Friday, September 9, 2011

5 Unlikely Lullabies

If you look at classic lullabies like Rockabye Baby or Hush, Little Baby, you see some commonalities. They are designed to be easily learned and easily sung. They have even, moderate tempos and simple, lilting melodies that occupy a very small sonic space. They have few rests so they can be sung without accompaniment. And their lyrics would likely traumatize any child that could understand them.

Well, when I'm trying to soothe my child to sleep, I don't want to rely on those old standards, so I've turned to a treasure trove of tunes that have virtually the same characteristics: 90's pop rock. Here are some of my favorites, evaluated for the lullabyability.

Disclaimer: I'm fully aware of the Rockabye Baby line of albums that have rocks songs (including classic and alternative rock) arranged as lullabies. I'd be lying if I said they weren't an inspiration. But, at the same time, those albums are completely instrumental, whereas I'm looking for candidates that can be sung a capella. So I don't feel like I'm stealing, is what I'm saying.

Radiohead - No Surprises

Music: Moderate tempo, sure, lilting melody, absolutely. It's a bit short once you lose the instrumental sections, but not too bad.

Lyrics: On its face it pretends to be a celebration of suburban banality. Absent context, the words a bit odd and disjointed, but pleasant enough.

Overall: It works, absolutely, but it's not much fun. Making pop songs into lullabies is an act of deconstruction, but this song is already thoroughly deconstructed. Hell, even the band refer to this as a lullaby. 5/10

Eric Clapton - Layla (Unplugged)

Music: This 1992 blues re-imagining of the blues-rock hit certainly lilts along leisurely. But the blues underpinnings make for lots of modulations, so it can be tricky to sing unaccompanied. Also, without the guitar breaks, it becomes a very short song.

Lyrics: Nothing objectionable, and in fact the second verse works on a lullaby level quite well: "Tried to give you consolation, your old man won't let you down. Like a fool, I fell in love with you. You turned my whole world upside-down."

Overall: Very workable, but only a 90's pop song by a thinly veiled stretch of the imagination. 7/10

Alice In Chains - No Excuses

Music: I have to jump down an octave for the chorus, and the verse gets a little higher than I'd like. Tempo's good, and it's an easy melody to remember (unlike every other AiC song, in which the melody takes some effort just to identify).

Lyrics: The imagery gets a bit dark, and true to 90's fashion, it's hard to figure out what the song is supposed to be about. Still, there's some great stuff in the last verse: "If we change, well, I love you anyway".

Overall: One of my favorite songs and it translates pretty cleanly. 8/10

Sublime - Santeria

Music: This one's fun and bouncy, with very few pauses between phrases. There are some vocal acrobatics for a pop song (well, for a male-sung pop song... well, for a male-sung pop-rock song) that get in the way, but nothing too serious.

Lyrics: There's some profanity and references to violence, which is either a pro or a con depending on your temperament. There's something truly wonderful about trying to hush a child with lines like "Daddy's got a new .45".

Overall: If you don't object to the content of the song, then it's great to sing. Especially in front of company. 9/10

REM - Losing My Religion

Music: Remember when Michael Stipe had hair? That was great. Anywho, this one is just about perfect. It's slow, it lilts, the vocal spectrum is compact and easy to sing. Also, absolutely everyone knows/loves this song.

Lyrics: Surprisingly apropos for an unrequited love song. The words are easy to remember and the chorus works nicely as a lullaby: "I thought that I heard you laughing, I thought that I heard you sing".

Overall: If it's not perfect, I don't know what is. 10/10


1 comment:

jason lindley said...

Excellent choices! I was dull and went with Simon & Garfunkel when my kids were Mal's age.

You'll have a similar post to write in about 8-10 months when he starts enjoying a bit of gentle tossing - Reel 2 Real's I Like to Move It used to make my oldest laugh uncontrollably (the original - not that Madagascar bastardization).