By John Wood
Parents, there comes a time in the course of human events when we need our children up and dancing, jumping, moving and grooving to music that will not have us frantically dialing the Betty Ford Clinic. To this end, I have sacrificed my ears and a generous portion of my soul to find you music that is not only fanciful and danceable, but historical and hysterical - and it might just teach a thing or two along the way, to boot. So without further ado, let's hit play and start dancing with the stars!
With over 8 million in sales, the highly successful and popular Kidzbop series (Kidzbop 1-10, Various Artists, Razor & Tie, 2001 to 2006; $18.98 each; www.kidzbop.com) is a phenomenon in the marketing of children's music. The latest volume features 18 current pop songs performed by kids with a kid-friendly vibe. The performances are all first rate. The arrangements are pretty much note for note from the originals, so younger parents should have no problem with the inevitable repeated listening. And, as you can imagine, Kidzbop 11 is right around the corner.
But why wait! There are other recent releases that inject new life into classic dance and rock songs. Sugar Beats - Greatest Dance Hits (Various Artists, Sugar Beats Entertainment, 2006; $13.98 CD; www.sugarbeats.com) is a well-produced CD of great dance tunes from the '60s, '70s and '80s. Terrific arrangements abound and there's just the right mixture of professional and kid singers. Then there's Keep On Rockin' in the Pre-School (Mindy Hester, Mindy's Music, 2006; $15 CD; www.mindysmusic.com) - c'mon, you know you love the title of this CD - that cleverly melds pertinent kiddie lyrics seamlessly into classic rock tunes.
Once upon a time children's music was, uh, children' music. And adult music was for everyone. A prurient case in point is Jazz for Kids - Sing, Clap, Wiggle and Shake (Various Artists, The Verve Music Group, 2004; $8.97 CD; www.vervemusicgroup.com). This CD features classic hits by some of the greatest artists of their day, performing time-in-a-bottle musical nuggets that ring as true today as they did then and will have youngsters singing along like they can't go wrong. I know Ella Fitzgerald can sing the phone book and make it interesting, but "Old McDonald"? Oh yeah, baby! And Louis Armstrong's slow-dance, "What a Wonderful World," is still the seminal interpretation of this beautiful song.
Putumayo Kids have a ton of world music CDs that are all danceable, but I have chosen two for this particular occasion. The first is New Orleans Playground (Various Artists, Putumayo Kids, 2006; $14.98 CD; www.putumayo.com). New Orleans has always been a city steeped in music tradition and probably has more musicians per capita than any other city. With the kid-friendly rhythms of zydeco and Cajun music in the mix, the Big Easy's music has a style unto itself, and it demands that you get up and move. This CD includes a who's who of the area's musicians, from Fats Domino to Dr. John, but Hack Bartholomew's "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" is a real rouser.
Meanwhile, swing music started in the United States in the 1930s and quickly spread around the world. Swing Around the World (Various Artists, Putumayo Kids, 2005; $14.98 CD; www.putumayo.com) - a fine collection of songs performed by popular artists from Zimbabwe, Mauritius, Italy, France, Greece and the United States - accents this point. It's an entertaining education on indigenous music and instruments. And, it's totally danceable! Even the liner notes are great.
Julie Clark, founder of the Baby Einstein Company, and John Walsh, host of America's Most Wanted, created The Safe Side Company to educate children to make good, safe decisions in a fun, invigorating way with Cool Tunes - Songs to Keep Cool Kids on the Safe Side (Various Artists, The Safe Side, 2006; $13.99 CD; www.thesafeside.com). You might be tempted to think this concept is a bit contrived, but it actually works. The message is gently and sincerely driven home by a wide variety of top-notch songs and performances that will have you, you guessed it, up off your seats and safely dancing the night away. This is good stuff. Really!
An invitation to this dance party has to include four of the horsemen of live rock: Justin Roberts (Meltdown!, Carpet Square Records, 2006; $15 CD; www.justinroberts.org), Brady Rymer (Every Day Is A Birthday, Bumblin' Bee Records, 2006; $15 CD; www.bradyrymer.com), Ralph Covert (Green Gorilla, Monster & Me, Mini Fresh Records, 2005; $15 CD; www.ralphsworld.com) and Steve Roslonek (Marvelous Day! SteveSongs, 2005; $15 CD; www.stevesongs.com). Roberts writes tight songs with great kid perspective and hits home runs with each release. I have described Rymer's music as "unabashed rock with some serious sock!" He continues to rock the room on Birthday. Meanwhile, the always consistent and entertaining Covert's latest release has great pop hooks, infectious rock rhythms and strong vocals - all supporting nicely constructed songs. And, last but certainly not least, Roslonek has honed his chops through a bevy of live shows. He exhibits a genuine love for children and his exuberance shines through in his writing and performance. So keep one eye on your calendar, one hand on your dancing shoes, and be ready to boogie with the bambinos when any of these artists come to town.
Charity and the JAMband's Rock Your Socks Off (MusiMatics, 2006; $15 CD; www.jamjamjam.com) is a result of what happens when a San Francisco mom (Charity Kahn), born and bred from hippie lineage, puts a hot kids band together. You get a party-down celebration of cool tunes, energized performances and fun-in-the-sun for the whole family. "Each song has a high-energy sound, and lyrics that invite movement and response. We have a dance for every song," Kahn says. And I say, "Jam on, dude and dudettes!"
Multitalented performer Jessica Harper's Rhythm In My Shoes (Rounder Records, 2000; $15.98 CD; www.rounder.com) is an irresistible elixir of driving rhythms, musical styles, clever lyrics and velvet vocals that will have you up and dancing whether you're 2 or 92! Many of the songs have a playground feel that transcends time. "I've always been interested in those rhyming playground songs and hand-game rhymes that my kids bring home," Harper says. Whether we're battening down the hatches for the visit from a "Girlquake" named Katie (if the dishes had wishes they would get outa town!), or grooving with the Duke Ellington-inspired "Boy Meets Drum," Harper's takes are inspired kids'-eyes views of this topsy-turvy world.
And how about this, rap and hip-hop fans: positive, uplifting tunes without parental advisory warnings. The brainchild of Mathew Knowles, Beyoncé's dad, Kids Rap Radio Volume 1 & 2 (Music World, Various Artists, 2006; $12.98 CD; www.kidsrapradiomusic.com) takes popular rap songs and G-rates the lyrics. The kids will be singing and the parents will be breathing a sigh of relief.
JammX Kids - Can't Dance Don't Want To (Warner Home Video, Various Artists, 2005; $14.98 DVD; www.jammxkids.com) is a great concept and packed with action. The soul mission of the nine multitalented JammX Kids', ages 9 to 17, is to get kids off the couch and moving along to the latest hip-hop dance moves and catchy original songs. Their Web site is well done, hands-on, and parent-friendly too.
To follow suit with the genre, give a listen to Choo Choo Soul - Kids' Music That Won't Drive Parents Crazy (Choo Choo Soul Productions, 2006; www.choochoosoul.com). Cool original songs are designed for parents and kids to move and groove to together. These tunes have been a big hit on Playhouse Disney.
These happy few selections are just the tip of the musical, dancing iceberg, but they are more than enough to get your family off the slow train and onto the soul train, off the TV for a little bit of CD, and dancin' the night away … at least until bedtime. Enjoy the music, it's for everyone!