Music reccomendations?

A mom I know is looking for music to put on her 12-year-old son’s new mp3 player.  She says,

Looking for something reasonably wholesome, of course, but not scrupulously so. He’s 12, but a very young 12.

He is too old for little kids songs like Rafi, but I’m hesitant to introduce him to even good rock music. I’m not really looking for stuff like “Christian rock”–music designed for teenagers who love rock but whose parents won’t let them listen to it.

All we can think of is Roger Miller, the Beatles, and the Kingston Trio.

I suggested Paul Simon’s Graceland and Rhythm of the Saints, and Mumford and Sons.  I was kinda into folk rock in college (The Nealds, The Indigo Girls, etc.) but most if it is just too girly.  Buddy Holly?

(If you please, I’d rather not get into whether or not mothers should let their kids get into rock music!)   Oh, and if you have suggestions for bands or singers, could you write a line or two describing them?  Thanks!


  1. Big Band, Swing, Rockabilly-type (Brian Setzer, Glen Miller, etc). My kids (9, 11, 15) love it! I started listening to it on Pandora (I’ve always been a fan) and now the kids request it.

  2. They Might Be Giants for the worldly, Popple for those who aren’t. Weird Al in moderation and if your son is into video games, instrumental video game soundtracks or chiptunes can be good listening. And it’s never too early to introduce your kids to classic jazz.

  3. If he’s at all interested in nature, Doug Elliott is fantastic. He appeals to a broad age range, tells stories with his songs, and is genuinely engaging.

    If he’s looking for more straight up music, “Of Monsters and Men”, off the top of my head, is good- and current.

  4. I would argue that not all Christian Rock is intended that way… I’d go through and get some of the best of Christian Rock and Pop – but then that’s what I grew up on… (Of course I’m partial to mid 90s Christian Rock: DC Talk’s Jesus Freak, Jars of Clay’s first album, Newsboys’s Take Me To Your Leader, Third Day’s first album, Three Crosses, etc) I also loved Michael W. Smith, Rich Mullins and Carolyn Arends on the pop (to pop/folk side with Rich and Carolyn). I’m not so much a fan of Michael’s current stuff (mostly worship music written by other people that is not nearly as good as what he can write himself).

    All I know of secular music is some 70s rock (Moody Blues, which would be ok as far as I can remember, and Cream, which I might steer away from as much as because the lyrics don’t make sense and if he asks you might have to explain WHY they don’t make sense…) and then musical theatre and classical crossover stuff… And a current rock group here or there, none of which would be “safe” for a 12 year old…

    Please note, I am neither Catholic nor a Mom, so my recommendations should be taken with a huge grain of salt…

  5. So, I know that ideologically we’re opposed to eachother’s very existences, but I will never, ever renounce my love for Dave Matthews. And I would be a proud mama if my two sons one day inherit my extensive CD collection, circa 1999…

  6. Buddy Holly. He was my contemporary. In my opinion the earliest Rock is the best. Simple and meaningful if you will.

  7. Doesn’t this kid have any preferences?

    I saw Les Miserables, and while the movie musical is so-so, I sought out the music after (Do you hear the people sing, anyone?). If this kid is from a family that watches the old musicals, he might like some of the showtunes.

    The Barenaked Ladies, if you can get past the name, is catchy music with clean lyrics, if memory serves me correctly.

    Oh, and I strongly agree about Dave Matthews.

  8. I grew up on Motown oldies, so naturally I think that’s the ticket 🙂 What about Sam Cooke? The benefit of oldies is that you could easily look up lyrics if you wanted to double check.

    More recently, how about Beirut? I don’t know if all their lyrics hold up but on an album like Gulag Orkestar the words are secondary to the music. They aren’t a far throw from Mumford & Sons stylistically, sort of folky but drawing on a different part of the world. And going further into folk, there’s Kate Rusby.

