For close to two decades, my paychecks were signed by the folks at The A.V. Club and Pitchfork. During that time, year-end list-making was a half beloved, half bitterly resented annual ritual. I spent the final months of the year binging on prestige films, awards contenders and the hippest and hottest albums to determine which works of art were just plain better than other works of art, and which were total crap.
I'm in a much different place these days, both geographically (a basement in Marietta, Georgia instead of Chicago) and professionally, and while film remains the core of my writing life, I had no desire to write a list of the top 10 films of the year, and to be brutally honest, I'm not sure I listened to a new album this year.
I did, however, want to make at least one top 10 list, so I decided that I would make a list of the 10 songs that made the most profound impact on me and my one-year-old son Declan in 2015. These were the jams that blared on YouTube everywhere from Gymboree to car rides to anywhere Mommy and Daddy were too lazy or tired to entertain our baby in a more active way than simply putting on a kiddie song playlist and letting his eyes glaze over in delight.
Trend wise, this was the year that nursery rhymes broke. In my basement alone, nursery rhymes experienced a five million percent jump in popularity since my son was born in October of 2014, from nonexistent to borderline obsessive, almost to the point where I seem to enjoy these songs more than my son does.
And of course no performer made a more profound impact on the audience of me, my son, and my wife, than Elly, a little animated, crooning, guitar-playing girl with a charming accent and weird stick-figure arms whose gentle presence is at the center of the KidsCamp videos my family watches compulsively.
"The ABC Song"
There are those who find the ABC song hectoring and overly aggressive. They're put off by the boasting (in their mind, bragging about knowing the words in the alphabet is as gauche and insufferable as bragging about the numbers of sports cars or mansions you possess,) and the aggressive suggestion that whoever is listening to the song sing along with the singer the next time the song is sung. Most songs don't specifically ask for things, but the ABC song is pretty demanding, albeit in kind of a passive-aggressive way.
True, the melody of the ABC song isn't exactly George Gershwin, but it has literally taught millions upon millions of children the letters of the alphabet, which are the cornerstone of our language, and to no small extent, our civilization. That is nearly as impressive as anything D'Angelo and Kendrick Lamar has done as of late.
2. "Humpty Dumpty"
Like all great art, "Humpty Dumpty" raises more questions than it answers. Just who is this Humpty Dumpty? Is he, as historically depicted, some manner of anthropomorphic egg? If so, why were horses involved in a concerted effort to put him back together again following a "great fall?" Why was Humpty Dumpty sitting on a wall in the first place, given his delicate constitution? We may never know, and what makes "Humpty Dumpty" such a bravura piece of narrative songwriting, as impressive in its own way as the gritty, dark early ballads of Bruce Springsteen, is that it retains its mystery no matter how often you hear it.
3. "I'm A Little Teapot"
Great art raises more questions than it answers. Great art has historically also always demarcated the components and functions of a teapot. That's what makes "Hamlet" so great—it gorgeously articulates the innate pain and confusion of existence, but it also talks about the different parts of a teapot and how they work. The same is true of "I'm A Little Teapot", which makes it one of the best songs of this or any other year.
4. "The Itsy Bitsy Spider"
To some, the saga of the "Itsy Bitsy Spider" is a mundane account of a spider and his rain-related difficulties hiking up a water spout but I prefer to think of it as a timeless, Joseph Campbell-style narrative about resilience and nature's cycles of boom, bust and decay. Plus, that itsy bitsy spider has a lot of raw, dark charisma. He's like an arachnid version of Breaking Bad's Walter White.
5. "Mary Had A Little Lamb"
Like all nursery rhymes since the beginning of time, "Mary Had A Little Lamb" absolutely kills it in the simplicity, catchiness and animal-themed department. It's an infectious little earworm about a mysterious cipher named Mary, her codependent, possibly pathological and dysfunctional bond with her little lamb and how their rule-breaking trip to school unleashed bedlam among the students.
6. "Ba Ba Black Sheep"
A companion nursery rhyme to "Mary Had A Little Lamb", "Ba Ba Black Sheep" once again dips into the safe and fertile kiddie song territory of colors, animals and counting, this time in the riveting tale of a black sheep that is somehow able to communicate to the human world that he has enough wool for three separate clients: for their master, his dame and the mysterious "little boy who lives down the lane."
7. "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"
The seventh most irresistible jam of 2015 has been providing a starry look at the wonders of the cosmos for generations now. It's a transcendent little ditty about star-gazing that channels some of the innate awe and reverence for nature's wonders of Insane Clown Posse's classic anthem, "Miracles," albeit in a less profane, more family-friendly package.
I'm not going to lie: The song "Bingo" is a little threadbare lyrically. Nobody will mistake it for the lost work of Cole Porter but in its repetitive, insistent exploration of a farmer who had a dog and Bingo was its name-o, it has nevertheless managed to capture the imagination of the general public and earned itself a spot on this list of timeless jams that everyone can agree only really reached their potential once the author of this list became a dad. It's what the song doesn't say that matters, and allows the listener to create a riveting narrative around the titular dog and his farmer owner out of the scraps of information contained within the lyrics. "Bingo" gets extra points for teaching listeners how to spell the name "Bingo", which is more than can be said about any track on The Beatles' "White Album."
This year Adele's "Hello" made us feel all the feels. Truth be told, I've never actually listened to this song because it is not part of the KidsCamp canon, but I have been told that it's actually illegal to make a list of the top songs of 2015 and not include it. Also, I suppose, I guess "adults" need to listen to something independently of their children, but I'm not entirely convinced.
10. "The Wheels On The Bus"
You can't have a list of the top songs of the year without at least one classic homage to the freewheeling joys of transportation like "The Wheels On The Bus", a song that combines a swinging, hummable melody with lyrics about the functioning of wheels on buses that are as educational as they are entertaining. Hell, I would argue they're actually more edifying than entertaining. It's almost as if teaching children basic things is a major component of nursery rhymes.
With the exception of "Hello," none of these songs debuted in 2015, but this was the year they all exploded—at least from the perspective of my basement.