There’s no denying it: Parents of newborn babies need to make some lifestyle changes. They need to plug outlets with plastic covers, and install baby gates on staircases and non-slip surfaces under rugs and in bathtubs. They need to patch peeling paint and soften sharp edges.
That softening of sharp edges doesn’t apply exclusively to objects: A revamping of personal lifestyle choices is often necessary. When it comes to music, though, you don’t have to restrict your listening to albums specifically designed for babies. You just need to keep a few baby-related ideas in mind as you sort through your current collection.
The following are my favorite 13 songs — written and performed for adults — that work wonders for babies. I hope you’ll like them enough to play them; but more than anything, I hope you’ll use this list as inspiration as you comb through your own LPs, CDs, and MP3s.
Few can escape the lingering idea that if a baby listens to classical music, he or she will grow up to be a genius. It can’t hurt! So with that in mind, here are four all-instrumental songs to begin with:
1. “Gymnopédie No. 1” — Erik Satie
2. “Prelude No. 1 in C major” — Johann Sebastian Bach
3. “Farewell to Earnest” — Jyotitindra Moitra and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan
4. “Spring 2008” — Architecture in Helsinki
The first piece, from late-19th-century composer Erik Satie, is a good example of what you should look for in soothing baby music: simple melody, consistent tempo and delicate harmony. Selection no. 2, from Bach’s famed and influential “Well-Tempered Clavier,” carries the same idea: The clarity of the melody is beautiful, and the consistent tempo creates a calm mood for babies. “Farewell to Earnest” — off the soundtracks for the Indian film The Householder and Wes Anderson’s recent The Darjeeling Limited — isn’t classical, but it is beautiful in its simplicity. And Architecture in Helsinki’s “Spring 2008,” a favorite instrumental piece of mine, somehow manages to be playful and calming at the same time.
Music for babies should be soothing, and here are five more that fit that bill, with simple melodies, gentle harmonies and consistent tempos.
5. “Birds and Ships” — Billy Bragg & Wilco, featuring Natalie Merchant
6. “Fishin’ Blues” — Taj Mahal
7. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” — Otis Redding
8. “Love and Some Verses” — Iron & Wine
9. “The Canals of Our City” — Beirut
“Birds and Ships” is a perfect example of a voice replacing instrumental melody. Originally written by Woody Guthrie, this version of the song is covered by contemporary artists Billy Bragg and Wilco. Taj Mahal’s “Fishin’ Blues” is a little more playful and — you guessed it! — more bluesy. Otis Redding, following the same pattern, tells another straightforward yet resonant story with a beautiful voice, but with the more grand mentality of soul music. Iron & Wine is the bearded Florida native Sam Beam, who has one of the sweetest, gentlest voices I’ve ever heard, and his folksy love song fits well with the other three songs. Beirut, the young New Mexico native Zach Condon (who is rumored to have lived with Gypsies), follows the same sentiment, but more whimsically, and with a ukulele.
Sometimes, a baby’s just got to boogie, and there is plenty of great music around for just that. Here are four great choices:
10. “Stay Up Late” — Talking Heads
11. “A Sweet Summer’s Night on Hammer Hill” — Jens Lekman
12. “Baraat” — Mychael Danna
13. “Siki, Siki Baba” — Ko_ani Orkestar
I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right: Not all babies can crawl, let alone dance. But they can certainly flap their arms and jab their feet to the funky insolence in Talking Heads’ “Stay Up Late.” I’d expect the same reaction from listening to Jens Lekman’s “A Sweet Summer’s Night on Hammer Hill,” which incorporates some of the same audience involvement, through handclaps and vocal participation, that is featured in many made-for-baby albums. “Baraat,” hailing from the Indian film Monsoon Wedding, is only two minutes and 13 seconds long, but it’s wild in the most baby-friendly way possible. “Siki, Siki Baba,” from my favorite Balkan brass band, tells a story that I don’t understand because it’s in Macedonian, but the language barrier won’t matter when parents and their babies dance together.
Claire Fox aspires to write and make films. She listened to Talking Heads as a baby and received the group’s “greatest hits” release this past Christmas.