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July 18, 2006

The Long Review: Legacy's Family Artist Series

One of the hardest lessons to learn as a father was that kids like what kids like and parental influence does not, necessarily, translate across generational pop culture. My toddler daughter will dance to Asha Bhosle and sing along to the Flaming Lips. She’ll even “air drum” along to Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii if she’s not too sleepy. Try to foist some treasure from your childhood onto her buzzing psyche, and she’ll give you a look that says, “Hey, I make my own decisions about what’s cool, old man.”

That’s not a serious ego-slap, though. Some children’s albums are just too good for children.

The Marlo Thomas & Friends album is a perfect example. My sister and I listened to it one afternoon while she was in town. We cut our teeth on “Sesame Street,” “The Electric Company” and ABC After-School Specials. We were products of the ’70s. We have vivid memories of the TV special and companion soundtrack.

Thomas sought to counteract the treacle that passed for children’s entertainment by addressing gender roles, tolerance and self-esteem in a clever and engaging manner without treating the audience like, well, children. The performers and writers realized that “childlike” is preferable to “childish.”

That’s probably why the material holds up to modern scrutiny.
“It’s All Right to Cry” (sung by former NFL star Rosey Grier), “William’s Doll,” Carol Channing’s (!!!) “Housework,” and the “Boy Meets Girl” skit (featuring Mel Brooks) are still completely charming and relevant 30 years later.

The Johnny Cash album suffers a bit from a ’70s cheese infection, but any shortcomings are ultimately forgivable because Cash, as usual, inoculates the material with dignity and charisma.

The “slow ballad-type songs” don’t hold up as well as the more energetic sing-along numbers. At times, they sound entirely obligatory. “I Got a Boy (and His Name is John),” a humorous duet with June, represents the album at its best. It makes the whole thing worthwhile.

Also part of Legacy’s Family Artist Series are Maurice Sendak and Carole King’s Really Rosie and Harry Nilsson’s better-than-you-remember soundtrack to The Point.

None of these albums will earn you cool parent stripes. In fact, you may encounter strong, often bellicose resistance to these albums. Remember … when playing music in your vehicle, YOU call the shots. The “I loved these when I was your age” never works. As far as your kids are concerned, you were never their age. If you must, unsheathe the “because it’s good for you” or the unassailable “because I said so.”

You deserve to do something nice for yourself.

Contact the writer at msteiger@leoweekly.com