I've tried really hard never to be one of those parents that insists on using their child as a way to communicate to others what I would like them to think about me. I don't buy her t-shirts emblazoned with the logos of my favorite bands, and I haven't gone and pushed a guitar into her hands or pretended she gives a shit about any of the sports teams I like.
If I'm guilty of anything along those lines, though, it's of trying to get her to listen to music that isn't totally shitty. This has nothing to do with me wanting to tell people that my 3-year-old daughter has really good taste in things, and everything to do with me simply not wanting to listen to shitty music. If there's anything I hate more than that overwrought, bullshit Broadway singing I've always said I hate more than anything, it's children's music. The way those people fucking over-enunciate everything and obviously have no shame... it makes me want to murder. I would be thrilled if I could get through the rest of my life without ever hearing another song by that Laurie Berkner nightmare, for instance.
So yes, I make it a point to play her music I think we'll be able to agree on. It's been super gratifying, too. She asks me the name of every song we listen to, which is nice, and I've enjoyed learning about what she enjoys and what she doesn't. On the following pages, you'll find a list of songs I'd be willing to bet most kids would be into, assuming you haven't already ruined them with all the really terrible stuff that will no doubt turn them into tasteless, doltish adults who are no fun to talk to.
They Might Be Giants — "Stand On Your Own Head"
There's obviously a very long list of They Might be Giants songs I could have chosen here, from obvious hits like "Particle Man" to lesser known gems like their cover version of "Why Does the Sun Shine," a 1959 educational song. But if you dig a little deeper, you will of course find that their catalog is full of extremely poppy, playful sounding songs that are also deeply weird and endlessly entertaining. My current number one choice is this deep-cut from their 1988 album Lincoln. It's short, but the melody is crazy, it's perfect for dancing around if anyone should request that you dance with them, and the line "I love the world, and if I have to sue for custody, then I will sue for custody" is just perfect.
Fleet Foxes — "Montezuma Blues"
This is one of the first songs I noticed my daughter really liking. I think it has something to do with the way the upbeat strumming works with the layered vocals and the harmonies, building and building until that big tempo change a few minutes in. It used to put her into a frankly weird trancelike state; now it just seems to have a relaxing effect. Bonus points, of course, for lyrics about not actually being a special snowflake.
Weezer - "El Scorcho"
This song has it all: gargling, funny voices, guitar solos, profanity, the snare-hit at 1:25 that's one beat late, a huge, singalong chorus, the crazy double-time part, and so on. Also worth noting here is "(If You're Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To," from 2009's Raditude, which is apparently irresistible if you're a child. Or if you're my child, anyway. (I don't think you are, though.)
Wilco - "Passenger Side"
If you've ever seen Wilco live, you know that this song inspires people to sing along, and really, what kids are looking for isn't that much different than what drunk adults with beards are looking for, so this works well. And no, it doesn't matter that it's about drinking and driving. You haven't lived until you've heard a 3-year-old sing the line, "You're gonna make me spill my beer if you don't learn how to steer."
Taylor Swift - "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"
If you're still going to sit there denying this song's many, many charms, then I honestly don't know what to tell you. It's just crazy, the whole thing, and your kid will think so too, I promise. If you're overly bothered by the admittedly heavy-handed faux-conversational stuff, I would recommend going back to 2010's Fearless and opting for "You Belong With Me," which is almost as much fun for kids and probably the best pop song of the past five years.
The Beach Boys - "Good Vibrations"
Like the Fleet Foxes song I mentioned a little earlier, but to a much greater degree, you'll be able to see this song work its way into the kid's head. It's almost cruel, maybe, but that's ok. They'll thank you later.
Warren Zevon - "Werewolves of London"
Newsflash: It's not just adults who like songs that allow you to go "A-ooooooh" like a werewolf over and over again. Bonus points if you can get your kid to do that weird grunt thing after the "I saw a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic's" line.
