I was raised in the era of Beautiful Music, a radio format more commonly known as Muzak (although the company programmed other formats, and other people provided Beautiful Music). It was a soft, melodic sound designed to be background music, often heard in elevators and waiting rooms. It was usually based on popular songs, stripped down of any discordant notes and played on string instruments. It lacked percussion; it lacked soul.
Beautiful Music was on the air from 1959 until the early 1980s, when it was largely abandoned. Not entirely, though: for some reason, there is enough demand that a few stations still program it, such as WQEZ in Birmingham, AL or the SiriusXM Escape channel.
As a child, I was forced to listen to Beautiful Music. It was a staple at home and in the car. My father knew every Beautiful Music station in Ohio and Pennsylvania, so there wasn’t even respite on road trips.
No one wanted to carpool with us.
I thought Beautiful Music was gone for good, but then the Rockabye Baby series of records were introduced. Over the past few years, they have released Beautiful Music renditions of different popular songs, aimed at new parents. Every so often, the record label’s PR staff sends the Popdose writers a press release, and inevitably, we snicker.
And that’s if we’re being nice.
Rockabye Baby is so popular that it even has a competitor, Baby Blanket Music. It’s time to make a stand.
Here’s the problem with both series: they remove the soul of the music and sell the remains to people looking for the hip baby present. Instead of exposing the little babies to good music, these CDs give them dreck in the guise of taste.
There is no shortage of good music for babies, because trying to get a baby to sleep is a universal rite of parenting. So many cultures have great lullabies. Check out the Putamayo Dreamland compilations, or selections of soothing classical music.
Sure, the supposed benefits of Mozart on a baby’s brain development have been debunked, but that doesn’t make the relaxing sounds of Black Sabbath a la Percy Faith more appropriate at bedtime or a better way to teach music appreciation. Also, Mozart was a child himself when he started writing music, so he knew that kids want real music.
For daytime fun, there are a lot of great choices for babies and young kids. Why buy Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of The Beatles when Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Magical Mystery Tour have great, kid-friendly songs. After all, ”Penny Lane” is the story of Liverpool told from a child’s perspective. How many preschoolers appreciate keeping a fire engine clean, because it’s a clean machine? ”Yellow Submarine” is a really goofy song, because toddlers and stoners have similar tastes. Susan Salidor, Ella Jenkins, and Dan Zanes are among the serious musicians who write serious music designed to appeal to children.
I know of at least one teenager who would be mortified if people knew how much he loved The Sound of Music as a toddler, but you know what? It’s a story about the relationship of seven children and their nanny, and a lot of kids can identify with that. The musicianship, singing, and songwriting of that show are incredible, even if you have reached the age of 16 going on 17. Rodgers and Hammerstein knew what they were doing.
I get the temptation for giving Rockabye Baby. Yay, cool baby present! Yay, cool people now have a cool kid! But it won’t help the kid appreciate good music, because there is no good music on these CDs.
If you want a child to be exposed to good music, then expose the child to good music. Also, anyone who has had a baby can tell you: most baby stuff is unnecessary. Buy the child a savings bond instead. A little money for college will be more appreciated in the long run than a novelty CD. Honor the parents with some good music and some Red Bull, because they will need it.
As for helping that little person get to sleep, the only surefire solution is time. Babies fight sleep, 13-year-olds fight waking up, parents just want to get some sleep because the day starts too damn early. That’s the nature of life. Babies, 13-year-olds, and parents may listen to different music, but there is plenty of really good music out there for people of every age. Rockabye Baby is not it.