  9. Oh gosh, how could I forget Alison Krauss and Union Station, major favorite of late-blooming high school me. Their albums are generally 80% bluegrass, 20% country pop. And I liked the album Alison did with Robert Plant, although the songs there were maybe a little darker/more adult. But I think it’s all still “clean”.

  10. Yes Great Big Sea and Stan Rogers. I’m not anti rock by any means, but 12 is a great age to explore lots of genres because you don’t know some music is “cool” and some is not. Also, at that age I loved my mom’s old records: Beatles, Simon and Garfunkle, Bob Marley, and oldies collections. Oh and definitely The Band. My sons love the Band and that’s some real music right there! Keep in mind though that there are lots of great “clean” artists that you still need to go through and check for lyrics. Like Stan Rogers and GBS are clean but a couple songs take the Lord’s name in vain and use the word for illegitimate children. Standard Newfoundland folk music tradition 🙂 but maybe not something you want your 12 year old to hear/repeat. Mumford and Sons uses the f word in at least one song. I don’t think that means you don’t let your kids listen to those guys, you just have to be selective. Everybody has different criteria for what they consider acceptable for their children and different ages.

  11. When I was 12, my family (5 kids) was able to take a camping vacation in Europe – blessed I know. In the plane on the way over, one of the channels of the in seat audio had The Sultans of Swing by Dire Straights. Still one of my all time most favorite songs.
    Also U2!!
    This was a great idea because really there is a lot of great stuff out there. It is not all sex and drugs…lol It is nice to get feed back from others.

  12. Electric Light Orchestra–fun, great instrumentation, clean

    Paul McCartney solo: Let ‘Em In, Don’t Say Goodnight Tonight, Live and Let Die, Let Me Roll It, Magneto and Titanium Man

  13. For a 12 year old… I second a lot of what has been suggested above and add the following:

    Ben Folds Five
    Brandi Carlile
    Counting Crows
    James Taylor
    Johnny Cash
    Nickel Creek
    The Tallest Man on Earth

    Also, I recommend taking the time to listen to all of the tracks first–not just to police them for adult themes/language, but to know what your kids are listening to (even if you ‘don’t get it’).

  14. Thanks for asking this question, Simcha. (But how on earth does a mother control what the child likes? Unless he is home-schooled, I guess.) I like Cait M’s suggestions. I have a 12 year old grandson (my oldest), and I never thought about this. So thanks again.

  15. I agree with Cathy – U2 has some really amazing songs of praise, for instance “Magnificent” on the No Line on the Horizon Album, though of course a lot of their stuff is quite secular, but not as far as i can remember offensive.

    How about the Beach Boys Pet Sounds album? Brilliant music, lovely harmonies.

  16. Check out Josh Garrels and Audrey Assad – both awesome Christian artists but their music is actually good – in a folky, hipster way.

  17. My children love Weird Al (especially those parodies involving Star Wars), Simon & Garfunkel, Lee Ann Rimes (country vocals), Alan Jackson (country vocals), Brian Setzer (swing/late 50s-ish loud guitar sound), and a slew of my cheesy ’80s pop compilations (which I have to be selective about, as several of the songs need to be skipped over due to objectionable content!)

    The Monkees is a fun group for kids, too.

    I try to expose my kids to a wide range of music (with appropriate lyrics), so that their personal taste might also grow to be wide-ranging. I’ve introduced them to gospel, blue grass, jazz and classical, in order to (hopefully) train their ears/broaden their tastes. To this end,they’ve heard Allison Kraus (bluegrass/acoustic), Mahalia Jackson (gospel), Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Harry Connick, Jr.(he sings, composes and plays piano, so that is a triple win) and a slew of others… I try to give them some historical/social context for each performer/genre as well.

    I don’t stick only to Christian/non-secular. Not everything has to be explicitly faith-centered; I just be sure to avoid secular stuff which explicitly contradicts God. I enjoy finding songs that reference Jesus or our Faith in a positive or fun way (think Mister Mister’s “Kyrie Eleison”) but it isn’t my only criteria in what my kids listen to.

