It's a scary thing to see so many of my friends producing offspring. I'm still struggling with "Why is the sky blue?" for myself; I'm not ready to be surrounded by inquiring pre-schoolers, however cute they may be. Well, at least this month I know something super-cool to buy 'em for their birthdays:
Leave it to the hipster honky-tonkers at Bloodshot Records to call a kiddie comp The Bottle Let Me Down. The label's roster is full of new mommies and daddies, many of whom have (along with like-minded bands) contributed to this gleeful assemblage of vintage novelty tunes, kid-centric new compositions, and chestnuts like "Camptown Races." It goes without saying that most of these hold a lot of interest for adults, like Alejandro Escovedo's "Sad & Dreamy," which was co-written by a room of schoolkids ("I hit the big 1-0/I feel so old/candy just doesn't taste as good anymore"). Rex Hobart presents a surprisingly moving "It's Not Easy Being Green," and Cornell Hurd's "Don't Wipe Your Face on Your Shirt" is hilarious. Those tracks are joined by inspired silliness from Kelly Hogan and Robbie Fulks; hillbilly toe-tappers from Jim & Jennie and the Pinetops and the Meat Purveyors; and cool covers of such sing-alongs as "Three Little Fishes." These tracks should also appeal to kiddos obsessed with snot, bodily odors, and disgusting food combinations — which, last I heard, is roughly all of 'em.
This should have happened years ago — They Might Be Giants, who have kept supposed adults thinking like children for two decades or so, just made a disc specifically aimed at tykes, called No! (Rounder). Sonically, it'll especially appeal to fans of the old, pre-rock-band TMBG; in other words, it's got lots of accordion and funny keyboard sounds, and not so many guitar solos. The lyrics range from clever narrative mysteries like "Four of Two" to fantasies such as "Robot Parade;" tales of oddities including "John Lee Supertaster," the man with hypersensitive taste buds; and discussions of life's eternal questions, like "Where Do They Make Balloons?" Leave it to the Giants to turn the Edison Museum into a ghost story, craft a moral lesson from a rebellious broom, and explain the joys of, um, creative truth-telling in a way that even the most straight-arrow parents shouldn't mind.
And if smart, catchy pop music isn't enough for your CD-spending buck, No! also has a CD-ROM component featuring utterly charming interactive programming for each tune. Click on the limbs of the mechanical birds to make them dance! Play the animated violin! And so on, until your eyes can't take so much beautiful candy anymore (the disc is designed by TMBG's longstanding partners at Chopping Block, Inc.) and you have to go take a nap.
Then there's something that, to my surprise, isn't just kid stuff. I haven't heard the Lovin' Spoonful since I was a second-grader playing my mom's old singles; somewhere along the way I unconsciously assumed that a group with such a silly name, capable of such sweet pop as "Do You Believe In Magic?" couldn't possibly be serious. Was I wrong — a pair of reissues from Buddha Records, Do You Believe In Magic and Daydream (the band's first two LPs, here with five bonus tracks each), show a band with a really wide range. For every infectious piece of hippie-era optimism, there's a convincingly lazy blues tune like "Sportin' Life" or a raw, rockin' take on something like Dallas Frazier's "Alley Oop." Of course, the records both contain the hits that charmed me as a kid, like "Daydream," a flower-power-era romance that's as light as a cloud but (I can now see) a lot more substantial.
That's the kind of grown-up stuff I'd wanna foist on my kids, were I grown-up enough to have them. Then again, "Daydream" is exactly the kind of song to get a boy wondering why the sky is blue ...