One of the hardest lessons to learn as a father was that kids like what kids like and parental influence does not, necessarily, translate across generational pop culture. My toddler daughter will dance to Asha Bhosle and sing along to the Flaming Lips. Sheâ€™ll even â€œair drumâ€ along to Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii if sheâ€™s not too sleepy. Try to foist some treasure from your childhood onto her buzzing psyche, and sheâ€™ll give you a look that says, â€œHey, I make my own decisions about whatâ€™s cool, old man.â€
Thatâ€™s not a serious ego-slap, though. Some childrenâ€™s albums are just too good for children.
The Marlo Thomas & Friends album is a perfect example. My sister and I listened to it one afternoon while she was in town. We cut our teeth on â€œSesame Street,â€ â€œThe Electric Companyâ€ and ABC After-School Specials. We were products of the â€™70s. We have vivid memories of the TV special and companion soundtrack.
Thomas sought to counteract the treacle that passed for childrenâ€™s entertainment by addressing gender roles, tolerance and self-esteem in a clever and engaging manner without treating the audience like, well, children. The performers and writers realized that â€œchildlikeâ€ is preferable to â€œchildish.â€
Thatâ€™s probably why the material holds up to modern scrutiny.
â€œItâ€™s All Right to Cryâ€ (sung by former NFL star Rosey Grier), â€œWilliamâ€™s Doll,â€ Carol Channingâ€™s (!!!) â€œHousework,â€ and the â€œBoy Meets Girlâ€ skit (featuring Mel Brooks) are still completely charming and relevant 30 years later.
The Johnny Cash album suffers a bit from a â€™70s cheese infection, but any shortcomings are ultimately forgivable because Cash, as usual, inoculates the material with dignity and charisma.
The â€œslow ballad-type songsâ€ donâ€™t hold up as well as the more energetic sing-along numbers. At times, they sound entirely obligatory. â€œI Got a Boy (and His Name is John),â€ a humorous duet with June, represents the album at its best. It makes the whole thing worthwhile.
Also part of Legacyâ€™s Family Artist Series are Maurice Sendak and Carole Kingâ€™s Really Rosie and Harry Nilssonâ€™s better-than-you-remember soundtrack to The Point.
None of these albums will earn you cool parent stripes. In fact, you may encounter strong, often bellicose resistance to these albums. Remember â€¦ when playing music in your vehicle, YOU call the shots. The â€œI loved these when I was your ageâ€ never works. As far as your kids are concerned, you were never their age. If you must, unsheathe the â€œbecause itâ€™s good for youâ€ or the unassailable â€œbecause I said so.â€
You deserve to do something nice for yourself.
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