One of my earliest musical memories is listening to songs by the Beatles, even though they had broken up by the time I turned two.
I remember crooning to my pet guppy the following bastardization of “Yesterday,” (with apologies to the Beatles): “Guppy day… all your problems will float away.”
I recalled that memory when I heard about an intriguing project: A Children’s album and book intended to introduce the Beatles to today’s children.
Through email I interviewed Kevin Salem, the producer of All Together Now.
Scott Butki: What did you intend to accomplish with this project? Did you feel you succeeded?
KS: We wanted to introduce children to classic music of obvious quality. The Beatles, of course, personified that, not only in their songwriting, but in their vision of music. For this reason, I didn’t stray far from the original arrangements and intention of the records. Of course, we could just play Beatles records for our kids, and I would be proud if this served as a gateway to that.
But I think that rock & roll, like folk music, is marked by generational influence and interpretation. The singers on All Together Now, both the grownups and the kids, have unique and modern voices in their own rite which deserve attention. And, obviously, we wanted to make music that would not drive parents into the next room. We will leave that to teenagers, who should play music that alienates their parents. The poems give parents a way to interact with their kids while listening, and the Beatles facts are just interesting bits of history. The drawings were made by local school children here in Woodstock.
As far as success… in general, I think the project is a success. It is positive, organic, modern-sounding. But as a producer, a musician, a writer… there are always a thousand things I think I could have done to make it better, so I am probably not the best judge of that. When you make music for kids, I think you are making future consumers and future musicians, so the bar is pretty high.
How did you choose which Beatles songs to cover and include on the album?
There are so many great songs to choose from. It is so easy to find a dozen great songs in the Beatles catalog that it feels more like cheating than work to do so. Most choices, like “Birthday,” and “Yellow Submarine,” were obvious kid songs, probably even for the Beatles. Others were chosen to fill specific purposes. “And Your Bird Can Sing” exposes children to instrumental harmony and lead guitar. “I Want To Hold Your Hand” is a song that takes on a different meaning when kids and adults sing together and when it is made for families to listen to. Some songs just didn’t work for my gang… like, “Lucy In the Sky.” It was really no different than any other record. If the singers felt great in the song, it was a good choice.
How did you get the Bangles, Marshall Crenshaw and Steve Conte of the New York Dolls involved in the project?
Thankfully, they are all friends, all people I work with all the time on other stuff. You would be shocked — or maybe not — to see how eager great musicians are to make music for kids, that goes for musicians who are not parents, too. There were a couple cool surprises, like Bones Malone, who just blew me away. He plays every horn in the world and it took him about three hours to play all the horns you hear on All Together Now. And the live tracking sessions were among the most fun any of us in the band have ever had. John Conte, Steve’s brother, was so affected by it that he started writing kids songs.
Marshall, Steve, the Bangles… they are all doing kid records. The truth is, you just feel great when you make music for kids.
Who wrote the “Beatles Facts” in the book?
I did… and believe me, I didn’t scratch the surface. When our website is up, there will be more posted.
Are similar albums about other great bands coming next or is this a one-time thing?
We cut a soul compilation, called Soulville, at the same time as All Together Now. As I said above, it was the most exhilarating three days I have had in the studio in ages. We plan more, folk and reggae compilations, more Beatles and soul… I would love to do a Spike Jones or Cab Calloway CD.