Motherhood

What Music Do You Play for Your Kids?

Alex Williams and Toby

Father’s Day is this coming Sunday, so we thought we’d make today all about dads. First up: For the past six years, Alex has been obsessed with teaching Toby and Anton about good music. Here’s the funny discovery he made along the way…


As a first-time father, I had a lot of things on my mind the night Joanna and I brought Toby home from the hospital six years ago: How do I hold his delicate little body so he feels safe and comfortable? How many hours will he sleep? And, of course, how am I going to keep this precious creature alive through the night? I was so new to this!

Even given all that new-dad anxiety, though, there was one question I felt could not wait even until Night 2: What would be the first notes of music he would ever hear? I took the question seriously. As a music lover who had grown up listening to my dad’s old records (pretty much everything from Johnny Cash to Beethoven), I considered music to be the ultimate welcome-to-earth present that a father could give his new son. It would be, I hoped, something we would always agree on, and always share.

So, with Joanna catching a few hours of sleep in the bedroom, and Toby in his baby seat staring up at me with those newborn eyes, I dialed up “Penny Lane” by the Beatles on my iTunes and let it flow over his new ears. I’m not sure if it meant anything to him, but it meant a lot to me.

And after six years, turning Toby on to music has been one of the great joys of fatherhood. Since Toby was two, we’ve spent hours listening to music alone, loud, usually when Joanna is out of the house. I keep a “Toby” playlist on my Spotify, and every time I play him a new song he likes, he nods in approval and says, like a grown-up, “Add that to my playlist.”

At first, I called the shots. I managed to steer him away from kids’ stuff like “Yankee Doodle” to sunny ’60s pop, like Herman Hermits’ “No Milk Today,” and eventually even to some contemporary club stuff like Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” and Mark Ronson’s “Bang Bang Bang.” I always figured I could continue to guide his tastes, and make him like all the stuff I liked. You know, the “chip off the old block” stuff.

By the time Toby was four years old, though, I started to realize, through our musical journeys, that there’s really only so much you can do to influence your kids. They have minds of their own, and they have ears of their own, too. Thanks to Toby, the first song Anton ever heard on earth was “Shake Your Booty,” because that’s what Toby wanted to hear when we brought his little brother home from the hospital (sorry, Anton!).

Now, when Toby and Anton and I turn down the lights for a living room “dance party,” it’s Toby who is the DJ. I’m expected to follow his lead. He’ll call out “Happy!” (Pharrell Williams) or “All Star!” (Smash Mouth, via Shrek, naturally), and my job is to comply. The most I can do is gently nudge him in the “right” direction. I mean, I turned him onto Belle & Sebastian years ago, and he now considers them the most danceable band since the Bee Gees. But even there, he likes totally different songs from the ones I once tried to force-feed him. His favorite song is the the haunting, ethereal, “Waiting for the Moon to Rise.” Try dancing to that one. Toby can.

Given what I learned with Toby, I’ve exercised a much more hands-off approach with Anton, who is three years younger. I gave up on trying to make him a musical clone of me. So now, I just try to follow his lead. If Anton wants to hear “The Gummy Bear Song” on an endless tape loop, that’s what we play.

So, imagine my surprise yesterday, when Anton and I were in the backseat of a cab on the way to a picnic. I handed my phone and told him he could watch any video he wanted.

He looked at me without hesitation: “Penny Lane!” he shouted.

P.S. Eight confessions of a new dad, and Alex’s side of the birth story.

  1. Brittany says...

    This is a really sweet article and made me smile. :)

  2. Shyama says...

    What a sweet dad story. And very relatable too. My husband too has the same idea with my 2 and 1/2 month old baby girl playing everything from bob Marley to punk rock and metal! All which he loves listening to. However for our bedtime ritual we have a playlist of healing and meditation music. I am definitely going to adopt Alex’s method of creating playlist on what her preferences are.

  3. Egle says...

    thank you so much for sharing Alex story! my husband loves all kind of music as Alex and hopes to teach our children one day what great music is. I even read this article to him out loud and he absolutely loved it and started to think of the first song he would play to our child :)

    thank you so much for sharing!

  4. Rob says...

    Alex if you’re a man of your word, “We Didn’t Start the Fire” is on that Playlist.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahahahaha

  5. With the exception of the Wiggles, my son never listened to “kid” music. I especially informed that rule in the car. He loved the Beatles and James Taylor as a baby and now, at 13 is into alt-rock like Panic At the Disco. #proudmom

  6. allis says...

    my 4 year old loves his mixed cd with belle & sebastian (funny little frog), ween (ocean man), the toots (i’m big man), nouvelle vague (human fly remake) and german electropop (quarks – geklopft).

  7. Elga says...

    Loved this! Sweet ending! For me my father’s taste in music kicked in much later in my life (after I turned 20). When I was a child, I was in love with only two things: Xuxa (children’s music in Brazil for everyone born around the 80’s/90’s) and classical music (I loved it from ballet classes and ended up loving to play piano too). Then I had my taste completely influenced by my older brother as he grew up, and kind of followed his lead (except for a metal phase I hade from 13-15, during which I hated Belle&Sebastian). I still do have a very similar taste to him, but I also let my father’s favorites in, and there’s always something on my playlists that remind me of him.

    • Elga says...

      PS.: My brother’s son, though, is very much into Reggae music since he was born (only Bob Marley could make him stop crying), his 1st birthday was even reggae-themed haha. Nobody in the family loves reggae that much, and it has nothing to do with my brother’s taste in general, but anyway. You never know.

  8. Kelsey says...

    My music tastes are fairly diverse but I rarely lean towards country. However, an album Alex might appreciate is “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” by Sturgill Simpson (alt/rock country). He wrote it as advice to his young son and it spans “welcome to earth” through teenage angst with a cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom”. As far as kid’s music that the adults in our house absolutely love as well – look no farther that The Okee Dokee Brothers.

