Long before I was an overwhelmed music fan and an even more overwhelmed mum, the idea of sharing music with my parents was as embarrassing as admitting to fancying the weird one from a-ha. My Bangles album played in my bedroom, but behind firmly closed doors. My Now! compilations were jammed into my pillar-box red Walkman and my tinny, tiny headphones. These days, music surrounds parents and children on multiple platforms, so the idea of sharing it feels much more OK.
As someone who wrote a book on pop music for children last year – all about the fun, creativity and inclusiveness that great songs can promote – it seems to me that there are three stages to families sharing music. There’s the joyous stage that I’m at, as the mum of a two-year-old: the imposition of my tastes on a kid who can’t quite complain yet. When he was a baby, I’d hammer songs to which I could daftly adapt the lyrics. The Beatles’ Abbey Road classic became Here Comes My Son. Yazz’s The Only Way Is Up (“baby, for you and me now”) became about us.
Now he’s a toddler, I like giving him a rudimentary music 101 through bright, bouncy songs, and those that snag the ear in strained situations are indispensable. Abba and Dolly Parton can occasionally postpone a weapons-grade tantrum, being particularly good for the “Is it ready yet?” stretch before teatime, or the long car journey.
Songs that feature phrases or subjects that the little blighter can recognise also work well. We like Paul McCartney’s Silly Love Songs for the “I love you” singalong in the bridge. Bruce Springsteen’s Greatest Hits are good for primitive counting practice (all those rowdy “1-2-3-4s”). Kraftwerk’s songs about cars, trains and robots also offer blessed relief between toilet training stops at regional service stations.
Then comes the second stage: when children start developing tastes of their own. Friends of mine with five-to-nine-year-olds have long raved about the “living room Spotify disco”, which is a staple at parties, or on quiet Sunday afternoons, when the responsible adults might have had a drink with their pub lunch pudding. This a good place for kids to start sharing music that they’ve heard in the playground; mix them up with parents’ nostalgic favourites on a playlist, and out comes the dad-dancing. We had a “disco” at New Year when we had friends staying over, and I learned a lot from the sharing. I realised that Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop The Feeling sounds particularly brilliant when five infants are whizzing around to it like drunk bees, while Neneh Cherry’s Buffalo Stance is impossible not to dance to, whatever your age.
At this stage, delight in a particular song can also spur off a musical adventure – for a child or a parent. A little girl likes Katy Perry’s Roar: it’s now easy to make her a playlist of similarly girl-empowering tunes. A dad is trying to find “that black magic song” that their child keeps requesting, eventually finds Little Mix, and becomes a huge fan in the process. You’ll have your own stories, too.
Then there’s the third stage, when children become old enough to make you a playlist themselves. I know a mum of two teenagers, usually a fan of melodic indie, who now spends her morning commute to work getting hugely into grime. It makes me think again about that little Bangles fan in her bedroom, and how very different her world and her mum’s could have been. It also makes me wonder, with overwhelming glee, what kind of playlist my Springsteen-loving toddler might make me in the future. All together now: 1-2-3-4!
How do you get music to do your bidding? For a chance to win a 12-month Spotify Family subscription, which gives you six Premium accounts for family members at the same address, simply send in your playlist of 10 family-friendly favourites – plus why life would be that much tougher without them – here