Top 11 Songs About (or Dedicated to) Children


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Rock Cellar Magazine
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For our latest Top 11 list, writer Frank Mastropolo selects some of the most notable songs about — or dedicated to — children to be released over the years. 

“Be nice to your kids. They choose your nursing home.”

— Phyllis Diller

  1. “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)” by the Beach Boys

Written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, “When I Grow Up” was a Top 10 hit in 1964. In 2011, Wilson told Goldmine, “‘When I Grow Up (To Be A Man)’ was inspired about what it was gonna be like to grow up. Will I like the things then as I did now? I wrote that in my early twenties. As I look back on that I am happy with my life now and I didn’t think I would be.”

“If life goes the way it does for the majority of people you’re not always gonna be a young person,” Love told us here at Rock Cellar.  “You’re gonna grow up, have a family and career and you’re gonna get older, you’re gonna have children and grandchildren … the lyric ‘won’t last forever’ refers to life itself, how little time we all have on earth so it’s kind of sad. I was writing melancholy lyrics in the midst of more up-tempo songs.”

  1. “Love Child” by Diana Ross & the Supremes

In 1968, Motown head Berry Gordy was worried. The writing team Holland-Dozier-Holland had left in a dispute over money, leaving the label’s top group, the Supremes, without any hits. Berry convened a meeting with four of Motown’s writers: Deke Richards, Frank Wilson, R. Dean Taylor and Pam Sawyer. “My mission was clear,” Berry wrote in To Be Loved, “to come up with a record on the Supremes that sounded so much like HDH that nobody would know the difference.”

The result was “Love Child,” a No. 1 hit in 1968 about the subject of illegitimacy. Supremes Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong did not appear on the record; Motown session singers the Andantes performed the background vocals. “The track was just tight from the moment we cut it; it was just there,” Wilson recalled in the booklet to the box set The Supremes.  “That same night, perhaps, we arranged the backgrounds that were so singable. Diana handled her performance so exquisitely, and we just knew.”

  1. “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)” by John Lennon

John Lennon‘s first son, Julian, was born in 1963. Lennon admitted he was absent much of the time due to the demands of Beatlemania. When son Sean was born in 1975, Lennon was older and had changed. Sean was Lennon’s first child with wife Yoko Ono. “Both of us wanted to be a parent for the first time is what it was,” Lennon explained in All We Are Saying. “Even though both of us had children by previous incarnations. We’d both been so self-occupied. It was also wanting a child that was our child as opposed to a child — ’cause we could have adopted one, you know. Some people want a child, which I admire, too — people who have that generalized love. But we wanted our child.”

“Beautiful Boy” was released on Lennon’s 1980 Double Fantasy LP. “I was guilty all through the making of Double Fantasy,” Lennon told RKO Radio in 1980. “We had his picture pinned in the studio ’cause I didn’t want to lose contact with what I’d got. We had the picture up there all the time in between the speakers so whenever you’re checking the stereo, he was looking at me all the time.”

  1. “Clair” by Gilbert O’Sullivan

Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Clair” was a No. 2 hit in 1972, a follow-up to “Alone Again (Naturally).” O’Sullivan wrote “Clair” about the daughter of his manager, Gordon Mills, and Mills’ wife Jo Waring. “I used to babysit for them,” O’Sullivan told Songfacts. “They would ring me up and say they had to go to some big do, and I would babysit. I’m one of six, so I’m used to kids. The song was written as a ‘thank you’ to the parents, and she laughs at the end. Gordon plays the harmonica solo, so it’s pretty much a family record.”

O’Sullivan recalled that he performed the song at a concert Clair attended in 2017. “I saw her when she came to the concert I did at Hyde Park in front of a 60-piece orchestra. My daughters were with her. She said when I sang ‘Clair’ in front of 25, 30 thousand people, she had tears in her eyes. The song means a lot to her. She’s very grown up now, with two children of her own, but I still have that relationship with her.”

  1. “Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

Graham Nash began writing “Teach Your Children” in 1968 while still a member of the Hollies. Nash was inspired to finish the song, a Top 20 hit in 1970, by a Diane Arbus photo that showed a boy in Central Park holding a toy hand grenade. “I realized if we didn’t teach our children a better way of dealing with our world, we were in deep trouble,” Nash told The Atlantic. “And that caused me to finish that song.”

Jerry Garcia played pedal steel guitar on the track, an instrument he had only recently learned while performing with New Riders of the Purple Sage. “Even though he had only been playing it a very short time and, I believe, had never played it on record,” Nash recalled, “Jerry loved the song and he brought his pedal steel into the studio and that was his first take.”

  1. “Little Children” by Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas

Billy J. Kramer was one of the British musicians represented by Beatles‘ manager Brian Epstein. Kramer turned down three Lennon-McCartney songs before he decided to record “Little Children,” a No. 7 hit in 1964 written by J. Leslie McFarland and Mort Shuman. “I must have gone through a thousand demo discs when I was at a friend’s cottage and ‘Little Children’ just popped out,” Kramer recalled in Penny Black Music. “I said, ‘That’s it.’ It was just Mort Shuman on the piano singing very badly, but I felt it was a hit song. I just did, but I didn’t know how to approach Brian. And the publisher said to me, ‘What are you going to do? Are you going to do this song, or what?’ I said, ‘Just send it to Brian.’

“Brian played me the song ‘Little Children’ which, unbeknownst to him, I knew inside out. I said I would take it home and give it a listen. And then when it came time for us to do our next recording session, there were some other songs that I had and I just said, ‘This is the one I want to do.’ I don’t think he was in favor of it. I don’t think anybody was.”

