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A Soundtrack for Parenthood

It's been a pleasure filling in for Stacey this week. Since this is my last day, I figured I should go out with a nice musical number.

A couple of weeks ago I hosted a discussion on about "The Simpsons," which prompted one chatter to confess to singing "Who Needs the Kwik-E-Mart?" and other "Simpsons" songs to his/her infant. While I have not yet busted out a version of "The Monorail Song," I have noticed that I and my parental peers -- aka Gen X mommies and daddies -- have a tendency to serenade our sons and daughters with variations on pop music favorites.

Yes, my husband and I often croon a few rounds of "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" or "The Wheels on the Bus," but we also have several of the Rockabye Baby CDs on heavy rotation. (The lullabye versions of U2 and Coldplay? Those work somehow. But the Ramones, slowed down and peppered with the sounds of a glockenspiel, just loses something.)

We also have developed a habit of changing the lyrics to Top 40 favorites. For example, when my son sucks on his hand, which happens constantly these days, I sing this variation of "Maneater" by Hall & Oates:

"Oh, here he comes/Watch out, boys, he'll chew his thumb/Oh, here he comes/He's a hand eater."

Meanwhile, my husband likes to borrow a few verses from Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock when communicating with our son Luke:

"It takes Luke to make a thing go right/It takes Luke to make it out of sight."

He also enjoys his own version of Aerosmith: "Dude Looks Like a Baby."

And then there's this gem, courtesy of my husband's co-worker and set to the tune of Amy Winehouse's "Rehab." She likes to sing this one to her son when he's less than thrilled about getting in the car:

"Mommy put me in the car seat, I said no no no/Don't wanna be in the car seat, I won't go go go/I cry every day/But in the end I have no say/Mommy put me in the car seat, I said no no no."

So is this a Gen X thing? Are we the only ones who do this? And if not, please help me come up with a way to turn Arcade Fire tunes into lullabies ASAP.

By Jen Chaney |  August 10, 2007; 7:51 AM ET  | Category:  Babies
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I have enjoyed the blog this week- moreso than usual- Great job!!

Posted by: Marcy | August 10, 2007 8:22 AM | Report abuse

Oops- meant to say "more so". :)

Posted by: Marcy | August 10, 2007 8:24 AM | Report abuse

The best we got from our parents was:

99 bottles of beer on the wall...

Posted by: newhere | August 10, 2007 9:16 AM | Report abuse

When my boys would say "augh or ow" I'd bust out with "I feel good...I knew that I would..." They have no idea who James Brown is but they know this song! :)

Posted by: momof3boys | August 10, 2007 9:28 AM | Report abuse

My mom passed down her John Denver adaptation of "Spitup on my Shoulder" to us.

We do a lot of DMB. "Satellite" and "Crash" are good ones at bedtime...

Posted by: 1975 | August 10, 2007 9:29 AM | Report abuse

and oh yeah, endless takes on Ben Fold's "Lullabye" (hard to remember the real words to that one anyway, other than the chorus)...

Posted by: 1975 | August 10, 2007 9:32 AM | Report abuse

Well, we're certainly not the first generation to do this! I've only recently figured out that certain songs which I thought were traditional, since my parents sung them to me all the time, were actually hits by Cat Stephens, Peter Paul and Mary, Paul Simon, etc.

Posted by: Carriefran | August 10, 2007 9:51 AM | Report abuse

I love the They Might Be Giants ABCs CD. I haven't yet gotten the Tool Rockabye, but the concept cracks me up. I went to 2 Tool shows, plus Massive Attack and Zero 7, when I was pregnant with my daughter. Boy, were there stares! I've made baby friendly CDs for the car, which hopefully will negate the need to listen to kids musce, TMBG excluded. There's no Marilyn Manson or Tool or Nine Inch Nails, but U2, Barenaked Ladies, Natalie Merchant, REM, Sting, The Beatles, and lots of 80s tunes are OK. My husband is the master of changing lyrics, but, inevitably, it ends up being about farts and poop.

Posted by: atb | August 10, 2007 9:52 AM | Report abuse

My SD accidentally picked up Nick Cave's version of "Death is Not the End" when she was three. Oops.

She's almost five now and loves Johnny Cash and the Beatles. (Me: "Are you oinking 'Eleanor Rigby?' SD: "No, I am not." Me: "Then what are you doing?" SD: "I am QUACKING 'Eleanor Rigby.'")

Posted by: Stacie | August 10, 2007 9:55 AM | Report abuse

We used to sing (during diaper changes) Gwen Stefani's Hollaback Girl. We'd adapt the words for tender ears. So instead of "this sh-- is bananas" we'd sing "this poop is bananas, b-a-n-a-n-a-s!" and my kid loved it. Even now (at 2) she says "poop is bananas!" to let us know that she needs a change.

Posted by: Anny | August 10, 2007 9:55 AM | Report abuse

I sing Suzanne Vega songs to my baby. A little "Tom's Diner" followed by "the Queen and the Soldier" and that baby is out like a light.