    And yes, we homeschool, and my kids are not yet “tweens,” so for now this is an easier ocean for me to navigate. There is no cross-pollination from other children’s households musical tastes to fret about.

    Looking over the comments, I see some similar suggestions as well as other great ideas. I bet U2 would be awesome for a boy that age. This12-year-old is going to have one awesome MP3 selection!

  18. I LOVED the Monkee’s as a child – my favorite cassette tape when I was 5 until whenever the tape got lost or broke- had The Monkee’s on one side and Herman’s Hermits on the other… The Monkee’s I still love, Herman’s Hermits I don’t care for much of other than Henry the VIII…so for a 12 year old stick to the Monkee’s…

  19. Can’t go wrong with Elvis & Johnny Cash.
    We listen to a lot of Celtic music in the car, which covers a range of tunes from folk to rock, to gospel, swing, love ballads, patriotic songs, etc.
    My 6 year old is too old for Raffi. 😛

  20. I’m a little stumped by “hesitant to introduce him to even good rock music” restriction. Rock Heavy Death Metal

    What do you listen to when he’s around? What’s on in the house or car? What do you listen to when he isn’t around? Does he know what he likes or has he grown up on Raffi until now? I’d go with a lot of variety and see how things shake out – and play more music in the house and in the car.

    Rodrigo Y Gabriela (great guitarists)
    light jazz:George Benson, Pat Metheny, Michael Hedges, Willie Porter, Mark Isham
    Big band and swing – classic or recent
    Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme
    Blues and blues singers
    other jazz like Brubek, Coltrane, Stan Getz, David Sanborn
    Classical like Mozart, Beethoven, classical collections
    Film scores

    Queen, Crowded House, Boy and Bear
    Muse, Mumford & Sons, U2,
    Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Beatles, CCR, CSNY
    Singer/song writers: Michael Penn, James Taylor, Elton John, Chris Isaak, Lyle Lovett

    Selected tracks for a little more rock:
    Led Zepplin, Def Leppard, Aerosmith, Guns n Roses, Cream, Byrds, Rod Steward, David Bowie, Moody Blues, YES, Van Morrison, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Deep Purple, Elvis Costello

  21. As a pre-teen/teen in the late 90’s/early 2000’s I listened to lots of classic rock: the Beatles, Cream, Traffic, Van Morrison, Cat Stevens, Bob Dylan. I also liked straight up oldies, Motown, and accessible jazz like Ella Fitzegerald and Louis Armstrong. A lot of indie music now, like the Avett Bros. someone mentioned above, is worth looking into. But I was a dorky homeschooler, what did I know!

    This mom could pick a song or band she thinks her son would like and set up a Pandora station with that title, and perhaps it will help her find similar music.

    Cathy– “Sultans of Swing” reminds me of my trip to the Czech Republic because they played it on the plane the whole way there and back in 2000! Awesome song, and that is too funny!

    • Have I met you at Black Rock PA for ToB classes? ‘Cause that’s where I found Mike Mangione and Vince/Army of Me too! 🙂

  22. I would go with Collective Soul. My husband still loves them from when he was that age. And, they are still coming out with new stuff.

    I think technically they might be a Christian band, but nothing wrong with that, of course.

    I also really like the band Oceans Above. Make sure you DL the right version – there is a death metal band by the same name!

  23. Johnny Cash, They Might Be Giants. TMBG is great nerd rock – he can learn stuff while listening. On that note, how about some old School House Rock music. In the 90’s there was a cover album released – Skee Lo doing “I Wish” and whatnot. They’re not all great but many are.

    Marie Miller has a great single right now called You’re Not Alone. It’s about friendship, she worked with Audrey Assad’s husband on the album, and she’s Catholic – you can’t lose!

  24. We all love listening to The White Stripes, which has led us to explore more classic blues, country, and jazz. Lots of good suggestions above, as well. 🙂

  25. Abandon Kansas, they are Christian, but the lyrics are mostly just mainstream and clean, and they are good musicians. Also Reliant K.

