One of the best things about Fatherhood is the opportunity to tap back into your own childhood.
Last year, I aired a new themed show for Father’s Day and to my surprise it really came together, featuring songs that I had been sharing at the time with my two-year-old daughter, Evie, some traditional songs, and songs from when I was a kid. It was feel-good show all-around and a playlist my daughter still loves and requests by name, “Daddy’s Songs!”. Tonight, I’ll play it again with some new additions and surprises. I bet many of you will have the same life-affirming feeling when you tune in. Of course, if you miss the live broadcast, you can check the KEXP streaming archive on Dad day.
This three-hour special is music for kids; normal young kids but also old kids disguised as Dads.
It features songs about magic dragons, numbers, coconuts, pinballs, clapping, pretty trees, jumping, career opportunities, riding in cars, the zoo, horse racing, sticks, an amazing dancing bear named Simon, raindrops, a dog with three legs, and the eternal question of “why?”. The show is chalk-full of lovable characters from Bert & Ernie, The Electric Company, Kermit The Frog,The Disco Duck, The Muppets, and Fat Albert to Harry Nilsson, Paul McCartney, Leon Redbone, The Pointer Sisters, Randy Newman, The Dickies, T. Rex, Shel Silverstein, Louie Armstrong, Dr John (RIP), Odetta, Roger Miller, and Woody Guthrie, and his son Arlo, who play together for the first time through some crazy audio magic. Novelties and TV bits too. There are over 60 songs!
There’s a certain timelessness to children songs - many are based on traditional songs (or vice versa) or nursery rhymes or shared customs, like baseball, horse racing, or taking baths with a rubber ducky. They always sound good to every generation (think Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas), and chances are you’ve heard many of these songs before. But many songs you may not have heard, or at least not in a very long time.
Usually, it’s these songs you completely forgot about that can lead to the biggest child memory nirvana. An example of that for me is Bob Dorough’s “Three Is The Magic Number” from his Mathematical Rock LP from 1973 (famously sampled by De La Soul). The song is no doubt an absolute masterpiece, musically and lyrically, but it’s an example of how certain songs, a jingle, a tv show theme, or any combination of audio/visual ephemera can trigger that good serotonin and the power to take you back to that (hopefully) happy place.
Another song that brings me right back is Harry Nilsson’s “Best Friend” which was used as the opening theme song to the early 70’s TV show called The Courtship Of Eddie’s Father. It was performed by a television studio band called Tinseltown Singers for the TV show, but Harry also did another version of the song himself, called “Daddy’s Songs”, the title source for this radio show. The Courtship Of Eddie’s Father was originally a 1963 film about a single dad (widower) raising a son, but what the TV show did was show a hip dad (played by Bill Bixby) raising a son in the 1970’s California sun, having fun. It was a welcome contrast from the old stuffy dads of the past (My Three Sons, Leave It To Beaver) and portrayed a certain progressiveness that defined the era. And the song is a classic!
There are a few inspirations for producing this show. Obviously, being a relatively new dad to my two girls is one, but also I love an old radio show called Greasy Kid Stuff (WFMU originally, then Portland’s XRAY-FM for a minute). No longer running, this show was a revelation of cool kids music to me (archives here). But it’s the recent and fantastic compilation by Zach Cowie called “This Record Belongs To… “ released by Light In The Attic records in 2015 that is the driving force behind my kids program. When I gave this record to my daughter on her first Christmas, I had not heard many of the songs before.
Particularly the song, “Running In The Green Grass” by Miss Abrams & The Strawberry Point 4th Grade Class recorded in 1972. Apparently, Rita Abrams took her class into the studio and made an album (of course!) and this stand-out track has become a very special song for me and my daughter Evie. It’s a heart-tugging song about being there for your children, whether in the here-and-now or in spirit after we are gone. And that wherever they are, we will be there too, running in the green grass. I’ve never heard a sweeter song and as an older father, it’s the song I hope Evie remembers me by. This Record Belongs To… is highly recommended and you’ll hear almost every song on the album tonight!
It’s been said that we all seek to return home and that fatherhood is like coming full circle. Now you’re the dad and you’re figuring out what to do and trying to remember what being a kid was like, and how your Dad did it. You understand life a bit more. And in trying to understand what your children want and need, we’re reminded of their innocence and how precious childhood can be. Singing all those songs, watching those shows, going to the movies, and all the excellent cultural ephemera of our youth. Fatherhood is great for connecting to those memories and bridging the gap by sharing with our kids all the cool stuff from back in the day - and what that sounded like.
Happy Father’s Day!
Tune in to hear 'Daddy's Songs' on June 12 from 6-9 PM. The show will be accessible on KEXP's streaming archive for the next two weeks after.
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