The Upgrade podcast from Lifehacker recently asked “What Non-Kid Songs Do You Listen to With Your Kids?” and I sent them some commentary, based on my own personal experience. I’m pleased to say that my recommendation of ‘Karma Chameleon’ by Culture Club was included in the round-up!
You can listen to the episode via the player below, or on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Stitcher. My smirking voice (can voices smirk?) may be heard brielfy in the segment that starts at about 29 mins.
The Culture Club song is such a firm favourite for us because the kids all know what a chameleon is and wonder why there is one in this song. We have listened to it dozens of times in the past month, but I confess I have not adequately explained it to them yet. But it’s got such a catchy chorus they love to bop along in the meantime.
Other current obsessions that fall into a similar theme are ‘Rasputin’ by Boney M. (“Why did they want to kill him if he loved the Russian Queen?”) ‘Are You Big InJapan’ by Alphaville (“Is it a giant, living in Japan?”) and—just to prove it’s not an exclusively 80s thing—‘Wisemen’ by James Blunt (“did they live by the sea before or after they visited Jesus?”).
What I’ve come to realise is that many, many pop songs have far-out metaphors… but because I’ve heard the songs so many times, I just accept them as That Thing In Our Culture. It takes a child to ask the question “what does that even mean?” and I find makes me listen to the song on a new, deeper level.
Alternatively, there are songs that have no lyrics or nonsense lyrics that they are obsessed with too, I guess because it transgresses their conception of what a pop song should be. Absolute scenes every time I play ‘Shang a Dang Dang’ by Lambchop, and I deeply regret the day I put on a Europop playlist that ambushed us with ‘Crazy Frog – Axel Foley’ which (if I recall correctly) was composed explicitly to annoy everyone. See also: ‘Asejere’ by Las Ketchup.
Finally – I sang ‘Hallelujah’ (with the Jeff Buckley popularised lyrics rather than Leonard Cohen’s version) to the kids as a lullaby since they were babies. But recently they’ve begun to ask about the lyrics: They obviously love ‘She tied you to her kitchen chair / broke your throne and cut your hair’ because… not many songs are about haircuts! A couple of months ago I spent a good half hour at bedtime attempting to explain the lyrics to them. Digressions to explain the biblical references, what metaphor is, irony (in the artistic sense) and how emotions can be conveyed by music, pace and pattern rather than the actual words! I got rather lost…
Despite that, I feel that in some sense they do get what the song is about. Listening to it or singing it is always a shared experience, a moment of calm, when I feel that they know they are loved. It’s wonderful that music can do that, and it doesn’t have to be simplified for the kids.