  26. Former indie geek/hipster here, so take with a dose of salts.
    Idlewild. They are a Scottish rock band (not folksy, though the front man, Roddy Woomble, does folk, too) with very poetic, brainy lyrics, and no profanity. Their earlier stuff is very loud. My favorite.
    Mumford and Sons, because awesome.
    Johnny Cash
    Weezer (earlier stuff)
    Foo Fighters
    The Who
    Old Crow Medicine Show

    For non-dreadful Catholic stuff check out Phatmass. If he is interested in hip hop, Sammy Blaze is excellent.

  27. Billy Joel. U2. Johnny Cash. Creed.

    Yes to Mumford and Sons (they ARE fantastic) except…you should probably warn her about the one song from the first album…I forget the title but the (very catchy ear-wormy) refrain goes “It was not your fault but mine, but it was your heart on the line; I really [messed] it up this time, didn’t I my dear?” Real song don’t say “messed”.

  28. *U2 – goes w/o saying
    *Mike Mangione and the Union – folk, I guess? Tends to be calm, meditative kinds of stuff, but my dh likes to run to it (which he acknowledges seems odd)
    *Tom T. Hall – classic bluegrass
    *Brad Paisley – pop country (mostly no need to screen, but the “5th Gear” album is one to avoid)
    *Carbon Leaf – Celtic-influenced rock, thoughtful lyrics
    *eastmountainsouth – sadly, only one album, but it’s a really good one; folk music
    *Enya – this is another one my dh likes (I do too, generally); he used it as study music
    *Brave Combo – fell in love with this band at the Czech Club in Dallas. They’d play once or twice a year and a big group from UD always went to polka (and lots of other dances) the night away. “The Jeffrey” on Group Dance Epidemic is the only one to avoid like the plague.
    * soundtracks – like “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” or “The Music Man” or “Sound of Music” or whatever movies you/he like
    *Pink Martini – another dance genre band (though no polka); Hang On, Little Tomato is the best, with no cautions. Some other albums have a questionable song or two (like “Bitty Boppy Betty”)

  29. Two words: Los Straitjackets!! – they are a mostly instrumental band that plays Sixties-influenced rock AND they wear Mexican wrestling masks. No lyrics to worry about and the playing is really tight.

    I agree that Matt Maher is a great Catholic artist. His stuff is powerful and stands up next to most secular music. He is above typical Christian Rock in my opinion.

    I second The Beatles, The Beach Boys, CCR, The White Stripes, and U2. The Ramones are punk, but they did a lot stuff that is really accessible – “Rockaway Beach” and covers of songs from the Sixties – just avoid songs about sniffing glue. I think it would be a great idea to choose a bunch of stuff from Sixties popular music like a mixtape – Motown, The Who, The Kinks, The Rascals, The Troggs, The Kingsmen, The Foundations, The Hollies, Manfred Mann, Dusty Springfield, etc.

    I think the Sixties was a great time for pop/rock music, it’s just a shame that the culture started a downward spiral by the end of the decade.

    I love Alison Krauss, but I have a hard time imagining a 12 year old boy being too keen on her music. That being said, you should expose your children to as wide a variety as possible.

  30. Oops, I totally forgot about Owl City. The guy behind it is a Christian, possibly Catholic, but the songs are not necessarily overtly religious. The music is mostly upbeat electronic stuff with positive lyrics that emphasize the beauty that can be found in life. I think it would be perfect for a 12 year old boy.

    I also forgot to second They Might Be Giants – can’t go wrong with them.

  31. A carefully chosen selection of Pogues songs — good rollicking fun. For something quieter, Pinback — gently rhythmic lullabies for older people. Very good, sort of childlike, and they write about things like a pet goldfish who died. Also listen to “A Prairie Home Companion” and check out some of those wonderful folky, alterna-country musicians on the show.