Posted by: Momtome | August 10, 2007 10:04 AM | Report abuse

There is so much garbage with today's music -- that "Umbrella" song is horrible! -- that I am trying to get my kids to like the stuff my wife and I loved. I'm proud to say that my son's favorite singer is Elvis Costello and that last night, my six year old daughter was singing along to Bat Out Of Hell by Meat Loaf.

Posted by: Steve | August 10, 2007 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Our current tunes include "You can't rollerskate in a buffalo herd" (we change lyrics depending on what we are trying to tell her not to do) and "Hey Bulldog" by the Beatles.

I am a choral/opera chorus singer and find that she likes anything with long trill runs such as "For Unto Us a Son is Born" or "Victoria, victoria, mio core". I guess it sounds like laughter to her.

Posted by: MaryB | August 10, 2007 10:12 AM | Report abuse

These comments are really funny. I confess that we pretty much let our 3 year old listen to all of our music un-edited. She really loves David Bowie and asked me to sing her "the Major Tom song" before bed last night.

So far she is focused on asking us about the broad picture meaning of a song or trying to sing along...she hasn't really asked us very specific questions about the lyrics ("why is Major Tom a junky? What does that mean?")- but I do think that will happen sooner or later.

Posted by: mg | August 10, 2007 10:19 AM | Report abuse

My 23-month-old loves to sing "Shake Your Booty" by KC & the Sunshine Band. "Shake your booooody! Boody!"

Since he was about 19 months old, he'd ask for the Weepies by name. "Music! Weepies!"

Posted by: bunny | August 10, 2007 10:31 AM | Report abuse

I actually don't really know any lullabies, so when my daughter went through a rough patch as an infant, I was kind of stumped. So I ended up singing to my kids the mellow pop songs I remembered from my own childhood and teenage years (plus, of course, a few later ones) -- Carole King (Sweet Seasons, Been to Canaan), Carly Simon (Loving You's the Right Thing to Do), Natalie Merchant (Wonder), Helen Reddy (Love Song for Jeffrey, I've Got a Name), Simon and Garfunkel (59th St. Bridge Song), Harry Chapin (Any Old Kind of Day), Mary-Chapin Carpenter (Why Walk When You Can Fly), Amy Grant (My Father's Eyes). I was actually a little surprised to find how well some of these songs both worked as lullabies and really expressed how I felt about my kids.

Daddy's repetoire is a little more limited -- he knows Rock-a-Bye Baby, Row, Row, Row Your Boat, and Ironman (which of course comes out as "dum-dum-Ironman, didudidudidudum Ironman," but he doesn't let that stop him).

Posted by: Laura | August 10, 2007 10:50 AM | Report abuse

My daughter is quite fond of my version of "Supermarket" as well as "London Calling" by the Clash. Her first song verse was "Ah Ah Ah Ah Ah Ahhhhh." The sound of a generation from the only band that ever mattered!

Posted by: Bob Dobbs | August 10, 2007 11:00 AM | Report abuse

My 4 year old daughter LOVES "Ring of fire" by Johnny Cash. I must admit singing it with her is fun. Especially when she imitates the mexican horns.

Posted by: pATRICK | August 10, 2007 11:10 AM | Report abuse

My son loves the clash too.

We make up a lot of songs for the moment based on songs we like, but I can't think of any!

Posted by: md | August 10, 2007 11:10 AM | Report abuse

My daughter grew up listening to the Ramones, she loved the short fun songs. Now she is 12 and still listens to them on her own. She also enjoys Green Day and we took her to Gwen Stefani for her 1st concert last year. It was a lot of fun sharing my music with her and watching her own musical taste develop over the years.

Posted by: California Mom | August 10, 2007 11:39 AM | Report abuse

I thought other readers might be interested in this blog as well...about a friend of a friend who recently lost their little baby. It's very sad, but little baby Issac put up quite a fight.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 10, 2007 1:05 PM | Report abuse

My 3 and 4 y/olds are big fans of They Might be Giants (both the kids albums and Flood, a fave of mine and the husband's) and Dan Zanes.

They have pretty eclectic taste. Some of their favorites include the Beatles, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, Nortec Collective and the soundtrack to Jesus Christ Superstar, with lyrics adapted to include their names.

Posted by: leftcoastfan | August 10, 2007 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Baby Boomers also made up words to songs, but it's worth remembering that Gen X always modified commercial jingles with strange local variations and dirty words.

Jingle Bells
Batman Smells

It's worth remembering that your kids will like the music they like. My son loved Coltrane, west coast cool and bop jazz when he was an infant to 2 years old, but after that he liked pop rock. He went through a period where all music had to be surf guitar instrumentals. Now, he's not so into that.

Of course I would sing the Poppa-Oooh-Mow-Mow's of "Surfin Bird" in all manner of variants. that goes without saying.

What I think is sad is the parents who tell me all the music their kids like, but when I talk to the kids they only say they like "The Wiggles" or "the Backyardigans" (who are really amazing, by the way). I think those parents mean their kids don't cry when they put the music on. If the kids don't ask for it by name then my bet is they aren't paying any attention.

