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ParentsFebruary 17, 2017

‘They hate the music I love so much it makes my soul hurt.’ Emily Writes and Simon Sweetman talk kids’ music


Let it Go, Let it Go, please for the love of all that is holy can’t they let that fluffing song go? Kids music can be great and it can also be more painful than childbirth. Spinoff Parents editor Emily Writes and dad and music critic Simon Sweetman discuss some of the better stuff that can be found in a sea of horrible tunes. 

Before you become a parent you’re not necessarily exposed to the horror of children’s music. Then suddenly, you’re in it. And you can’t escape. Before long you’re waking in a cold sweat with The Wonkey Donkey song playing over and over and over and over in your head.

With that in mind, Emily Writes and Simon Sweetman got together to discuss the good, the bad and the “Ow my ears make it stop make it stop” of the music that kids love.

Emily Writes: Well, you can’t really avoid that pain can you? I hear ‘Rockabye Your Bear’ and ‘Let it Go’ 50 thousand fucking times a day. It’s unavoidable. Before I had kids I was like – they will listen to the music I listen to. But they hate all of the music I love. They hate it so much it makes my soul hurt.

Simon Sweetman: People have, for the last few years, seemed genuinely pleased with themselves as they say to me, ‘you must be loving all the kids songs’. My standard reply: ‘I’ve listened to so much terrible music over the years that a lot of the kids music comes as a relief’. And it’s true, for the most part. It’s not the music – but I guess it is the repetition. That’s the part that gets you. The part that gets you. Part that gets you. That gets you. Gets you. Gets. You.

Emily: The songs my kids love that aren’t kids music are also terrible – ‘Shake it Off’, that fucking horrendous ‘Happy’ song. Eddie randomly loves Lamb of God but I mean he doesn’t have good taste in music. Ham’s taste is worse – he is a Wiggles purist and will only listen to those pricks.

The Wiggles. Left to right: Simon, Emma, Anthony and Lachlan.

Simon: Oscar’s taste is pretty good – at the least it’s omnivorous, which can only be good. He gets hooked on things and it gets brutal. We’ve had to ban The Wiggles. He relapsed, we let him. Then hated ourselves and The Wiggles again – in that order. But he also, with some assistance, got hooked on The Beatles. And I think that’s a good base for a kid. He is in the middle of a pretty deep Phil Collins jag right now. Which is both amusing and strange. And I don’t have too much of a problem with it – he’s discerning enough to only be interested in the first three albums. No shame there. But all of this happens in and around the obvious nursery rhymes and cod-reggae nonsense and “songs for children”. He loves Anika Moa’s albums, the two Songs for Bubbas albums, and they’re good fun that – I think – the whole family can handle. He has, just recently, got pretty hooked on a good range of Stax soul music – which I guess calls for a Proud Dad moment. He also loves Dexys, the later-day reincarnation of Dexy’s Midnight Runners. The main quality I think he seeks out and responds to is anthemic music. And fair enough. He’s a fucking kid. Life is supposed to be great, and is great. Why not have that reflected in joyous-sounding (to him) music.

Emily: I think you assume your child will have good taste. It’s not to be – for mine at least. I imagined my son would be a little bogan. But he hates black. He only wears sparkles. He did go to AC/DC with us. Frankly I think he enjoyed it more than we did. We took him to Maiden too. Because he loves Big Eddie and it was important for him to meet his namesake.

Simon: Concerts haven’t really happened for Oscar yet – beyond a couple of kids shows like Hi-5. And a couple of in-stores at Slow Boat [record store in Wellington]; he loved Anika Moa and Phoenix Foundation in particular. He makes a lot of noise himself but is a bit frightened by loud noise within music. He sometimes comes to a bar if I’m DJing and has a boogie. He was traumatised by gate-crashing a Shonen Knife soundcheck. That was far too loud for him. He mostly puts on his own concerts (“shows”, as he refers to them) in his room with his stereo, a dance-floor and a makeshift audience of soft-toys and his parents. Phil Collins is the big concert-draw for him right now. He will sit through an entire Phil Collins concert DVD and re-enact most of it.

Emily: And his perfectly timed performance of that Sing! soundtrack is quite impressive. Let’s get to it, my first pick:

Have you heard Carole King singing Maurice Sendak stories? It’s the Really Rosie soundtrack. I adore her version of ‘Pierre’. That song is so perfect. I feel like the lyrics are so perfect:

One day his mother said; When Pierre climbed out of bed; Good morning, darling boy, you are my only joy; Pierre said I don’t care!

That’s parenting in a nutshell really.

Simon: If you can get your kid to like Carole King – whatever path you take – it’s gotta be a good move. Especially if you have boys.

Emily: To be fair, it’s the only Carole King I like. Bit soft for my tastes. OK next, and fitting I suppose after that comment…

I have to include Ronnie James Dio. Of course. ‘Love is All’ is from the album The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast. It just makes me so happy. Not just because it’s Dio. It has such a nice message. The video is adorable. The lyrics are adorable. Less Trump, more Dio as a singing frog.

Simon: If you can get your kid to like Ronnie James Dio you have aced parenting and are essentially just mucking around now looking for things to do…

Emily: I’ve got to include Gerry Paul. He is such a fantastic live act. I think probably one of the best kids acts. I saw them at A Very Welly Christmas and the guitarist in his band did ‘Wild Thing’ and it was so fantastic. I know most people would say his best song is obviously ‘Hank the Wrestling Shark’ and my son does love that song. But he also loves ‘Tugboat’. And ‘Tugboat’ is my fave. It’s such a great sweet tune.