  32. Hellogoodbye is pop, but also good as well as Pomplamoose, and the following are all good music with thoughtful lyrics, but may contain occasional swearwords: Bastille, Iron and Wine, Muse, Snow Patrol.
    These are “girly” (i.e. girl lead singer), but pretty music: Eisley, Paramore, Joy Williams.
    Christian music: Caedmon’s Call, Randallgoodgame, Switchfoot, David Crowder Band, Matt Redman, Michael Card, Rich Mullins.

  33. Great Big Sea, a folk-rock group from Newfoundland. They’ve fused the traditional English-Irish-influenced music of their native Newfoundland with a more rock sensibility for the most rollicking folk you could wish. They sing a mix of folk and their own stuff.

    Gaelic Storm. American-Irish band playing mostly their own folk/folk-rock. Primarily Celtic but with tons of other influences, from bluegrass to reggae.

    Schooner Fare. Three older guys from New England sing traditional English/Irish/Canadian/American tunes with wonderful energy.

    For a 12-year-old: Drinking does enter into a lot of these songs, obviously, since they’re Irish, but I’d play the majority of these three band’s oeuvres for a 12-year-old. There are a few songs I’d throw out, like Great Big Sea’s “Yarmouth Town,” but generally I’d have no problem letting an average 12-year-old hear most of these songs. Try Great Big Sea’s “Rant and Roar,” “General Taylor,” “Ordinary Day,” and “Lukey” to start with.

    How about some classical, too? Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. Copeland’s Rodeo. The Anvil Chorus. The 1812 overture. (trying to think of boy-friendly stuff here)

  34. What an awesome post. Love the thread.
    I’d go with They Might Be Giants. I want to say BNL and Weird Al but they both have some themes that may require explaining.

    Ceili Rain is great celtic rock with some Christian/Catholic overtones.

    Nick Alexander is a good replacement for Weird Al. Catholic parody music.

    Otherwise, I tend to agree with the suggestions here. Just no DMB. Please!

  35. I recommend that you listen to pop radio stations on the car radio. I loved Alice Music in San Francisco because it mixed great rock classics with contemporary stuff. We live in a college town now so there’s too much rap, but I have three stations I can flip to. I usually explain the reason when I change the channel. (like:” it’s too bad such a beautiful girl with such a beautiful voice had to stoop so low to sing *that*!”
    What’s funny is my kids and I basically like to jam the same music loudly. A good beat spans the generational gap.
    Did anybody else catch the band on SNL week before last? I think it’s called Alabama Shakes. Watch the video clip. I love her house dress and Electric guitar. She freaking rocked it. 🙂

  36. I brought up my oldest daughter on Great Big Sea and (yes, really) The Grateful Dead. Despite the popular image, most of their music isn’t drug-oriented.

    Also, you gotta check out The Arrogant Worms. Side-splittingly funny, original and seldom even requiring a PG rating. All my kids loved the Worms at that age.

  37. Try the album Ca C’est Bon by the American-Cajun group L’Angélus. It’s mostly in English and this group played at World Youth Day in Madrid. They deserve to be better known.

  38. Some good suggestions above. Just a word of caution on the Mumford & Sons. My husband bought the album last week. Love the music, but there is a track with the f-word throughout if that offends.

  39. Scott Joplin. If he is not actually the inventor of Ragtime, he made the genre more than anyone else. Ragtime is as much a precursor to all modern musical styles as Blues or Gospel. Plus Ragtime is lots more fun, whether you are playing it or listening to it.

    Gospel music. If you need a beat, check out “Let Everything that Hath Breath,” by Jeffrey Ames, sung by the Baylor University Concert Choir, and move on from there. You can search YouTube for a sample.

    Selena y los Dinos. Her music is playful and fun. Though the overriding theme is often a cumbia of some sort, there are other elements in every one of her songs. Plus, her recordings of the 1950s-era songs like “Blue Moon,” done as tributes to her father, can be heart-breaking.

    Billy Joel, which echoes one (or more) previous recommendations. Billy Joel is especially intriguing, because he was a pianist who knew his classical music. His song, “This Night,” from his “Innocent Man” album, is sung to the music of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Opus 13, also known as Sonata Pathétique.

