The problem with many children's records is that they are lost on their intended audience. After all, very few children actually buy children's records; they're more content with Shaun Cassidy, the Bay City Rollers or the Jacksons. So children's albums must often be marketed with the adult buyer in mind.
Three local musicians have brought out self-produced albums directed toward children Barry Louis Polisar, with two albums under his belt, represents the adults' vision of childhood, while Michele Valeri and Bob Devlin maintain the essential innocence.
Polisar, a University of Maryland student who has been appearing in area grade schools, children's centers and public parks for several years, has a certain gift for lyric observation that is, unfortunately, not matched by his melodic sensibilities. His song titles give an idea of his domain: "I Sneaked Into the Kitchen in the Middle of the Night," "My Brother Threw Up on My Stuffed Toy Bunny," "My Brother Thinks He's a Banana" and "One Day My Best Friend Barbara Turned Into a Frog." Shades of Shel Silverstein.
A disturbing aspect of Polisar's vision is its easy, random violence, not far removed from Saturday morning cartoon mayhem. There is a certain trauma evident in much of the music, and Polisar's whining voice and redundant melodies don't help much.
"I Eat Kids' and Other Songs for Rebellious Children" and ""My Brother Thinks He's a Banana' and Other Provocative Songs for Children" are albums that will probably be enjoyed almost solely by adults who want to confirm their misconceptions of children. They will certainly relate more easily to Polisar's breakneck pacing of his lyrics. These songs might work in performance, but on record they are cloying and unsetting. There are less frantic moments in both albums, but they don't make up for the heaviness of much of the music. Both albums are available from Barry Louis Polisar at 2121 Fairland Rd., Silver Sping 20904. Cost is $4 each, plus 50 cents for postage.
A delightful contrast can be found on "Are You My Mother?" by Michele Valeri and Bob Devlin. The songs are innocent and involving, sung with children's sensibilities. The title song is a MacDonald's Farm-style excursion into the identity crisis of a chick hatched while Mom is away. It incorporates repetition and a simple chorus - both staples for making children's music participatory, evey anticipatory.
Valeri, blessed with an immensely accessible voice, has written six of the album's songs, co-written two with streetsinger Devlin, who in turn has four songs of his own. There are also contributions from Joan Cushing and Marc Speigel, who are among half a dozen musicians helping on the album. In other words, a lot of flavors to choose from: the Sesame Street construction of "The Letter song" and the cabaret flavor of "Have You Roared Today?" and the classic '50s rock and roll parody of "The Dinosaur Song."
And the songs are memorable, the kind one ends up humming, especially "Fruit Salad Scenario" ("Oh no, you can't elope with a cantaloupe" is just the beginning) and "Ballad of the Little Black Bug," which makes even a cockroach seem friendly.
What Devlin and Valeri have done is revive the respect for children that marked the music of Woody Guthrie, whose children's songs were never patronizing, frequently thoughtful, and always equally fun for young and old. This kind of music insists that we are all children at heart, though some of us have forgotten and some have held on. Innocent music - exemplified by the songs on "Are You My Mother?" - is both a reminder and a reinforcement. The album is available from Pot Luck Records, 1730 New Hampshire Ave. NW, No. 103, 20009. Price is $5 plus 50 cents for mailing. It's worth it.