"IF the Seven Dwarfs had a band, what would it sound like?"
That's the question Michael Armstrong asked when arranging lullaby renditions of Metallica, Radiohead, Coldplay and other artists for "Rockabye Baby!" The three bands are part of a CD series that rolled out earlier this week, featuring songs recorded with glockenspiel, harp, vibraphone and other infant-friendly instruments rather than the usual guitars, drums and vocals.
"Your favorite band's music changes your life, and most fans listen to their favorites over and over, so this is a fun way to keep listening with an interesting new twist while passing an appreciation on to their little ones," said Valerie Aiello, executive producer of the series for Silver Lake-based Baby Rock Records.
So far, nine albums have been recorded, each culling an artist's greatest hits and giving them a serene, crib-appropriate makeover. Tool, Pink Floyd, the Beach Boys, the Cure, Led Zeppelin and Nirvana are also scheduled for release before the end of the year. Smashing Pumpkins, No Doubt, the Pixies and Bjork are scheduled for 2007.
That's good news for rocker parents, many of whom have attempted to play punk, rock and heavy metal for their wee ones only to be met with whines before ultimately giving in to Elmo sing-alongs and cheesy rock versions of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star."
"Rockabye Baby!" is the brainchild of Aiello, who, like most of the employees at Baby Rock, is younger than 35 and doesn't have kids. The idea, she said, came from listening to last year's Queens of the Stone Age album, "Lullabies to Paralyze."
"When [that record] came out, I was a super huge fan, and I just thought it could be a funny, cool thing if we redid the entire record in lullaby versions," said Aiello, 28.
Not surprisingly, Queens of the Stone Age is also on the docket, part of a list of "bands we chose that really have fans," Aiello said.
"They write songs that matter. Backstreet Boys sold a lot of records, but we chose rock bands that have heart and write cool songs."
Aiello anticipates that many of the Baby Rock CDs will also be purchased by fans who don't have kids but "pick it up for fun," so the CDs will be available not only in the kids' music section but also in the main bins for the artists.
It's not only the concept that will draw them in but also the artwork. Each cover takes the aesthetic of the band and turns it on its head. The cover for the Metallica album, for example, is all black, except for a teddy bear with a lightning bolt on its belly. The Coldplay cover is a take on the one used for the band's album "X&Y;," only the colored blocks have been reshaped, again, into a bear.
Flip over the cover and there's the usual song list, but the rest of the liner notes are laid out as a sort of baby book/cut-out game. One page offers blank lines to fill in the "rock star's name," "birthday to be celebrated by future fans," "first influential rock song" and "first time to play air guitar/air drums," among other things. The rest is stars, blocks and other shapes, along with instructions on how to turn them into a nursery-perfect mobile.
Aiello created the art, in addition to being the executive producer for the albums. She chose Armstrong to arrange and perform the music, she said, because the musicians she originally hired didn't seem to get it.
"It sounded like Renaissance music or meditation music," she said. "The only instruction [Armstrong] had was what I told him: to make it sound like gnomes in a tree if they had a band and they played Radiohead songs."