Over the last several days, my wife Diane and I have been staying with our 2-year-old granddaughter. It’s a very cute, but rather loud world. Our granddaughter loves singing the Farmer in the Dell and listening to the Itsy Bitsy Spider. In addition to these old favorites that we sang and played for our own children, we’ve spent a great deal of time listening to newer songs like Baby Beluga and especially Baby Shark. This popular song refers to the various members of the shark family and some of their activities. It has repetitive refrain, which unfortunately is extremely catchy. While Diane reports having Baby Beluga as an earworm, I’ve been finding myself going to sleep with Baby Shark circling in my head and often wake up to it, too, screaming.
Graphically violent versions of the Baby Shark song were sung at summer camps and Scouting events around the country for many years. The current variation, making a splash on You Tube, was produced by Pinkfong, a Korean education company in 2015. This song has had almost 3 billion hits. Johnny Only, a New York children’s entertainer, however, takes credit for the current rendition of Baby Shark, claiming he published this version, with its more child appropriate lyrics, back in 2011. He is currently suing Pinkfong for copyright infringement.
Talk show host Ellen Degeneres and James Corden from the “Late Late Show” both have put out their own widely-seen versions of Baby Shark on You Tube, and Nickelodeon is looking at creating a new animated TV series based on the song.
Some of the song’s current popularity may also be due to the Washington Nationals baseball team adopting it as their unofficial anthem. Since they won the World Series this year, the song is driving the sale of Major League Baseball items. Baby Shark items have already exceeded $100,000 in online sales at MLBShop.com. Earlier this season, Nationals outfielder Gerardo Parra had this song played as his walk-up music, because his 2-year-old daughter loved it so much. Parra claims it helped him conquer his batting slump, and it has also helped inspire fan enthusiasm.
Another children’s song has also made the news lately. This is a new version of the alphabet song that changes the traditional melody and slows down the “l-m-n-o-p” section to make each letter more distinct. The new rendition was created by the Dream English Kids, which produces educational songs to help teach English. Although this new version came out a few years ago, it is just now sparking a public reaction. Television writer Noah Garfinkel has led an uprising against this new version on Twitter, calling it “life ruining.” Other Twitter users have jumped aboard and say that they “hate it” and that the new version is “disgusting.” Folks certainly don’t like anyone to tamper with their childhood favorites
Early childhood songs appear to be universal in human culture. Iona Opie and Peter Opie were English folklorists and anthropologists who extensively studied children’s songs and nursery rhymes. They described three basic types of children’s songs: (1) songs adults teach to children, (2) songs that children teach to each other, and (3) songs written specifically for the entertainment or education of children. There is a lot of overlap and often even adult novelty songs sometimes get transformed into children’s songs, like by Milton Drake, Al Hoffman, and Jerry Livingston’s 1943 Mairzy Doats and Kay Kyser’s 1939 Three Little Fishes, a cautionary tale about disobedience, which Diane’s mother sung to her (and didn’t take).
According to New York Kids website, currently the best songs for children include:
(1) Baby Shark, (2) Bohemian Rhapsody (Muppet Version), (3) Shiny, (4) The Itsy Bitsy Spider, (5) Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, (6) The Wheels on the Bus, (7) This Land Is Your Land, (8) Let It Go, (9) The ABC Song, (10) Skidamarink, (11) BINGO, (12) You Are My Sunshine, (13) Happy and You Know It, (14) Row Row Row Your Boat, and (15) Bananaphone.
The earliest children’s songs on record are lullabies, which date back at least to ancient Roman times. They, of course, were used to sooth infants and help them fall asleep. Children’s songs have also been used to teach cognitive skills, academic skills, motor skills, as well as social interaction and moral lessons. Some children’s songs warn about the dire consequences of disobedience or the failure to cooperate.
In preschool settings, children’s songs and music have been found to facilitate learning by ( 1) grabbing the child’s attention, (2) being intrinsically motivating, (3) facilitating transitions, (4) stimulating communication, and (5) blending in easily with other activities and enhancing their effects.
Most of these songs have significant entertainment value for children, especially those that are humorous. I can remember as a child thinking that the song On Top of Spaghetti was especially hilarious. This song is sung to the tune of “On Top of Old Smoky” and is the silly tale of a meatball that was lost when “somebody sneezed.”
Singing such parodies of adult songs with alternative verses was evidently a common practice on playgrounds over the past century, according to Iona and Peter Opie. Holiday music, especially Christmas songs with well-known melodies, are especially easy to satirize. For example, one familiar parody was the rewriting of “While shepherds watched their flocks by night” to “While shepherds washed their socks at night.” And, of course, there was the immortal: “Jingle Bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg. Batmobile lost a wheel and Joker got away.” Our youngest son loved singing this as well as another Christmas parody we created that went: “We three kings of Orient are, eating jello and smoking cigars.”
It’s the end, doo doo doo doo doo doo, it’s the end!
— Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D. lives in Jeffersonville when he returns to the grownup world and is the CEO of LifeSpring Health Systems. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.