As much as I love the album Free to Be You and Me, hearing that opening banjo lick for the sixth or seventh time in a row raises the hairs on the back of my neck. Felix has learned how to operate the CD player — he’s yet to figure out how to use the computer (phew!) — and he likes to play DJ, which means, as anyone who’s spent time with a little kid knows, a lot of repetition. A lot, a lot, a lot.
This is problematic for me, because I’m one of those people who can’t tune music out. When at a bar or restaurant that’s playing good tunes, I have trouble following along with conversation, my ears naturally focus on the music first. So it was essential to my sanity to find some middle ground with my son, otherwise we’d be incessantly fighting over the soundtrack to our days at home. Despite my love for hip-hop, most of my favorite anthems have some, uh, questionable lyrics. While Felix nixes grunge and punk because “this music’s too noisy!” What a fuddy-duddy.
Our common ground? Pop and dance songs, and here are 10 tracks that both parents and kids will enjoy.
Felix’s favorite jams! 1 of 11Click through to see them all!
Photo via Wikimedia Commons
David Byrne and St. Vincent — “Who” from Love This Giant 2 of 11Felix calls this one "the horn music," and it's clear from the start why. The horn lick is infectious, with a thumping bass and rhythm guitar that get your toes tapping. At 60, Byrne — former Talking Heads frontman — sounds strong and confident, belting out a list of questions that all begin with the word "Who." St. Vincent (Annie Clark) provides the sweet cream to his coffee tones, and shreds a mean guitar to boot. A fun, upbeat, eminently hummable tune.
Watch the music video for "Who," which features great dancing from Byrne and St. Vincent, and kind of looks like a David Lynch film
Photo by Andreas Laszlo Konrath via Love This Giant
Harry Belafonte — “Jump in the Line (Shake, Senora)” from Jump Up Calypso 3 of 11For a while, Felix would request "shake, shake senora!" before bedtime. We'd spin him around, shoot him between our legs, and generally go crazy for four minutes before his bath — not hard to do when you hear the thumping beat that drives this song. There's definitely a grown-up vibe here, with Belafonte describing this beautiful woman who really knows how to move, but your little one will never know it, as the singer speaks only in entendre. Move your body-line!
If you were a kid in the late 80's/early 90's, it's hard not to think of Winona Ryder dancing with the ghost football players at the end of Tim Burton's Beetlejuice when you hear this song. Classic.
Photo by Carl Van Vechten via Wikimedia Commons
The Stray Cats — “Stray Cat Strut” from Built for Speed 4 of 11I like to think that this song isn't literally about being a cat, but it just might be. Felix certainly gets the message loud and clear the cat in this song is one bad dude, getting shoes thrown at him and strutting right by with his tail in the air. It's got all the makings of a classic rock song, from the twangy-rockabilly guitar lick to the guys crooning "ohhh, ohhh, ohhh, ohhhh" over the thwacking bass line. I think I might enjoy listening to this more than he does.
Are you one of those people who believe Al Gore invented the Internet so that we could share cute pictures of cats? Then you'll love this video of "Stray Cat Strut" that's full of adorable furry felines.
Photo by Masao Nakagami via Wikimedia Commons
Paul Simon — “You Can Call Me Al” from Graceland 5 of 11"Who's Al?" Felix wants to know. Paul Simon's wordy verses fly by too fast for Felix to catch, let alone figure out the meaning to, but who can deny those horn licks and keyboard swells? Grownups will like the questions the characters ask about their life and how they got there, which bring to mind the Talking Heads song "Once in a Lifetime," though maybe with a touch more hope. While kids will dig the penny-whistle solo — piercing, but just short enough that it's not annoying to older ears.
The video features tall, lanky Chevy Chase and tiny Paul Simon palling around, which is hard not to find charming.
Photo by Matthew Straubmuller via Wikimedia Commons
Bow Wow Wow — “I Want Candy” 6 of 11What kid wouldn't like a song about candy and wanting it? Which perhaps explains why the song's been recorded a bunch of time since it appeared in the mid-sixties, though really, who needs more than this one from Bow Wow Wow. With a driving Bo Diddly beat and catchy guitar work, try and resist chanting along with the chorus. Plus, did I mention that this song is about candy and wanting it?
Fan of the 80s? Then you'll love the video, which features the band playing on the beach, and then cuts to them bouncing their heads, buried in the sand. Check out that hair!
Photo by Braunov via Wikimedia Commons
De La Soul — “Eye Know” from 3 Feet High and Rising 7 of 11De La Soul were hit with lawsuits after their fantastic debut album, each track heavy on samples that they didn't properly clear. D'oh! This song is a great example, with bits from Steely Dan, Sly and the Family Stone, and Ottis Redding all chopped, diced, and thrown together into one unbelievably sweet and catchy tune. While Felix doesn't get the lyrics at all, the music is fun and upbeat. Pure pop.
The great video for this song features De La Soul with their signature mix of relaxed hipness and hippy vibes.
Album cover for 3 Feet High and Rising via Wikimedia Commons
C+C Music Factory — “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” from Gonna Make You Sweat 8 of 11I can't deny that I like to shake my booty to this one. Pounding guitars, the repetition of "Everybody Dance Now!" and a thick beat with a hint of cowbell — cowbell! I'm sold. Seriously, this song is a command in our house — Stop what you're doing and get down. — and has been one of Felix's favorites since he was a tiny tot. And as far as hip-hop verses go, the ones here are pretty harmless. "I'm just a squirrel trying to get a nut to move your butt." Well? You heard the man.
Need some inspiration for your moves? Check out the video, which features some hot dancing, and lots of strobe lights.
Photo of "Gonna Make You Sweat" single via Soul Bounce
They Might Be Giants — “Birdhouse In Your Soul” from Flood 9 of 11What the heck is this song about, exactly? A nightlight in the shape of a bird? Yes, actually. A blue canary nightlight, specifically. But it's refrain, about keeping a light on in the birdhouse of your soul, is just the right kind of sweet in my books, and besides, the song is just so catchy! While Felix likes hearing about a bird that lights up at night, I'm pretty sure he only likes this song so much because it's one of my faves.
In the video, TMBG's John and John prove they were hip before today's hipsters were even in high-school. Seriously, their tight pants, button-up shirts, and black-rimmed glasses might have set them apart in the early 90's, but they're all the style now.
Photo via They Might Be Giants
The Jackson 5 — “ABC” from ABC 10 of 11This one's a no-brainer, right? Felix can sing along, I can sing along, we can dance and he's learning something! He actually listened to this with some skepticism at first, suspecting it was something educational. Far from it. The Jackson 5 combined do-wop harmony and funk rhythms to create the perfect pop confection.
This video from Dick Clark's American Bandstand features the Jacksons strutting their stuff, with a very cute Michael running the show.
Photo by ABC News via Wikimedia Commons
The Beatles — “Mother Nature’s Son” from The White Album 11 of 11This one's a pleasure: the great, simple tune strummed on the guitar, the low-key flourishes of horn and drum, and of course the lyrics, about the joys of sitting and playing music in the sun. Doesn't need much icing on this cake, right? I think it took a while for Felix to understand what the song was about, but once he got it, he got it good. Who doesn't like a sunny day and a good tune? That's what this list is all about.
I'm sure you're familiar with the original tune, but have you seen this video of Jack White performing "Mother Nature's Son" at The White House? He does the song justice while putting his own bluesy stamp on it — pretty wonderful.
Photo by The Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons