The Sanitization of Children’s Music

I remember music when I was a kid.  I remember my cassette tapes and campfire songs.  Music has a way of sticking with you long after other memories have faded, and so I recall most of the words and melodies of the tunes I sang lustily as an eight-year-old.  Now, as a parent, it is my happy duty to introduce some of these fun songs to my children.  Except they seem to be different now.

One of the best parts, to me anyway, was the irreverence of the lyrics I was singing.  “Great green gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts!” I would shout out loudly, grinning at how gross I was allowed to be because, hey, I didn’t make it up!  It’s a song!  I was definitely not supposed to say “ain’t” in everyday conversation, because my mother would faint and my father would fall in a bucket of paint, but all of the best songs had this word in them, and what were the parents going to do about it?  It was right there, recorded on my cassette tape!  And how fun it was to change the boring old adult songs about Ol’ Smoky, and instead sing about spaghetti and my lost meatball.

When I am looking at albums of kids’ songs to purchase for my children, I will often be attracted to ones containing songs I loved as a child.  Nostalgia I guess, or clever marketing on their part, or both.  But they have changed the words!  I remember a verse I used to sing, either to “Turkey in the Straw” or “Boom Boom Ain’t It Great To Be Crazy” depending on the day, and it went like this: “A horse and a flea and three blind mice/sat on the corner dealing dice/the horse he slipped and fell on the flea/oops said the flea, there’s a horse on me!”  Now, I had no idea what “dealing dice” meant.  I was seven!  But on our version of it today, they have changed that line to “sat on the corner feeling nice.”

In the classic call and repeat song “The Other Day I Met a Bear,” there is a line that once went “He said to me/why don’t you run?/I see you ain’t/got any gun.”  This is now “I see you don’t have any gun.”  This is more grammatically correct, I agree.  But it is less fun!  I have found many examples of lines in songs altered to make them more “kid-friendly,” and it drives me crazy!  But should it?  What’s wrong with making formerly dangerous things safe for our children?  I don’t know, but it seems like a slippery slope to me.

Do you remember that TV service a few years ago that was going to take out all the sex, violence, and swearing from classic movies and show “family versions” to you on your TV.  Everyone cried censorship, and they were right about that.  But when they play movies on network TV they often dub over bad words, or takes whole scenes out.  They’ve been doing that for years.  Then I hear that the Tea Party in Tennessee wants to change the history books that we use to teach our children and remove references to slavery in them.  What!?  You can’t change history, you can only learn from it!

I am not a revisionist.  In art, history, or music I am a staunch supporter of unaltered truth.  I believe that if you think something is not appropriate for your children, then you should not expose your children to it.  I like my kids songs irreverent, and I like my history as factual as one can get it.  I know that we don’t just let kids run outside and play anymore because we are afraid they will be stolen away, but can’t we at least let them sing “ain’t” once in a while?

Posted in Music, Parenting.


  1. I remember those songs from when I was a kid and before when my Dad sang them. Our version was “A horse and a flea and three blind mice sat on a tombstone shooting dice.” There is hardly any part of that line that is PC today.
    Thanks for the post.

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