Children's Tunes Revive Spirit of Punk Rock Stefan Shepherd of the children's music blog Zooglobble says music for the smaller set is the new punk rock of the industry: Some of the best artists are cutting records "on their own time and their own dime." He shares some of his favorite new CDs.

Children's Tunes Revive Spirit of Punk Rock

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


I'm Melissa Block.

And we're happy to welcome Stefan Shepherd back to the program. Stefan writes the kid's music blog Zooglobble. And we're going to talk about some new releases for the smaller set.

And Stefan, our selfish criteria in here is always it has to be music that parents might love, too.

STEFAN SHEPHERD: Yes. And I have a few collections here that I think will meet that criteria.

BLOCK: There's one group that you have recommended called the Wee Hairy Beasties.


WEE HAIRY BEASTIES: (Singing) Wee Hairy Beasties. Wee Hairy Beasties.

BLOCK: And I've got to tell you, this took some convincing. I was not sure I like this music at all at first, although it is growing on me. But tell us about the Beasties.

SHEPHERD: Well, the Wee Hairy Beasties are old punk rockers, John Langford, Sally Timms and Kelly Hogan, and they just released an album called "Animal Crackers," songs on and about small animals.

BLOCK: Very small animals. There's one called "A Newt Called Tiny." And what I love about this song is that it's 13 seconds long.

SHEPHERD: It's a very quick, very snappy song.


HAIRY BEASTIES: (Singing) I've got a newt called Tiny. I call him Tiny because he's minute. I have him at home. I found him in the pond, freezing through (unintelligible). I've got a newt called Tiny. I call him Tiny because he's minute.

SHEPHERD: I think they just had fun putting that together. They had fun putting together this whole album. That's one of the things I really like about this CD. They're not talking down to kids. They're just playing these characters, and they're having lots of fun doing it.

BLOCK: There's one song that I really do like called "I'm An Ant." It's this great harmonica blues, and it turns an original version completely on its head.


HAIRY BEASTIES: (Singing) I was born for (unintelligible) and that you -

BLOCK: Yeah, it takes the old classic, "I'm a Man" and spins it into an entirely kid-friendly version. And so it's also a way of introducing this more classic song form to a younger generation.

HAIRY BEASTIES: (Singing) Ain't that an ant.

BLOCK: You know, these kids are going to grow up and discover the Bo Diddley song "I'm A Man," which is quite raunchy, and realize that they've been had at an early age.

SHEPHERD: That sounds familiar. Why does that sound familiar?

BLOCK: I've read one thing that you said, which is that kids' music is the new punk rock. What does that mean, exactly?

SHEPHERD: Punk rock, when it started, had an energy and it had this sense of we're just going to do it ourselves. A lot of the kids' music we're seeing now is artists saying, you know, I just want to put out a kids' album, and I'm going to record it on my own time. I'm going to record it on my own dime, and I'm going to release it. And I think a lot of the punk music from the '70s started out that same way.

BLOCK: With gumption and a prayer. It's a -

SHEPHERD: Gumption and grit.


BLOCK: Let's talk about another group. This one's out of Austin, Texas, called the Jellydots.

SHEPHERD: The Jellydots, I think somebody might hear that and say, wow, that sounds unlike anything I would expect in the kids' section of my record store.


JELLYDOTS: (Singing) Riding my bicycle, riding my bicycle -

BLOCK: You know, when I listen to the song, Stefan, I imagine that they maybe had a whole different set of lyrics for adults, and then they just took the same melody and stuck in words about a bicycle.

SHEPHERD: They may have. But the lyrics are wonderfully appropriate for elementary school students. It's about how great it is to go around and ride on a bicycle. And then it veers off into these imaginative lyrics about what it would be like to have a bike that swims, or a bike that floats, or a bike that flies.

JELLYDOTS: (Singing) I wish that I could fly bicycles in the sky. My legs are getting strong, bicycles all day long.

SHEPHERD: Three and a half minutes of pure power pop goodness.


