The MoJo Back-to-School Playlist

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In the interest of ending family iPod wars, we asked some of our staff breeders to kick down with songs, artists, and albums that they and their young kids both like. We encourage readers to chime in in the comments section with mini-reviews of your own kids’ songs that grownups dig and gr’up songs that they enjoy.

Toy Dolls, “Nellie the Elephant”—In 1984, these rowdy Brit-punks re-popularized a ditty first recorded by child actress Mandy Miller in 1956 about a circus elephant that escapes back to the jungle. Huge buildup to a frenzied chorus that makes my 4- and 7-year-old dance like mad; their inevitable refrain: “AGAIN!” (Check out the video here.)
M.I.A., ArularMaya Arulpragasam‘s 2005 debut has its risqué bits, but they’ll fly over the head of anyone under 10. My kids dig the Sri Lanka-born British popstar’s vocal quirks and super-catchy, funky beats (even if I’d give Kala, her follow-up record, a C+). In addition to the obvious kid-magnet (“Banana Skit”), my 4-year-old Ruby requests “Pull Up the People” and what she calls the “Bucky” song (“Bucky Done Gun”).
Dan Zanes—Suppose I have to acknowledge the guy who repopularized the kids-music-that-grownups-can-stand genre, even if I never want to listen to another Dan Zanes tune until I’m a granddad. A father himself—that’s how he got into this—Zanes mines traditional tunes from around the world for his family-friendly repertoire, bringing on guests like John Doe, Lou Reed, and Aimee Mann for cameos. Pretty cool. But it’s also gotten to be quite the earnest empire, with eight albums, compilations and spinoffs, books, a DVD, t-shirts, onesies, stuffed animals, and tote bags. (‘m holding out for the action figure.) In short, if you’re anything like my family, you will inevitably reach a Dan Zanes burnout point. Say, by age 5. And yes, I am just jealous.
Pete Seeger, Birds, Beasts, Bugs & Fishes (Little & Big)—The title says it. If you can stomach Seeger’s earnestness, you won’t go wrong with his epic collection of traditional American tunes about critters, first released back in 1955. A majority of these 28 tracks are more pleasurable than annoying, with the exception of the vastly overexposed ditties like “I Know an Old Lady” and “Teency Weency Spider.” A little creative iTunes editing will do wonders for your sanity.
Mississippi John Hurt, 1928 Sessions—My first baby adored this, it’s quiet enough to put kids to bed by, and it’s just a damn fine listen, evocative of simpler times. Although from ages three to five I had to skip over a few tunes due to occasionally violent imagery, as in “Ain’t No Tellin‘” (Don’t you let my good girl catch you here/ She might shoot you, may cut and starve you too/Ain’t no tellin’ what she might do.) But now that Nikko is 7 and enjoys cutting off my metaphorical limbs with metaphorical swords, he can once again enjoy Hurt’s sublimely soulful, scratchy, old-time-blues fingerpicking. Besides, it’s only a matter of time before he discovers my Straight Outta Compton LP. —Michael Mechanic, senior editor

S.E. Rogie, Dead Men Don’t Smoke Marijuana—Once you get past the album title, this is a bunch of mellow, lovable tunes that allude to nothing more nefarious than romance and maybe a drink or two. Sung in English and pidgin by a master of Sierra Leonean “palm wine” music, who sadly died a couple of years ago.

Merle Haggard, “Garbage Man”—I’m not entirely sure what this catchy song is about, but I think that refers to a woman’s butt as her “can.” Anyhoo, no toddler will realize that—they’ll only hear the pro-sanitation message: Take out your can, here comes the garbage man.
Johnny Cash—The Man in Black did a kids’ album in the ’70s that’s pretty good, but plenty of his early stuff is kid-friendly. Okay, aside from shooting men just to watch them die.
The Beatles—Pretty much any of the early, jangly “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” stuff works. But some of the later tunes work well, too—”Hello Goodbye” is a great introduction to opposites, and “Lucy in the Sky in the Diamonds” was inspired by a child’s innocent, non-hallucinogen-influenced drawing. No, really.
Paul Westerberg, “Mr. Rabbit”—A rockin’ kids song (a.k.a. “Every Little Soul Must Shine”) from Westerberg’s Stereo album, a cover of a song first popularized by Burl Ives and also performed by Pete Seeger and others. —Dave Gilson, senior editor

Various Artists, Sesame Street Platinum All Time Favorites—I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sung along with Hoots telling Ernie to “Put Down the Duckie.” Classics like “C is for Cookie” (the Cookie Monster theme song until 2005) and “I Love Trash”—35 years later the old school is still sweet. Ages 0 to 40 sure to enjoy.
They Might Be Giants, Here Come the ABCs—It’s not every day you can learn about the countries while singing the alphabet, but this records takes it to the next level. My daughter has no idea where Oman is, but she knows it begins with an O, so I guess that counts. No, I am not a They Might Be Giants fan—never got it. But after five listens, I can sing “Alphabet of Nations” straight through. Who knew?
Various Artists, Jazz for Kids: Sing, Clap, Wiggle and Shake—This isn’t a children’s CD. Sure, you can hear Ella Fitzgerald sing about the Muffin Man, but these are essentially jazz songs, cobbled together in on a compilation and marketed for being for the kids. Think of it as the Accidental Children’s CD. I’m not complaining, as any excuse to introduce jazz heavyweights like Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, and Louis Jordan to the youngsters at an early age, I’m in favor of. 
Various Artists, On A Starry Night—When it’s time to have the kids settle down, put on this Windham Hill comp. The soft melodic tones are extremely restful and go a long way to wind down kids hopped up on Pixie Sticks. Listening to it even makes me sleepy, and I drink six cups of coffee a day!
Various Artists, Putumayo Kids Presents: Sing Along With Putumayo—This is not one of my favorites from my daughter’s collection, but much to my chagrin my wife and daughter love it. The eclectic mix of world-music tunes always gets the little girl moving. I have no idea what a Bananaphone is, but she’s into it. —Khary Brown, director, integrated advertising

