I Laughed at the 'Rockabye Baby' Albums Until I Had a Newborn
So, in order to expand my son’s musical palette and prepare him for a world packed with wonderful tunes, we played through the series.
Credit: Rockabye Baby artwork
Having a three-week-old baby does strange things to a person's musical tastes. Even the most hardened critic who might have remorselessly taken the piss out of, say, "Little James" by Oasis, will hear Liam singing "live for your toys / even though they make noise" and suddenly be filled with oodles of love and empathy. It also means you start using words like "oodles". Cute shit, basically.
Like an idiot hormone released throughout your entire body the moment your child leaves the womb, things that used to seem trite and embarrassing are now sweet and endearing. Screw "A Day In The Life", "We All Stand Together" by Paul McCartney and the Frog Chorus is where it's at. Reprobate musical heroes like Lou Reed, going on about how great drugs are, now sound irresponsible, though you could listen to that soporific, tinkly xylophone at the intro of the Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning" on a loop for all eternity.
Some bright sparks in Los Angeles realised this and created the Rockabye Baby lullaby series featuring infant-friendly covers of artists such as The Beatles, David Bowie, Beyonce, Blur, the Boss, Black Sabbath, Bon Jovi and Blink-182 (and that's just the Bs). In fact I only came across them when a kind friend of my partner gave her Lullaby Renditions of David Bowie at her baby shower. We called our baby Jean Genie so, as you might have guessed, we're big fans.
At first I was sceptical and scoffed at the very concept of Rockabye Baby. Who'd want to listen to Ziggy Stardust turned into a soundscape of plinky plonky xylophones with no singing? How wrong a person can be. Now, when I think of "Let's Dance", I hear the Rockabye Baby version. You can forget "China Girl", too, for that matter – the version that sounds like a Teletubby's inner monologue is now the default one in my head.
In order to expand my son's musical palette and prepare him for a world packed with wonderful tunes, I went in search of more Rockabye Baby classic lullabies and played them all to him. What follows is a review of each track: one from himself, and one from me – for posterity, for other soon to be parents or, indeed, children of the internet.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – "Under the Bridge"
The priapic Californian four piece's breakthrough single about curling up under a steel structure in a heroin coma is turned into a fluffy classic of the lullaby genre.
Dad verdict: Is this the best "Under the Bridge" cover? Damn straight it is. It ruthlessly pushes All Saints and Gym Class Heroes aside like Donald Trump sensing a photo opportunity at a NATO summit. The best thing about this version though is the sleeve art, which features four cute but half-naked teddy bears with socks on their… legs.
Baby verdict: Jean Genie starts waving his arms around and gesticulating like Anthony Kiedis in Point Break. A burgeoning proclivity for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers will need to be monitored.
Radiohead – "Paranoid Android"
Inspired by Marvin the Martian from Douglas Adams' 'A Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy', this six-and-a-half minute Radiohead opus signified they'd gone a bit odd when it was released in 1997.
Dad verdict: If you'd asked me this morning if I thought I'd be curled up in a ball and sobbing while rocking myself on my son's extremely soft carpet, because of a Radiohead cover, I would've asked you to leave. But here we are. This is … more Radiohead than Radiohead? It's peak Radiohead. This is surely going to mess children up.
Baby verdict: Jean Genie stares around the room, melancholic and full of existential dread. The feeling of foreboding eventually materialises in his nappy.
Metallica – "Enter Sandman"
A song about nightmares by thrash metal's most famous sons is reworked to elicit the sweetest of dreams.
Dad verdict: While we wait for Rockabye Baby to get around to reworking Metallica's towering Lou Reed collaboration, Lulu, here's one of Metallica's biggest hits from the mid-90s. There's usage of heavy delay that makes it sound like a really creepy horror soundtrack. Deeply unsettling.
Baby verdict: Jean Genie sleeps with both eyes open.
Guns 'n' Roses – "Sweet Child O' Mine"
The LA five-piece's epic hard rock classic is turned into a pretty ditty with Slash's emphatic opening riff repeating like a minimalist phrase by composer Steve Reich… only cute.
Dad verdict: You can sing along with this one, and even croon the lyrics directly to your baby, forgetting the song is a serenade to the jailbait object of Axl's affections.
