Keeping kids amused during long drives, can be quite the challenge. We’ve been fairly fortunate with Seth, who usually remains happy as long as his favorite tunes blare out of our minivan’s speakers.
Imagine our luck when about two weeks before we left for Pismo Beach a publicist sent Tom Chapin’s newest CD, Some Assembly Required, for me to review. Three-year-old Seth fell instantly in love with Chapin’s catchy folk-music style.
Even though Chapin’s music is pitched for children over 4, Seth had no trouble following the playful music and lyrics. By the time we began our drive, he was parroting some of the lines.
Seth especially warmed up to “Puppy at the Pound” and “Only One Shoe.” The first is about mom and dad agreeing to get a puppy from the pound. Here’s a verse:
What do you want Mom? “I don’t care.
As long as it doesn’t shed it’s hair,
Won’t bark at night, or dig up the ground.
Let’s go pick out a puppy at the pound.”
I’m not a music expert – forgive me for inadequate descriptions – but the bright, lively beats of “Puppy at the Pound” are indicative of the album. Tom Chapin, whose brother is the late Harry Chapin of “Cat’s in the Cradle fame,” seems to be enjoying himself to such an extent that I have a mental image of him smiling while singing.
In “Only One Shoe,” Vanessa Williams joins in a duet in which she portrays the mom of a hapless boy who lost some footgear. Chapin portrays the boy, who sings:
Mommy, oh mommy, what can I do?
I want to go out and I can’t find my shoe!
Vanessa, whose silky voice takes on the modulation of a mom experienced with such problems, rejoins:
Did you look in the closet? (I didn’t.) Well do!
You’re not going out with only one shoe!
What’s cute about this song is Chapin and his co-author John Forster capture the spirit of a mundane, but recurrent family crisis.
Many of the songs on “Some Assembly Required” are parodies of other famous songs. “Bill Bailey, Get Yourself Back Home” is a play off of “Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home,” which was written by Hughie Cannon. In this version, Chapin portrays a dad asking his son to come home after playing all afternoon.
My personal favorite, though, is “Planet Bruno,” which in part parodies David Bowie’s “Ground Control to Major Tom.” Instead of a forlorn space traveler, Baby Gail is off to rescue Bruno, who lost contact with Ground Control:
“Ground Control to Baby Gail.
Ground Control to Baby Gail.
This is Ground Control to Baby Gail.
We’re going to have to change your mission.
Bruno’s in a bad position.
His fragile craft’s begun to fail.”
The adventure, which includes asteroids and a black hole, continue from there.
The most original song – at least in my limited music database – is the cover, “Some Assembly Required.” This is required listening for any dad who has battled a 40-page instruction manual while his son or daughter tries to help. Here’s a sample:
Some assembly required. Some assembly required.
My birthday is fleeting and I’m getting tired.
But Dad’s got his tools and he’s feeling inspired.
We’ll put it together together!
What makes Tom Chapin’s work a revelation for the adults in the car – me, my mom and my wife – is that we enjoyed the music as much Seth. Chapin captures our childhood memories rather than singing a bunch of “cutsie” songs for youngsters in the Raffi mold. And “Some Assembly Required” is the perfect vacation music when you consider all the foreboding, angry music that is popular today.
The album isn’t perfect. My wife wasn’t all that fond of the harsh sounds from “Don’t Make Me Dance,” and I was bothered somewhat by the annoying honks and gulps in “How I became a Clown. ” That song is funny only the first 20 times.
Regardless of how the adults felt, Seth was happy during our long drive as long as the music kept playing. Every now and then he graciously let us switch to something else to break up the monotony. It’s just too bad 3-month-old Lael wasn’t a little older to appreciate Chapin. She screamed the last hour half of our drive back from Pismo Beach despite all attempts to placate her. But that’s not Chapin’s fault.