock music. Their versions of standards (“Blackbird,” “Brahms’ Lullaby”) and the witty originals (“Get Up Already,” “Fashion Show”) will amuse but also get you and your kids moving and, yes, banging your heads.

Justin Roberts: Great Big Sun — This CD, the first of a half dozen by Roberts, came out a relative eternity ago in 1997. While it doesn’t have the full poppy alt-rock sound of his later CDs, Great Big Sun is a very funny and sometimes touching record. It’s not flashy, but it’s great fun to see the start of one of the very best kids’ performers out there today.

Erstwhile Minnesotan Bill Childs is a law professor in western Massachusetts. He and his kids produce a kids’ music radio show, “Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child,” weekly; check it out at Contact him at show@

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