Baby verdict: Jean Genie relaxes right up to until the "where do we go now?" extended bridge, which descends into minor key mayhem and freaks him the fuck out.
Kanye West – "Stronger"
Kanye's Nietzschean jeremiad, by way of French electro uber-roboti, Daft Punk.
Dad verdict: Fairly relaxing but for the monotonous two-note replication of Kanye's flow. The lack of robot voices is disappointing too. Perhaps they focus-grouped it and discovered babies hate vocoders.
Baby verdict: Jean Genie is unperturbed and drifts in and out of snoozing. A success!
The Cure - "Lullaby"
Robert Smith and the gang's "Lullaby" distills the creepy elements of nursery rhymes, while abandoning the communal playground joy they often invoke.
Dad verdict: The original video features feverish goth Robert Smith lying on his back in bed, while cobwebbed Napoleonic soldiers play old tubas and marching drums like a Salvation Army band who've fallen into a car wash. It turns out director Tim Pope was distracting the listener from the fact nothing really happens during this song. Rockabye Baby blows that deception wide open and sounds quite a bit like something Death Cab For Cutie left off Transatlanticism.
Baby verdict: Jean Genie falls asleep, probably induced by boredom.
Taylor Swift – "Love Story"
Swift's fanfiction version of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, taken from her monumentally successful 2008 album 'Fearless'.
Dad verdict: Given the slightly rambly lovelorn lyrical content, this one is the best for making up your own words as you sing along. Try it yourself: "And I said 'Romeo, take me to see Al Capone / I'll be eating melon by an old people's home / You'll be a pumpkin and I'll smoke all my cigarettes / It's a love story, baby just say yes…" etc
Baby's verdict: Jean Genie starts bobbing his head back and forth like he's being moved around from one location to the next in Taylor Swift's giant suitcase. Somebody's hungry and wants his momma.
Outkast - "Hey Ya!"
A song from Outkast's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and arguably Andre Benjamin's finest hour (his most rubbish two hours were undoubtedly that Jimi Hendrix biopic).
Dad verdict: Andre 3000's most indelible tune is reworked here, and this version is so great it'll probably still be being played in the year 3000, unlike Busted's "Year 3000", which – admit it – you'd already forgotten about or had never heard of because you're not in Britain. "Hey Ya!" Rockabye Babied feels a little too spiky to actually help children achieve sleep though.
Baby's verdict: Jean Genie kicks his legs and sticks his tongue out. I think that means he likes this one.
Michael Jackson – "Billie Jean"
The King of Pop's magical musical tale about dealing with a slightly disturbed fan with a Walter Mitty streak to rival that of Paul Nuttall.
Dad verdict: Mildly abrasive MJ rendering that sounds not unlike like Depeche Mode on the album with all the scrap metal "found sound" samples.
Baby verdict: Jean Genie starts screaming even before I can sing "but the kid IS my son". I can live with the knowledge that my little pumpkin would scream down the walls of Neverland.
The Ramones – "I Wanna Be Sedated"
Joey Ramone apparently wrote the Ramones' best-loved hit in 1977 lying in a hotel room in London bored out of his mind while watching 'The Guns of Navarone'. So now you know.
Dad verdict: Begins ominously enough, but there's nothing abrasive about the signature melody. Slowed down, it sounds like the Jesus and Mary Chain at their analgesic best.
Baby verdict: Jean Genie waves his arms in the air like he just doesn't care, and then starts chugging hard on his dummy and going batshit at the key change. It's a scientific fact that babies cannot sleep through key changes!
Pharrell Williams – "Happy"
Pharrell's irrepressible ode to joy is reworked for your baby's relaxation.
Dad verdict: A surprising misfire from the Rockabye Baby crew. Listening to this reduced to its most basic melodic components highlights just how much detail Pharrell poured into producing everything else around that main vocal line. Remember how this just sounded annoying when it came out? Without those handclaps, those harmonies, the fun just … evaporates. The rhythmic looseness becomes robotic, the Motown-style warmth, etiolated. While Pharrell's "Happy" became irritating after you'd heard it on the radio 200 times, this is irritating from the off. :(
Baby verdict: Jean Genie pulls a face and shits himself. Everyone's a critic.
You can find Jeremy on Twitter.