Girl, Put Your Records On! Family-Friendly Songs to Share with Your Kids

I owe my lifelong appreciation of music to my dad. 

When I was a little girl, he and I shared music time in the basement, listening to old albums and 45s. We even had a jukebox, which is now in my basement. Being the big oldies fan that he is, our repertoire consisted mostly of hits from the 1950s, much to my delight at the time. He had the biggest collection of 45s I had ever seen, not to mention albums and even 8-tracks! (Yes, I’m old enough to remember prehistoric 8-tracks.) Because of this early informal music education, I can name any big hit from this decade of early rock and roll.

As I grew, so did my taste in music. 

As a child of the 70s and 80s, my obsession with music continued. Today, I can challenge anyone to “Name That Tune” with my obscure music knowledge. I enjoy all genres, from pop to oldies to country. I went on to study piano for several years, played in a band briefly in high school, and was part of the marching band in college.

I hope to instill the same passion for music in my son. 

Starting when he was an infant, he and I would attend Music Together classes and listen to kid-friendly musicians like Steve Songs, Jeff Jam, Matt Heaton, and Karen K. We play music a lot in our house or in the car — although now it’s almost entirely digital. But I vow to show him what an old record player looks like, teach him the difference between 45s and 33s, and make sure he knows what a cassette tape is. I plan to expose him to different genres of music, as well as hits from each decade. 

So I put together a list, by decade, of family-friendly songs every kid should know! 

This list is totally subjective, of course, and by no means inclusive, but it highlights many of my favorites:  

1950s

Yakity Yak — The Coasters
Splish Splash — Bobby Darin
Rockin’ Robin — Bobby Day
Tears on My Pillow — Little Anthony and the Imperials
Shake Rattle and Roll Bill Haley and the Comets
Chantilly Lace — Big Bopper
Mr. Sandman The Chordettes
Wipeout The Surfaris
Goodnight Sweetheart — The Spaniels (Although I love the ShaNaNa version as well! It’s a frequent bedtime song in my house.)
La Bamba — Richie Valens
Mack the Knife Bobby Darin
Fun Fun Fun The Beach Boys
In the Mood Glenn Miller Orchestra
Ring of Fire Johnny Cash
That’s Amore — Dean Martin

1960s

What a Wonderful WorldLouis Armstrong
Sugar Sugar — The Archies
Brown Eyed Girl — Van Morrison
Here Comes the Sun — Beatles
R.E.S.P.E.C.T — Aretha Franklin
Build Me Up ButtercupThe Foundations
Runaround Sue — Dion
Shout — Isley Brothers
New York, New York — Frank Sinatra
You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling — Righteous Brothers
Down on the Corner — CCR
Dirty Water — The Standells (It’s about Boston!)
Monkees — Pleasant Valley Sunday

1970s

Crocodile Rock Elton John
Joy to the World Three Dog Night
Lovely Day Bill Withers
Stayin’ Alive — Bee Gees
Seasons in the Sun Terry Jacks (this song never fails to make me cry, but I felt it was worth including)
More Than a Feeling Boston
Boogie Shoes KC & the Sunshine Band
Last Dance Donna Summer
Mamma Mia ABBA
The Gambler Kenny Rogers
Dancing in the Moonlight King Harvest
Rappers Delight — Sugar Hill Gang
Your Song Elton John
Piano Man Billy Joel
Can’t Smile Without You Barry Manilow
Bonus: Soundtrack from the movie “Grease

1980s

Video Killed the Radio StarBuggles
Down Under Men at Work
Dancing with Myself Billy Idol
99 Red Balloons Nena
Cars Gary Newman
Sussudio Phil Collins
Manic Monday the Bangles
It’s Tricky Run, D.M.C.
I Love Rock & Roll Joan Jett
Jump Van Halen
Rock this Town Stray Cats
Beat It (or anything else by MJ) — Michael Jackson
You Can Call Me Al Paul Simon
Morning Train — Sheena Easton
Jessie’s Girl Rick Springfield
Bust A Move Young MC
Should I Stay or Should I Go the Clash
Our House Madness
Africa Toto

1990s

(I debated whether or not to even include the 90s, since none of these are exactly “classics,” but it was more just for fun and reminiscent of my college years.)

500 Miles The Proclaimers
Forever Young Rod Stewart
The Sign Ace of Base
Can’t Touch This MC Hammer
Life Is a Highway — Tom Cochran
Hold My Hand — Hootie & the Blowfish
If I Had a Million DollarsBarenaked Ladies
Shiny Happy People — R.E.M.
Gettin’ Jiggy with It — Will Smith
Two Princes — Spin Doctors
What’s Up — Four Non Blonds
I Try — Macy Gray

I’m sure there are plenty of others you might think of to share with your kids!

I feel it is my joyful obligation in life to pass on my love of music to my son and expose him to songs from generations long ago in addition to today. Have fun with these lists. Play some of the songs for your kids. Better yet, get ’em up and dancing!

A native of Salem, MA, Cheryl Mastrogiovanni is a high school counselor in the Boston area, with just a slight Boston accent that remains from her childhood. She enjoys helping her seniors navigate the college application process. A lifelong Bruins fan, Cheryl began attending hockey games with her father in the original Boston Garden at the age of eight, and hopes to continue that tradition with her son as well. Cheryl recently published a children’s picture book about (what else!) a child attending his first Bruins game in the fabulous city of Boston. A graduate of Boston College, Cheryl is also passionate about soccer, travel, Cape Cod, and spending time with her family. She resides in Arlington with her husband and 7-year-old son. Loves: playing soccer on the weekends, Italian language & culture, road trips, GOOD pizza, hot summer nights, seafood shacks, Name that Tune from the 80’s, and being organized. Dislikes: loud noises, long meetings, & messiness.