Posted by: DCer | August 10, 2007 1:36 PM | Report abuse

My DD loves "Brown Eyed Girl." Whenever
it comes on in the car she gets so excited. It is one of my favorite songs
and it will be one of hers.

Posted by: shdd | August 10, 2007 1:57 PM | Report abuse

DH is a musician/songwriter, and both kids have his love and talent for music, so we listen to everything.

My favorite funny story - when younger son was about 2, an old friend I'd known since high school was visiting from out of town. Hanging out in our livingroom talking with DH while they were waiting for me to get home from work, the toddler hopped up onto the couch, looked our friend straight in the face and sang:

The torture - Uh!
The torture - Uh!
The torture never stops

(That's from one of Frank Zappa's early albums - but don't ask me which one - for anyone who doesn't recognize it.)

DH and friend both recognized the song immediately, since they're both big Zappa fans. But neither of them could decide whether to laugh or be horrified that a toddler was actually familiar with Zappa's music.

Posted by: Sue | August 10, 2007 2:16 PM | Report abuse

I think it is a more modern thing to do with pop music- Filking in general (taking a song and reworking the lyrics) has been much more popular lately, I think because so much more variety and popularity is out.

My mother raised me on all the great classics so I always impress people with my knowledge of 50s-70s music. My partner is filling in the gaps she left.

Posted by: EmeraldEAD | August 10, 2007 2:59 PM | Report abuse

When DD was tiny, I would sing "Sweet Baby James" as a lullabye. At some point I stopped, but one evening, at about age 2, she said, "Mommy, sing me the cowboy song." I had no idea what she meant until she said, you know, "there is a young cowboy..." I was amazed that she remembered!

She and her brother were perfectly happy listening to the oldies station in the car with me until she hit 7th grade - one of her friends turned her on to HOT 99.5 and we've been stuck with it ever since. I agree, that "Umbrella" song is TERRIBLE - and worse, it gets stuck in your brain anyway.

Posted by: Loren | August 10, 2007 3:27 PM | Report abuse

As someone who is terrible at memorizing song lyrics and never knew the words to "traditional" lullabies anyway (my immigrant parents didn't teach my songs from their native country either), the only lullaby I could think of is "MLK" by U2. ("Sleeeeep, sleep toniiiiight, and may your dreeeeams, be realiiiized..." It never really worked on my son, unfortunately.

Lately what works better is to save the slower hymns from church that happened to be printed on the church bulletin instead of in the hymnbook so that I can rip it out and keep it by his crib.

I have to say, from hearing it at my son's day care, kids' music is better than I expected. Some is very annoying but a lot is folk-rock style and I also like several of the Sandra Boynton albums that have contributions from various "adult" artists. Also a friend gave us a lullaby CD from Music for Little People and my husand and I like it but again it never worked on our son when he was a newborn, though we haven't tried it on him now that he's a toddler.

Posted by: Erichan | August 10, 2007 3:45 PM | Report abuse

When I was a kid, my dad always sang "People are Strange" by The Doors to me.

My 2-year-old listens to a lot of the 80s & 90s stuff that I have on CD. His favorite song to dance to is "doopa beak," also known as "Super Freak."

Posted by: Wioleta | August 10, 2007 4:31 PM | Report abuse

What a hoot! My DH and I have been changing the words to popular songs since (ahem) before the boys were around. There was this one totally inane song that we sang so often (they're so darn catchy) that we spontaneously did it at a college reunion happy hour. (Can you say, "Drinky-drink?"!)

The funniest was when my DH started humming it at work...a few days later, a guy in the next cubicle was singing it, too! Hmmm...what was that song?

We have a plethora of new songs as the parents of three children. I sing in Spanish to the tune of "Michael Row the Boat Ashore," -- "Es la hora para dormir, To-ma-si-i-i-to" -- to my youngest. The last time I changed him in the ladies room, he cried until I sang him the "diaper-changing" song!

I share more of my musings on parenthood from a SAHM perspective at

Posted by: LilMom | August 10, 2007 5:28 PM | Report abuse

I use Ludacris' "Stand up":
Stand up!
Stand up!
Hold out your hands!
Gimme a hug!

When I move, you move (just like that)
Hey, baby bring that back!

Posted by: diaworld | August 13, 2007 4:23 PM | Report abuse

As an infant, my daughter responded to the Beatles - particularly Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. As a toddler, her favorites are the Mexican rock band Mana and opera (seriously). She loves The Magic Flute by Mozart. Oh, and anything by the Muppets.

That's not to say she doesn't like "traditional" children's music, but we are thrilled when she likes what we like!

Posted by: viennamom | August 14, 2007 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Slow down, you eat too fast
You gotta make the bottle last, just
sucking down the formula.
Looking for food and
Feelin' Hungry

Posted by: Feelin' Groovy | August 15, 2007 12:33 PM | Report abuse

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