When the wheels in my head screeched to a halt a few years ago in the middle of Zombie Boulevard listening to The Wheels on the Bus for the umpteenth time, it was time to bring in the rock star many parents hang out with at night over orange juice — Lisa Roth, the sister of Van Halen member David Lee Roth, but more importantly, she is the name behind the Rockabye Baby Series, which has completed 15 years. And what better gift for your toddler (and yourself indirectly when the kiddo begins the snooze fest) on Children’s Day than a collection of lullabies that are truly enjoyable?!
What Lisa and her team does appears — and emphasis is on “appears” — simple: Take the metal out of Metallica, the bow-wow out of David Bowie, the beat out of The Beatles or the cold out of Coldplay to turn all the greatest songs adults knock their heads off to into lullabies. All the rage, the hormone rush, and the stench of the s-word, the f-word are sucked out while lulling instruments are injected back in. What you get are cherub rockers hitting the bed knocking their eyelids out to lullaby versions of Bohemian Rhapsody, Hotel California, Here Comes The Sun and Free Fallin’.
Lisa has confessed that she can’t carry a tune but her series surely can and each track is well conceptualised. Listen to the lullaby version of Metallica’s Battery and you can in your head repeat the original lyrics: Smashing through the boundaries/ Lunacy has found me/ Cannot stop the battery/ Pounding out aggression/ Turns into obsession/ Cannot kill the battery. Oh man, this is like pouring single malt down the hatch and then reaching out for a bowl of hazelnut chocolates.
She wanted to be a ballerina but once that option twirled out of her way, all focus was on nutrition. Ultimately hired to be the nutritionist at a record label called the CMH Label Group, it is there that the idea to produce lullaby renditions of popular songs took wings. But it all goes back to the moment she was shopping for a baby shower gift but nothing reflected a sense of humour. Her idea found a voice in her then co-worker Valerie Aiello. Ultimately, three albums were released based on the music of Coldplay, Radiohead, and Metallica, each covering a different genre.
Lisa with her brother David Lee Roth
The albums in the series at no point turn classics into jokes. It’s not about making fun of the music made by U2, Nine Inch Nails or The Police. No, it’s more of a homage and that is why she and her colleagues have been able to work around music that’s high on the licensing ladder. The 100th collection in the series (released last year) involved Wu-Tang Clan, which has been a dysfunctional family but the lullaby collection does justice to their music, which has been nothing less than revolutionary and, needless to say, influential.
Speaking about how each album in the series gets made, a few years ago Lisa said the process begins by contacting the publishers and obtaining licenses for each song of an album, after which it is assigned to a producer to “deconstruct each and every song and put them back together using our Rockabye Baby palette of instruments”. The spectrum involves xylophones, marimbas, wood blocks, celestas, glockenspiels and more. After the songs go back and forth a few times, fairy dust gets sprinkled… um, metaphorically.
What is more interesting is the effect the songs have had on children. On a personal note, the albums I had played to my daughter when she was two or three years old had to do with The Beatles, Queen, Bob Marley, The Police and Prince. I am not sure why Bohemian Rhapsody is one of the now 10-year-old’s favourite songs or why she has read up a bit on Prince or why the latter part of the Fab Four’s discography appeals to her. Maybe it’s the lullaby series. Maybe it’s because my music system keeps playing the original albums all the time. Maybe it’s a combination of both. However you look at it, each album in the series has been well planned and the production value is absolutely high-five worthy. Too bad, the selection of The Doors and Johnny Cash were not available when my Neil Gaiman-loving daughter was only two. Further, Lisa and her team have gone way beyond legendary rock stars. There is Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars and Shania Twain. This year’s release involves renditions of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On album.
Lisa is that rock star we don’t see on stage. She is not the Instagram-loving, YouTube-streaming, Facebook-trained person. She simply loves being herself, like she had pointed out in an interview with Lily Grae: “You put out a cherry-picked version of yourself — the Instagram version of yourself — that’s what you’re going to get back, and you’re going to be tap dancing to get recognition. You’re going to be tap dancing so hard in life to get the jobs you want — to attract the life you want. I was on that path, too, long before social media existed, trying to be what you think is admirable, interesting, charismatic, beautiful — it’s what you’ve seen on television, YouTube. Life is not a YouTube video. Life is not a reality show. Life is hard, and exhausting and embarrassing and it’s a lot of falling down and pain and getting up and having a great evening, and then laughing and then crying and then feeling like shit. It’s like, this is life.”
What better way for parents to celebrate each night channelling music for their little ones, bringing alive the music of Creedence Clearwater Revival just the way Goldilocks likes. Lisa Roth is nothing less than an iconic rock star who likes to wear Cinderella’s slippers while combining rock rebellion with calm. If Elton John is okay being in the Rockabye Baby Series fandom, who are we to disagree? Joe Elliott from Def Leppard has contributed liner notes and Kurt Hammett of Metallica has mentioned the brand while Jimmy Fallon has talked about the series on air. Play it, dig it… this is the series cradles need to rock to.