I wanna hear music from the 50's, daddy.

I was in the car with Ava the other night, driving around to get Ezra to fall asleep. Once the boy was out, I decided to put in the great sounds of They Might Be Giants, more specifically, their most recent album for kids, Here Come the ABC's. Right in the middle of it, there was a song titled, "Rolling O" that had a different sound to it. An older sound, you could say, with a Hammond organ and some horns. Ava perked up.

"Daddy, this song sounds like it's from the sick-tees." She fumbled with that last word.

"The what, sweetie?"

"The sicks-tees. You know, like how Buddy was a cool daddy-o." ("Buddy" is our nickname for Ezra, and she's referring to when Ezra was dressed up as a beatnik for Halloween. You can see what the kids looked like here, by the way.)

"The 60's? You mean it sounds like an old song?"


I then agreed with her, that yes, this song does sound like it's an old song, even though it was made recently. I then decided to drop some knowledge on my precious little 5 year-old sponge (knowing full well that this might go over her head) and proceeded to tell her that a beatnik was actually from the 50's.

"I wanna hear music from the 50's, daddy," Ava pipes up almost suddenly. I look at her in my rear-view mirror, stunned.

"You do?" "Yeah."

My thumb couldn't spin around that click-wheel on our iPod fast enough, I tell ya. I mean, when do you ever get the chance to showcase some fabulous sounds of the 1950's to your daughter? Not very likely. Even though Ava and Ezra are exposed to a vast eclectic mix of music from Andrea and I both in the car and at home ranging from Múm, DJ Shadow, Zero 7, Sufjan Stevens, Ida, Mars ILL, as well as the aforementioned They Might Be Giants, it's quite unusual to get a request for a particular era of music. As I clicked and scrolled through my music collection, I realized that I did not have any of the early rock 'n roll tunes -- what you might call "rock standards." No biggie, though, as I had plenty for Ava to listen to.

A little bit of Dean Martin, a smidgen of Les Baxter, a dash of Bobby Darin ("Mack the Knife," natch), a pinch of Peggy Lee -- I went through a small smorgasbord of various sounds that came out during that time, and Ava was soaking it all in. She really seemed like she was enjoying herself, be-bopping in her car seat from song to song, moving to the beat. As I went through the calvacade of mid-century songs, Ava would ask during each song, "Is this from the 50's?" And I would answer "Yes," obediently, with a slight smile. I was intrigued by the fact that she seemed intent on knowing how a song from the 50's sounded. Once I exhausted my impromptu playlist, I started to play some songs off this fantastic collection called The Best ...And Friends Album In The World, a hard-to-find UK import which features music from the late 30's into the 70's (and somehow makes it fit together rather nicely, I might add). I played "The Lady Is A Tramp" by Lena Horne, from 1948. Again, from Ava: "Is this from the 50's?" "No, this is actually a little older, from the 40's, I think." Pause.

"What's a 'tramp'?"

Hmmm. What IS a tramp? And worse yet, how do you explain this to a 5 year-old girl? My mind raced with images of trashy women from that era, from those pulp novel covers, to Bettie Page -- at one point a 60's go-go dancer popped into my head for no apparent reason -- I had to think fast. Suddenly, it dawned on me.

"Well, you know Tramp from "Lady And the Tramp" right? Well, you remember that he's just a dog who doesn't have a home, who just goes around and tries to find friends, right"

"Um hmm," She agrees.

"That's what this woman is singing about: someone who doesn't have any friends and is going around trying to find some."

"Oh," Ava seemed to understand. I was off the hook! Goodness....

I then moved onto "What's New Pussycat?" by Tom Jones, thinking that Ava might dig the kitty-cat theme but overlook the subtle sexual overtones in the song. I kinda giggled to myself at how I got into that predicament, at how it's funny how kids look at the world around them with innocent eyes, and how we, as parents, tend to overlook certain terms and phrases that might seem tame but have dual meanings. I then began to think about my explanation to her, about what a "tramp" is. That is a rather nice way of putting it, if you think about it, yes? I almost made a 'tramp' a sympathetic character. Obviously in the Disney movie Tramp IS a sympathetic character, but in Ms. Horne's rendition, the 'tramp' is someone who is looked down upon for not going with the status quo. She's labeled a 'tramp' because she "won’t dish the dirt, with the rest of those broads." Interesting.

