I don’t have kids, and neither does anyone in my immediate social circle, so when I heard about Baby Rock Records—the company that takes classic rock tunes and runs them through a lullaby-o-meter—I thought, well, that’s something. Making rock songs safe for infant ears, you say? Why, it sounds like a progressive social goal, one that combines my two great loves: rock music and sleep. Why not add rock music to the canon of baby-friendly educational tools, right alongside Baby Mozart,Barney and Teletubbies? But, wait, I thought. Rock—that scowling, discontented beast meant to provoke parents and incite the young? Feeding it to our children is downright subversive. And then I listened to it.
First off, The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Cure—all bands given the soporific treatment here—don’t need to be made kid-friendly. Most Beatles and Beach Boys songs are already brilliant sing-alongs, sprung from the template of children’s tunes. They’re memorable, sweet and dazzlingly simple. And since the Baby Rock versions are all instrumental, we can try to forget about any eyebrows that darker tracks might have raised. (Want an OCD child? Baby Rock presents “Revolution #9”!)
As for The Cure, well, any band cherished by angst-filled tweens with a Goth fixation might not be the most appropriate tone to set for your toddler, unless you’re amused by a 2-year-old with an existential crisis and a LiveJournal account. But The Cure’s repertoire actually contains a surprising number of somewhat optimistic, poppy songs. “Boys Don’t Cry” (aside from its reinforcement of rigid gender roles, but again, it’s instrumental), the peppy “Close to Me,” and, of course, “Lullaby,” are all harmless to begin with. Why not play the originals? Are drumbeats too cacophonous for infant ears, even at a low volume?
Elsewhere, the company de-rocks Radiohead, Tool, Coldplay, Bjork and even Queens of the Stone Age. But it was the inclusion of Metallica that left my head shaking. Tunes off Master of Puppets, including the song of the same name, are to be found here, in all their dark, foreboding, naptime glory. The title track is fast, furious and, yep, all about coke addiction. With lyrics like, “Taste me you will see / More is all you need / Dedicated to / How I’m killing you,” it’s difficult to imagine a better tune for soothing little ears to rest. If I had a child, I’d love to play them the instrumental version, safe in the knowledge that by removing the lyrics, the glockenspieled death strum could never harm little baby. Imagine the child hearing the original years later—talk about mixed messages.
But in all fairness, what you don’t know probably won’t hurt you here. The Baby Rock tracks are completely innocuous, safely sanitized without being antiseptic. The music’s downright pretty, lulling with a warmth and softness that’s far better to my ears than other relaxation options, like CDs of ocean waves crashing down around you or, far worse, frogs croaking in the jungle. But it’s hard to imagine anyone buying these records without a prior familiarity and affection for the material, so the choice becomes fraught with the knowledge of the original. Can songs become embedded with the DNA of their intent?
So, then, like war, what’s it good for? I asked my colleague Jim Ridley, a father of two and a rabid music fan, what he thought of the idea. “Oh, that’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard,” he said immediately. “Yeah, but, what if you wanna play cool music for your kid but it’s too dark or too dissonant?” His answer: “Wait ’til they’re old enough.”
And therein lies the rub. I was raised on Neil Diamond, bad ’70s love song comps, and yes, Barry Manilow. In a perfect world, we’d all have the White album waiting under the Christmas tree for us at 13, but some of us weren’t, and will never be, so lucky. What’s better? An early, safe introduction to rock classics to whet the appetite, or a Whitney Houston-filled musical youth, saved only by the stroke of luck that is college radio or a cool older sibling? Can we afford the luxury of hoping that creepy dude in the back of the classroom carving Eddie into his desk is willing to school us?
I suspect hip young parents might be in the market for a cutting-edge approach to musical exposure that gives them cool points without sacrificing their credibility. Will frustrated, sleep-deprived parents do anything to shut those little yappers up? Not being a breeder, I really couldn’t say. I do know that I popped in Lullaby Renditions of Metallica after work one day, and sat there marveling at how incongruent it was to hear the angry, hyper-driven “Battery” sound so damned palatable. After all, this was a song I’d head-banged to at 13, swigging PGA punch at the house of a friend whose parents were out of town. After about four minutes into the track, I looked over at my boyfriend sitting on the couch across from me, expecting to share a look of mutual amused bewilderment. He was out cold.