To Those Who Would Use Children’s Choirs on Songs: Stop It. JUST STOP IT.

[Another guest blog by Susan Andrews. AC]

Lately I’ve been having some thoughts on the use of children’s choirs by various bands throughout the years, and oh how much things have changed.

Was listening to the radio today and heard, yet again, that FUN song, ‘Carry Me Home Tonight’. And as the children’s choir kicked in, I just mentally rolled my eyes. Had I not been driving at the time I would have rolled my eyes for real.

Children’s choirs have made appearances in several genres of rock, ranging from the Rolling Stones’ ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ to the chilling use of them in Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’, to the joyful chaos of Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’ and more recently from The Pretty Reckless and FUN.

Now, I’ve nothing against children, though as I am childless by choice, some think I hate children. Anything but. I may dislike someone’s spoilt-rotten offspring, but I do like non-bratty kids, and especially enjoy knowing that I can return them at the end of the day 🙂

Anyway, in the early-mid seventies classic rock examples listed above (Stones/Floyd/Cooper) the use of kiddies singing is usually to emphasize a loss of innocence, which is very true in the Stones and Floyd songs. Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’ is more of a rambunctious cheer for the freedom of summer, and thus prolonging innocence just a little bit longer. Even if it does involve blowing up a schoolhouse in the process :-l

But when bands like The Pretty Reckless and FUN use kid’s choirs, I’m definitely on the fence, and I am rarely on the fence about anything. In the case of that song by FUN, the kids are basically just providing a backing vocal, they don’t really have any lyrics to sink their teeth into.

However in the case of The Pretty Reckless, where the kids are trying to sound jaded about how they ‘all belong way down below’…I dunno. Though they’re trying hard to justify the use of a kid’s choir in yet another loss-of-innocence song, nowadays it just seems too contrived, too obvious a usage of what was once a fairly novel idea.

It’s like seeing a baby with a Jell-O’d green fauxhawk dressed in a black leather jacket. Poor kid has no idea that his parents are using him/her, as their very own Mini-me, to espouse their ideals. Whether those ideals are actually legit is immaterial. But, hey, so long as it will make for some *oh-so kyoooot!* baby pics to post on Facebook now, and embarrasses Junior in the long run, especially when potential employers run a Google search on their name…who cares, right?

However, having been around long enough to remember the original punks, the truly and rightfully angry disaffected youff of England, with the shaved heads, airplane-glued Mohawks, in hard-wearing Doc Martens and safety pins not only holding their clothes together but also shoved through their ears and cheeks…well, a baby with bad hair dressed in a Pleather kiddie-biker jacket is a farce, plain and simple.

Which is why I fear the use of children’s choirs in today’s alternative rock songs. After all, when’s the last time you heard a new release by the Stones/Floyd/Cooper with a children’s choir? Simple: you haven’t, and probably never will.

And that’s because those bands know that children’s-choir gimmick was just that, a gimmick, and it would have its run. And they were smart enough to catch that wave and ride it, and when it was done, they got off that horse and carried on. That’s why all these bands a) still exist, more or less original permutations and b) have been so successful that they have survived for 40+ years. Hell, the Stones alone have been together longer than I’ve been alive! *shudder*

So all in all, all alternative rock bands out there….please. Whether it’s using GarageBand loops (KT Tunstall), or excessive footpedals a la the shoegazers, or thinking of hiring Pat Carney to produce your album (Hollerado), or using a guitar riff originated by your dad in the 70s (Muse), or even using an accordion as the instrument of choice for a solo in a song (The Kongos)…please…do any or all of the above, with my blessing.

But please, please, PLEASE let the children’s choir be left alone. At best, using one will make you sound contrived and corporate-rockish (which is my only nitpick with The Pretty Reckless), and at worst they make they make you sound stale and unoriginal. (Sorry, FUN, I love the rest of that song but just wince at that use of kiddies singing.) In my mind good music should never be overdone. FUN’s use of the kiddy choir may not hurt the song, but how much does it actually help it?

And let’s face it, all you alt-rockers: Sounding like you were produced by a corporation whose roster includes bland, pretty-boy-bands, is against everything alt-rock stands for. Isn’t it?

So come on, people! Don’t let the only ‘ALT’ I am exposed to in the course of my day be that key on my laptop’s keyboard! Stay fresh, stay original. Stay child-choir free.

–Susan Andrews <susanlandrews2@hotmail.com>

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

4 thoughts on “To Those Who Would Use Children’s Choirs on Songs: Stop It. JUST STOP IT.

  • July 27, 2014 at 11:04 am
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    I really like the children’s choirs on some recordings. My favourite example of random kids on a recording is “Aeroplane” by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. It sounds like it was done in one take with kids having no sense of timing. Water’s use is powerful on the Wall but I would wonder if he paid those kids (which he rightfully should) or just made off like he did with Clare Torry. I agree that both uses of childrens choirs in those Floyd and Stones songs are impeccable.

    I haven’t heard of The Pretty Reckless but she could learn from the great growlings of Courtney Love who has earned her Punk stripes through hard living.

    Reply
  • July 27, 2014 at 5:34 pm
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    You Can’t Always Get What You Want features an adult choir, not kids.

    Reply
  • July 28, 2014 at 11:10 am
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    I don’t see kids choirs as anything other than another instrument to be used well or poorly by the musician. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Blanket “stop using that!” statements just seem shortsighted to me. Custom’s Hey Mister uses a kids choir (or kids) pretty well.

    As for Pretty Reckless, One could argue Cindy Lou Who is a kid herself so she should get a pass.

    Reply
  • July 28, 2014 at 11:21 am
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    It doesn’t sound like a kids choir to me, and I’ve listened to that album countless times on vinyl with respectable headphones.

    Reply

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