There she was, doing her funny little dance in the basinet to the Beatles’ “Love Me Do” and a string of other danceable hits from the Fab Four – arms waving, legs kicking. Then came the next track on the album: “Yesterday.” The dancing suddenly stopped a soft whimper came over her. “How does she know?” I asked Amy. She shrugged. Our musical journey with our tiny little baby had begun with a marvelous mystery.
Back when we were a childless couple, Amy and I talked about filling the house with music for a kid in our future. We knew we’d play Beatles in the house every Sunday – Q104.3’s Breakfast with the Beatles program was a given. We also figured we’d be educating a child on local New Jersey mainstays, like Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi. And we talked about how we’d write our own songs for our child, just as we had done for our niece’s first birthday.
Family breakfast and dinnertime often had a soundtrack – Carole King, James Taylor, John Mayer, Norah Jones, Simon and Garfunkel, and Mumford and Sons frequently set the scenes for our cherished family time at the table. And Amy, a teacher, knew plenty of traditional and camp songs to sing to our daughter to teach about animals, counting, parts of the body – the essentials for babies approaching age 1 and preparing to jump into the family conversation. I started to seek this music online.
We had a little help in the form of a Brooklyn kindie outfit known as Rolie Polie Guacamole. They had been regularly entertaining my niece, along with a huge swath of Brooklyn’s mommy-and-me crowd. My Mom had given us a RPG album on CD before we even had a child, and it started getting plenty of play on car rides with our daughter when the time came. We also already had a children’s music CD by the great actor John Lithgow – “Singin’ in the Bathtub.” Judging by his performance in the sitcom “3rd Rock from the Sun,” we expected – and got – a collection of children’s songs performed with wild, zany abandon, untouched by any tendency to take himself too seriously.
I was becoming aware of The Wiggles and wanted to sample their music, along with similarly appropriate artists for a one-year-old. So I created a custom channel on IHeartRadio based on “The Wiggles.” Their music was certainly well produced and listenable, but what followed was a game-changer. I heard the energy and earnest sense of fun come pouring out of our iPad in the form of the Laurie Berkner Band’s “Bumblebee (Buzz Buzz).” There was not one ounce of condescension in her voice, in the lyrics or in the music – just tremendous warmth and a playful spirit. Then came Justin Roberts’ brilliant “Pop Fly,” a number that proudly displayed how he remembers and gets what it is to be a kid with a daydream. Also mixed in were some half-hearted attempts at children’s music that sounded like rushed, home-made demos with tinny sounding computerized accompaniments and bored-sounding vocals. I didn’t bother remembering their names
The contrast between the great and mediocre musical artists for kids, along with our daughter’s growing curiosity and engagement with the world, set Amy and me on a path of writing songs that captured our little one’s encounters with her environment, songs through which we’d strive to make our own truly great music for toddlers, preschoolers and possibly grade schoolers. Our daughter showed us the power of her imagination when she first saw a ladybug on the ceiling and then soon pretended to see them everywhere. I asked her “What’s the ladybug’s name,” and she answered “Meee.” I asked “Mimi?” She said “Yeah.” And the song “Mimi the Ladybug” was born. She marveled at the moon reappearing from behind cloud cover on an autumn night. And the idea for our “Peek-a-boo Moon” song was set in motion.
As we created our own kid-friendly music infused with our love of rock-n-roll, we immersed ourselves in the community of kids’ music and I became aware of the surprisingly big pool of high-quality kindie artists, who treated their music with the same level of energy and authenticity that you’d find on any number of great rock classics.