Making a playlist to satisfy every member of the family is a harder task than it sounds. I say this as a parent who loves all kinds of music, and loves living in a blissfully easy age for sharing songs with our kids. I especially love it when a track pops into my head from my past that I can quickly pop on, and watch my child dance to instantly, like a madcap devotee. (His most approving move at the moment is going down on all fours, lifting one foot in the air, and wiggling his bum – although Soft Cell’s Tainted Love has always had that effect on me.)
But still there are songs that bring out the grumpy mid-20th-century dad in us all, aghast at that orange-haired androgyne on Top of the Pops wrapping his arm around a boy, singing about someone waiting in the sky (thankfully, David Bowie’s Starman has the opposite effect on all generations in 2017). Ed Sheeran’s oeuvre, with a few notable distractions, has me tutting at the radio like I’m mainlining Werther’s Originals (but even I enjoy Sing, which sounds to me like Justin Timberlake by way of the theme tune to Flight of the Conchords). Certain songs on children’s film soundtracks also drive me to teeth-gnashing distraction – if I hear I Like to Move it from Madagascar one more time, for example, I will probably go postal.
On the flipside, modern pop culture has put nostalgic classics into new contexts for kids, and to such an extent that they think that these songs are their own. Bingo, I say – here are the foundations of a playlist that can work for all ages. Take MC Hammer’s U Can’t Touch This, which has been adapted for a trailer for CBeebies’ Go Jetters show. Every time it comes on, my son beams – as do I, becoming a 12-year-old coveting voluminous trousers once more. Then there’s Stevie Wonder’s Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing on the Sing soundtrack, covered by Tori Kelly, and True Colors on Trolls, covered by Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick. Play your kids the originals – they’ll still get excited by the songs.
If your older kids are fans of TV talent shows, pay attention to what’s being covered by the contestants there too: Beyoncé’s Crazy in Love and Salt-N-Pepa’s Push It were incredibly commendable choices last year. Tween bands also occasionally bring classics out of the bag – One Direction covered Blondie’s One Way or Another in 2013, and I’d even stick to their version (especially as it pleasingly morphs into the Undertones’ Teenage Kicks).
Once your kids are in the midst of their teens, though, they’re in the middle of their own musical adventures, so spot the acts they enjoy, and throw in the music that influences them. Your brood worship Drake? He loves OutKast: time to bring out Hey Ya! They love Lorde? Her new album was influenced by Robyn’s stunning pop – and any responsible parent should take every excuse to play With Every Heartbeat.
Michael Jackson and the Beatles also seem to be failsafes with kids of all ages, as do sillier (but no less wonderful) songs like They Might Be Giants’ Birdhouse in Your Soul. Yes, your kids might start to impose their more annoying choices in the middle of the mix, and you may have to allow them a tinny track or two. But if you make them think they’ve chosen their songs when they’re yours … then you’ll be the winner, and everyone else will be dancing.
To sign up for Spotify Family – which gives you six Premium accounts for family members living at the same address – head to Spotify.com/family and click on “Start my Spotify Premium.”