#103 – “I Can Add” (2008)

Here Come The 123s

A.S.: I feel like since “Ten Mississippi” the shuffle has shown us pity with regard to children’s songs, although that could only last for so long.

L.K.: Oh John Flansburgh, what went wrong with you in 2008? What went so horribly, horribly wrong?
A.S.: Yes, a friendly reminder: as much as we love John Flansburgh, we feel that his work for Here Come The 123s is really subpar, compared to just about everything else he’s done and compared to Linnell’s tracks on the record.

L.K.: This is yet another cringeworthy track of his from Here Come The 123s, but the worst part is it could’ve been salvageable! The main melody is simple but isn’t inherently bad, and Flans counting in Spanish is one of the most adorable things ever, but then things take a real turn for the worse…

A.S.: Yeah, the Spanish is a fun little gimmick, and again, cramming a lot of syllables (diez y seis) into a short span of time is humorous (but in the world of TMBG children’s music, was already old hat at this point, having been done to a much funnier effect before)
L.K.: You know, for as much as Dan Levine is a kickass brass player, I could totally do without his niece having appeared in any songs ever. I believe I’ve mentioned before how much I hate singing kids as a gimmick.
A.S.: I really need to wonder if children hearing other children sing endears it to them more or if they don’t care at all.
L.K.: Hannah isn’t a very good singer, but it’s not her fault she’s been given terrible material to work with too.
A.S.: How many children really are good singers?
L.K.: The “countin'” over and over again is pretty inexcusable, not for grammatical reasons, but just because it sounds terrible. I mean, even for music intended for children, that whole section right there is just lazy, lazy, lazy.
A.S.: What sort of music did you listen to as a toddler?
L.K.: I don’t know, I don’t think I listened to any! When I was a baby mom had me falling asleep to K.D. Lang, but I can’t stand her stuff as an adult. I guess I probably just listened to music from Sesame Street. I know we had a cassette tape of that that I was listening to when I was much older than I should’ve been. I remember my mom and grandma being so happy that I was listening to “real” music like “Put Down The Duckie” instead of Hanson.
A.S.: See, I fucking loved Raffi and I’m pretty sure he had children singing on his songs (although I’m not entirely sure about that) but I really think that my favorite song at that age was “Losing My Religion”. So I have no idea if the presence of children’s voices in children’s music really does much.
L.K.: Man, I wish I got to listen to real music as a kid the way everyone else did… Or at least the way everyone else with good taste in music did.
A.S.: I mean, that R.E.M. song was just all over the radio and I just happened to take to it.
L.K.: But yeah, this song certainly isn’t going to get your toddler off on any good tracks, musically.
A.S.: The toy piano is a nice touch, although thankfully TMBG would return to that in much better settings.
L.K.: May I also direct everyone’s attention to the awful shrieking in the final chorus?
A.S.: Yeah! What the hell is that? Highest notes Flansburgh has ever attempted to hit?
L.K.: Flans’s weakness for doubling vocals up an octave reaches hellish levels here.
A.S.: He usually makes it work, but here…
L.K.: I am going to assume he was probably digitally assisted, but it still sounds dreadful. What is the highest note?
A.S.: Lemme check.
L.K.: Children do love shrieking, but that doesn’t mean their parents do too…
A.S.: It’s a D. Way up there.
L.K.: Yikes. I think “Celebration” goes up to E, but it’s a proven fact that he’s never hit that live.
A.S.: He also sings that falsetto. Here he’s just trying to belt it out.
L.K.: Yeah, this song is just a whole perfect storm of awfulness going on.
A.S.: But the storm could have been avoided.
L.K.: Which is a shame because there isn’t anything that inherently awful about it.
A.S.: Yeah.
L.K.: It was just a long, long series of bad, bad decisions in terms of arrangement, production, etc.
A.S.: But then again if you’re a kid you probably don’t care.  Then again, kids don’t care about much anyway. Has there ever been any sort of research into what TMBG songs kids like the most?
L.K.: I don’t know, but I mean, most people grew up on “Particle Man”, “Istanbul”, “Why Does The Sun Shine?” and to a lesser extent, “Doctor Worm”.
A.S.: But I mean from the kids albums, the target audience for the kids shows…
L.K.: See, that’s the thing. I have no idea! It’s just parents taking their kids to stuff against their wills, from what I can tell.
A.S.: I wouldn’t be surprised if in the long run, Flansburgh is better at writing songs geared towards young young children whereas all these Linnell kids songs that we like are more… for folks like us who just like TMBG/pop music.
L.K.: Which is weird because Linnell is the one who actually has a kid! Maybe Flans would be better off writing music for cats
A.S.: I’d love to hear that.
L.K.: Now THERE’s an untapped market.
3 Responses to “#103 – “I Can Add” (2008)”
  1. Nathan says:

    They used to play a fair amount of Raffi when I worked at the toy store back in my college years, and I remember kids occasionally singing on his songs, but by no means all of them. There was some other album they played on occasion that had babies singing, and it was horrible.

  2. For what it’s worth, the Disney albums were a *total* gateway drug for my kids into the larger TMBG catalog. They liked ABCs/123s, they freaking LOVE “Here Comes Science”, and my 13-year-old daughter now has Spine, Else, Apollo 18, Flood, and Join Us on her Nook, and would likely have more if she had room. So while I agree that some of the kids-targeted stuff doesn’t live up to the high-water marks in the catalog, it may be better to just say it’s not your particular cup of tea and hit “Next” on the iPod.

    • Haha, I feel like it’s hard for us to properly evaluate the children’s songs in context because we fall into the age group that grew up exposed to TMBG’s “adult” music, yet isn’t old enough to have been raising families by the late 00s. Since we aren’t kids and don’t know any kids ourselves, it’s hard to judge how effective the songs are toward their intended audience. However, if we’re going to be attempting to look at every TMBG song, it means evaluating EVERY song, and I think some of the kids songs are just ultimately musically disappointing when compared to some of the other really great songs for kids. (Which isn’t to say that all the “adult” songs are great either, but hey, that’s what differences of opinion are for…) -L.K.

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