Tunes Children Can Bop To

Lively recordings to enrich youngsters' listening experience

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

POCAHONTAS

Music by Alan Menken.

Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz.

Recommended: How well do you know children's music?

Walt Disney Records.

PAPA'S DREAM

Performed and produced

by Los Lobos, with Lalo Guerrero.

Music for Little People.

IN the world of children's music, ''Pocahontas'' is the reigning queen. But the briskly selling Disney soundtrack is just one of several recent offerings that parents should consider for the family-recordings shelf.

(For help in locating the harder-to-find items, some addresses and telephone numbers are listed.)

Movie tunes

The music for ''Pocahontas'' is the first collaboration by longtime Disney composer Alan Menken and lyricist Stephen Schwartz. Although their robust songs aren't quite as catchy as those of previous Disney hits, such as ''The Little Mermaid'' and ''The Lion King,'' they are in keeping with the movie's messages of racial tolerance and environmental awareness.

Highlights are the energetic ''Just Around the River Bend'' and the soft ballad ''Colors of the Wind'' (both the movie version and the Vanessa Williams rendition). Since more than half of the soundtrack is instrumentals, younger listeners might prefer the ''sing-along'' cassette, which contains only songs with lyrics.

Weighing in with a surprisingly good soundtrack is ''Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie'' (on Atlantic). While better suited to older children, this eclectic mix features music from the 1970s, '80s, and '90s by major recording artists like Devo, Van Halen, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. The album also includes the Power Rangers Orchestra (who else?) doing the theme song ''Go, Go Power Rangers,'' and a punchy ditty called ''Trouble'' by British newcomers Shampoo.

Multicultural offerings

Music for Little People (P.O. Box 1460, Redway, CA 95560-1460) has been in business for 10 years and it shows. Their recordings are generally seamless and appropriate for listeners of all ages. ''Papa's Dream,'' a blend of storytelling, classic rock, and Mexican folk music, is one of the label's latest efforts.

''Papa's Dream'' is centered around Papa Lalo bringing his children and grandchildren from California to Mexico in a hot-air balloon to celebrate his birthday. Songs performed by the Grammy-winning band Los Lobos and by ''Papa Lalo'' - the real-life Lalo Guerrero, a veteran of Chicano music - propel the story along.

The upbeat English- and Spanish-language songs move at a kid-friendly pace and include the rhyming rock classic ''Wooly Bully''; ''Buzz, Buzz, Buzz,'' about sounds in nature; and versions of ''La Bamba'' and ''La Pinata.''

Other of the label's fine multicultural selections include two from last year: ''I Got Shoes'' by the African-American a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock and ''Fiesta Musical,'' a compilation of Spanish-language songs from Latin America.

Collections

Joel Frankel provides a fresh approach to children's music with his second self-produced cassette, ''I Can't Sit Still'' (Crunchy Records, PO Box 7017, Evanston, IL 60204; telephone: (312) 588-3353).

Frankel, a Chicago-area performer and veteran child entertainer whose songwriting credits include ''We Go Together'' from the movie ''Big,'' offers 14 folksy, fun songs for kids.

''Mikey Made a Mess'' and ''Catchy Cat'' feature the kind of alliteration that kids love. Children's vocals add to the charm of ''Noah, Won't You Take Me on the Ark'' about animals and ''Charlie Is a Spoon.'' With the exception of one less-appealing song about a boy's health, Frankel's latest effort is a successful one.

Also new from Music for Little People is ''A Child's Celebration of Broadway.'' Even children who already know ''The Lonely Goatherd'' from ''The Sound of Music'' or ''Seventy-Six Trombones'' from ''The Music Man'' will enjoy this well-selected collection of 12 songs performed by the original casts (including Julie Andrews and Angela Lansbury). Other child-pleasers: ''The Surrey With the Fringe on Top,'' from ''Oklahoma!'' and ''Impossible/It's Possible,'' from ''Cinderella.''

Animal themes

''Barnyard Beat: A Parody Album'' (Kid Rhino, 10635 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025-4900) mixes instrumentals from pop songs like Michael Jackson's ''Beat It'' with the ''voices'' of various animals.

The idea is clever, but the results are uneven: Seals barking to James Brown's ''I Got You (I Feel Good)'' works; sheep baaing to ''Barbara Ann'' does not. Kid Rhino intends for the album to help parents introduce their children to classic pop songs - a goal better achieved with the label's backlist collections featuring human performers.

Developed by educators and musicians, ''Animals'' (Rock 'N Learn) uses a cassette and accompanying book to teach preschoolers about pets and farm, forest, and zoo animals. Through well-written lyrics set to pop-influenced tunes, children learn about the noises animals make, where they live, and how to care for them.

Based in Conroe, Texas, Rock 'N Learn (800-348-8445) also has titles for older kids that combine rock, rap, and country music with lyrics about math, geography, and foreign languages.

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