Rockabye Baby—These aren’t your parents lullabies. For the past few years, every new hipster parent on the block seems to be adding a Rockabye Baby CD to their music repertoire. Whether you (or your baby) is in the mood for the cradle version of tunes from The Beatles, AC/DC, Bjork, Queens of the Stone Age or something in between, you’re sure to find an artist that will satisfy the entire family. 
Isis, Wavering Radiant—Every kid needs some metal in their lives, but in my opinion you have to slowly build the relationship or else it may backfire. Isis’ latest was the perfect introduction for my 1.5-year-old daughter. The foreboding musical style, blending long, hypnotic pieces with bursts of thrash metal, has provided the perfect soundtrack to our playtime together—while avoiding most of the aggressive singing and power chords that often characterize the genre.
The Laurie Berkner Band—Before I became a parent I was terrified of what kind of cutesy music my kid would make me endure. As big fans of Nickelodeons’ Noggin network, we were introduced to Laurie Berkner. Her music isn’t for everyone but for some reason it’s the kind of kids’ music that doesn’t make me regret giving birth. Her songs are simple, cute, and fun and my daughter perks up every time she hears them. I guess beneath all the cynicism, the kid in me perks up, too. —Laurin Asdal, director of major gifts

Banana Slug String Band, Penguin Parade—This band foams the shores and roams the hills of the Santa Cruz mountains, where it has made fun music with educational over- and undertones for decades, teaching kids about the environment, oceans, and animals. Penguin Parade is upbeat throughout and lends itself to marching around the room, making silly gestures and singing along. The slugs also puts on a great live show, incorporating costumes and crazy antics. Fun for adults too. I’m a fan!
Dave Fromer, Shake A Hand—Residing in California’s Marin County, Fromer is a husband, father, grandfather, and terrific pee-wee soccer coach who knows how to engage children—he lightens up the soccer field by doing moon kicks and playing his guitar. He’s also put together this fun folk-revival CD with help from luminaries like banjoist Bill Evans and mandolin player David Grisman, among others. Nine of the 14 songs are written by Dave’s brother Jon, who joined him in a tour with the Henry Mancini Orchestra way back when. Many of the numbers transcend time; they feel like they’ve been around for decades, not years.
Jerry Garcia & David Grisman, Not for Kids Only—A caveat: This isn’t Jerry or David’s finest work, but it’s still great and really isn’t for kids only. Jerry has a sweet, soulful voice that lends itself to storytelling. And Dawg’s subtleness on the mandolin is a perfect accompaniment to Garcia’s voice. The songs are more obscure titles than most adults would recognize as children’s music, but they hold a place in history; it’s great that they’ve been etched on a recording by two of the finest musicians of our time.
The Beatles, Yellow Submarine—You all know the album, but the extended and remastered version is a complete joy. The musical complexity makes this re-playable (sometimes in the same day), and the themes are familiar to adults and kids alike. Don’t forget to rediscover the full-length, animated film version as well!
Andy Morse, Andy’s Funky ABCs—This independent recording is a splendid example of children’s music performed by “big kids” with big hearts. It contains some originals, including title track and “Stop Drop & Roll,” mixed in among traditional numbers including “Jenny Jenkins” and “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain.” Andy uses a kids chorus for some tunes, making the intended audience clear; otherwise the adults might get carried away with tracks like “Pizza” (it doesn’t go with champagne/you have it with Coke) and “R.I.N.G.O.” (There was a drummer in a band and Ringo was his name-o…R-I-N-G-O.) —Madeline Buckingham, COO/CFO
Mojo Grab Bag
Patsy Cline—Is it the contralto made for a lullaby? The languid-yet-fierce delivery? The subject matter—love, jealousy, loss—that kids, those natural-born drama queens, instantly relate to? My 4- and-5-year old, whose singing taste normally runs to “I Like To Move It” (don’t get me started), belt out “Crazy” and “I Fall to Pieces” with letter-perfect inflection. And when the irresistible “Back in Baby’s Arms” comes on, I roll down the windows and join right in. —Monika Bauerlein, co-editor in chief
Michael Jackson/Lionel Richie, “We Are the World”
—We are the children. We are the ones who makes a brighter day, so let’s start giving. I think every little boy and girl knows this song, a very positive and inspirational hit! —Cathy Rodgers, accounting coordinator
Yo Gabba Gabba—The enduring impression one gets from Nick Junior’s ADHD morning show Yo Gabba Gabba is that it was made for exactly the sort of parents who wish they could share their vinyl collection with their toddlers. Co-created by Aquabats frontman Christian Jacobs, it’s a riff on Sesame Street with musical guests that could headline Letterman—all conveniently available on iTunes for a modest $9.99. Raffi-weary parents possessed of a sense of humor will appreciate kid friendly tunes by legit adult artists like Jack Black, the Shins and the Roots. Tots will fawn over the rubbery DJ Lance Rock and his Muppet-like charges singing ever so charmingly off key. Everyone wins. —Sonja Sharp, editorial intern (and honorary parent)

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