Burly Urly Ives

We have a newish van. It’s a rebuilt vehicle, which means that some of its parts–the boring ones, like the brakes and the engine–are new and shiny; but others are weirdly out of date.  The body, for instance, sports a car-length blue and silver geometric decal straight from 1989.  It is radical.  When I drive it, I feel radical.  There is some matching detail symmetrically adorning the back doors, which makes it look disconcertingly like our van has a little mustache.  Well, I can get over that.

Our old van had a CD player.  The new one, in keeping with its new/old split personality, has a top notch tape deck.  I was a little aggravated about this at first, but then I realized something:  now we can listen to Burl Ives again!  I only have Burl Ives on tape, and he is so great.  Here’s what accompanied us home from the library:

I would a thousand time rather have the little guys listen to folk music than “What a Girl Wants” by Kidz Bop or whatever–wait, what’s that homeschooling word?–twaddle passes for children’s music these days, even though an awful lot of folk music is about cutting throats and beating wives.

I like the Wiggles pretty well, but other than that, we just make the kids listen to whatever sounds good to us (did I mention that you can plug your iPod into the tape deck?).

Unfortunately, that means the little tykes sometimes go around humming ditties by Pavement or the Violent Femmes.  I still think it’s better than Raffi (although I just got my husband to admit that “Baby Beluga” is actually quite moving).

I used to work very hard at making sure my kids knew all the good old songs of childhood, but after a while I couldn’t take the moans and howls of agony that would greet my singing voice.  Heck with them.  Next time we’re going on a road trip and my husband dials up Oingo Boingo, I’m not lifting a finger.


  1. We spent many years with Raffi, but I am completely burned out on that. Now that I have finally entered the 21st century, my kids listen to what I listen to (and yes, I was overjoyed to be able to download from ITunes the songs I hadn’t been able to hear for forever because they were on cassette tapes!). So they now hum tunes from Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers and Billy Joel. My planned purchase for August? Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks – sure hope the 5-year-old likes it.

    But don’t diss all kids’ music – if you haven’t listened to Rhinoceros Tap (Sandra Boynton), you don’t know what you are missing.

    • @suburbancorrespondent: someone else’s kids listen to Makem & Clancy? Mine can spot Tommy Makem on a YouTube video. They like the Makem Bros. (grandkids of tommy, I think) too. Lots of Irish/Scottish history in that type of music.

  2. VIOLENT FEMMES! YESSSSSSSSS! I was waiting until my children were older to introduce them to the Femmes, but I feel emboldened to go for it now, right here in their young and formative years. And for sure I will be humming Please Do Not Go all day now.

  3. What neat little device do you have that allows you to plug an ipod into a tape deck? I may have to invest in one of these. We have a tape deck and a cd player in our truck, but I’ve been spoiled by having all the songs I like in one neat little place.
    I like Burl Ives – and I was going to say “as much as the next guy” – but if you are said “next guy”, I guess that’s not true. I couldn’t listen to the entire song you posted. It was awful.
    The Wiggles are ok, but more suited to video, I think.
    We have one Raffi cd that my MIL bought the kids when we just had “kid” and they love it. And I love it! There are some really cute, fun songs on there!
    I would rather cut my own throat and be a beaten wife than let my kids listen to anything even resembling kidz bop anything. It’s not that the songs are offensive (though some of them are borderline), but I can’t stand kids voices singing “regular” songs.
    Violent Femmes and Oingo Boingo, yes, but not on the back speakers. That’s how I filter my music from the kids, by the way.
    Never heard of Pavement, but will Google… ok, they seem like they could have a good song or two.
    When I looked at all the daily traveling we had planned for this summer, I looked into getting some books on tape (well, cd, actually – but the library has both!). It was a good idea and kept the kids quiet and entertained much longer than any music cd, but the younger ones grew tired of it a bit earlier than we hoped. Normally, it’s not such a big deal, but when you’re trying to follow a story, their noise can wreck it.
    One tape I have that is almost universally pleasing is an old Riders in the Sky tape. I love it, the kids love it – lots of story-telling in the songs and yodeling which the kids find hilarious.

    • Tiffany, it’s a $10 device from Walmart. It looks like a cassette tape with a wire coming out of it, so you put it into the tape deck and press play, and plug the other end into your MP3 player.

      I used to use your method of switching to front speakers, but feature of our fabulous car is that if you change the speaker settings (left, right, back, front, treble, bass, etc.) then you can’t go back. I found this out after directing all the sound to the right front speaker, where it stayed until Damien unhooked the battery.

  4. Ooh, if you like folk music you should check out Smithsonian Folkways.
    My favorite album is “Colonial and Revolutionary War Songs and Sea Shanties:”

    My son John was tall and slim
    and ‘e ‘ad a leg for every limb
    But now ‘e’s got no legs a-tall
    For ‘e ran a race with a cannon ball
    To-re-roo-dum dall, fol-er-iddle-dal,
    WHACK fol-er-iddle-to-re-roo-dum dall.

    Also Woody Guthrie’s two children’s albums. And I am pretty sure you can get most of it on tape.