Weston - "New Shirt" / "Heather Lewis"
90s pop-punk about getting a striped short-sleeve shirt to impress a girl, followed by 90s pop-punk about a girl going off to college and forgetting all about you. The first half's a no-brainer; the second half will build character and teach your kid about background vocals.
Feist - "1-2-3-4"
I get it: It's old and played-out and it was all over those Apple commercials, and it was on Sesame Street and all that. But remember the alternative here: Feist is better than Laurie Berkner. Feist is basically, like, Lou Reed compared to Laurie Berkner.
Harry Nilsson - "Gotta Get Up"
You see, the nice thing about toddlers is that they're naturally inclined to dance to rock music the way people were before actual dance music came along. This song inspires such jumping around in my household that it's impossible to keep the record from skipping.
Paul Simon - "Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard"
Just now, for the first time in my entire life, it occurred to me that I have literally not considered for even one second what this song might be about. It doesn't matter, though. Lots of energy, a little bit of whistling, and Rosie, the queen of Corona.
Bonnie "Prince" Billy - "I Send My Love to You"
First of all, it's important to choose the full-band, country version from the Greatest Palace Music album—the original is just too boring for your kid to handle. But with the good version, you'll find yourself facing a somewhat tricky situation: the best part, which features the line "The moon is falling, and my wounds are calling. My head is bleeding, and I'm a duck," along with some extremely enjoyable quack-quack sounds, is immediately followed by the line, "Fuck the land, and two if by sea." So you'll have to decide if you really care about the f-word being tossed around, but you probably shouldn't.
Minor Threat - "I Don't Want to Hear It
A surprising choice, I realize, but the one time I played this song for my daughter, she made this face like she was traveling really fast through a wind tunnel the whole time it was on, and I found it super hilarious.
Ryan Adams - "Come Pick Me Up"
Again, this is a tough one because there's so much awesome cursing in it, but in my experience all kids love it pretty much immediately, which makes sense because it is perfect. My kid actually loves most of this record—she really likes the argument about the Morrissey song in the beginning because someone says, "Oh, he's got a mouth full of cookies," which she thinks is the funniest thing in the world.
Morrissey - "Every Day is Like Sunday"
And, speaking of Morrissey... No, I don't know. I've never played this song for a kid, but I'm definitely going to really soon, and I'll let you know how it goes. It would also be acceptable if you were to choose one of the many Morrissey songs that at least sounds happy despite being massively depressing.
Tommy Roe - "Sweet Pea"
I've talked about this song quite a bit in these very pages over the years, and my intense love affair with it actually dates all the way back to 2001 or so when my then-2-year-old nephew took a liking to it. I have no interest in hanging out with anyone, toddler or otherwise, who can't see that this is one of the most perfect songs ever written.
The Monkees - "Daydream Believer"
Another perfect song, obviously. But if you don't want want to go with the Monkees version for some reason, check out this revelatory cover version by Paul Westerberg.
Harry Chapin - "30,000 Pounds of Bananas"
Because you're never too young for an 11-minute live version of a story-song about a truck-driver who dies in an accident that sees 30,000 pounds of bananas spill over a road that leads into Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Allo Darlin - "Kiss Your Lips"
I acknowledge that I pushed this band on my daughter more than more other would, because I like this band more than most other people do, but she loves them now too, and especially this song. She's already identified the Weezer thing as her favorite part. I don't think she's connected the dots yet, but she will, and it will be awesome.
The Ramones - "Sheena is a Punk Rocker"
There's not a whole lot that needs to be said about this one.
Violent Femmes - "American Music"
Sometimes I like to imagine a high school prom 15 years from now, where one kid will request this song and all of her friends will join her in the ultimate, celebratory singalong while the kids who don't get it at all look on and quietly acknowledge that there's some stuff they'll probably never understand.
If you feel like listening to these all at once, in a row, we've collected them all into one handy Spotify playlist.