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The Good Listener: Where Are All The Great Lullabies?

While your kids are still impressionable, you can make them listen to <em>anything</em>.
While your kids are still impressionable, you can make them listen to anything.

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the shipment of cat sedatives that have us pondering just how often we order shipments of cat sedatives is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives. This time around: thoughts on sedating children (not cats) via music.

Sara M. writes via email: "I'm in search of a good set of lullabies that 1) aren't cloying and annoying; and 2) aren't lullaby-themed covers of pop songs. My standby is Dave Matthews' 'Baby,' but I'm hoping to expand. They don't need to have sleep- or child-focused lyrics, but they need to be calming and soothing. Any suggestions?"

[Before we get started, a quick note: If you have any music-related problems you need solved by The Good Listener, email Stephen Thompson at goodlistener@npr.org! We're always looking for suggestions.]

There will come a time in your life as a parent when your own tastes are largely irrelevant. When that time comes, you may well write me letters, all, "Why don't my kids love Grizzly Bear the way I do? My daughter called it 'dad-rock'! What does that even mean?" And I'll patiently gas on about how our kids have a right to their own tastes, their own perspectives and their own experiences; about how no generation is entitled to foist its cultural tastes on the generations that follow, any more than that generation's parents got to have their say indefinitely.

But now? While you're in the market for lullabies? This is your time! If you've got little kids, this is where you locate the most beloved gentle selections in your library — Simon & Garfunkel, Laura Veirs, Nick Drake, Iron & Wine, Julianna Barwick, Low, et al — and foist them on your unsuspecting babies and toddlers while they're still too young to rebel against you. More than a decade ago, I got my hands on a set of Eef Barzelay solo acoustic demos (for a wonderful album of love songs called Soft Spot), and my 11-year-old daughter still falls asleep to them every night, even though she swaps out the CD for Ozzy Osbourne or Alice Cooper by day.

Your methods for those perfect songs may vary: Here's Bob Boilen and Robin Hilton on what they consider the perfect songs for newborns, but plenty of algorithm-based streaming services (Rdio, Spotify and others) will also happily point you to playlists of sleepytime songs for grownups. I highly recommend any of those approaches if you're feeling stumped.

But if you love music and have favorite songs you use to relax — this is where that Dave Matthews song comes in — then this is your big chance to spread your own loves and bond with your kids at the most comfort-inducing, bonding-friendly possible time. If you relax to, say, Nick Drake's Pink Moon, try putting it on in your kid's room, lying down alongside your child and seeing if you don't doze off mid-snuggle. That way, you get to pass along great music, bond with your kids at a key point of development and get a little much-needed sweetness and rest along the way. What could be better?

Got a music-related question you want answered? Leave it in the comments, drop us an email at goodlistener@npr.org or tweet @idislikestephen.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)