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Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of Radiohead

September 15, 2007

I have a six month old, gorgeous baby cousin. He is truly the biggest miracle to happen to our family in a long time. I haven’t seen my family so closely knit and generally respectful to one another since we older cousins were kids. My grandmother’s house is like it has never been. While my aunt and cousin visit, the house is the center of attention. On any given night, eight people might be in the house all at once if not more. This is exactly the way my grandmother likes it. She loves attending to people and letting them into her home. It means the world to her that we are all here. Even more interesting is how much this baby has changed everyone individually. Even people who are at first glance too worn out for any significant change have been transformed by him.

While browsing at my local Best Buy a week ago, I checked the fairly large section of Radiohead CDs. Typically they just have the main albums, but for some reason lately most major electronics stores have had a lot of other stuff, namely the longer EPs, Airbag/How Am I Driving, My Iron Lung, and Com Lag. But I also saw Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of Radiohead on the shelf and I got kind of confused. I had heard of it once before, but I assumed it was an import and that I would never see it on the shelves. I didn’t know anything about it. At first I dismissed it as a novelty and went on my way, but then I remembered my aunt and my little cousin who were currently in town and I found myself unable to resist dropping $15 on this thing. Half of me felt like I was doing the good thing by getting a gift for the little tyke, but I also felt guilty, as if I was kind of playing into my own interests by buying a Radiohead CD for someone who probably would not be able to appreciate it.

What I discovered upon giving it to my aunt was that she was elated and excited. She had already bought Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of The Cure (my aunt grew up in the eighties and has a high appreciation for the sublime melodies of The Cure) and was very pleased with it. Apparently, there are actually a ton of these CDs, for what seems like almost every major artist in a long time. Well, maybe not, but there are certainly a lot of these things.

http://www.rockabyebabymusic.com/web/page.asp?pgs=products

They have Lullaby Renditions of U2, The Beatles, Metallica, Smashing Pumpkins, Tool, Led Zeppelin, Nine Inch Nails, Pink Floyd, Bjork, The Beach Boys, Queens of the Stone Age… The list goes on. I was skeptical, because to be honest, the majority of those bands just don’t sound suited for lullabies, but what I found after sampling many of the songs was that these albums are very, very good. Apparently this is all done by one guy, who takes melodies by bands and weaves them into calm instrumentals played with glockenspiels, very soft beats, bells, and vibraphones. Some of these albums work better than others. Playing The Beatles, U2, or Smashing Pumpkins in this way is pretty safe, and pretty effective. However, when you start doing bands like Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, and Tool, you are going to end up with some fairly perverse, subtly evil sounding music that you probably wouldn’t want your little one falling asleep to. But I’m going to be honest here, who ever makes these knows what the hell he is doing. While Tool or Nine Inch Nails are not good for a child to fall asleep to, somehow this musician has been able to coax simple, driving melodies into very effective formats, and I have enjoyed the samples of both of those artists in lullaby format.

However, I have to remember what goals were set in place by this particular collection in the first place. It sounds like a good idea that would translate well. Radiohead have always been very melodic and at times relaxing while staying emotive. Second guessing isn’t good enough. I went to my grandmothers house a few nights later and tested the product. The baby started to cry uncontrollably at around seven or eight, and at that point we went into my grandmothers room where the crib is and flipped on the Radiohead lullabies. After my aunt put the kid down to rest and he was all snuggled up in his crib, she let me sit in the room and do my homework while listening to his lullaby CDs.

I know Radiohead’s music like second nature. I have listened to all of the albums more times than I can count, so I didn’t have to look at the back of the CD case to know what each song was. But this also comforted me, because I knew that the songs were given treatment that is faithful to the originals. The song selection is a little broken. The farthest back in Radiohead’s discography that the collection goes is OK Computer, so there is nothing from Pablo Honey or The Bends. But what is there feels natural. Some of Radiohead’s songs, Let Down, No Surprises, and Sail To The Moon, translate extremely well, and the new lullabies sound like they could be the true originals.

There are a few weaker selections. Why 2+2=5 was included is beyond me. It’s minor tonality is not suited for putting a baby to sleep, and while it is nice for adults to hear it, babies won’t be able to appreciate it very much. What I really love about these collections is how songs in minor keys sound completely different and creepy when played this way. But once again, not for the kids. Knives Out is another one that should not have been included. It is also a great Radiohead song, but it’s purpose is to confuse and disturb. For that reason, you kind of need to keep in mind what the actual agenda of the album is. Is this meant to be a collection of Radiohead lullabies for everyone, or a collection of Radiohead lullabies for babies?

But the best songs on here are almost too good for words. Not only will babies thoroughly enjoy these, but Radiohead fans of any age will be surprised and impressed. My favorite ones are the always lovely Airbag, There There, and an eye popping version of Everything In It’s Right Place. These versions are stripped down but still retain their original form, making them arguably even more moving than the originals.

While I sat there in bed watching my cousin, the treasure of our family that has been waiting to be discovered for years, listening to this little collection, I made a lot of realizations. I realized that my family wasn’t half as screwed up as I have always thought they were, that every one of us actually do appreciate each other deep down, and that things were really just beginning. I used to think that everyone was just going to grow old and things would fade out, now that all the children were essentially grown up. But I was wrong. Very wrong. This hour spent in my grandmothers bedroom doing homework will most likely be a fond memory to me years from now. It will also be remembered that I discovered a medium of music that truly interests me (I assure you I will be purchasing many more of these collections both for the baby and for myself), and that the baby did not wake up or stir even once.

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