Music for babies

June 4, 2012

In honor of the newest addition to Team Sound Ops—Jacob Nathan, born Saturday afternoon, six pounds, six ounces—here are my choices for the six best rock songs ever about having a baby. Have some suggestions of your own? Post ’em below and join me in wishing the very best to baby Jake and his parents!

6. Howie B, “Music for Babies”

Best known as a trip-hop Brian Eno/behind-the scenes sonic guru for Tricky, Bjork and U2/Passengers, Scotland’s Howard Bernstein made his debut as an ambient solo artist in his own right with a 1996 album inspired by the birth of his daughter, mixing electronic trance grooves with elements of freeform jazz and dub. His hero and role model made Music for Airports, but he made Music for Babies, and the watery title track evokes floating in the womb… and emerging to equal measures of disorientation and wonder.

5. Marvin Gaye, “Pride and Joy”

True, the ultimate soul man is usually associated with making babies, not necessarily having them, and this 1963 single—co-written by Norman Whitfield, featuring Martha and the Vandellas on backing vocals and Gaye’s first Top 10 pop hit—is said to have been inspired by his relationship with Anna Gordy, which brings all sorts of messy connotations for those familiar with the troubled artist’s biography. Forget all that, enjoy it as a brilliant and timeless piece of music and listen with an ear toward a new parent expressing feelings he or she never even imagined were possible.

4. John Lennon, “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”

At times, this track from Double Fantasy (1981) has struck me as a bit saccharine—a notion confirmed by Sir Paul saying it’s his favorite song among the many his former partner wrote—and the overkill of the parenthetical in the title plus the paraphrase of CouĂ© (“Every day, in every way, it’s getting better and better”) slay me. But hey, for the occasion, it’s perfect.

3. Hank Ballard and the Midniters, “Annie Had a Baby”

The most inspired of the many answer songs to Ballard’s earlier 1954 hit “Work with Me, Annie” follows that tune to its logical outcome in those not-so-innocent days before the pill. This is rock ’n’ roll, after all, so we have to entertain a little bit of lewdness… plus, it’s a stone cold classic. (I should add here, however, that production assistant Annie is not our new mom, lest she get a very surprised phone call from her own parents!)

2. The Flaming Lips, “Rainin’ Babies”

Alright, so this regal epic from the Lips’ first masterpiece (In A Priest Driven Ambulance, 1990) is, as is their habit, more than a little bit twisted and surreal (“It’s raining babies from the sky down on me”). It’s also absolutely gorgeous and, in its weird and wonderful way, absolutely appropriate (“This is my present to the world”).

1. The Talking Heads, “Stay Up Late”

When I first heard it circa the release of Little Creatures in 1985, David Byrne’s rocking vignette about reconnecting with his own inner child by reveling in the joys of a baby as the ultimate plaything cracked me up, and it still does, every time I hear it (“Cute, cute/Little baby/Little pee-pee/Little toes”). A warning, however: As Chicago pediatric legend Dr. Marc Weissbluth emphasizes in his essential Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, the absolute best advice any new parent can follow is never wake a sleeping baby. (And thanks to Dr. Kot for passing that on to me, almost 16 years ago; I don’t want to ruin anyone’s surprise, but his favorite baby gift always has been a copy of that book. Read it, learn it, live it!)