    • This ditty was also on _Rogue’s Gallery_, a fantastic collection of sea chanteys that our kids LOVE. Caveat: there are a few VERY pornographic songs that we had to edit out of our i-tunes playlist version of this album. Our children are not allowed to listen to the entire CD! The rest of the songs and arrangements, with artists incl. Bryan Ferry, Sting, Bono, and our new favorite, Baby Gramps, were just too wonderful to pass up. OK, so we allowed the songs about violence and booze, but it’s all framed in historical context since my husband was in the Coast Guard and happens to be an amateur pirate expert.

  5. I race around Maine in a 15 passenger sports van. My husband insists it is NOT a sports van, but I know better. It has a V8 engine that makes a wonderful, POWERFUL noise at it zips up the hills. I do try not to day dream that I’m driving a Mercedes Gullwing on the Autobahn however. There are a few to many twists and turns on what we call highways in these parts.

    Sadly, GMC forgot to install my CD or MP3 Player. Which leaves the radio with its very limited options. I mostly prefer the silence.

    I didn’t know Sandra Boynton did children’s music. I’ll have to look her up on Youtube.

  6. If you are interested in finding more contemporary music that doesn’t have all the negative messages check out Air 1 at http://www.air1.com (I think that is the site). It is called the “positive alternative” and plays Christian Alternative Rock and Christian Hip Hop songs. They are really, really good. My kids love the music and they sing the songs in the car when we listen to it. I don’t know what the dial numbers would be in your area, but I’m pretty sure that they have a place on the website to find your local dial station.


  7. My 3-year-old recently declared that her favorite song is Buffalo Soldier (by Bob Marley). I guess I did burn out on the kiddie music by the third child. There’s only so much Laurie Berkner one can stand.

  8. I owned “Slanted and Enchanted” and “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain” by Pavement. I know this, because the empty CD cases are still sitting in the CD rack.

    Folks might want to refamiliarize themselves with the lyrics to “Add It Up” (The Violent Femmes) before playing it with the tykes present. Great, great song, though.

    • <>

      Yes, many of their songs are skippable for this and other reasons. This is why I like the “shake” feature on the iPod – it’s good for the sudden panic when you haven’t listenend to a song in while . .

  9. May I recommend two “kids” albums that are actually just excellent all-around music, with and without the little people in tow….

    Harry Connick Jr, “Songs I Heard”

    Barenaked Ladies, “Snacktime”

    Little side note – the 5th track on this, called “Eraser” is an homage to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. For real. Try finding that in another kid collection!

  10. I saw Burl Ives perform when I was about 12. I am a huge fan. We’ll have to find some songs to put on the iPod. Your van sounds like the van my family had in the 80s — awesome.

  11. My 2 year-old son’s favorite band is Great Big Sea (from New Foundland). This group plays songs about pirates and drinking, mostly. And the odd song about a mermaid (which the older sister loves). He knows most of the songs by heart and can start singing at any time so you have to watch out!

    The 5 year old also has enjoyed her share of Violent Femmes and The White Stripes (good beats). These all seem inappropriate, but the kids really like them. Her favorite band was Eddie from Ohio (actually from Virginia) which is a great modern folk band.

    We do mix in the kid music now and then (more now lately, but we’ll get out of that rut soon).

    Just thought I would throw out some other good bands for kids (even if it’s not traditional kid music).

    While I was pregnant with my first child, we were lucky enough to see the Femmes in concert. We stood next to a family with two young children (like 5 and 7), and they knew ALL the words!

  12. I have the good fortune of my oldest child being born deaf, so despite having a 3.5 yr old and a 7 month old, I’ve yet to play kids music in the car. I listen to whatever the heck I want. Now my daughter has cochlear implants, and thus, can “hear everything” but she’s not really in to music. I’m sure it sounds strange to her. So I still listen to whatever the heck I want. The 7 month old is not deaf, but by the time he’s old enough to want kid’s music in the car, I suspect I’ll be too much in the habit of listening to whatever the heck I want that it won’t matter what he wants 😛

  13. Audiobooks! We can download them for free from our library’s website. You can get a device that lets an mp3 player play over your radio, or you can get a cheap speaker.

  14. I have never listened to folk music, that I am aware of. I am not really into music. I know that sounds like sacrilege to a music lover’s ears. However, do they really have songs about beating one’s wife? How would those lyrics even go? I cannot wrap my brain around that.

    We listen to the Wiggles, some Sesame Street CDs and the different CDs my children received when they attended Kindermusic classes.

