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10 great rock anthems and nursery rhymes for children

Children deserve the chance to rock. Yes, children deserve the chance to let their voices be heard in the realm of rock. The purpose of rock is to unite, and the best way to do this is to ensure the tots can have their ‘tot-rock’ much as their dads can have their ‘dad-rock’ and the socialists can have ‘trot-rock’.

Many writers consider nursery rhymes beneath them. It’s unlikely that the zero to five-year-old market are the age group that buys rock records, but that’s not a good enough reason to avoid writing a rock anthem that the infants can boogie to. Postman Pat was much more enjoyable with a rock beat behind it, as was Fireman Sam.

The field of the rock nursery rhyme is ripe for re-discovery, and this list aims to research the most important works, from the less important ones. In its own way, it shows the work at its most immediate and angular, creating a new form of audience interaction.

This piece also hopes to give readers the chance to choose rock numbers for their little ones to sing along to. Rock is swiftly becoming an outdated form of communication, so it’s up to the tots to bring it to the next generation.

The 10 essential rock nursery rhymes:

10: ‘Yellow Submarine’- The Beatles

Get Back helped showcase Ringo Starr’s importance to the band at large. The three songwriting guitarists relied on his steady beat before presenting their songs to the public, just as they needed his support to decide whether or not they were going to perform on top of the root at Apple Studios. Indeed, he was a Beatle through and through.

The same could be said for ‘Yellow Submarine’, which Paul McCartney handed to him, not out of embarrassment, but because the bassist recognised that there was a warmth to Starr’s voice that suited the milieu of children singalong anthems. And Starr acquits himself quite nicely to the tune, bringing a sense of fatherly love to the track (his first child, Zak, was born in 1965, a year before ‘Yellow Submarine’).

9. ‘Digsy’s Dinner’ – Oasis

Doubtless, someone will sneer “Oasis only wrote nursery rhymes” in the comments section, but we’re not here to make snivelling remarks about Noel Gallagher’s abilities as a songwriter. The first Oasis album catered to everyone, whether it was the 20-somethings snorting and imbibing (‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’), or the mass British Populus seated watching endless repeats of American serials (‘Married With Children’). Definitely Maybe is a classic.

Which is why we’d prefer Gallagher’s abilities to knock off a children’s anthem to be an asset, rather than something to denigrate. ‘Digsy’s Dinner’ is jaunty, jumpy, and makes a reference to “lasagna”. It’s the perfect recipe to sing along with the younger ones, while the teens take this time to listen to Liam’s grouchy voice on ‘Supersonic’ (don’t blush when they ask what “Alka Seltzer” is.)

8. ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’ – Paul McCartney and Wings

Hot on the heels of their rip-roaring ‘Give Ireland Back To The Irish’ -applauded by second-generation Irishman Kevin Rowland in his interview with Far Out – Wings decided to play it safer, and record ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’, recorded for Linda McCartney’s three daughters. One sympathises with Henry McCullough, whose first assignment was an Irish ballad, despite being an Ulster Protestant himself, and his second was the furthest thing from rock he could possibly have imagined. Eventually, he gave up on Wings and quit.

But he was professional enough to chip into this jaunty rocker, that features a cadence that would pop in Pink Floyd’s ‘Echoes’ and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Phantom of The Opera’. The barrelling piano enters, allowing Paul McCartney to let off and sing for the new family he had founded.

7. ‘You Are My Sunshine’ – Johnny Cash

This is one of the more covered songs to make this list, so for the purposes of this article, I will be focusing on the Johnny Cash cover, because it’s the warmest, and the one that was sung by a father to an audience of children who were bound to listen up and follow his lead. So, the song is one of Cash’s more whimsical to sit through on first listen, and the song is all the more enjoyable because of his vocal performance.

Cash was an avid reader and an anglophile who borrowed as much from the pastoral English landscapes as he did from the American hinterlands. ‘You Are My Sunshine’ is equal parts English ditty as it is an American singalong. “I got my books all ready to take to England – Winston S Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking Peoples volumes one through four,” Cash told Philip Norman. “I’m really looking forward to going to England so’s I can get back to Foyle’s.”

6. ‘Just A Kid’ – Wilco

The next entry is one of the more recent tunes to make this list, therefore making it that bit harder to be objective over. As it happens, it’s still playful enough for the children to enjoy, and intelligent enough for the parents to sing along with. In other words, it’s a musical version of Toy Story, distilled into more palatable lengths to the average Randy Newman track. Fittingly, it wound up on The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie soundtrack, an album that was infinitely more enjoyable than the feature it accompanied.