  9. My 7-year-old daughter has loved the song “Keyleigh” by Marillion since she was 3. My 4-year-old son is more of a Dire Straights kind of guy. Yup, it’s pretty 80s in our house.

  10. Brooke says...

    We love Alex! Can we please have a regular Alex Post on what he’s ‘listening to right now’!!! Please! 😋

  11. Kate says...

    I loved reading this, and I love the balance you’ve established. My parents did exactly this but they didn’t realize it. My mom was 37 and my dad was 40 when I was born in 1982, and I was their only child, so I was kind of along for the “hanging with the grown-ups” ride. Musically, that meant that I listened to whatever they were listening to, and I grew up on a solid diet of Motown, early 60s do-wop, girl groups, the Four Seasons, British invasion stuff, a lot of 1970s country, and most importantly, The Beach Boys. But I definitely threw in my fair share of New Kids on the Block, and this absolutely horrible tape of Disney Silly Songs :D

  12. Bekah says...

    I want a link to Toby’s playlist! <3

  13. Meredith says...

    Can you have Alex make spotify playlists for all of our kids – similar to the way you post about what books youre reading??? That would be so wonderful. My kids love music but i never know what to play…however lame that sounds. Too many options!

    • DeeDee says...

      💚

    • Kh says...

      Yes!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s such a great idea! thanks, meredith!

  14. My 5 year-old really loves punk rock and heavy metal. He recently drew a picture of 3 people, and I said, “How cute – is that me, you, and Daddy?” He said, “No. It’s Motorhead.” He asked for his own Motorhead t-shirt and wants to wear it all the time. He also once asked someone in a record store, “Do you have any Bad Brains?” He recognized the Misfits logo in a bathroom stall. He asked me if he could wear no shirt like Iggy Pop. And he always asks me, “Can I spike my hair?”

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      omg haha he sounds amazing!

  15. Laura says...

    Thanks to share this, Alex.

  16. Anna says...

    Can Alex guest write more please? This was hilarious! Also – it was great to have a post I was able to sit and read with my husband – something he could relate to!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i’ll ask him for sure! :) thank you so much xoxo

  17. The beatles were on high rotate in this house in far away New Zealand also. Then my two boys worked their way through the eclectic (and large) cd collection. As they grew older we played a game on Sunday evenings where everyone played one track, taking turns to choose. We danced and cooked and ate together. happy days. Went on for years (they’re 19 and 22 now). I always played them old blues classics,then things like Abba to tease them. They played me pop and hip hop and dub step and all sorts of things I would never have heard otherwise. Their Dad made sure they had a steady diet of New Zealand music. Youngest son is now in LA, working on his second album. http://lontalius.com

  18. Kate says...

    Adore this video of sweet Toby and Anton! So precious! What song/artist is this?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      it’s belle and sebastian, another favorite.

  19. Renata says...

    I have a 3yr old, and we play a wide variety of music for her. From Music Together songs to 80’s classics such as A-Ha’s “Take on me” which is her favorite song right now to the Ramones – fun and fast \m/

  20. EKBnyc says...

    Aw. Penny Lane! This post is one of my favorites ever.

  21. Mindy says...

    My 13month old daughter will only listen to Fleetwood Mac. She specifically prefers Stevie Nicks on lead vocals, God help you if you play Christine McVie or Lindsey Buckingham tunes. “Dreams” is her absolute favorite song. It will lull her into a dreamlike trance or put her to sleep soundly. I’m convinced there’s some kind of black magic afoot but I’m all for it.

  22. Jessica says...

    This is such a sweet story. What a great way to bond with your children and share the things you love! You’ve inspired me to have living room dance parties with my kids!

  23. catalina says...

    When my son was 2 1/2 he could sing “love me do” and a “no milk today”
    He’s 14 now and will listen to electro music only… But he loved Carmina Burana and the Opera Carmen; the funny thing is that he’s adamant at sharing his dubstep music with me… Bc we’s always shared music,so during our 30-minute drive agter school, when listen to his music, while when he was little we always listened to mine; I owe him that!
    I’m hopeful he’ll evolve and that this is just a phase; he’s a lovely teenage boy otherwise, still gives plenty of hugs!

  24. Mimi says...

    I convinced my children that the “O Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack was kids’ music because of songs like, “Big Rock Candy Mountain” and the little kids singing, “Highways and Hedges.” They think “Down to the River to Pray” is “Down to the River to Play.” Ha! We have a lot of good memories riding in the car yodeling(ish) to that soundtrack.

  25. DeeDee says...

    I love that you do dance parties with the boys. We did that too with our children and now that they are in their tedns(17 & 15), we don’t do them anymore. 😞
    This reminds me that we will have try to reincarnate this lost tradition in our family. Thank you!💚

  26. Diana says...

    Ha! Waiting for the Moon to Rise is my favorite Belle & Sebastian song, too, Toby! Good taste ;)

  27. meganleiann says...

    We do it all. My husband is a classical pianist so we listen to a lot of Classical (well, really Romantic period) music when he’s home and playing. My kids love Hamilton, the Beatles, and even Carole King. The only “kid” music they listen to is the OkeeDokee Brothers because of their excellent videos on Netflix.
    What really skewed our playlist for the worse was going to weddings. All of a sudden they wanted Gangnam Style and Shut Up and Dance With Me.

  28. Libbynan says...

    When my kids were teens I was the “cool mom” because my car radio was always on and always on the pop stations and singing along was mandatory. My kids literally cannot remember anything else because my hubs and I started this when we started dating in 1967. At home, either the TV was on or there was vinyl playing…….occasionally both. We played everything from the Beatles to Scott Joplin to Broadway cast albums. My kids are still musical omnivores and just love music period. My daughter is even married to a musician seventeen years her senior with whom she writes songs. Music is the best gift you can give your kids…..even if they wind up listening to stuff you can’t bear.

