LINER NOTES: Sproutrock
Appropriately, this idea started at the infant stage. Stevie Wonder famously incorporated a recording of his daughter's bath-time into "Isn't She Lovely" -- which notably makes any live performance feel abbreviated, right? In another stroke of genius, Timbaland had a midnight hour moment of inspiration during the Dr. Dolittle recording session for Aaliyah's "Are You That Somebody?" The whole story is worth a viewing/listen, but the baby squeals are up there with the chirping crickets in "One in a Million" in terms of the great found sounds in pop history.
With those two songs, I went in search of other instances of kids in recordings. Unsurprisingly, I came up with few precious examples. Like Nobukazu Takemura's "Long, Long Night," which belongs to a similar tradition of sampling babies or kids. Snipping fragments of what sounds like a child's dream recollections over a loping string arrangement has a simple, charming effect that takes the teeth out of every child's biggest anxiety: sleeping. Stevie, Aaliyah and Nobukazu each use samples with different intents, the effect is always charming and irreverent.
More popular is the use of kids in the background more as a tonal bed. "Soul Finger" and "Say It Loud" fold in children's punctuations and elations to send messages. Their presence helps direct the songs to their intended audience, as well as a reminder of what demographic is delivering the message.
Perhaps Bob Ezrin deserves credit for inverting our expectation of hearing a child on record. I have trouble believing the widely circulated, but seemingly un-fact-checked story of the producer provoking tears out of his children by fictionalizing their mother's death. But the horrified cries that close Lou Reed's "The Kids" are a blunt punctuation of the song's fragility. "Another Brick in The Wall'"s use of a kids choir to sing the anthemic refrain is similarly harsh and unsubtle. While Ezrin's use of kids in "Department of Youth"'s choruses is akin to "Soul Finger" and "Say It Loud," the hammy affect fits Cooper's shtick well.
Of course, you can't have a conversation about kids in music without mentioning kids groups. That said, I deliberately avoided the Osmonds, the Jacksons, Hanson, et. al. b/c it didn't mine what I was looking for: how a song's message or affect is flipped or enhanced by the presence of youth.
That said, there's only so much research I can do, so shoot me for including J5, the Sylvers and Frankie Lymon. In fairness, I tried to use examples where adults clearly shaped the recording and/or material, e.g. the Langley Schools Music Project's ghostly cover of "Space Oddity" or the Monty Python-esque "We Are the Children of the World" from the soundtrack to The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus.
Had loads of fun with this one! We'll be back in August with another theme that probably continues to explore age or change in some fashion.
Oh, and on an unrelated note, guess what wasn't posted back in May?