Anyway, since Ava's 50's music enlightenment that evening, I've since gathered some neato Elvis tunes and some various early rock 'n' roll standards, just so Ava will have a nice well-rounded idea of what kind of music came out during that time.

Hopefully she won't ask me what "A wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom" means. I might need some help on that one.


  1. Wow Ward. Another smashing parenting success. You guys are writing the book that I WILL follow if I am ever a parent.

  2. too cool.
    what a great place to start here musical journey...

  3. I can only hope that Owen, once the little gremlin is born, will have such an appreciation for old music. As of now I have no one to listen to my Frankie Valli, Sinatra, Elvis, and Doo Wop albums with.

  4. Oops. I may have had a little something to do with Ava wanting to hear the rock 'n roll music. I have a CD a friend of mine burned for me with some AWESOME '60s music that I played for Ava one day in the car several weeks ago. I saw her in the back seat (with my rearview mirror turned just right) rocking! She had a smile on her face. That granddaughter of mine. LOVE HER!

  5. that story is priceless! it's so cool that with your blog you were able to sort of freeze that moment in time so that the 2 of you will always remember it :) i am sure as ava's music tastes continue to develop moments like this will be something she too will always treasure

  6. I love this story. wish I could've been in the car for that one. and I can't get the songs from that ABCs album by they might be giants OUT OF MY HEAD.

    (this one is especially for you, ward: who put the alphabet... in alphabetical order!?!?)

  7. what a wonderful story!

    I'm thinking I might have to get that ABC cd for my 2 yr old nephew.

  8. A suggested play list of 50's music
    for you ipod:

    Sh-Boom (Life Could Be a Dream)
    Shake Rattle and Roll
    Rock Around The Clock
    Ain't That A Shame
    Earth Angel
    Tutti Frutti
    See You Later Alligator
    Heartbreak Hotel
    Be Bop A Lula
    I'm in Love Again
    Don't Be Cruel
    Hound Dog
    Long Tall Sally
    Blueberry Hill
    Party Doll
    Little Darlin'
    All Shook Up
    School Day
    Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On
    That'll Be The Day
    Wake Up Little Susie
    Jailhouse Rock
    Peggy Sue
    At the Hop
    Great Balls of Fire
    Stood Up
    Short Shorts
    Get a Job
    Sweet Little Sixteen
    Witch Doctor
    Purple People Eater
    Yakety Yak
    Bird Dog
    16 Candles
    Kansas City
    Sea of Love
    ('Til) I Kissed You
    A Big Hunk Of Love

  9. LOL, we don't cover many *eras* in the Ward's-cousin-Rocky household, but we do cover a huge range of styles. My kids (5 of them, from 15 to 8) can sing the words to depression-era bluegrass ("Man of constant sorrow"), techno/pop ("Personal Jesus"), Pink Floyd (who deserves its own genre) - The Wall, country ("Friends in Low Places"), 80's rock ("Dust in the Wind"), Allman Bros (once again their own genre) "Statesboro Blues", heavy metal ("Enter Sandman"), hip-hop ("Ms. Jackson")....

    You get the idea.

    Heck, Kris (15), Kelsey (12) and I take turns burning mix CDs for the car just to play "amateur dj" for the family whilst driving about.

    I want to teach them to not lock onto a genre per se, but to listen to music that is *interesting* - and appreciate all that there is to offer.

    I have even played some songs that ocntain instruments you're not used to hearing in a song - such as the bagpipes in AC/DC's "It's a Long Way to the Top" and the chainsaw - yes, a chainsaw - in Jackyl's appropriately entitled "Lumberjack".

    The beautiful thing is that, no matter what you like, there is always more that you like available that you just haven't found yet. That's what I want my kids to learn and appreciate.

    Good topic, Ward - sorry to be so verbose ;)