  29. Lisa says...

    I was very worried that my poor son would only like david Bowie as my husband played him constantly after he died but he seems to have his own taste.

    In utero he liked Ray Charles (we watched Ray when I was pregnant, and judging by the kicking we thought he liked him) and the Rolling Stones. The first time I saw him move was when I was in the bath and “can’t get no satisfaction” came on the radio. He also likes Barbara Ann by the Beach Boys and Here Comes the Sun by the Beatles.
    The song lifney she’yigamer https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=dG3NAutpEoY by the Israeli artist Idan Raichel has a soporific effect on him, which is quite helpful

  30. Kate says...

    To this day my mom has the hippest taste in music in the family because my dad turned me on to his music when I was young and I never stopped listening! Kate Bush, Sinead O’Connor, Tori Amos, the English Beat, Buckwheat Zydeco, Van Morrison… my mom rolls her eyes at us because she has been hearing us play the same stuff for decades haha.

  31. Megan says...

    My son is a huge fan of Doo-wop, Justin Timberlake, Flo-rida & Pitbull! We love to have dance parties. It is my favorite time of the day!

  32. Aww such a lovely read. My son loves my music but is starting to have his own fave. He is learning how to play the violin and I am noticing that he loves to listen to the music more than the lyrics.

  33. Kate says...

    Alex you sound like a wonderful, hands on Dad.

    My toddler got everything from Goldfish and Coldplay to French jazz and Christian music in the womb, and Murphy’s Law he came out loving nothing better than a good jive to Calvin Harris. Oh the horror.

  34. Beth says...

    I adore this post so much and love that it’s written from the Dad’s perspective! It rings true because living room dance parties are a staple with our two boys who are about the same age. I’ve also listened to Happy, All Star, and The Gummy Bear song MORE than any human should! But thankfully there’s also lots of what I consider the “good stuff”. When asked his favorite band, my 5 year old said Fleetwood Mac…or Hanson. Baby steps

  35. There is a musician called Spaghetti Eddie, he sings kinds songs but they aren’t your typical kid songs. They are so sweet and I find myself listening to them without the kids around! He is on Spotify under Brendan Parker. There are 4 albums and I absolutely adore them, so do my kids! Spaghetti Eddie! And other Children’s Songs. He’s on iTunes and has a youtube too. Absolutely adorable!

  36. Belén says...

    My children, apart from kid’s songs, listen AC/DC, Aerosmith, Queen, HIM, Sia, folk songs … and everything their mum like. at home, in the car… and they love it!

  37. I love this so so much. I don’t have kids yet, but tried this with my nephew. It’s how we ended up listening to “I Will Wait” by Mumford & Sons and “Flowers in Your Hair” by The Lumineers on endless loops. Although the funny ways he made the songs his own kind of made up for it. He would sing “I will wait for you . . . Aunty Katy” and then giggle. And he called Flowers in Your Hair ayeayeaye. As in “be in my eye ayeayeaye..”

  38. Dee says...

    Our little ones (7 yo girl and 2 yo boy ) love music. Sundays are reserved for bob Marley and Nina Simone and movie soundtracks. Our 7 yo plays her playlists on Saturdays… Which includes old school reggae, Hawaiian music, Bruno Mars, Adele, frozen songs and new edition. The 2 year old is all about Adele. So he listens every morning,

  39. Sarah says...

    This post made me tear up. Thanks for sharing! I recently miscarried, but while I was pregnant the most consistent conversation I had with my husband was what kind of music I’d play for our kid once it emerged. My dad sang in church all the time when I was growing up. Music is one of the most memorable threads of my life and I can’t wait to share that with a child someday.

    • Keina says...

      Sorry for your loss Sarah. Sending you love and light!

  40. Laura says...

    Great post! We too played the Beatles five years ago for our baby boy’s first song. His name is Jude, so it had to be Hey Jude. This song will always and forever make me totally teary and emotional.

  41. Amber says...

    As a long time reader of the blog, it’s so cool to read a post on your blog written by the lovely Alex! Also, Belle and Sebastian are awesome.

  42. Deirdre says...

    Love this. I also play lots of Belle and Sebastian for my 2 year old. I can’t tolerate children’s music for any amount of time but it always felt like they are perfect for kids while still being palatable to grown ups.

  43. Alex says...

    That video of Anton dancing — hahahahahaha! Amazing. Made my day.

  44. Susie Goolsby says...

    That video made me feel happy. Thanks for sharing it.

  45. Sookie says...

    Anton’s dancing – stop it!!! I’m crying!

  46. DJ says...

    I love this so much. Anton and Toby are going to have way better taste than my daughter! I promise I’m not a serial link-commenter, but I just wrote something super similar that I had to share – http://twincities.citymomsblog.com/babys-first-mix-tape/

    Also, you should definitely share your full playlist!

  47. Elizabeth says...

    More of Alex’s writing, please!

  48. Sheeba says...

    I love cup of Jo and almost all the articles but I must say- Alex’s dad articles are really and truly the best. Thank you for sharing!

  49. Roxana says...

    Music is so bonding and just plain awesome.

    My dad was a professional opera singer, so we were exposed to a lot of opera and classical music, which was great, but if there is something I love about my dad is that he is/was not a musical “snob.” We listened to everything from George Moustaki to Sting to Romanian folk music to Alison Krauss to ABBA. I’ll never forget when my dad discovered ABBA.

    My husband plays (acoustic) guitar for our little ones and they absolutely love it. And The Jackson 5. Best dance party music.

    Beautiful post! Makes me emotional :). Thank you for sharing!

  50. Colleen says...

    Anton’s the best dancer I’ve ever seen.

