Baby Beatles Bust Out
When I was small, I was allowed to put on my own records.
Sure, we had what was then commonly called ‘children’s music’ but my parents also went by the theory that if they liked it, it was good enough for me. Hence my interest in their favourite band, The Beatles. Along with Fred Penner and the Holy Trinity of Sharon, Lois & Bram, there was Sergeant Pepper. I can’t remember a time before I knew the words to “A Day in the Life” and the call and response of “Yellow Submarine.” I was thinking about this last week, when a new Caspar Babypants CD arrived in the mail.
In our house, Babypants albums are an event; the last one was ceremoniously played for the very first time on our first big family road trip. Though we played other music as well, we listened to that CD every day that we travelled together, and it is those songs, and the memory of my three kids singing along, that best captures the trip for me.
I was pretty thrilled to find that the newest Babypants album would be a marriage of my childhood music with the music of my children. But why do I like Babypants so much — raised as I was on ‘real’ music?
For the same reason that They Might Be Giants has a parallel career teaching kids about numbers and science: because Chris Bellew (and the Johns for that matter) make music for people, not kids. I don’t need to stick the ‘children’s music’ label on a song like “Stompy the Bear” because that’s obvious — and I don’t have to apologize for liking a song about an apocryphal bear because it’s exciting and well-written.
And, for what it’s worth, TMBG’s “High Five” keeps me running the 4th kilometre in a way that even my favourite grown-up bands can’t. I’m looking at you, Robert Smith.
To this day, if you ask me about ‘children’s music’ my first response is to roll my eyes, even though I know better.
Despite having kids, and despite knowing first-hand that kids are absolutely the hardest audience to please, there is a persistent cultural idea that if you put the word ‘children’ in front of something, it becomes watered-down and puerile. And the best compliment someone can give something intended for children is that it ‘has adult jokes in there too,’ as if it’s not enough to just enjoy Daffy Duck having his beak blown off in a perfectly-timed battle of wits.
There’s a crazy and quite frankly, bullshit division in popular culture between stuff that is intended for kids and stuff that’s intended for adults. It doesn’t take long as a new parent to find the saccharine and idiotic kid’s music, and it’s more than balanced by turgid, self-important music that poses as adult because it references drugs and uses swears. Sometimes I think that adults like to reinforce this division because they don’t like to acknowledge how juvenile and limited adult music can be. When was the last time you heard a popular song that dealt with an adult situation in a sophisticated way and wasn’t ‘Somebody That I Used to Know’?
That’s why these Beatles covers are so appealing. Caspar Babypants aka Chris Bellew (whom you might remember from your pre-kids life as the singer in Presidents of the United States of America) has gone back to the Beatles’ discography to find the best kids’ songs among them.
And to be clear, this is not a dumbing down of the Beatles or an attempt to make their complexities palatable to a toddler audience. Rather, he strips the song down to an essential idea, a lyric, a vibe, a call-and-response — and lets that idea shine with a clarity that enlightens the source material.
He manages to find more fun in singing “1234” and “Yellow Submarine,” what I would have thought was an impossible feat. It’s possible because he dared take on this sacred cow and find the frolicking calf underneath. It’s what I never knew I wanted when I was young, and what my kids will never miss.
Aleta Fera starts her kids on the Ramones at age 2, then moves on to TMBG at 3. Read more about music and family at Further adventures of Rocketbride.
You might enjoy our Bunch Guide to the Beatles.