Looking for kids’ music that doesn’t drive you crazy?
If you thought, once upon a time (before you had kids), that you would have evolved children who loved the Velvet Underground and Bob Dylan and would never recite lyrics by a certain purple dinosaur, simply because you willed it to be so, you aren’t alone.
But the children’s music creeps into every family’s home eventually, because…surprise!…children love it. There is something about the simple lyrics and catchy refrains in children’s tunes that appeals to children. Go figure.
Luckily, today there are oodles of options for really, truly great children’s music. We’ve collected some of our favourites for kids and parents alike. Thanks, in part, to our Help! friends on Facebook who gave us some excellent suggestions.
1. Big Block Singsong
The music from this short-format series on Kids’ CBC (Disney Junior in the U.S.) is clever enough to make adults snicker and to also delight the kids.
The first Big Block Singsong album was released in December 2014 and features tunes that riff on pop, rock, old-school and hip-hop, heavy metal, and the just plain weird. Check out “Dog” (“I’m a dog, woof—I’m a doggy dog dog”) and an empowering song for girls: “Princess” (“Just cuz I’m cute and my dress has frills doesn’t mean I can’t be dangerous—hey, I got skills: I’m a PRINCESS!”)
These are catchy songs you won’t kick yourself for humming all day long.
2. Putumayo Kids
The kids’ division of the Putumayo world music series has some great songs on its 19 (and counting) children’s albums. One of our favourite albums in the series is Animal Playground, which features one of the best get-up-and-dance songs ever for kids: “No More Monkeys,” by reggae band Asheba.
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Must we really elaborate? Raffi is simply the king of children’s music and somehow we almost never tire of his calm, soothing voice and largely folk-based tunes.
He’s been performing for children since the 1970s, so there’s a good chance you remember hits like “Baby Beluga” and “Bananaphone” from your own childhood. And he’s like a Pied Piper of children—they can’t seem to get enough. Luckily, there are two-dozen Raffi albums to choose from.
If you’re a Raffi newbie, try classic albums Singable Songs for the Very Young or Baby Beluga. You can also find Raffi playlists on Pandora and Spotify. See our review of Raffi’s newest album, Love Bug.
4. Wee Hairy Beasties
Just see if you can resist jumping up to dance with your kids to “Flies in My Taters” by this bluegrass- and blues-infused children’s group from Chicago, which includes two members from The Mekons. They’ve released two albums thus far: Animal Crackers and Holidays Gone Crazy, the latter which isn’t particularly holiday-oriented, with songs like “Belly Button Blues” and “Eat Your Greens PSA.”
5. Dan Zanes
Formerly of popular rock band the Del Fuegos, Dan Zanes teamed up with other dad musicians in the mid-nineties to start performing contemporary, family-friendly music. His songs on seven albums span genres from folk to rock to sea shanties to Latin and blues, with acoustic and electric elements. Some of the best songs are produced in collaboration with famous musician friends like Lou Reed, Debbie Harry, Aimee Mann, and Loudon Wainwright III.
6. Woody Guthrie
Guthrie wrote children’s songs to delight his own kids, so its no wonder kids love tunes like the “Car Song” with its silly sound effects and his “Why, Oh Why?” which will make them laugh, and will resonate with parents of young children. His two dedicated children’s albums, Nursery Days and Songs To Grow On for Mother and Child—deliciously grainy recordings—will appeal to lovers of simple, acoustic folk music and early Bob Dylan fans.
7. Pete Seeger
If you’re a fan of the banjo, Pete Seeger’s songs for children are your cup of tea. Once you’ve heard the foot-stompin’ “All Around the Kitchen,” you’ll never go back. He has several children’s albums, but American Folk Songs for Children is the quintessential starter.
8. Ella Jenkins
Credited as the first musician to bring folk music to kids, Ella Jenkins began performing for children in the 1950s. Her soulful songs are educational, like “Hello in Many Languages” and involve lots of call and response; some border on spirituals and all are just as enjoyable for kids as for adults.
Two great starter albums are Multicultural Children’s Songs and You’ll Sing a Song and I’ll Sing a Song.
The fantastic Smithsonian Folkways Children’s Music Collection features Ella Jenkins, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger, along with other folk musicians.
More Great Children’s Music
We’ve included some of our favourites here, but here are more kids’ musicians, albums, and series you and your kids can enjoy:
Muppets: movie soundtracks and selections from the original Muppet Show
Sesame Street: old-school originals or new-school Songs from the Street (volumes 1–7) albums featuring Muppet duets with famous musicains like the Dixie Chicks and R.E.M.
Elizabeth Mitchell: chilled-out folk music for modern-day ears
Recess Monkey: cool, catchy, silly, and educational tunes by three Seattle teachers who know what appeals to kids (and doesn’t drive parents nuts)
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