- D. Brent Campbell
Since becoming a parent, I've increasingly believed the following: If a toddler doesn't respond to music, there's a strong chance it's not so hot. A nine-month-old won't try to tell you Thursday's music is really sophisticated pop. (It's not.) A two-year-old won't bore you with an argument that Slayer is one of the best rock bands ever. (They are.) Three-year-olds won't claim to like Hellogoodbye because all their friends do. (It happens.) An infant hasn't had 20 years to get sick of the singles from The Wall. All of which adds up to this age-old truth: There's purity in a child's response.
But here's another truth: Forget that Raffi shit, "Oh Susannah," and Jack's Big Music Show; the young'uns are always gonna dig some of the same stuff their parents do, a fact which opens up several key issues. Hem, Neko Case, and R.E.M. make great lullaby music, but you inevitably run into a bleak ode to booze or a stark look at mortality (see Hem's "When I Was Drinking" or R.E.M.'s "Sweetness Follows"). The sweet melodies of Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" and "Mother" are can't-miss picks to rock your little one to sleep to, but you're never too far from questionable lyrics: Is "Mother, do you think they'll try to break my balls?" ambiguous enough -- testes or toys? -- to fly over your kiddies' heads?
Parents simply don't have the time to make their own clean edit of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "I Could Have Lied." And even if they did, they're gonna miss one of the F-bombs, and then they have to go through the whole process again and burn a new disc -- probably after they've already given their friends copies for their kids. (This also happens.)
So Baby Rock Records' Lullaby Renditions of . . . series gives you childproof renditions of some rock favorites. The albums reconstruct favorites from 19 popular artists, reinventing them as laid-back instrumentals. They're pretty much a one-man show by versatile musician Michael Armstrong, who doesn't have any kids, though he's clearly on to something.
They cover the pop-cult spectrum, from the groovy '60s to blistering alt-rock, including the Beatles, Björk, Coldplay, Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd, and U2. Baby Rock may seem like gratuitous kitsch, but the series totally meets a parent's musical needs: all the chill, none of the explicit content, consistent sound levels, and a fresh take on songs you were sick of by 1993.
They're valuable, you see, because they don't rock, something parents need on occasion, whether dad is putting mommy's little monster to bed or the entire family is trying to ease its way into Monday morning.
Of course, playing "Desperado" for a kid is considered child abuse in many states, but the discs on the whole are worth checking out; Armstrong reimagines the songs with glockenspiels, Mellotrons, and vibraphones. His adaptations pretty much all sound like the ambient electro-duo Air playing John Williams' music-box Harry Potter theme. Many become unrecognizable, but the Radiohead/Kid A material is surprisingly close to the original. Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box" redux is improbably upbeat. "In Bloom" is creepy as a clown picture. And the Ramones disc, that's pep!
But don't take my word for it; take it from my kids. We played them Portishead and Sigur Rós in the womb, so they've been bred to testify (the one-year-old is loud and chatty, but not exactly articulate). That said, the Radiohead disc chills us both out, and she falls asleep to it, even when she's in a feisty mood.
However, to let you know where our four-year-old is coming from: She can't make it through four notes of "Moon River" without getting sad and telling me to turn it off. And in recent months, she's made the following comments to me: "I don't like metal," "Turn off that metal; it hurts my ears," "I like hair metal," "You like metal; I like princess," and "Is there girl metal?" Also, after bringing me a copy of Decibel with Iron Maiden's undead mascot, Eddie, on the cover: "Is this metal? I want you to put that away." (As any good parent does, I try to minimize her exposure to my bullshit, but what little she has encountered hasn't seemed to affect her too badly; if anything, it's immunized her.)
Anyhow, here' s a music-sensitive four-year-old-girl's responses to Baby Rock:
On the tinkling adaptation of the Cure's "Boys Don't Cry": "That's a little bit happy and sad."
On Radiohead's "No Surprises," mild-style: "It's a little happy and sad," followed by a little pirouette.
On the Radiohead Rockabye Baby! artwork -- a teddy bear with the pointy teeth from Kid A's iconic, grimacing cartoon faces: "It's happy and scary and sad."
On Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt," which is just a tad more pleasant than Johnny Cash's version: "Turn that off -- it's sad."
Regarding NIN's "Something I Can Never Have," as eerie as the original: Me: "Do you like this song?" Her: "No, no, no."
On the Ramones' "Rock 'n' Roll High School," which improves on the original (not a difficult feat): Me: "Do you like this?" Her: "Yes." Me: "Is it happy or sad?" Her: "Happy."
On the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated": "There's no words."
More toddlers ought to review albums. Baby Rock recently uploaded the series to iTunes and eMusic, and a compilation is now available at Hot Topic -- which, as any cool parent can tell you, is absolutely the best place to get a Social Distortion bib. Buy at least two: one for them and one for you.