Music Compilations Worth The Bother

Music Compilations Worth The Bother
By Bill Childs, HF Contributing Writer

Pity the underachieving compilation CD.

To do so, you may find it helpful to first anthropomorphize the underachieving compilation CD – perhaps imagine it with arms, legs, and a little CD face. Done? Now, pity it. Well done.

You know the CD I’m talking about. You’re digging through the used bin and you come across it – a clever name, perhaps, and maybe a worthwhile beneficiary – say, the International Association to Reduce Moderate Irritability in Gym Teachers. You dig some of the artists, haven’t heard of others, and figure you might as well give it a try. You buy it, put it in the CD player, frown vaguely, and never listen again.

The problem with most compilation CDs is that they’re filled with leftover tracks, the ones that weren’t good enough to even be the filler tracks on the artists’ real albums, or else they’re throwaway covers of songs you didn’t like the first time around.

Happily, these flaws are not endemic in kids’ music compilations. Some, as you’ll see below, represent the only kid-appropriate tracks done by the artists, while others are somehow able to get artists to contribute killer non-leftover tracks. Check them out:

Play (DeSoto Records):

PlayThis compilation, on a label run by former Jawbox members, came out in April of this year and it’s terrific. It’s got some bands you might have heard of (Mudhoney, Young Fresh Fellows, Supersuckers) and a bunch you probably haven’t. Unlike some similar compilations where grown-up bands play for kids, the bands here are utterly themselves – it just so happens that they’re playing kid-appropriate songs. The record opens with the Laurie Anderson-meets-Erasure song “Born to Shake” by Anna Oxygen, and it sets the tone: this is involving, varied, and fun stuff. Mudhoney does what they are required to do – flat-out rock – as they share the subtle message that they “like to make noise and break things.” Who doesn’t? The best track on the record is The Soccer Team’s “I’ll Never Fear Ghosts Again,” which I defy you to listen to without at a minimum bouncing your knee and probably doing an all-around-the-room dance. www.desotorecords.com

Animal Playground (Putumayo Kids):

Putumayo, as I’ve mentioned before, is best known for their amazing world music releases. This CD includes animal-themed songs from around the world and the U.S.

Standout tracks include:

  • The Be Good Tanyas’ “The Littlest Birds”
  • Asheba’s “No More Monkeys”
  • ZÈ Renato’s “Cantiga do Sapo”
  • Wee Hairy Beasties’ “Animal Crackers”

The CD also includes a playful video for the Asheba track, filmed on location in Trinidad. www.putumayokids.com

Stay Awake (A&M Records):

This record – nearly twenty years old, I am astonished to observe – has an incredible variety of artists providing interpretations of Disney songs.

Just to give you a flavor of the artists on it, it includes

  • Michael Stipe
  • Natalie Merchant
  • Suzanne Vega
  • Syd Straw
  • Aaron Neville
  • NRBQ
  • Harry Nilsson
  • Ringo Starr

The best three tracks – and they’d be worth the price of the CD just for them – are:

  1. Tom Waits doing an amazing “Heigh Ho (The Dwarfs Marching Song),”
  2. Sinead O’Connor’s a capella “Someday My Prince Will Come,” and
  3. The Replacements’ raucous “Cruella DeVille.”

This CD is still available from various online retailers – go get it. Now.

The Bottle Let Me Down: Songs for Bumpy Wagon Rides (Bloodshot Records):

Hooray for Bloodshot Records. In addition to their essential grown-up roster (Waco Brothers, Neko Case, early Old 97’s), they released last year’s Wee Hairy Beasties record (with ex-Waco Brothers/Mekons, among others, involved) and this 2002 compilation. The artist list reads like a who’s-who of alt-country, from the aforementioned Waco Brothers to Kelly Hogan to Split Lip Rayfield. Alejandro Escovedo’s “Sad & Dreamy (The Big 1-0)” is a hilarious and plaintive story of growing older, the Asylum Street Spankers contribute a great version of “I Am My Own Grandpa,” and the Cornell Hurd Band begs Hurd’s kids, “Don’t Wipe Your Face on Your Shirt” (even offering to let the kids talk about religion with their grandma in reward). It’s 26 tracks and all fun.

Other picks:

  • For the Kids & For the Kids Too (uneven but overall solid CDs if you skip the sappy stuff, www.musicforthekids.com),
  • See You on the Moon (indie bands galore with great tracks from Great Lake Swimmers, Low’s Alan Sparhawk, and Kid Koala, among others, www.paperbagrecords.com), and
  • Various Soundtracks – which will no doubt get their own column someday – including Open Season (featuring Paul Westerberg) and the tragically out of print Hoodwinked.

About the author:
Bill Childs is a law professor in western Massachusetts and contributing writer for Hilltown Families. He and his eight-year-old daughter produce a kids’ music radio show, “Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child,” weekly; check it out at www.sparetherock.com. Contact him at show@sparetherock.com and tell him other artists he should know about.

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