Time in the car can be tricky for lots of families. Hurtling projectiles, brain piercing shrieks, tiny bodies noodling out of all safety constraints, and, almost ubiquitously, incessant talking. So, journeys of any duration require both fortitude and equanimity, on the part of the driver especially. And we’ve found that this is best accomplished, for both parents and children, with the right music.
Like many of our friends, we trained our kid’s ear early. We were discerning about the children’s music we listened to and never shied away from our own tastes, hoping that exposure would lead to appreciation. We imagined we could achieve the ideal balance with our unique combination of dutiful attendance at Music Together classes every Sunday morning and Amanda Fucking Palmer on the way home. And it’s worked, for the most part. She recognizes The Apples in Stereo and considers Iggy Azalea to be her nemesis.
I’m not going to pretend we don’t ever listen to kids’ music in the car. The Frozen soundtrack, the Broadway version of Annie, and Adele’s 21 have all seen heavy rotation in the six-disc changer, and both my daughter and I know every word of every song and love to sing them together. There are several kids’ CDs that I not only tolerate but actually really enjoy (Elizabeth Mitchell’s You Are My Little Bird is at the very top of that list, and we were big fans of the Rockabye Baby! collections in the first years). But for those days when I’m just not in the mood, it’s essential to have a go-to playlist of mutually agreed upon music.
This is by no means an exhaustive list; it both reflects and is necessarily limited by our tastes and collection. There are myriad other songs that can serve as a wonderful background complement to your car rides with children. We’ll add more to this section and hope that you’ll contribute your suggestions in comments.
For now, here’s what we’ve been listening to with our daughter (daytime version; we’ll share the “please go to sleep in this car” playlist next time):
Cornershop | Brimfull of Asha: We always kick off our playlist with this song. It’s extremely happy alterna-pop and an excellent way to start a conversation about the history of Indian cinema and the prolific career of Asha Bhosle.
Janelle Monae | We Were Rock and Roll: To our daughter she is, simply, the Electric Lady. The Electric Ladies of Weekend Review Kit will never run out of power.
Belle and Sebastian | I’m a Cuckoo: “I’d rather be in Tokyo, I’d rather listen to Thin Lizzy-Oh.” It doesn’t get much better than that. Plus, when she was a baby, our kid wore this shirt pretty frequently.
Belly | Now They’ll Sleep: We first cultivated her interest in this one by changing the words to reference characters in MLP: Friendship is Magic, but, really, who can resist Tanya Donnelly? Not anyone in this car.
Amanda Palmer | Astronaut: A Short History of Nearly Nothing: Any artist who highlights the piano as the percussion instrument it is wins in our family. I feel the same sympathy for the piano of Amanda Palmer as I do for almost everything in my daughter’s path.
The Apples in Stereo | The Bird That You Can’t See: Because, in a way, all Apples in Stereo songs are about math, but they’re so damn catchy you might not notice.
Sleater-Kinney | You’re No Rock n’ Roll Fun: Nothing is better than a toddler doing a riot grrrl face (please begin debate about Sleater-Kinney’s place in the Riot Grrl movement now).
Spoon | Underdog: The perfect anthem for anytime you feel like you might not survive, like when you notice you forgot to bring car snacks just as you get too far away from your house to turn around.
Tom Waits | Rains on Me: Every child should know Tom Waits, and this one is full of lovely imagery, like 40 monkeys sailing on a boiling sea.
Pixies | Here Comes Your Man: Because it’s Pixies. That’s just like fairies! Our little girl didn’t need more explanation than that, though we were ready with “the bass player is a woman,” something that always impresses her.
Lauryn Hill | Every Ghetto, Every City: Another great way to talk about recent history before your child doesn’t want to hear your ‘back in the day’ stories.
Shonen Knife | Top of the World: If you do not have this album of Carpenters’ covers from the mid-90s alternative rock movement, finish reading WRK’s short article and please go find it.
Ben Harper | Burn One Down: This came on the radio once and led to: “What does he mean, burn one down?” “Well, in the general sense, I think he’s saying that if you believe in something enough you won’t let other peoples’ opinions effect your actions…” Feel free to then get as specific as you like.
Babes in Toyland | Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft: It’s about aliens. And how we can communicate with them. By concentrating and using our brains. If you need more convincing about this record, see Shonen Knife, above.
We admit, this list is specifically designed to appeal to cool kids, young and old. Like you and yours. Occasionally we will ride in cars with children who object to our catalogue, who even find some of our choices pretentious. We always smile, thank them for their opinion, try to find something everyone can agree on, and then make fun of those kids when we are alone.