Best Kids' CDs of the Decade
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The '00s could be known as the decade of children's music (along with about a zillion other things). These first 10 years of the new millennium were a time in which an entire genre of music -- one which was formerly mocked, looked down upon, or dismissed by anyone over age 3 -- was suddenly taken seriously. This was the decade in which children's artists realized that parents actually cared about what their kids' music sounded like and that they didn't have to dumb their work down for their young audiences. Here are 20 of the best albums to come out of this family music renaissance.
1. They Might Be Giants: Here Come the ABC's
They Might Be Giants is the best example of a "grown-up" band that successfully crossed over into kiddie land -- and many others have tried to follow suit. What's most amazing about TMBG's transformation is that didn't alter their sound or style in the slightest. Of the four kids' albums they released this decade, their tour-de-force second CD stands out as the quintessential model of new-generation children's music.
For the first half of the decade, Berkner owned children's music. She pioneered the whole idea of kids' music that doesn't drive parents crazy. Her bouncy, sing-along tunes were obviously meant for young listeners, but there was nothing grating, saccharine or patronizing about them. Parents took notice. And TV execs took notice that parents took notice. Soon Berkner was a music video star on the Noggin network and probably the first children's performer since Raffi than any adult could recognize on sight.
As much as Laurie Berkner made kids' music safe for parents, Zanes made it cool for parents. The former Del Fuegos singer took his preexisting indie cred (and his ability to pull in big-name guest vocalists) and applied it to nursery rhyme territory. He may have been the first big kids' performer whom parents were listening to without their children around.
With tattoos, Technicolor hair and an attitude to match, these Brooklyn punk rockers showed that children's music doesn't need to be soft and sweet. Speedy sonic explosions like "Sugar High" and "Short Attention Span" proved that lullabies are the only kind of songs that help get kids ready for naptime.
Singer-songwriter Morgan Taylor's multimedia music project, Gustafer Yellowgold, turned children's music into genuine art. And was beautifully melodic in the process.
Ralph Covert's buoyant rock tunes bring to mind '90s acts like the Gin Blossoms or the Lemonheads. Some of his catchiest songs ever are on this CD.
For someone who never intended to become a professional musician, Frances England put together one of the beautiful sets of acoustic alt-rock songs in the past several years. She's a one-woman Lilith Fair.
Kid-targeted hip hop was a pretty sketchy subgenre until 23 Skidoo game along. Even people who have professed to despise rap have marveled at just how good this album is.
Just about any of Roberts's feel-good kid-rock CDs could have made it onto this list, but Pop Fly stands out as his ultimate song set.
"Itsy Bitsy Spider" and "Wheels on the Bus" as if they'd been interpreted by Ella Fitzgerald or Count Basie? It works. I only wish the artists on this fantastic collection got better billing.
With five great albums released in the past four years, this trio of Seattle music teachers (who have even garnered Beatles comparisons) has become a force to be reckoned with in children's music. Wonderstuff, their double-CD rock opera, is the best showcase of their creative songwriting.
Last year's biggest, most pleasant surprise was this sophomore disc from The Terrible Twos, a collection of sophisticated, eminently likeable tunes that would sound at home on any modern rock radio station (despite lyrics about playgrounds and alphabets).
The classic Americana and Dixieland sounds get turned on their heads (just as the concept of growing up does in the title track) in a CD unlike any you've heard before.
The son of reggae legend, Bob Marley, calls in some star-powered guest vocalists (Willie Nelson, Paul Simon, Jack Johnson and more) for a ridiculously enjoyable album of Caribbean kid stuff.
The Jimmies don't forget that it's okay for kids' music to be silly and strange. But they also know how to layer on goofy lyrics and playful arrangements without dumbing down the whole experience.
This collection of multi-culti music was culled from different international versions of Sesame Street around the world. Both enlightening and danceable.
If you want to hear the future of kids' music, just listen to daringly punky pop of Lunch Money's "Are You a Rabbit?"
Children's music may be evolving, but that doesn't mean there isn't a place for more traditional kids' fare. Fink and Mercer may be the best of the old school that are still making albums today.