Music

Musical youth – is children's song finally getting a much needed shake-up?

Fingers out of the ears at last, long-suffering parents with a discerning taste in music – St Vincent, Tanlines and Hey Duggee are coming to the rescue.

In a recent interview on Beats 1, Annie Clark AKA the always sensational St Vincent shared a revelation which most any parent of a young child, driven delirious by 37 repeats a day of If You’re Happy and You Know It, The Wheels on the Bus or Old MacDonald Had a Farm, could easily have told her a long time ago. “A lot of children’s songs suck,” she opined.

Doing it for the kids: St Vincent.

Clark reached this, not exactly revelatory but nonetheless necessary, conclusion while assisting her aunt and uncle – a musical duo by the name of Tuck & Patti – in recording and producing an album of children’s music. A search for material among kids’ so-called classics swiftly sent her fleeing back to the drawing board. “So I was like, ‘OK, let’s take things from a classic songwriter-y pantheon that could completely appeal to kids because of their sing songy-ness and the relatively clean content’,” Clark decided. Among tracks apparently set to feature are the likes of The White Stripes’ We’re Going to Be Friends and Harry Nilsson’s Coconut.

Where to even start with the brain-wiltingly repetitive horrors of the traditional children’s song?

As a parent of a young child myself, and with another one due very soon, I believe I will speak for most any music discerning parent in saying – or rather whimpering, through tears of joy and relief – the following: oh Jesus Christ yes thank you Annie please help thanks.

Where to even start with the brain-wiltingly repetitive horrors of the traditional children’s song? There’s the frankly creepy Ye Olde English variants such as Michael Finnegan or This Old Man. There’s the endlessly listing things ones like Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. Or there’s the ones where the same act occurs over and over again, like a junior version of Einstein’s definition of insanity. I reserve a special loathing for Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed. No matter how many times I hear it – and I hear it about 37 times a day – I can never for the life of me understand why the doctor’s response to a mother’s inability to prevent all five of her offspring in quick succession falling off the bed and almost staving their skulls in is the gentle chastisement “no more monkeys jumping on the bed!” and not, “excuse me while I dial social services!” Yes they’re monkeys, but still.

The hipsterfication of children’s music would appear to be a growing trend. Brooklyn lo-fi electro duo Tanlines for instance last month released a children’s EP titled Presents. “Since we’re both stay at home dads now,” Jesse Cohen and Eric Emm explained, “we thought it would be fun to make this for our kids”. I like Tanlines and had hoped for cute originals in the Tanlines style. But alas: more Itsy Bitsy Spider, Alphabet Song and – sigh – Old MacDonald Had a fucking Farm. Good effort, guys, but it’s a tall order trying to stylishly reinvent songs most parents are already invariably too used to hearing sung by some anonymous and plainly dispirited high-voiced child-man with a slight lisp, over a ukulele and farty off-tune synth-trumpet, in a cloth-eared monotone not even his own mother could love.

We’ll just have to wait and see if the St Vincent-produced Tuck & Patti album will provide parental salvation – no release date has yet been confirmed. In the meantime, there is at least respite to be found courtesy of wonderfully charming, clever, sharp and all-ages-funny CBeebies TV programme Hey Duggee. Behold: The Stick Song, a kind of kiddified take on Nineties Dutch Euro-ravers 2 Unlimited’s gibberish banger No Limit. Sample lyric: “Stick, stick, stick, stick, stick-y stick-y stick stick” (repeat ad infinitum). A five-minute loop version exists on YouTube. Stick it on half-crazed after another sleepless night, jacked up to the eyeballs on coffee as you and your youngster both sit nodding mesmerised at the screen, and it may feel like the closest you’ve come in a long time to musical transcendence.

Hey Duggee The Stick Badge & Other Stories DVD is out now. DVD extras include a sing along version of the Stick Song.

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