JELLYDOTS: (Singing) It's a beautiful day for a ride.

BLOCK: There is a great moment, I think, in one of their songs called "Lake Rules." And there's something that's clearly just put in there for the parents.


JELLYDOTS: (Singing) Stay alive. Stay alive. Ha ha ha ha. Staying alive. Staying alive. Staying alive.

BLOCK: I love that little Bee Gees reference there.

SHEPHERD: Yeah, five seconds to amuse the parents, and then they're back to their regular song.

BLOCK: There is new music from a musician named Johnny Bregar, a CD called "Hootenanny." Some original songs, but a lot of traditional songs and I think they sound great.

SHEPHERD: Yeah. He does then in such a way that they're new and they're fresh to the listener. And you hear them differently than you might have heard them in the past.

BLOCK: He takes a traditional song called "Wishy Washy Washer Woman," and makes it this really high-energy boogie woogie romp.

SHEPHERD: You think, Wallyacha.


JOHNNY BREGAR: (Singing) Way down in the jungle where nobody goes, there's a wishy wishy washer woman washing her clothes. She goes, ooh ahh, acootchie cootchie cootchie coo. We said, ooh ahh, acootchie cootchie cootchie coo.

(Singing) Down in the jungle where nobody goes, there's a wishy wishy washer woman washing her clothes. Wallyacha, acootchie cootchie cootchie coo. Wallyacha, acootchie cootchie cootchie coo. Wallyacha, acootchie cootchie cootchie coo. Wallyacha, acootchie cootchie cootchie coo. Down in the jungle where nobody goes, there's a wishy wishy washer woman washing her clothes.

SHEPHERD: One of the things that gets overlooked by a lot of musicians trying to become kids' musicians is that a good voice will go a long way. And like Raffi, Johnny Bregar's got a great voice.

BLOCK: I have to mention here an old album - it's as old as I am. We were both released in 1961, and it's now been re-released on Folkways. This is the Sam Hinton album, "Whoever Shall Have Some Good Peanuts." And I've got to tell you, I put this on and it was like I was transported back, sitting at my little portable record player, and I remembered all these songs.


SAM HINTON: (Singing) Oh, I had a bird and the bird pleased me, and I fed my bird under yonder tree. And the bird went -

SHEPHERD: It's a nice change from all these other albums that we've been talking about. I mean, one of the things I like about the new crop of kids' CDs is that they're willing to use lots of full instrumentation. But it's also nice sometimes to just listen to a guy with a great voice and a guitar just singing some simple songs.

BLOCK: In the liner notes, I learned that Sam Hinton is this repository of old songs. He just learned them all and had all these vocal talents. He could - he can, he's still alive, he's 89 now - he can hum and whistle simultaneously.

SHEPHERD: In addition to knowing 5,000 songs and making CDs, he was also the director of the Scripps Oceanic Institute. Sort of made me feel like I could be doing a little bit more in my spare time. So as you might expect, since he was director of the Oceanic Institute, animals in the natural world are a big part of his life and that really shows up in the CD, in the songs here.


HINTON: (Singing) And the goose went eek, eek. And the duck went quack, quack. And the dog went bark, bark. And the cat went meow. And the bird went -


BLOCK: Stefan, do you see trends developing? I mean, there is, it seems, so much more kids' music out now than there used to be. What's going on?

SHEPHERD: Well, I think there are a lot more people who are paying attention to the genre. I also think that record labels are seeing kids' music as one of the few niches in which sales of albums are actually growing.

BLOCK: There's a big audience out there, clearly.

SHEPHERD: Definitely a big audience. And with the Internet, it makes it easier for families to find music that otherwise might have just been a very regional or local treat.

BLOCK: So it's a good time to be a kids' music blogger, I guess.

SHEPHERD: It's a very good time, yes.

BLOCK: Stefan Shepherd, thanks so much.

SHEPHERD: You're very welcome, Melissa.

BLOCK: Stefan Shepherd reviews children's music online at Zooglobble. His picks for the year as well as a few of my own are at

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