  51. Angela says...

    First of all, OMG- the gummy bear song. I draw the line there. Secondly, I must say I hated the music that was forced upon me by my parents when I was young, though as an adult I’ve found that my tastes have cycled back around to everything from classical to The Carpenters to The Supremes. You never know- your influence my run deeper than you know. 😊

  52. The video’s so sweet. That’s the one thing I truly admire about kids, just doing what they want the way they want to and have a good time. I think as adults we think too much!

  53. Cecilia says...

    As a young mom (24 with a 7 years old girl) one of my favourite things to do with my daughter is listen to the music i grow up to,(mtv in the 90). I catch her singing “if you wanna be my lover… ” while playing and it was awesome! We are from Uruguay (south américa) and speak spanish, i teach myself english listening to music and tv shows, so english music is a big deal to me. Our playlist includes: the 1975, lukas graham, twenty one pilots, the arctic monkeys, the strokes, haim. Buuuuut she is really into the catchy pop like taylor swift, little mix and 5 seconds of summer. I like to believe is just a stage!
    Love, Cecilia
    P.s: i’ve been reading your blog for years (and absolutley love it) but is the first time to reply. Engish is my not first language hope you can understand!

  54. Jodi says...

    Such a great post! Music is a wonderful thing you can expose your children to and open up their minds to. My parents are music lovers, and for as long as I can remember, we’ve had epic sing a longs to the likes of Van Morrison, 38 Special, Billy Joel, you name it. It certainly has created a deep passion and love of music for me, and now that I’m in my late 20s, the best times I have with my parents is when we are together at a concert singing our favorite songs. You’re creating a lifetime of memories for them!

  55. Lizzie says...

    This was such a sweet and profound post. I’ve never considered the first song my future child will hear… What an incredible question! It was nice hearing Alex’s voice here and I hope he’ll contribute more in the future.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahahahahaha

  56. My whole family loves listening to the group The Dad Beats. It a group of four Brooklyn dads who stay home with their kids– they muse about parenthood and the lyrics are fantastic. http://dadbeatsmusic.com/

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oooh, can’t wait to check out.

  57. Oh I love this post!! I grew up with music. My dad is a musician and when I was in my mum`s belly, he wrote some songs for me. I think music is sooo important for a child! It accompanies you your whole life!
    xx Caroline

    https://carolinespassion.wordpress.com

  58. What a great post! Love Alex perspective.

    My oldest son (4 years-old) loves Georges Brassens, Jacques Dutronc, Jacques Brel and Charles Aznavour. My youngest prefers Félix Leclerc and absurd songs by some comics.

  59. Joanna Tsay says...

    I’ve always loved the song Baby Mine from Dumbo, and I couldn’t wait to sing it to my baby someday. I hummed it all through my pregnancy, and it is the song I sing to him now every night before he goes to sleep.

    My husband plays piano and I teach violin, so we’re hoping our little guy will play cello so we can be a trio. Playing him lots of Yo Yo Ma to plant the seed. :)

  60. Kristi says...

    Alex is a very talented writer. I would expect that, given that he writes for a living (and for a big deal newspaper, no less). You are a good writer as well, but I am accustomed to your voice here so the difference made me sit up. Thanks for sharing!

  61. this warms my heart. love toby’s belle & sebastian taste :)

    my dad’s been playing a lot of classical in the house and i’ve been picking up on that when i get back to my own place. i used classical music to concentrate when i studied or wrote papers in college

    hammyta.wordpress.com

  62. Nina says...

    I’ve played my son a mix of adult and child songs since before he was born. His sleep playlist that I rocked him to every night had Billy Joel’s and Dixie Chick’s Lullaby (almost every singer has a lullaby song…and they all name them…Lullaby eyeroll). Yellow from Cold Play. Johann Brahms. Its a Wonderful World…etc You get the picture, very eclectic. When he was 2 I have a video of him playing his guitar and jumping around singing I’m a Believer from Shrek. (I guess Justin Bieber sang this too but I only recalled it from the Monkees). And at age 4, he knew every word to Pink’s Raise Your Glass. now he’s old enough to sit up front and we got a new car with a touch screen I let him find the songs he likes. I don’t hate them but some I”ll say I don’t like these words and why. (violence against women etc). Growing up my mom played mostly Elvis (shudder), Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon and Paul Anka. My father sang old Irish ballads and show tunes (he has a great voice) so we all know the words to Old Man River…Oklahoma…and all the My Fair Lady songs. I also enrolled him music classes when he was 2 and downloaded a lot of the songs recommended by the instructor because they taught rhythm and such. He won’t let me play any of those anymore. ;(

  63. Great read- it’s fun getting dad’s perspective. Our 5-year-old twins love every genre of music. From our first days with them, they always lit up when we played music. They’ve taken ballet for 2 years and today they had their first day of violin lessons and they loved it!
    XOXO, Amy
    http://www.jeansandatea.com

  64. Sally says...

    I often tell my kids that I grew up in THE worst fashion time but THE best music time – 1970/80’s. Whenever we’re in the car I play “Name the Singer” with them. They can almost always get Elton John. Weird though, there are an astounding number of artists from that excellent whose first and last names are 2 first names::: Elton John, Rod Steward, Michael Jackson, Billy Joel…And my kids may be the only kids around who turn down the radio when they get in the car with me.

  65. Great post! My husband used to play heavy metal to our first and still unborn baby by putting headphones on my belly. Why we thought headphones would be a good idea I’ll never know! We’ve played her metal, jazz, world music, electronica – and she prefers euro pop.

    The youngest escaped the uterus metal. I play him jazz and classical on the radio, and he loves it! He’s 15 months old, has no language yet, but is still able to tell me to put on the radio, and when I do, he’ll sway to the music. Magic!

