I think that one of a parent’s more minor but nevertheless important responsibilities is to make sure his or children grow up with a love of music that doesn’t totally suck, and that while allowing for a child’s own emerging musical tastes, one can work within those tastes to present that child songs that are worth listening to. Just as one doesn’t one’s child to go to kindergarten unprepared to read and write, one also doesn’t want to send her off to school at be at the mercy of the cheesebag Nick-bands of the third graders like Play or Dream Street (actually, Dream Street is waaaay dead. Yet Play somehow survives. Terrifying), or — worst of all — the Geneva-Conventions-flaunting Kidz Bop CDs. Not my child. Not this day.
With that in mind, allow me to present the Athena Mix CD. This CD Mix features songs selected after general observation of music she already likes, a wide selection of tunage that nevertheless has some things in common. For example, she prefers cheerful to not, she prefers a driving beat to ballads, she (slightly) prefers women’s voices to men’s, and perhaps not atypically for a five year old, she prefers songs that have damn catchy choruses that she can pick up in a snap. So here’s what we have:
1. That Ain’t Bad — Ratcat: Athena shows an affinity for punky pop, so this underrated early 90s gem from an equally underrated Aussie punk band fits the bill just fine.
2. Believe — Cher: It’s got a nice beat, and you can dance to it. And if you’re going to expose your kid to a dance diva, why not the one that’s survived over four decades. A positive role model, just not in the “plastic surgery” sense.
3. Come Give Me Love — Sparkledrive: Obscure band, but insanely catchy girl-fronted pop rock.
4. The Whole of the Moon — Mandy Moore: Off of Moore’s Coverage album, on which she also covers XTC, Joe Jackson, Blondie, and Joan Armatrading, and doesn’t do a horrible job of it. Anyway, it’s doubtful Athena would dig the original version of the song, and rather more likely she would dig this version, and the song is fabulous, so why not?
5. Take a Chance on Me — Erasure: Exactly the sort bubbly pop she’ll dig, and I prefer that if she must be exposed to ABBA, why not by way of Erasure, whose bright techo-pop flavorings are already part of her musical vocabulary?
6. When I Grow Up — Garbage: Athena already likes Garbage, and I think she’ll enjoy singing along to the chorus. What fun it will be when she sings the chorus (“When I grow up, I’ll be stable”) to all her new friends at kindergarten!
7. It’s the End of the World as We Know It — REM: Like everyone else in the known universe, she’ll flub the verses and shout out the chorus.
8. All Star — Smashmouth: Old Reliable. The first song she danced to as an infant; she’d just wiggle back and forth. It was cute you might bleed from the eyeballs.
9. Why Does the Sun Shine? — They Might Be Giants: A fun song, but also scientifically correct! Well, mostly; it seems to suggest the sun undergoes a CNO fusion cycle when in fact the sun is not nearly massive enough for that, But I quibble. I’m pretty sure that Athena’s already the only kid going into her kindergarten who will be able to name most of the planets in the solar system, but I’d bet money she’s the only one that will be able to tell you that the sun is a mass of incandescent gas, a giant nuclear furnace, where hydrogen is built into helium at a temperature of millions of degrees.
10. Walla Walla — Offspring: Offspring is another one of Athena’s favorite bands (she digs “Why Don’t You Get a Job” and “What in the World Happened to You?”), so this is more of what we know she likes. I acknowledge Offspring is a controversial choice for a five year old (the band is not shy about profanity), but Athena is smart enough to know which words not to say and also I think it’s not a bad sign to signal to your kid that you trust her to enjoy music without worrying that she’s going to spout profanities afterwards. Be that as it may, the band’s song “Bad Habit” is not going to be on any playlist of Athena’s anytime soon. Also, of course, if Athena brings any little friends home and chooses to listen to tunage, Offspring mysteriously disappears from the playlist. This is the advantage of having all the music in the house streaming off my computer.
11. Our Lips are Sealed — Go-Gos: Do I really need to explain this choice? I didn’t think so.
12. Kid — The Pretenders: Athena adores “Stop Your Sobbing,” so I figure she’d also dig this.
13. Connection — Elastica: Short, fast, and that fast-descending bass note is going to go over really big.
14. Perfect — Fairground Attraction: One of Athena’s more surprising favorites is a version of “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing,” so I’m taking a chance that Athena will dig on this, which has a similar jazzy feel. Also, the earlier she learns to adore Edie Reader, the happier I’ll be.
15. I Want You to Want Me — Letters to Cleo: Athena really enjoys this band’s cover of “Cruel to Be Kind,” but the original Nick Lowe version not so much. I figure the same dynamic would be in play with this Cheap Trick nugget.
16. All the Small Things — Blink-182: Athena likes the band already. I thought about putting on “The Rock Show” which I know she would dig, but even with my somewhat relaxed attitude, the line “We don’t owe anyone a fucking explanation” is not one I want coming past my daughter’s lips. Not just for the F-word, but because she’s already wondering why she needs to explain herself to us, her parents. We’ll wait until she’s six.
17. Spiderwebs — No Doubt: A song we already know she likes, so I just put it on the CD. It’s the chorus, of course.
18. Adonis Blue — Voice of the Beehive: A mildly obscure 90s band, and I wonder why, since they’re so perfectly poppy it kills you. This is their best song, in my opinion.
19. Everlasting Love — U2: A last-minute addition, and I’m not entirely convinced Athena is going to enjoy it as much as the others. But if she does, it’ll certainly open up more music options; we can start reaching back to 60s pop and Motown. Not to mention, you know, Elvis.
20. Road to Nowhere — Talking Heads: Another risky choice for a five year old (perhaps “Stay Up Late” would have been a better choice), but I think she’ll like the beat, and I don’t mind exposing Athena to a little American Pop Existentialism. Better she get it from David Byrne and friends than someone shady.
Will Athena like all of these songs? Probably not — does anyone ever like all the songs someone else chooses for them? But she’ll like some of them, that’s for sure. I’ll tell you what I’m looking forward to: The day Athena makes a mix for me.