  1. “God Bless the Child” by Billie Holiday and Blood, Sweat & Tears

Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child,” written by Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr., was released in 1942. Holiday recalled in her autobiography Lady Sings the Blues that its inspiration came when she asked her mother for money. “Mom turned me down flat. She wouldn’t give me a cent. She was mad with me and I was mad with her. We exchanged a few words. Then I said, ‘God bless the child that’s got his own,’ and walked out.

“I stayed sore for three weeks. I thought about it and thought about it. One day a whole damn song fell into place in my head. Then I rushed down to the Village that night and met Arthur Herzog. He sat down and picked it out, phrase by phrase as I sang to him.”

Blood, Sweat & Tears recorded the song for their 1968 self-titled second LP. David Clayton-Thomas told Rock Cellar that covering the song was the most daunting task of the album. “When I sat down with [keyboardist] Dick Halligan and we started talking about an arrangement, we said we can’t do the Billie Holiday arrangement of it — it’s like trying to do ‘Georgia on My Mind’ after Ray Charles has done it. If you’re not gonna do something totally different with it, don’t even go there. I said to Dick, I gotta do my own thing, totally put my own stamp on this song. And Halligan came up with an absolutely brilliant arrangement, pure genius.”

Billie Holiday

David Clayton-Thomas

  1. “Isn’t She Lovely?” by Stevie Wonder

“Isn’t She Lovely?” opens side three of Stevie Wonder‘s landmark 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life. Wonder refused to shorten the 6:33 song so it was never commercially released as a single. The track opens with a baby crying and includes the sound of Wonder bathing his daughter Aisha, who was then a toddler. “I remember writing ‘Isn’t She Lovely?’ — I can almost cry right now thinking about it,” Wonder told O, The Oprah Magazine. “The sound of my daughter Aisha splashing in the bathtub created a picture. That was emotion stuck in a moment, and that can never, ever be taken away.”

“It’s a given that you’re going to go down memory lane — songs and music always have a memory attached to them,” Wonder said in GQ. “When I sing ‘Isn’t She Lovely?,’ yes, I think about Aisha, my oldest child, but the song also makes me think of Nyah, my newborn daughter. She’s lovely, too.”

  1. “Little Child” by the Beatles

“Little Child,” from 1963’s With the Beatles, was written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The song was intended for Ringo Starr to sing but the drummer decided to perform “I Wanna Be Your Man” instead. McCartney said in Many Years From Now that Starr’s songs “had to be fairly simple. He didn’t have a large vocal range but he could handle things with good con brio and spirito if they were nice and simple. It had to be something he could get behind. If he couldn’t mentally picture it, you were in trouble.”

McCartney credits “Whistle My Love” by British folk balladeer Elton Hayes for the song’s melody. “I nicked a bit of melody from one of his tunes, ‘I’m so sad and lonely,’ that little bit came from a line: ‘Whistle, my love, and I will come to thee, I’ll always find you.’ It’s actually not the same tune, but in my mind it was a quote from Elton Hayes. I think it was from a Robin Hood film, it was all ‘thee’ and ‘thou’s. ‘Little Child’ was a work job. Certain songs were inspirational and you just followed that. Certain other songs were, ‘Right, come on, two hours, song for Ringo for the album.'”

“Whistle My Love” by Elton Hayes from The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men

  1. “A Child’s Claim to Fame” by Buffalo Springfield

“A Child’s Claim to Fame” was written by Buffalo Springfield guitarist Richie Furay for the band’s second album, Buffalo Springfield Again. The LP was recorded over nine months in 1967 by a revolving door of band members and session musicians. “A Child’s Claim” was one of the earliest examples of country rock, which Furay would continue with Poco after Buffalo Springfield dissolved. “I look at that song as a real achievement,” Furay said in Goldmine. “Number one, we got James Burton to play on it. Ricky Nelson was an idol of mine, and James played with him, so that was quite a thrill.

“That song was definitely a precursor to the country rock aspect of everything we had going on, although ‘Go and Say Goodbye’ also had that sense to it. It was probably the second song of mine that ever got recorded. Lyrically, what inspired me was there was probably some frustration going on at that time that I was releasing.”

  1. “Baby Talk” by Jan & Dean

Most fans know Jan & Dean for their string of catchy surf rock tunes, but when Jan Berry and Dean Torrence teamed up in 1959, they had a doo wop sound. Their first Top 10 hit was 1959’s “Baby Talk,” which was first recorded by the Laurels. “Jan and I wanted to be Dion and the Belmonts,” Torrence told Rock Cellar. “We did not care to be a duo. We just wanted to do vocal records. We wanted to do doo wop. Neither Jan and I particularly wanted to sing lead. We were always looking for the lead singer, somebody that sang as well as Dion, who sings really well.

“‘Baby Talk’ was doo wop and it had nothing to do with the Southern California culture in any way, shape or form. By the time we got to the cars and surfing, definitely that was the Southern California car culture or surf culture. But up until then, I’d say our first three years recording, we sounded somewhat like any of the doo wop groups.”

Jan & Dean recorded the demo for “Baby Talk” in Berry’s garage with help from producers Herb Alpert and Lou Adler. “It’s interesting how ‘Baby Talk’ was produced,” Adler told Rolling Stone.  “That first tape we heard of Jan & Dean’s was done on an old Ampex tape recorder with a false echo, recorded in that garage. When we recorded ‘Baby Talk,’ we used the same garage and then took the tape into a studio and added musicians. This is just the opposite of what I usually do now, preferring to lay down the musical tracks and then bring the artist in.”

“Baby Talk” by the Laurels

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