  66. margaux says...

    my husband is a musician (and i’m a singer and loooong ago violinist), so music is a big deal in our house. our 2 and 4yo girls listen to everything from the matilda cast recording to bob marley. we’ve now gotten into a little morning routine: every day after breakfast, my 4yo, will say excitedly, “papa! i want to hear a song i’ve never heard before!” my husband will find a ‘new’ song (to their ears anyway), and we’ll all dance together as a family before we all head off to school, daycare, work. it’s quite awesome. (latest hit: Water Fountain from tUnE-yArDs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbiFcPhccu8)

  67. Heather says...

    I love this! My dad used to play anything and everything for me and my little sis. We listened to “old country,” Air Supply, Billy Joel and lots and lots of Elton John.

  68. heather says...

    My husband and I have a longstanding disagreement over why we like what we like when it comes to music. I firmly believe it’s largely attributed to physics and the frequency to which a person’s body individually resonates: a song sounds good to you because it feels good to you for reasons you can’t always identify or control. He firmly believes that you like what you like because of education and exposure.

    Love the guest post from Alex’s perspective, and the story about carefully picking Toby’s first song is precious.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      fascinating!

  69. Riley says...

    When my stepmother was pregnant with my little brother, Sonny, I made a point to play his first song for him in her belly. I was really into foreign films at the time (I was 16) and decided he needed to hear “Summer ’78” by Yann Tiersen. I don’t think he remembers, but it matters to me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RxkxCj4cpc

    • I play lots of Yann Tiersen for my daughter too. You picked a good one. ^_^

  70. This is such a sweet post, Alex. And, a great way to introduce kids to music. I love Toby’s line: “Add that to my playlist.” Perfect.

  71. Claire says...

    What a beautiful post, Alex, thanks for sharing! I’d love to read more of your writing here on Cup of Jo. Your favorite fatherhood moments are such a lovely juxtaposition against Joanna’s reflections on motherhood.

  72. Twyla says...

    What a great post. Well done, Alex! I’m always jealous of people who grew up listening to cool and amazing music because it was not a part of my life as a child. My parents weren’t into music at all and I grew up listening to Roger Whittaker and Anne Murray – if they played anything at all.

  73. Okay, why have I not ever before considered picking out the first song for a baby to hear? That is a brilliant idea. It feels just as important as choosing a wedding dance song.

    I can’t believe Toby requested Penny Lane like that(!). Who knows how much of an impact those early early experiences have on our subconscious?!

    Also: can Alex do more fatherhood writing? Loved hearing his side!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes, i will ask him! :)

  74. Josie says...

    Oh, Joanna, this past weekend in Glasgow Belle and Sebastian played a kid-friendly daytime show in one of the local venues! My friend went with her two boys who are just a bit younger than Toby and Anton – they totally loved it.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      no way!! that is so amazing!

  75. Lindsay says...

    Joanna, I enjoyed this post so much! My husband and I are having a ball introducing our daughter to a respectable and wide range of music :)

    Not to miss the point of the post, but … Alex wrote, “Anton and I were in the backseat of a cab on the way to a picnic”. I would love to read a Cup of Jo post on getting around with kids in a city. In SF, I’m stumped about taking an Uber / Taxi with or without a car seat, and the like. What are the norms vs. ‘the rules’ and what do people do in NYC?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that’s a good question! most people here seem to take car seats when you’re going on faster streets (on the highway, to the airport, etc.) but just buckle kids up when you’re basically just going within your neighborhood (like a 5-10 minute drive in very stop-and-go traffic). that’s what i’ve noticed at least!

    • Tara says...

      Yes! I’d love to see a post like that too :)

    • Nina says...

      My nephew lives in Hong Kong. His wife is Filipino. They had their first baby 4 months ago. Many pictures of her in the cab, on their laps! Being held on her mom’s lap while she’s biking in the Philippines. ACK! I said to my sister “so, they don’t really use car seats in Hong Kong (my sister who is a firefighter and paramedic and is the grandmother). And in a tight lipped response she said “no” and we had to leave it at that. What are you going to do half a world away?

    • Alex says...

      So would I! Having the same conundrum now that my almost-one-year-old is about to outgrow his infant seat!

  76. This is a topic near and dear to my heart. I listen to a lot of music, and I’ve tried to expose my kids to music I love in similar ways. They, too, have playlists in Spotify and on my iTunes that we add to whenever they like a song. We spend the last weekend in July at the Newport Folk Festival – this year will be our 5th year going. One of my favorite memories is having the boys on our shoulders while they sang along with First Aid Kit singing “Emmylou”. Or dancing with my little one during Alabama Shakes’s “Hold On”. They loved The Black Keys pretty instantly. I love after-dinner dance parties and breaking out the vinyl on our record player for older (and some new) classics. Stevie Wonder will always be my go-to happy music.

    My older son, now 9, has discovered pop music (darn high school babysitters!), and although most of it annoys me, I have to remind myself that my mom hated when I listened to Madonna and Duran Duran and Michael Jackson when I was his age. It’s a part of discovery, and the pop music is part of his own childhood. It’s okay. As long as he still dances with me. And just last night, Margo Price and Sturgill Simpson came on, and both now have songs on his playlist – so I think we’re doing alright.

  77. EliCaroline says...

    This post made me smile so much.
    I can really appreciate that special bond of sharing music between child and parent. So much of my childhood was spent with my father in his little Toyota truck listening to and singing The Beatles, Bob Marley, and Bob Dylan. Listening to music with my dad was something that continued on throughout my teenage years and into young adulthood until the day he died. He’d play me songs from his youth and I’d introduce him to Modest Mouse, The White Stripes, etc.
    It’s so wonderful that you can share that love of music with your boys. I know as they get older, that time with you and the dance parties will hold such a special place in their hearts.

