My daughter is on the cusp of being a “tweenager” so her musical interests are now influenced by what her peers are listening to on Radio Disney and other pop radio stations. However, she has been properly inoculated with a robust appreciation for what I would call “real music” over the past 6 years or so by me while riding in the back seat. This was primarily so we could mutually agree on listening to what I wanted to hear in my car when we were together running her around town to the numerous activities, parties, and events that populated her social calendar. Though this started innocently enough, I thought it might be helpful to share what eventually became a fastidiously maintained and highly successful program of well-intentioned interest generation, artist introduction, and musical appreciation for my child prior to her developing her own misguided sense of what constitutes “music”.
It all began one day back in pre-K when she was singing the chorus of “Yellow Submarine” in the back seat on the way home. I asked where she heard that song and she replied that they learned to sing it that week in school. Wisely, I left it at that. The next day I purposefully had Revolver playing in the car at a low volume level a few tracks ahead of said song. When “Yellow Submarine” started, she demanded for me to turn up the volume and began to sing along. Toward the end of the song, I started to sing along with her. At the end of the song, she asked how I knew it. I told her it was by one of my favorite bands, the Beatles, and that they had lots of good songs like “Yellow Submarine”. Like what? Let’s see … there’s a song about a lonely lady (“Eleanor Rigby”) … one about Mr. Kite and his traveling circus … an Octopus that has a garden … Oh, and one about an egg man and a walrus. She asked to hear the song about “the walrus.”
So, a few days went by with us listening to “I Am The Walrus”. I could tell she was trying to figure it out – since it was so different than anything else she had heard. But she loved signing along with it. Next came “Octopus’s Garden”. After that, “Hey Bulldog”. Then “Blackbird”. I was worried that we would run out of Beatles songs with animals in the title, but she heard “Paperback Writer” one day and asked what that was. I explained it was about an author trying to pitch a story for a book deal. She just liked singing the chorus full blast. I told her that when the band was singing without any instruments, it was called a cappella. By then, we had already been talking about some of the innovations and firsts that the Beatles came up with in those pioneering days of Rock and Roll’s adolescence. She asked if they invented that. I said no, they didn’t. In fact, another band that was one of their rivals actually had the first #1 hit with an a cappella section in it. Wait! The Beatles had rivals?!?
I had discovered the way to move beyond the Beatles (not that there wasn’t plenty to mine around in their incredible catalog for a good while) and introduce her to other bands.
That’s how she heard Sloop the John B by the Beach Boys for the first time. It played … along with “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “God Only Knows”, and “Good Vibrations” (their “Walrus” song) for the next few weeks. She even asked to sing Sloop the John B at the church talent show. Back in the USSR brought us back to the Beatles with their version of Chuck Berry’s classic with a good dose of Beach Boy harmonies to amp up their rivalry. The story of Brian Wilson tossing the Pet Sounds masters into the fireplace when he first heard Sgt. Pepper teed up her wanting to hear that Beatles album in its entirety. Nice! Could write a whole ‘nother blog just about the discussions around Sgt. Pepper (some other time).
Moving on from the Beatles and Beach Boys, we next explored the “bad boys” who played in London clubs that same time as the Beatles did … the Rolling Stones. First with “She’s A Rainbow”, then a song about the Devil (wow, they really were bad boys!), then “Wild Horses”, and so on. After the Rolling Stones, she asked what the Beatles did to compete with them. That’s when I had to tell her about the Beatles breaking up. We parked there for a LONG time … but got to enjoy “Let It Be” and “Abbey Road” as well as introduce each of the Beatles own solo hits. That opened up discovering other solo acts while the Beatles were off on their own, like David Bowie and Rod Stewart. She found out that Rod and the one of the guitarists for the Rolling Stones were once in a band … queue the Faces/Small Faces. That teed up The Who and Led Zeppelin. The drummer of the Faces became the drummer for the Who when their drummer died. [Note: this led to her asking if any of the Beatles were dead, so beware of rabbit holes] Not that she likes either the Who or Zeppelin that much, but she wanted to hear the start of “Baba O’Reilly” for a good week or so to figure out the sequence pattern for the synth opening as they were studying computer programming at this point in science class. I think that was around 4th Grade or so. Also, “Going to California” was a real conversation starter about why somebody would choose to move across the country just ‘cause their chest hurt.
Bottom line, I have been weaving together story threads and did you know’s linking different bands and artists and instruments and songs together as one long tapestry of musical introductions to the bands that I love to listen to as a way for her to explore them in a manner that was interesting to her. Lord knows how many hundreds of hours of Radio Disney it has saved me from. Regardless of who you like to listen to, perhaps there is something in this formula for musical discovery that might be helpful to you with your little one(s).