The Best Rock Songs for Kids: From Beatles to SpongeBob

A playlist you and your kid can agree on.

by Jordan Obey
Originally Published: 
Kid enjoying rock songs.

While there is certainly a place for all the nursery rhymes and lullabies in the world, the sooner you get your kids into real music, the better. Not only is better your own personal sanity, but playing grown-up music for your kids will help expand their palette in ways immature music can’t. And, besides keeping your children safe, you’re responsible for being a tastemaker. The music you expose them to will inform the type of music they’ll seek out later. Why not give them a good, lively start? So, instead of going with songs that will make them fall asleep and have nothing to do with their experience as a kid, show them these songs they can sink their teeth into and rock out.

Here’s a playlist of rock music, which won’t drive you nuts and your kids will be able to connect to easily. Sure, there are some obvious entries on here, plus some stuff from fictional kid’s characters, but there are some deep cuts, too. In fact, the deepest cut of all might be from SpongeBob.

Kids in America – Kim Wilde

Okay, this one is more pop than rock, but how could we not add Kim Wilde’s preteen anthem to our list? The synth, the chorus, the lyrics; it sounds like it was perfectly crafted to show up in the soundtrack of kids movies for decades to come. And it did.

Spiderman Theme – The Ramones

This song works on two levels. Level one, spiderman is a beloved superhero and one of the first teenagers to don a mask without playing the sidekick and instead helm his own series. Level two, the vestiges of The Ramones’ anti-establishment cache – which is what makes it a rock song. This theme song from spidey’s 1960s cartoon show infused with The Ramone’s unpolished style is must for kids.

Muppet Show Theme – Ok Go

OK Go recorded a music video for the Muppet Show theme song and – it’s weird. Which is great! This funky version of the theme some is especially fun for kids with extra energy who will become future alt-fans.

School’s Out – Alice Cooper

No surprise with this pick. Alice Cooper’s end of school celebration song is what a kid rock song should be. Loud, easy to remember, and all about not doing stuff you don’t want to do. Please note: this song is not advocating kids leave school all together. This song rocks out, but it rocks out responsibly.

Ocean Man – Ween

Fun fact. Ween’s album, The Mollusk was the inspiration behind cartoonist Stephen Hillenburg’s hit Nickelodeon show Spongebob Squarepants. And this idiosyncratic song, is in its soundtrack killing two birds – liking spongebob, and getting alt-music cred – with one stone.

We Will Rock You – Queen

This work so well as a kid’s rock song because it gets them so amped. For that, we can thank all of the song’s stomping and Freddie Mercury’s gauntlett-throwing lyrics.

I’m a Believer – The Monkees

You can blame Shrek if you want to, but this song from The Monkees is sugary and up beat enough to be an essential rock song for kids regardless of whether or not it was featured in one of the biggest kids movies of all time.

We Didn’t Start the Fire – Billy Joel

A history lesson of the 20th century in the form of a Billy Joel song isn’t a bad premise for song. And this one sure as hell delivers. Great for spouting off historical events with a pleasing cadence, and passing the buck of responsibility at the same time!

Just a Kid – Wilco

Wilco’s song starts, “maybe I’m just a kid, maybe I don’t fit in.” Which immediately sets the tone for the next 3 minutes of this infectious song about the woes of being a kid in a world run by the rules of adults.

Octopus’s Garden – The Beatles

This is an excellent kids’ song if not for reasons that are a bit ominous. Written by Ringo Starr for the Beatles, the song is about wanting to feel safe and calm when things around you are anything but. At the time, The Beatles were arguing a lot, and Starr, wanting an escape from the conflict, wished he could escape under the sea. Unfortunately, that’s a feeling little kids can relate to.

Shout – Isley Brothers

This song was originally written and performed by the Isley Brothers and made famous by the frat-comedy Animal House, which is awesome, but not what makes this one of the greatest rock songs for kids. What makes this one of the greatest rock songs for kids is its call and response and killer crescendo that people of all ages can sing along too.

Mahna Mahna – Cake

Though the origins of this song are very much not kid friendly, ‘Mahna Mahna’ was co-opted by the Muppets which is what it’s mostly known for. Now, it continues it’s weird journey from being performed by puppets to becoming a rock song performed by bands like Cake and the Fray.

You Are my Sunshine – Johnny Cash

This is a soulful lullaby by Johnny Cash. His guitar and voice are the perfect end of night soundtrack to a day of camping. Best listened to next to a fireplace, or even better, an actual fire pit. Make sure you have cider with you.

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