  78. I love this story! My 4.5 year olds favorite song is “mariner’s revenge” by the Decemberist and my 2.5 year old daughter loves “girls girls girls.” By motley crue. Everyday at dinner time we listen to the news then it’s a musical free for all. Vivaldi, polka, 80s, Raffi, anything and everything. Dance parties galore!

  79. laetitia says...

    Love this post!
    The Beatles were also our newborn days go-to! Blackbird, Jealous guy… Now the White album is still one of the boys’ favorites, they love all the songs about the animals (and the animal sounds), it’s so perfect!
    And when i’m away, they have dance parties with their dad too! Mostly reggae and techno music (the call it the boom boom music!), their favorites: Bad fish and Who let the dogs out!

  80. Such a lovely story, and close to my heart! We used to have spontaneous dance parties at home with my parents and brother too (and we sometimes still do!), and these are my absolute favourite memories from childhood. When I was five or six, whenever I was asked what my favourite band or singer was, I would answer without hesitation “Fleetwood Mac and Cat Stevens” even though no one around me knew them (I grew up in France). I still know by heart every note of every Rumours song, along with much of the Beatles, Queen, Crosby Stills & Nash, Eric Clapton, Simon & Garfunkel, Elton John… Music is definitely something that has continuously brought us together as a family, and still does :)

  81. Francesca says...

    Talking about accepting that our children have their own musical taste…
    A couple of years ago I went to a Pearl Jam concert in Milan. At some point Eddie Vedder started singing a song I could not place. A new song? A cover? It was somehow familiar. It turns out it was “Let it go” from Frozen (the audience rocking to it) and he sung it because his daughter, who was present, had asked him to. In an interview afterwards he said his daughter could sing it much better than he did (as a matter of fact it was a bit of a strange performance). Nevertheless, i found it very sweet of him. The things parents will do for their children! ;-)
    Great post Alex!

    • Francesca says...

      Yes, that was it!

      I did expose my children to Pearl Jam (among others) in their early years and I can confirm they are now into pop music. Ha ha ha! But I tell myself it is a phase, the right seed was planted and they will come around! ;-)

    • I love Eddie Vedder and my daughter too is obsessed with Frozen even though she has only seen it a handful of times. This story is awesome. Thanks for sharing! I cannot even imagine this happening still but it cracks me up. ^_^

  82. mosey says...

    Aww, such a sweet ending to this story. And Toby has great Belle & Sebastian taste… Waiting for the Moon to Rise is my favorite of theirs.

  83. Jules says...

    This is the sweetest thing I’ve read in a long time <3

  84. Clare says...

    Our almost 5 year old has had his own personal music journey, (kind of) guided by my husband. He used to demand Blue Suede Shoes every morning on the way to daycare, then he loved making his animal toys dance to funk and more recently moved into a Prince stage (the beginning of 1999 “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you…” in a deep voice is the height of silliness for a 4 year old) . The 8 month-old baby loves to sing along to any solid voices, whether they be Adele, Joni Mitchell, or Jeffrey Foucault. The beat hasn’t moved him yet, but I imagine it will soon enough.

  85. Linda says...

    I love this post! Awww… Penny Lane! :) We’ve tried to teach our kids to have an appreciation for lots of different kinds of music. My teenage son now has quite an eclectic music palette. When we walk by his room, we will hear anything from sweeping movie scores, Daft Punk, disco, Owl City, Damien Jurado, 80’s throwbacks, Adele, electro swing, Lecrae, Iz Kamakawiwoʻole, to tons of independent artists he has discovered on his musical journey. The only thing we don’t hear is country, which is funny, because we live in a somewhat rural area of CA. :)

  86. My father-in-law passed away in November of 2014, and my husband inherited his record collection. We recently bought a refurbished vintage console record player, and it has been the sweetest thing for our family! We have been having nightly dance parties to Lynard Skynard/ZZ Top/Boston and all kinds of greats. My husband feels like he’s passing on a part of his dad to our kids, and our two-year old, who only met his PopPop once, is especially loving picking out records and dancing his little heart out. Music is such a powerful force!

  87. i love this! my dad took me to see tom petty and the heartbreakers play when i was 8. it was my first concert, and “american girl” is still my favorite song.

    • My Dad listened to old music like Gene Autry and Bing Crosby when I was young. Thankfully I had lots of older siblings and they had great (and eclectic) taste in music. I eventually inherited my older brother record collection and I just loved getting to know all the artists that he used to listen to. Old Led Zeppelin albums were my favorite, especially Physical Graffiti, the one with the little windows cut out of the cover!

      With my daughter we listen to everything! I am always so happy when she gets into a song that I love. Her tastes are so varied and I thank the internet and the plethora of music available. It is a wonderful thing to see a child truly love music and they are always the best dancers!

  88. Michelle says...

    Awww! I was so excited to pick out the first song our daughter would hear. She was whisked away pretty much right after being born for unexpected surgery and spent her first six weeks in the NICU. When she was three days old, it was just the two of us in the room and I played “Here Comes the Sun” for her. I cried, she slept. :) It was one of the most special moments of my life.

    • Lauren says...

      Love this!

  89. Great post!
    We listen to all kinds of music in our home – world music, jazz, soul & rnb classics, salsa, oldies hits (usually some of our favourite internet radio stations plays on). My 2 boys love it all!
    I want to introduce them to many different kinds of music. Sometimes we listen to guitar flamenco, other times we listen to French chansons or Beatles…or Maroon 5 :)
    It’s interesting how both of them find Celtic music very relaxing!

  90. It’s always a mixture of nurture and nature, isn’t it? When I babysit I try to at least give the “cool” fun stuff too, like Harry Belafonte. Which is all fine and well and good, but they definitely glommed onto “Shake it Off” a lot more easily and repeatedly. If I was a music scientist I would be able to articulate, but I’m sure there’s a reason lullabies endure and Pop music is popular.