    This leads to another possibility. Why not check out an online vendor of classical music and get some music that has informed the best musicians of today, even the rock-n-roll types? Or save up those Amazon MP3 credits and get some Bach, Mozart, or Palestrina tracts?

    Better yet, pull up some old Bugs Bunny cartoons on DVD or Netflix, because in these cases the title of each episode is readily available. Once that near-100-piece orchestra plays a striking tune, google the episode to find out what the music is, and get that.

  40. Trout Fishing in America. Their grown-up stuff is mild enough for kids and their kids stuff is silly and fun without being infantile. Might also explore some of the Manheim Steamroller Fresh Aire albums.

  41. When I was his age, the Thin Lizzy version of Whiskey in the Jar was pretty arresting (that’s what I’d call folk rock, and I can’t think it’s girly). I’d concur with those who have already mentioned Simon & Garfunkel, the Beatles, Dire Straits, U2, and Johnny Cash.

    Boys do like to hear women sing, so I wouldn’t be worried about “girliness” in that sense, but something with strong narrative or that’s a bit jokey is more fun for a boy than some sort of soppy love song. Rihanna’s “Man Down” comes to mind, if that’s not too bleak (but certainly nothing else of hers), and Silly Sisters (Maddy Prior and June Tabor – surely no introduction is needed?).

    Also The Dubliners (Irish folk). Boney M (disco, but with some good narrative/historical songs and just a couple of clearly biblical tracks thrown in). Pasadena Roof Orchestra (retro swing). Harry Belafonte (needs no introduction). The Proclaimers (Scottish rock/pop). How eclectic do you want to get? Obviously much of this is somewhat dated now. I’m thinking back to when I was 12 – but many of these were no longer “current” even then, and that was no impediment to enjoying them.

    What else might work? Soundtracks of (or songs from) films he likes. Or even films he’s never seen. The soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou went down a treat with my (then) 12-year-old son (somewhat to my surprise). Or Ennio Morricone.

  42. U2- past, present and future.
    Love Paul Simon’s Graceland,
    Van Morrison
    Bill Evans- Jazz Pianist

  43. 1. Simon and Garfunkel, especially “Feelin’ Groovy,” “Bridge over Troubled Water,” “I Am a Rock”, “For Emily, Whenever I may Find Her” and “Benedictus.”

    2. Paul Simon (solo), especially “Diamonds on the Souls of her Shoes,” “You Can Call Me Al,” “St. Judy’s Comet,” and “Obvious Child.”

    3. James Taylor

    4. CCR, especially “Down on the Corner”

    5. John Denver! Lots of John Denver.

    6. If he’s into sacred choral music (I know, it’s a long shot), the album “Agnus Dei: Music of Inner Harmony” by the Choir of New College, Oxford, is sublime.

    7. If he’s into traditional folk songs, the same group (Choir of New College, Oxford) has an album called “Early One Morning.” One of my favorite albums.

    8. Norah Jones’s first album, “Come Away with Me.”

    9. There’s a great album (at B & N bookstores) of duets with Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.

    10. Sarah McLachlan’s albums “Mirrorball” and “Surfacing” are both good. It’s mostly piano and vocals–beautiful, often haunting vocals. One of the tracks, “Building a Mystery” has some profanity.

    11. Susan Enan’s song, “Bring on the Wonder.”

    12. Ingrid Michaelson, especially “The Way I am,” “You and I,” and “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.” (Also the Elvis original of that last one.)

    13. Cantus (an all-male a cappella choir from the Twin Cities) has the most eclectic album of world-music, called “Let Your Voice Be Heard.” It includes everything from Innuit Chant to Chinese to Spanish to a Swedish judge’s dance to a Georgian hymn to the Blessed Virgin to African jazz to “What do you do with a drunken sailor?” and “Danny Boy.” It sounds weird, but it’s cool and fun.

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