Admit it: you remember the days of making mixed tapes. Yes, the black spooly things with teeth gripping the double circles and blank labels just waiting for teenage scrawl. Those tapes you shoved in Walkmans (yes, Walkmans!) and listened to through padded, adjustable earphones that were approximately the size of earmuffs. Are you with me? I dug in a drawer of my childhood desk at my parent’s house this weekend and unearthed a treasure box of memories: mixed tapes from my artsy friends (homemade labels with pictures of trees in winter), my first love (capital letters defining the pink, blue, and yellow Memorex tape as “Beth’s Tape”), my own genius (Beatles, Over the Rhine, and Phish–exactly the mishmash for which mixed tapes were created). In rushed the memories of overnights at my best friend’s house, laying on her scratchy green carpet, trigger finger poised over the record button on her boom box as we waited for that split second of radio silence before a “perfect” song might spin. I’m still convinced creating the perfect mixed tape is an art. But sadly, it’s becoming become a lost art.
iTunes and sleek iPods make my Walkman-churning-squeaky-black-ribbon days a thing of the ancient past. If I had told my high school students about my mixed tape days, they would have given me the same blank looks that I received when I demonstrated “how to peg your jeans.” While jean pegging is back (thank you, spring JCrew catalogs!), I fear my music media days are on the uncool side of retro (along with slouch socks and slap bracelets). So used am I to accessing my music catalog through my computer, that I had a bit of a hitch when my music loving daughter arrived on the scene. Short of carrying my laptop into whichever room she happened to wander, I wasn’t sure how exactly to provide a soundtrack to her life. Even finding a CD player that will work has proven a difficulty. (I’m now on number three of three unsatisfactory and easily broken models. Recommendations, anyone?)
One CD has been so amusing and catchy that I’ve overcome my media issues to make sure I can play the songs anytime, anywhere: At the Bottom of the Sea by Ralph’s World. The album was actually a gift from a friend whose list of “favorite things” in life is always inspiring and trustworthy. If she says Ralph’s World is the CD to play for a bopping toddler, it is. How can you not fall in love with a song titled “The Coffee Song” in which singer/songwriter Ralph Covert croons, “M-O-M-M-Y needs C-O-F-F-E-E” and goes onto verses with such gems as “I need a latte, a cappuccino, and tonight I think I’ll have a little vino.” Every cell of my sleep-deprived, caffeine-amped body sings in accord with such lyrics.
Like many kids’ CDs, Ralph’s World contains a variety of musical styles. Unlike many kids’ CDs, Ralph has the musicality and depth to dish up a delicious smorgasboard of genres. Some songs are pirate shanties, others are twisted carnival ditties, some are Beach Boy-esque surfer rock, and still others are bedtime ballads. All are entertaining. All are catchy. And all are fun for baby AND mommy! In addition to “The Coffee Song”, I love the wicked intelligence behind “Eighteen Wheels on a Big Rig,” a counting song which teaches kiddos to count by ones, twos, even numbers, odd numbers, and, my personal favorite, by Pi. Listening to Ralph’s rendition of “Fly Me to the Moon,” I picture Little Friend’s wedding day dance with Big Friend (yes, I’m fast-forwarding by about two decades, but the song is too precious not to weave into your family tapestry). Ralph keeps up his tongue-in-cheek humor with a refreshing spin on “Itsy Bitsy Spider” as one of his spiders is rather large and sports an impressive array of tattoos. The album concludes with the folk song ballad “Many Things to Know” which ends on the most important note of all: “One thing I know in my heart to be true: I love you.”
Ralph’s World At the Bottom of the Sea is a CD worthy of being called a mixed tape. With songs for every mood and style, I find myself humming his tunes in those moments that were once-upon-a-time-before-child occupied by “Moon Dance”, “With or Without You,” and “Night Swimming.” As a soundtrack for my current life, Ralph’s World suits me just fine. Since it’s a kid’s album, I guess I should mention it suits Little Friend just fine as well. Because it’s not often that I want to usurp one of her albums, that alone should be all the recommendation you need to go out and buy Ralph’s World for yourself. I mean, for your kid.
Listen to excerpts of each song from Ralph’s World At the Bottom of the Sea for free at Amazon.com. Ralph’s latest album release and videos of his concerts can be found at the whimsical Ralph’s World website. $4.88 will get you a trip down memory’s lane (and a ten-pack of 60 minute audio cassette tapes) at Walmart.