    But childhood does have a powerful influence, play “your songs” enough and when he’s older they’ll remind them of you.

    My dad: a lot of cheesy one hit wonders from the 60s and 70s and 80s. Delta Dawn, Angel of the Morning, Hooked on a Feeling, Those were the Days, Sugar Sugar, Sad Movies (make me cry) the Sukiyaki song, Seasons in the Sun, to name a few. He had a greatest hits CD that would play on loop on car rides and will forever remind me of the hour-long drive from my cousin’s to our house at night.

  91. Summer says...

    I love this so much! I grew up listing to oldies/classic rock and old country (the original Hank Williams). I remember other kids making fun of me in middle school (and hey, I had Pearl Jam and Green Day too!), but 60’s is still my favorite. You can imagine my heartbreak when I wanted to have our first dance be to the Beatles and my now husband announced he knew zero Beatles tunes. Parenting fail, imo.

  92. Theresa says...

    I love this! My husband and I are both huge music lovers and wanted the same for our daughter. From the day we brought her home from the hospital we’ve exposed her to a huge variety of music…it just tickles us when she asks to dance to Michael Franti, listens to classical or asks “more!” to Prince’s “Starfish and Coffee”…I hope as she grows up (she’s two) she’ll develop her own musical interests and even introduce new music to us!

  93. Sarah says...

    Ahhh, I love hearing Alex’s voice on here — so refreshing! This article really hits home with me. My husband and I are musical snobs and tried to guide our daughter’s musical tastes from an early age. But the first time she heard Katy Perry’s “Firework” it was all over (thanks Madagascar 3!). Now, she loves a wide (I mean WIDE) variety of music — 70’s punk, classical, jazz, rhythmic music from Africa and Asia, mariachi, flamenco, disco, electronic/dance stuff like Daft Punk, and yes, even pop divas Katy Perry, Rhianna and (gulp) Miley Cyrus. Over the years we’ve learned to let go and allow her to have her own opinions about music. It’s so wonderful to see kids just dance to what feels good and not care about being cool!

  94. Kali says...

    Thank you for swelling my heart today. Dads are the best. Music is the best. Dad’s who play music etch the best memories.

  95. Lauren E. says...

    I learned so much about music throughout childhood because my parents were just always playing it. I vividly remember making fun of my dad for listening to this goofy looking duo, half of which was known as Garfunkle. “I Am a Rock?! What kind of music is THIS?!”

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahaha that’s so cute :)

  96. rebecca says...

    Thank you for this Father’s Day post!

  97. My dad’s high school and college years were bookended by The Beatles’ first and last albums (1963-1970)–so he experienced a kind of perfect coming-of-age music evolution. He wanted to recreate that for my sister and me, so he introduced us to each Beatles’ album at exactly same rate that they were released in his teenagerhood. It began with the CD for Please Please Me when I was an awkward high school freshman and ended with Let It Be at my college graduation. I absolutely love that the three of us share this unique experience.

    • Summer says...

      That’s so sweet!

    • Isabelle says...

      That is just amazing, and such a special gift.

    • so awesooome

  98. Jennifer says...

    My dad died when I was 11, so I don’t love Father’s Day, but I will always remember him drumming along to “Born to be Wild,” on the car dashboard, singing along to “Dirty Deeds” by AC/DC, and dancing with my mom in the basement to “Harvest Moon” by Neil Young. I only have a few memories now, but the musical ones stuck!.

  99. Callie says...

    This is so sweet. What a wonderful way to connect with your children. I will say, not having kids but remembering being a kid myself–don’t lose hope during those really bad music phases! I think kids are drawn to certain (grating pop) music at different developmental stages. But the really good stuff you play for them will stick too, even if it goes dormant for a few years. I’ll never forget my dad teaching me to moon walk to MJ (I was an 80s baby!) Also, I owe my dad a big apology for rolling my eyes at his Paul Simon tunes when I was a teenager….now he’s one of my favorites! You’ll have those “I told you so” moments to look forward to as well. ;)

  100. Edan Lepucki says...

    My parents passed down a love of music to me. The Smiths, Talking Heads.
    My son, who will be 5 in a couple of weeks, loves hard rock, even metal. He somehow learned about Kiss, and though we of course let him rock out to them, we have also steered him toward other rock and punk music that we feel is better (Kiss lyrics are particularly stupid and fake): Fugazi, Sleater-Kinney, Thin Lizzy, even Motorhead! When a thick guitar riff begins, he practically vibrates with excitement and joy! It’s so fun to witness. He also loves “Hotline Bling” and The Band. Eclectic taste, I suppose.
    My daughter is 7 months old and really loves music–but for now it’s my own rendition of “King of the Road”!

  101. Kelli says...

    What a great post. It’s fun to see what sticks with your kids. when my twins were babies I played a lot of classical music, now they both play cello( they are 15). Their dad has always played a wide variety of music. My son aways wanted to hear dancing queen. At 15 he still considers it one of his favorite songs. My daughter will listen to anything, especially 80s music. I think it’s those fun memories they attach to it that makes those songs special. Nothing like dancing around the living room with your parents just having fun.

  102. Jenn says...

    My daughter loves to listen to soundtracks of her favorite movies in the car, Home has been on constant rotation, and recently we got Book of Life. They are kids movies but it is neat to watch her connect the music to images. On the way to daycare she always wants to “watch movies” really just listening to the music. She also tells me what is happening during the different parts of the songs. My favorite is when Red Balloon come on and she lights up and shouts, “everything is fine now!”

  103. Hannah says...

    Listen to Sturgill Simpson’s newest album “A Sailor’s Guide to Earth” – written for his son! So good.

