Being stranded on a desert island with your kids would certainly give your family some quality time together. On the other hand, too much time might not be such a good thing. You'd constantly have to hear your kids whine, "He's on my side of the island..." or "Make her stop touching my palm tree."
If you were stranded on a desert island, you would likely get sick of coconuts. And you would just as likely get tired of whatever music you’d managed to stuff into the lifeboat. As a children’s music specialist who listens to hundreds of new albums a year, it’s hard to pin down just a handful of CDs I’d want with me while waiting for rescue. And it’s even harder to pin down a list of family CDs.
The 10 albums below are a list my family might agree to take along. This isn’t necessarily a list of the 10 best kids or family music albums, although all are excellent, and should certainly be considered such for any “best of” roundup. It’s more a list of CDs (in no particular order) whose enjoyment has stood the test of time in our household. Should you create your own Swiss Family Robinson experience, you can spin these repeatedly:
- They Might Be Giants, No! – You can't go wrong with either of the two kids albums from They Might Be Giants, who've been turning out quirky pop songs for adults for more than 20 years. This collection, the first of two for kids, gets the nod over its successor Here Come the ABCs for sheer consistency of material, but, really, either would be a great addition for your sandy retreat.
- Dan Zanes, House Party – Zanes, the godfather to the modern kids and family music movement, is the real thing, and all of his albums are excellent. Though his latest, Catch That Train! is probably his best, House Party is, like the name implies, a fabulous collection of "all-ages" songs in all styles that encourage singing and dancing along.
- Justin Roberts, Meltdown! – We always liked the folk/pop/rock from the Chicago-based Roberts, but this, his latest, is by far his best, a kids alterna-pop masterpiece with hum-able tunes and very recognizable characters and situations.
- Elizabeth Mitchell,You Are My Little Bird – Mitchell was one of the first kids artists my family heard together, and ever since we've been huge fans. Her songs range from lo-fi interpretations of classics, to traditional ditties, to those from the Velvet Underground. Mitchell's third and latest album is an instant classic that engages audiences immediately, but reveals even more upon further listens (can you hear the birds?).
- Raffi, The Singable Songs Collection – I'm cheating a bit here – this is actually a three-CD set that includes the Canadian troubadour's first three albums. But it comes in one package, and these albums, especially the first two are stone-cold kids music essentials. Parents who only know Raffi by reputation and dismiss him out-of-hand are missing his sometimes frisky renditions of kids classics (re-popularized thanks to him) and, especially, his voice, which might just be the best in kids music.
- Ralph's World, Green Gorilla, Monster & Me – This is the best of the Ralph's World albums, and that's saying something, as Ralph Covert has turned out six original albums of excellent kid-friendly pop-rock. This is his most recent, with considerable emotional range to go along with the catchy melodies, and even a bit of kids punk, thrown in for good measure.
- Old Town School of Folk Music, Songs for Wiggleworms – The Chicago Institution's "Wiggleworms" classes are much loved for introducing toddlers and their families to the joy of singing and making music together. Their first album brings together more than three dozen songs that can serve as a basic family songbook, while avoiding the saccharine approach of many albums tackling similar material.
- Laurie Berkner, Whaddaya Think of That? – Berkner is now a certifiable kids music superstar, but it's her debut album that still gets the most play at our house. The album leads off with the modern gem, "We Are the Dinosaurs," and continues on through more silly originals ("Doodlebugs") and snappy renditions of classics ("She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain" and "The Cat Came Back").
- The Jellydots, Hey You Kids! – Guitarist Doug Snyder wrote or co-wrote many of these songs with one reason in mind – to help him teach guitar to youth. But the result is a power-pop classic that celebrates imagination with songs such as "Bicycle" or "Captain Sleep." So good that parents will listen to it, even when the kids aren't around.
- Brady Rymer, Every Day is a Birthday – Based in upstate New York, Rymer has released four kids music albums; this, his latest, has been a popular one at our house. He and his Little Band That Could make a joyful and soulful brand of roots-rock that speak as much to the parents as to the kids. And while I can't say we use the karaoke-style backing tracks at the end of the album very much, they might pass the time quite well on that desert island.