Simon: I’ll echo you on Gerry Paul. Gerry’s a mate, so maybe I’ll sound biased but he’s so good at pitching to children and he always has a band of really great musicians, so there’s something in there for the parents too. He also borrows and bends all sorts of songs into shapes that suit him and his audience from Bob Dylan to Bobby McFerrin.

Emily: We are actually really lucky to have such great performers in New Zealand. I mean I feel bad for denigrating Craig Smith’s Wonkey Donkey song. Because he is amazing live too. And my son absolutely adores that song. I am just…I hear that song so much and it has taken a piece of my soul. If this was a kids picking their fave songs list then ‘Wonkey Donkey’ would be in it. So let’s put it in.

But I do definitely want to include ‘The Wreck of the Diddley’ by Fatcat and Fishface.

Emily: Eddie loves it so much and I love it too. We have the book. I love how dark it is. That the sounds kids hear are “the singing of the sailor men who drowned”. Whenever my son puts it on, people are kind of horrified. I guess it’s the most metal song my kid likes which is a reach. The video clip is great.

Simon: Fatcat and Fishface are just new to Oscar but I’ve been a fan for years – they would regularly send their CDs for review and I loved them. I’d usually pass them on to a niece or nephew or to any friends with babies so the CDs wouldn’t stay in the house for long. Oscar just chose a couple for himself recently and he’s sort of found them all on his own, via the best resource we have: Wellington’s Public Library.

Emily: Moving right along. His favourite song in the world is this one. I think it’s very sweet. Sickly sweet. Rot your teeth sweet. It was the opening song for the movie Inside Out I think? And he loved it more than the actual movie. He knows all the words and we often hear “PLEASE VOLCANO SONG NOW”. The video clip is beautiful at least and it is a rather chill song.

Simon: Gross!

Emily: It certainly beats ‘Let It Go’ – fucking hell. That song is going to be the death of me. But the Moana album is definitely replacing it. And I love the Moana soundtrack. ‘How Far I’ll Go’ is a genuinely lovely song. So much better than ‘Let it Go’. But also I have heard the Moana soundtrack so many times. It’s just relentless.

I love hearing The Rock sing. Of course he can sing. He can do anything.

Simon: The one ‘rule’ I tried to put in place was having one or two albums for the whole family… whether it be kids music that adults could dig or adult-oriented pop music that kids could enjoy. Really good safe, obvious options are Stevie Wonder (pretty much anything but, maybe, perversely, Oscar’s favourite is ‘Part-Time Lover’) and Paul Simon’s Graceland album and also The Rhythm of the Saints for the African and South American drumming in particular.

When Oscar was born we scored a really cool compilation from the very dependable Putumayo series, New Orleans Playground. This was good enough to keep listening to after he fell asleep – things like Dr. John and The Meters. Music I would listen to if I didn’t have a child.

Music I did listen to when I didn’t have a child. But now with a kid’s interests at the heart of it…so it’s Dr. John singing ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’.

Emily: That is such a great version. Sometimes you have to really hunt for the good stuff. I find I get stuck with all the dross on Spotify’s Tunes for Toddlers. What else have you got?

Simon: The other one, sourced from the library and borrowed hundreds of times is one called Jazz For Kids. Again, I’m happy having Ella Fitzgerald sing ‘Old McDonald Had A Farm’ even if Oscar isn’t around. And in fact I’ve played it in DJ sets in pubs at night, something that would never have happened if I hadn’t been to the kids section at the library.

Emily: I remember you used to have that Alf album in your record collection. Ever play that to Oscar?

Simon: Used to? The ‘Stuck on Earth’ 12″ single holds a very special place in my heart and my collection. Therefore Oscar hasn’t heard it…yet…but soon…soon…

Emily: You’ve introduced me to Alphabutt too. What’s your favourite song on that?

Simon: I think we might as well post up the title song. When you have two or three or four year olds then anything with ‘butt’, ‘bum’, ‘poo’, ‘wees’, ‘fart’ or ‘toilet’ is going to hit pretty big. And Kimya Dawson’s Alphabutt album – and its title track especially – covers most of that. I got onto this well before Oscar was around. Kimya Dawson had been part of the Mouldy Peaches, who I liked. Along with Adam Green – I got to them through his solo career actually. And then Dawson’s songs were all over the Juno soundtrack and someone brought her out to Wellington for a show and she played a bunch of songs off Alphabutt before it was released. So it was cool to get hold of the album a few months after. And then to hang onto it until a kid came along. Oscar found it by just sampling CDs, but we had supplied it there for him. It’s also pretty good kids music for the whole family; stuff adults can dig.

Emily: I suppose we should just end with the Queen of NZ kids’ music. Anika Moa, obviously. I feel like I owe her such a debt. Her two albums have been played to death in my whare. And the kids and I never get sick of them. I bought her album for my nephews in Australia and they love it too. It’s teaching them te Reo Māori which is awesome.

Simon: Same deal here, really. We’ve played both of them a lot – given copies of them to other households, and found that it’s music we can carry on listening to in the car after Oscar is asleep, rather than taking it off straight away to replace with anything else. Anika’s great – a fantastic entertainer and a good songwriter and because she’s a mother too she’s got all the ingredients going there to make really great music for kids.

Emily: My son loves the Chop Chop song so we’ll end with this live version of that aye? Damn, she’s such a babe.


Simon blogs semi-regularly for The Spinoff Parents. In between columns you can find his writing at Off The Tracks – he’s also on Facebook and Twitter.

Emily Writes is editor of The Spinoff Parents. Her book Rants in the Dark is out now in all good bookstores (and some bad ones). Buy it here. Follow her on Facebook here.

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