But the song is worth listening to and makes the film passable, even if it is only for the duration of a pop song. The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie is one of the most insultingly banal films to come from a genre of moronic features, but it’s anodyne to let the toddlers have a trot and a laugh. But anyone with a basic sense of decorum will find the film tiring. My suggestion? Skip the film, buy the album.

5. ‘Shout!’- The Isley Brothers

Author Philip Norman decided to name his Beatle opus after this tune. Typically, McCartney wasn’t happy with it, and called it “shite”. Northern jokes notwithstanding, the original tune packs more invention into its runtime than Norman managed to across 200 pages. Personally, I think everyone should wait for McCartney Legacy, the book that’s supposed to show the Beatle bassist at his most fragile, fearsome and human, before delving much further into the lore of Beatle literature.

The ‘Shout!’ single, by contrast, is something you should listen to right now because it brims with excitement, and no matter how impressive their efforts, The Beatles couldn’t compete with the joie de vivre of the Isley Brothers’ original. It’s jumpy enough to get people singing along, even if they only have a small grasp of the language. The song is bouncy enough for five-year-olds to join in on the fun. And for that, the world says thank you.

4. ‘The Locomotion’ – Little Eva

The tune has become something of a go-to favourite for vocalists and, considering that the tune is as breezy as air, it’s no surprise. Indeed, the song glides along, asserting its own feeling of frothiness and bubbly demeanour on the unsuspecting listener, whether it’s the pulsating grit of Kylie Minogue or the hard-hitting flavoured funk of Grand Funk Railroad. But if anyone recorded it best, it was Little Eva, who imbued the tune with a sense of bonhomie and general good fun. Indeed, she’s a little older than the intended target audience, which is likely the vocals are so authentic and natural in their delivery.

It seemed hard to replicate, so Grand Funk Railroad made the right decision to punch the song up with a sense of louche detachment and abandon; “‘Everybody’s doing a brand new dance now,’ just for fun, and we all went, ‘Yeah, Grand Funk doing the Locomotion.’ It was a tongue-in-cheek kind of thing, and we said, ‘Let’s try it, let’s do it,’ so we sent off to New York, got the lyrics, and Todd had the idea of doing the song kind of like The Beach Boys’ ‘Barbara Ann’ where it sounded like a big party was going on.”

3. ‘Happy Talk’ – Captain Sensible

Captain, oh captain, this wasn’t the most sensible course of action, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t great fun to listen to. The former bassist of The Damned elected to record a synth-heavy version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s favourite ‘Happy Talk’, bringing his own sense of buoyant reality to the proceedings. Better still, the track features a children’s choir, making it perfectly clear who the intended target audience is meant to be. And in a decade as dense as the 1980s, the track feels enjoyably escapist, which was needed in a decade of hunger strikers, famine and Reagan.

“I was exceedingly drunk when I recorded that vocal,” Sensible conceded, although the detached singing only adds to the atmosphere, which is akin to listening to a ballet on opioids. No harm is done from the calamity, but there’s plenty of fun to be had, and at least ‘Happy Talk’ is as fun to listen to as it was to record.

2. ‘Stay Up Late’ – Talking Heads

Even the cerebral Talking Heads have beating hearts. Simply check out this breezily produced tune, all handclaps and hip-moves, that stemmed from David Byrne’s death-defying love for his child. The tune details the growth – spiritual and physical – of a child, from the early snores to the steps that makes them the people they fast become. In its own way, the tune is as much an ode to the joys of parenthood, but younger listeners will hear something of themselves in the track, noting that they brought a great deal of joy to the lives of their two parents.

Such is the power of the track, it transcends pigeonholing, but that’s not to say the work is a hybrid project, but more so the work of an esteemed gentleman detailing the greatest love a person can ever experience: the love of a parent. It’s the essence distilled into a jaunty, jumpy chorus, and one that doesn’t discriminate between listeners.

1. ‘Isn’t She Lovely?’ – Stevie Wonder

Could there be any other winner? Inspired by the birth of his daughter, Aisha Morris, the song details the triumphs this new arrival holds on him. Wonder was blown away by the presence of his daughter, and invoked this newfound joy on a tune many, including this writer, consider to be the artist’s finest work. The keyboards seep into the work, flooding the backdrop with a series of choppy hooks and passages. The song is a splendid work and one that children can jive to, while their parents sing along to it.

In 2012, the song developed a new reading when it was performed at Diamond Jubilee Concert on June 4th, 2012. Suddenly, the song didn’t represent the undying affection for the children in the audience, but it proved a nation’s devotion to the woman who became their longest-standing monarch and ruler.