As the father of a three-month-old baby, I'm often struggling to justify my existence. Between changing a wet nappy at 5.30am and trying to collapse our ridiculous Rube Goldberg buggy, I often feel as useful as an inflatable dartboard. However, at around 2am this morning - in between sterilising my wife's breast pump and blow drying a damp baby grow ready for the next nappy change - I had a bit of a brainwave as to how I could actually make myself useful around the house.
You hear a lot about the importance of playing classical music to your baby to activate the neural pathways responsible for many intellectual skills, but what about alternative rock, ambient, reggae, or electronica? Surely some of these musical genres deserve a place alongside Brahms and Mozart on your baby's playlist? Now, as a failed musician myself, I thought that this could be a great opportunity for me to (a) have a profound early influence on my daughter and (b) put whatever knowledge I may have learned as a jobbing musician and DJ to some use.
Also, and perhaps most importantly, I want to continue to listen to music I like throughout the process of raising a child, rather than turning my head to a mushy pulp by listening to CDs of creepy womb sounds, or moronic YouTube lullaby playlists. So I've been digging the crates for a good mix of the artists I love (ranging from Lou Reed and Brian Eno, to Chet Baker and The Slickers) and see which ones could also appeal to the sensibilities of my insomniac daughter.
The Velvet Underground
Babycentre.com warns against anything too challenging when it comes to music, "You may want to stay away from head-banging rock, grunge music, or rap. Research suggests that infants prefer pleasant, harmonic music rather than discordant, harsh sounds." Now, despite Lou Reed's affection for musical dissonance (his 1975 album Metal Machine Music was more or less an hour's aural assault of feedback and white noise), this cantankerous New Yorker could be particularly tender when he wanted to be - especially when enveloped in the warm blanket of heroin, of course. From the innocent-yet-eerie opening chimes of Sunday Morning and the hypnotic drone of Venus in Furs (both The Velvet Underground and Nico), to the fragile and gentle Pale Blue Eyes and the playful, nursery rhyme quality of Afterhours (both The Velvet Underground), Lou Reed's first band offers many sonic delights to the newborn child. Admittedly his solo output is slightly more troublesome but there are many treats to be had - I'll touch on these in part two...
Ambient - from Eno to Orbit
Ambient might seem like a bit of a cop out - surely most babies will be happy listening to this genre? However, I'm not necessarily thinking of my daughter's enjoyment here. In my opinion, you have to tread VERY carefully to avoid the new age, pan pipe nonsense of Enigma and Deep Forest. Luckily, pretty much all of Brian Eno's ambient classic Music for Airports is suitably soporific for after a 5.30am feed when you really need something to get you and your baby back to the land of nod before the alarm goes off a few hours later. However, please note that some of the ethereal vocal work on "2/1" and "1/2" might be a little bit spooky if little one hasn't been winded properly.
Another great option for both baby and the ambient electronic music fan is William Orbit's Pieces in a Modern Style album, which skilfully blends electronica and well-known classical music to deliver a magical, gently oscillating, bleeping, crossover classic.
It's taken me about 30 years to get my head around this genre. If you absolutely must listen to jazz then keep it ethereal and mellow - avoid anything by Ornette Coleman at all costs if you want a good night's sleep. I see no difference between the unlistenable squeals and parps of his groundbreaking album The Shape of Jazz to Come and some of Yngwie Malmsteen's worst fret wanking.
Any ballad from the Chet Baker Sings album will serve you well if you need a vocal. Guitarist Wes Montgomery's Bumpin is a lovely piece of music, certainly no fret wanking on this track. Everybody Digs Bill Evans is a great album (Peace Piece and Lucky to Be Me are simply beautiful ballads, perfect for the early hours. Donald Bird's Cristo Redentor (A New Perspective) is a gem of a groove, with soothing yet ghostly backing vocals to boot. As a rule, the West Coast' 'Cool Jazz' scene won't offer you up anything too scary (Stan Getz, Dave Brubeck and Gerry Mulligan are probably good bets for the novice) but can sound a little lightweight and, dare I say it, reminiscent of The Fast Show's 'Jazz Club' sketch - "Nice!"
There's something about the repetitive soft chick of the guitars, the syncopated rhythms provided by the organ (known as the 'reggae bubble') and the laidback delivery of the vocals that make reggae music ideal for chilling both you and your baby out. Courtesy of the massively influential The Harder They Come soundtrack are gems Johnny Too Bad by the Slickers, Draw Your Breaks by Scotty and the sublime Sitting In Limbo by Jimmy Cliff. Other top somniferous classics include Cherry Oh Baby by Eric Donaldson, Sweet Sensation by The Melodians and the just damned lazy, sax heavy Never To Be Mine by Roland Alphonso & The Supersonics. You could try delving into the Lovers Rock scene too, with Ken Boothe and Johhny Nash providing some of Ska's more gentle moments.
So, this should be enough to get you started on a decent playlist. I haven't even touched on Ravi Shankar, Kraftwerk, Nick Drake, Lou Reed or even Guru's Jazzmatazz album - more of that in part 2. Anyway, type some of these names into Spotify or YouTube and have fun disappearing down the rabbit hole...