Since becoming a parent, I've increasingly believed this: If a 1-year-old doesn't respond to music, there's a strong chance it's not so good. A nine-month-old won't try to tell you Thursday's music is really sophisticated pop. (It's not.) A 2-year-old won't bore you with an argument that Slayer are one of the best rock bands ever. (They are.) A 3-year-old won't claim to like Hellogoodbye because all their friends do. (It happens.) A toddler hasn't had 20 years to get sick of the singles from The Wall. There's purity in a newborn baby's response to Pink Floyd.
Which leads to the many issues of playing adult music for your kids: In addition to Neko Case and R.E.M., Floyd's "Wish You Were Here" and "Mother" are some of the best songs to rock your little one to sleep to. But with much of the better mellow music, you're never too far from questionable lyrical content. "Mother, do you think they'll try to break my balls?" has a certain ambiguity—testes or toys?—that sends it over the kiddies' heads. But who really has the time to make their own clean edit of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "I Could Have Lied"?
Baby Rock Records' Lullaby Renditions of... series gives you childproof renditions of your favorite songs. The albums reconstruct favorites from 19 popular rock artists, reinventing them as instrumental, chill versions. They're pretty much a one-man show by Michael Armstrong, who doesn't have any kids, though he's clearly onto something.
They cover the pop-cult spectrum, from the groovy '60s to blistering alt-rock. The current roster features the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Björk, Coldplay, the Cure, the Eagles, Queens of the Stone Age, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Bob Marley, Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, No Doubt, Pink Floyd, the Pixies, Radiohead, the Ramones, Smashing Pumpkins, Tool, and U2.
Baby Rock may seem like gratuitous kitsch, but there comes a time when the series starts meeting your musical needs: all the chill, none of the F-bombs, consistent sound levels, a fresh take on songs you were sick of by 1993. They're valuable because they don't rock. And whether you're putting Mommy's little monster to bed or just trying to ease your way into a Monday morning, sometimes you need that.
Playing Eagles songs for a kid is considered child abuse in many states, but the discs on the whole are worth checking out. Armstrong reimagines the songs with glockenspiels, Mellotrons, and vibraphones. His adaptations pretty much all sound like Air playing John Williams' music-box Harry Potter theme. Many become unrecognizable, but the Radiohead Kid A material is surprisingly close to the original. Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box" redux is improbably upbeat. "In Bloom" is creepy as a clown picture. And the Ramones disc, that's pep!
Don't take my word for it. Take it from my kids: We played them Portishead and Sigur Rós in the womb, so they've been bred to testify. The 10-month-old is loud and chatty, but not exactly articulate. That said, the Radiohead disc chills us both out, and she falls asleep to it, even when she's in a feisty mood.
However, to let you know where our 4-year-old is coming from: She can't make it through four notes of "Moon River" without getting sad and telling me to turn it off. And in recent months, she's made the following comments to me: "I don't like metal," "Turn off that metal. It hurts my ears," "I like hair metal," "You like metal; I like princess," and "Is there girl metal?" Also, after bringing me a copy of Decibel with Iron Maiden's undead mascot, Eddie, on the cover: "Is this metal? I want you to put that away."
Her responses to Baby Rock:
On the tinkling adaptation of the Cure's "Boys Don't Cry": "That's a little bit happy and sad."
On Radiohead's "No Surprises," mild-style: "It's a little happy and sad." Followed by a little pirouette.
On the Radiohead Rockabye Baby! artwork, a teddy bear with the pointy teeth from Kid A's iconic, grimacing cartoon faces: "It's happy and scary and sad."
On Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt," which is just a tad more pleasant than Johnny Cash's version: "Turn that off—it's sad."
Regarding NIN's "Something I Can Never Have," eerie as the original. Me: "Do you like this song?" Her: "No, no, no."
On the Ramones' "Rock 'N' Roll High School," which improves on the original (not a difficult feat). Me: "Do you like this?" Her: "Yes." Me: "Is it happy or sad?" Her: "Happy."
On the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated": "There's no words."
More toddlers ought to review albums. Baby Rock recently uploaded the series to iTunes and eMusic, and a compilation is now available at Hot Topic—which, as any cool parent can tell you, is absolutely the best place to get a Social Distortion bib. Buy at least two: one for them, and one for you.