Monday, February 21, 2011

Won't somebody please think of the children? Five songs that have kids' voices

Posted By on Mon, Feb 21, 2011 at 12:41 PM

click to enlarge think_of_the_children.jpg

Children are the future and all, but sometimes -- well, most times -- they are annoying, clever little shits. Pop-music artists are well aware of this precocious nature of children and often will place their voices in more adult contexts. Having children rap cover songs or sing behind rock songs makes the song in question seem more like novelty than serious work. Of course, everything is subjective, so you might find the angelic voices of a children's choir in a heavy-metal song just peachy. Here are five songs -- some good, some bad -- that use children as gimmicks.

El Michels Affair, "Shimmy Shimmy Ya"

On the too-good-to-be-true cover album Enter the 37th Chamber, soul and funk impresarios El Michels Affair offer fantastic interpretations of Wu-Tang and Wu-related tracks. El Michels Affair deftly adapts Wu's hard-hitting and percussion-heavy strain of hip-hop into amazing instrumentals. The only thing questionable about this album is the band's interpretation of Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Shimmy Shimmy Ya." Beginning by replicating the original's iconic piano loop with horns, the song launches into a lurid -- even nasty -- funk explosion, featuring adorably fierce and aggressive children singing the couplet, Shimmy shimmy ya, shimmy shimmy yam, shimmy yay / Give me the mic so I can take it away. Thankfully, the children are spared the rest of ODB's profane verses. Yet placed in the context of the original El Michels Affair's cover are many things: awesome, awkward, uncomfortable, badass, and a novelty.

Smog, "No Dancing"

The chorus for Bill Callahan's lyrically obscure, angry and biting "No Dancing" from his breakthrough, Knock Knock, features the sweet voices of children mingling with Callahan's pissed-off baritone and the song's grungy no-chord progression. It's hard to tell exactly what Callahan is addressing, with its strange references to animals and poachers. But if the opening four lines are any indication, the song seems to be about a broken relationship where one party comes to collect something you said you owed. This interpretation certainly matches the kiss-off feel of the song, its stinging anger, and Callahan's imperative "no dancing." The use of the children during the chorus, while charming and entertaining, contrasts deeply and weirdly with the song's adult themes. Of course, that could be the point in using the children's choir: as a way to grant levity to a song that would otherwise be depressing and dark.

The Clash, "Career Opportunities"

Sandanista!, the Clash's fourth album, is an extremely divisive entry in the band's catalog. Some see it as great and visionary, with many tracks absorbing the then emerging genres of dub, reggae and rap ("The Magnificent Seven"). And one certainly can't fault the Clash for a lack of generosity: Sandanista! is the triple LP follow-up to the watershed double LP, London Calling. But even though the Clash arguably pulled off the best double album of all time, even they couldn't properly stretch their musical focus across six sides of vinyl. The album is critiqued for its incredible length and lack of focus, but one of Sandanistia!'s biggest dividing points is this remake of "Career Opportunities" featuring keyboardist Mickey Gallagher's two sons. Cute? Yeah. Disturbing? Kinda. Unnecessary? Absolutely.

Radiohead, "15 Step"

The presence of children on this opening track is sparse, yet enough to call attention to itself. Originally, the band wanted to use the hand claps of children but found that didn't quite achieve the effect desired. So Radiohead recorded the children of Oxford's Matrix Music School and Arts Centre yelping jubilantly. The expressive cheers of the children spice up the song, but the overall effect seems superfluous.

The Smiths, "Panic"

Another case of children saying the darnedest things. For their radio-railing hit, the Smiths enlisted a children's school choir to join in on the lyrics of "Hang the DJ, Hang the DJ, Hang the DJ!" For a song that was supposedly inspired by a radio report of the Chernobyl disaster followed by an upbeat pop hit, the presence of children actually fits well.

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