  104. Kait says...

    Love this post! When we brought my daughter home from the hospital 5 months ago I didn’t even have to think about what the first song she would hear would be. My Dad played Phil Collins “Take Me Home” during the car ride home when I was a newborn and I did the same for my daughter. My Dad even mentioned in his speech at my wedding last year that after the reception, my new husband would now be the one to “take take me home” from tonight on.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is so heartwarming, kait. love that tradition.

  105. Karla says...

    My husband stays home with our 10-month old and they have daily Prince dance parties. She loves it as much as he does!

  106. sarah says...

    On a day when my heart is broken from so many young men lost to violence this is a wonderful post to read. Thank you Alex.

  107. Kate says...

    This is such a great post! My dad was also really into sharing music with us, from a young age I was into The Who and Cat Stevens. When I was learning to write, he used to play me songs and pause them after each line, then show me how to write the lyrics.

    These days, we still discuss music often though the tables have turned somewhat as I’m now the one who loves it when I get him hooked on a band!

    Your kids are lucky – sharing the world through music is wonderful.

  108. There was a cover of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” when my daughter was born, and I just couldn’t stop myself from singing it to her. Plus, it’s a song from my own childhood, that conjures cool summer mornings with dew on the sweet-smelling grass and the promise of hot afternoons of endless, unsupervised free-range play in the neighborhood.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that!

  109. my dad liked the rock from the 70s, like Credance Clearwater Revival or Fleetwood Mac but then he would also blast new wave like depeche mode or pet shop boys. i like all those bands ok still to this day. but he introduced me to the Carpenters and they are the best thing he ever shared with me musically.

    admittedly, i tend to avoid my friends who have kids and they’re doing music education/hour/whatever. i can’t deal with the music children listen to.

  110. Love this post. My dad owned a dive bar while I was growing up, so I was incredibly lucky and had childhood access to a jukebox. From Mungo Jerry, to Nirvana, to Johnny Cash, to Ace of Base…it was like the original Spotify! :) Even today, at almost 30, I get a burst of happiness by casually playing certain songs when my dad happens to be in my car. Your boys will be so grateful down the road!

  111. Carole says...

    The sweetest, post!!

  112. Alice Quin says...

    Loved this! More from alex please!

  113. Lucy says...

    I am having the same revelation. I grew up listening (and dancing!) to motown with my mom and now love hip-hop, reggae, blues and soul. I am trying hard to give my two-year-old daughters a taste of all of this, but they still want Frosty the Snowman and Wheels on the Bus! As Alex says, you can be a guide and an influence, but a child’s tastes will ultimately prevail.

  114. Natalie Brennan says...

    A very sweet post! Thank you Alex! I don’t have kids (yet), but dancer parties and turning them onto music is one thing I already daydream about.

  115. My son and I share a love for techno where there is a good beat drop…purely coincidental as he discovered it on youtube where as I discovered it in clubs many years ago :)

  116. So sweet! With all the ugliness of the past week that little video was exactly what I needed to see. I’m about to have a baby myself and I LOVE music and I really empathize with Alex here. I’ve already got the Bon Iver and Sufjan Stevens records picked out to play in the nursery. Like Alex, I feel compelled to keep control over the music they hear for as long as possible. We’ll see how long that lasts!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Congratulations, Caroline! I love that you will be playing records :) Bon Iver and Sufjan would be perfect.

  117. Mandy says...

    Mom and I always played Carly Simon, Coming Around Again in the car ( wore out 3 tapes doing this!) and she also talked me into listening to Enya, Watermark to help me sleep. I fell asleep to Enya every night from around 10 yrs old till’ I got married at 29!

  118. Sending this link to my husband right now. Love this.

  119. Samantha says...

    Is Alex the coolest father ever or what? So jealous.

  120. BDubspony says...

    Ahh love it! He remembered and liked your song!

  121. Love this. I have been to singing “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley to my two-year old son since he was born. And this weekend, we were playing the Bob Marley ‘Legend’ record during dinner when “Three Little Birds” came on. My son got silent – very unusual – and stared off into the distance for the entire song….then when it ended, he became alert once more and said loudly, “AGAIN!”

    I think he was processing the fact that he recognized the song from somewhere and someone else with a much better voice was singing :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh my goodness, that is so, so sweet!

    • SummerLily says...

      Ohmygosh, my my son had the same reaction around the same age to this song! He is soon to be four and still he asks me to sing this song to him at night :)

  122. Robyn says...

    Oh I loved reading this

  123. Rosemary says...

    So sweet! The power of music is unstoppable – even when you’re just wearing a diaper, you can’t help but be cool when the right tune is playing!

  124. Lana says...

    Ha! My six year old daughter’s favorite song of the moment is “Jolene” by Dolly Parton. When she was two she could sing every single word of every single song in “Oklahoma”.

    • Patricia says...

      I LOVE that song. I play it for my girls (2 and 3) all the time, but they always request “Adult” (Adele) and “Beaver” (Beiber). Ha! But they did inherit some of my musical genes because a Grateful Dead song came on the radio the other day and my oldest started spontaneously noodling.

  125. Marifer Flores says...

    I’ve been this way since my little bro was born, so proud when he recognized Sweet Dreams from Eurythmics while watching X-Men.

  126. Maria says...

    This is a very touching post. Music is a huge part of my relationship with my dad, and we constantly exchange CD’s (soon to be playlists) and introduce each other to new favorites. Certainly, they’ll continue to change in taste, but I assure you they’ll come back to that common musical ground every now and then… (even through their teenage years!)

  127. Laura C says...

    Hi Alex! Nice to read you here!
    I am guilty: I usually play children song and music, but it’s true: they have their own musical preferences. My 5yo girl likes very much Ne-Yo’s “Never knew I needed”, from “The Pricess and the Frog”, and I am totally melted with this.
    My 2yo little one has no preferences so far. She likes everything.
    Xoxo

  128. heather says...

    this is so sweet. and i LOVE that video!!! too adorable.