Has Children's Music Gotten Too Hip for the Wiggles?

Filed under: Music

In 1991, the Wiggles released their first album and the monochromatic Aussie quartet became that decade's megastars of children's music. Almost two decades later, they're still at it, having just put out their, oh, let's say 300th CD, Hot Poppin' Popcorn. But children's music has changed a whole lot in the past 20 years -- assuming that success back then will lead to success today is like assuming Alta Vista is still a go-to search engine. Let's see how the new Wiggles album sounds and compare it to some other new releases (a couple of which are fantastic).

The Wiggles: Hot Poppin' Popcorn
If you're anything like me, you find calliope-style organ tooting to be one of the most grating sounds capable of being presented in tune form. And there's a lot of it on this circus-themed album. The organ overload may not be typical of all Wiggles music. Still, it actually manages to make Hot Poppin' Popcorn sound even more traditional than the Wiggles usually do. Among those old-school songs, though, there are a couple of (non-organ) gems, like "Murray's Guitar Saved the World," which is a great, way more modern tune. But the Wiggles are more than just musicians -- they're characters; they don't just record CDs--they put together production number-studded shows. And when you play the disc for a three-year-old (which I did), you see that kid dance with a big smile on his face. So while the Wiggles may not excite today's hip music-savvy parents, they still know how to reach kids. More power to 'em.
Where are they in relation to everyone else: Let's put the Wiggles squarely in the middle of the modern kids' music spectrum, with bands to the left being more traditional (think "Wheels on the Bus") and bands to the right being more hip and contemporary.

Ralph's World: All Around Ralph's World
Ralph Covert is a prime example of the new wave of children's music. The rhythms, melodies, and instrumentation of his songs are essentially no different from anything you'd hear in a pop/rock song written for adults. And he can manage to sound like anyone from the Beatles ("Easy Ryders") to the Cure ("Robot Looked at the Stars"). His clever lyrics (see this album's "Black Hole Boy," about a kid who loses everything he's given) are aimed squarely at kids, though -- and often present preschool life lessons. He doesn't go over kids' heads; he just treats them as musically mature people.
Where is he in relation to the Wiggles?: A good distance to the right.

Debbie and Friends: More Story Songs & Sing Alongs
Debbie Cavalier lists her influences as Shari Lewis, Bob McGrath and Buffalo Bob Smith. You might surmise from that fact that "hip" is not what she's going for. Her songs about Little Red Riding Hood and The Little Engine that Could are there to get barely-standing kiddies to wiggle amusingly in their diapers. The occasional more-sophisticated track, like the very cool Southern-rocker "Willy Won't," almost sound out of place among the less parent-friendly fare.
Where is she in relation to the Wiggles?: Left-ish.

The Rubinoos: Biff-Boff-Boing!
One factor that has led to the hippening of kids' music over the past decade or so has been the influx of "grown-up" bands recording children's CDs. In making their kids' record, though, the Rubinoos (the power-pop group that gave us the 1979 hit, "I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend") looked to the past, not the future. In fact, they looked farther back than their own 30-year history. With covers of songs like "Witch Doctor" and "Sugar Sugar," they've fashioned themselves the Sha-Na-Na of kindergartners. As if to declare that they are definitely not part of the new guard, they even wrote an original song called "Dumb It Down," which also sounds like it was intended for a Grease 3 soundtrack. It's a very specific style--and not much like what you'll hear on their adult records. There's an intentional goofiness to the music; you probably know right off the bat if it's your thing or not.
Where are they in relation to the Wiggles?: Ironically to the left.

Earthworm Ensemble: Earthworm Ensemble
The debut CD from this L.A. group starts off with "The Traveling Train," a fun, twangy number that sounds like relatively traditional Americana. But that track is followed up by the decidedly experimental "Bear and Dog," which sounds like the musical love child of Beck and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Then you also get some alt-country, a couple of ethereal ballads, and even a rap. And it all sounds great.
Where are they in relation to the Wiggles?: Far right; almost off the chart.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.