    • Wife-beating song that springs to mind is “the Wee Cooper o’ Fife,” but I seem to remember there are others. The whole tone of Burl Ive’s “Wayfaring Stranger” album is pretty misogynistic, but it’s still a great album. I don’t think the kids understand the dialect anyway. Here’s the lyrics:

      Wee Cooper of Fife

      There was a wee cooper who lived in fife
      Nickety, nockety, noo, noo, noo
      And he has gotten a gentle wife
      Hey Willie Wallacky, hey John Dougall
      Alane quo’ rushety, roo, roo, roo

      She wouldna bake, she wouldna brew
      Nickety, nockety, noo, noo, noo
      For spoiling o’ her comely hue
      Hey Willie Wallacky, hey John Dougall
      Alane quo’ rushety, roo, roo, roo

      Ahe wouldna wash, she wouldna wring,
      Nickety, nockety, noo, noo, noo
      For spoiling o’ her gowden ring
      Hey Willie Wallacky, hey John Dougall
      Alane quo’ rushety, roo, roo, roo

      She wouldna caird, she wouldna spin
      Nickety, nockety, noo, noo, noo
      For shaming of her gentle kin
      Hey Willie Wallacky, hey John Dougall
      Alane quo’ rushety, roo, roo, roo

      The cooper has gone to his woo’ pack
      Nickety, nockety, noo, noo, noo
      And laid a sheepskin on his wife’s back
      Hey Willie Wallacky, hey John Dougall
      Alane quo’ rushety, roo, roo, roo

      It’s I’ll no lether ye for your kin
      Nickety, nockety, noo, noo, noo
      But I will lether my own sheepskin
      Hey Willie Wallacky, hey John Dougall
      Alane quo’ rushety, roo, roo, roo

      Oh, I will bake and I will brew
      Nickety, nockety, noo, noo, noo
      And think nae mair o’ my comely hue
      Hey Willie Wallacky, hey John Dougall
      Alane quo’ rushety, roo, roo, roo

      Oh, I will wash and I will wring
      Nickety, nockety, noo, noo, noo
      And think nae mair o’ my gowden ring
      Hey Willie Wallacky, hey John Dougall
      Alane quo’ rushety, roo, roo, roo

      I will caird and I will spin
      Nickety, nockety, noo, noo, noo
      And think nae mair o’ my gentle kin
      Hey Willie Wallacky, Hey John Dougall
      Alane quo’ rushety, roo, roo, roo

      Noo you that have gotten a gentle wife
      Nickety, nockety, noo, noo, noo
      Just send ye for the wee cooper of Fife [1]
      Hey Willie Wallacky, hey John Dougall
      Alane quo rushety, roo, roo, roo

  15. My all-time favorite kid’s album is “Singing in the Bathtub” by John Lithgow. Now I’ve got the song “From the Indies to the Andes” stuck in my head. I tried to find a video of Lithgow singing it but instead found an old version by the “Hoosier Hot Shots.” Move over Lady Gaga

    A sample of the lyrics – “And he carried for a charm a kippered herring, To protect him when the tropic sun was glaring
    Whoever met him thought he needed airing
    ‘Twas a very, very daring thing to do”

  16. i’m doing my best to instill a love of bluegrass in my kids, to my surprise, this type of music and the melodious sounds of bagpipes are not universally loved by all and must be favourably introduced at a young age… Burl Ives is also So Dear to my Heart. that’s a little joke, but it’s true.

  17. Loving the site, Ms. Fischer! Found you through Conversion Diary. Anyway, no one has yet mentioned They Might Be Giants. Slacker parents could certainly do no worse than to check out their kids’ music (and their stuff for “grown ups” in the 80s-90s was no chopped liver). The latest album, _Here Comes Science_, might have some concepts that could rankle the more conservative types, but the music here (and on the other three albums) ranges from comedy to lullaby. In fact, the combination of silly stories/lyrics, contagious melodies, and edumuhcatin’ makes them a repeat even the ‘rents don’t mind on car trips. Plus the videos are fun for all ages. They even came up with a song to help me (and my pre-schooler, almost) learn my alphabet backwards–a problem that has haunted me since college days, when I most feared failing this rumored drunk driving test that I couldn’t perform sober without a cheat sheet!

  18. My son (age 2 1/2) was walking around singing “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley the other day. And “Life is a Highway” (the original Tom Cochrane version thank you very much).

    I, too, must see a picture of this van.

  19. Our kids are REALLY into the Beatles (group and solo), especially our oldest 9 (age 7). In fact, my husband just took her to see Paul McCartney. The four-year-old distinguishes between her favorite Beatles song (Sgt. Pepper) and her favorite McCartney solo song (Let ‘Em In).

    When we do music appreciation in our homeschool, we skip all that twaddle like Bach and Mozart and go straight to the good stuff like Bowie, Rolling Stones, Sting/Police, Elton John, etc. Basically, we pull out our Live Aid DVDs. 😉

  20. Please do post a picture of the van!

    When my older one was 4 or 5 I was ignoring him in the back seat and listening to No Doubt, when, after hearing “hey baby, hey baby – all the girls say”, he piped up indignantly, “that’s not what the girls in MY school say!”. Now we, too, listen to Bob Marley in the car, although my younger one has a passion for early U2 as well. Played loud on headphones it does wonders for his sensory “issues”. ::prolonged sigh::

  21. I remember the day that my 6 year old daughter said from the back seat of the car, “Mommy, my favourite music is the ones with drums and boy singers, not girl singers.”

    Mind you she is now singing “Put a Ring On It” by Beyonce, so maybe there is hope.

    BTW, I grew up listening to The Eurythmics and the Dire Straits, and I’m only mildly damaged. 😉

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