The wheels on the bus have gone round and round too many times. And I must not be alone: The average American reportedly spends almost 11 hours each week in the car. If you are driving your kids around for even a percentage of that time, you have an opportunity—and a captive audience. Car tunes can be the ultimate vehicle for family harmony. Your kids are strapped down and, ideally, screen-free. This makes the car the ideal place to open up and pass things down—values, knowledge and, perhaps most important, a love of solid music. As Levon Helm once said, “If you pour some music on whatever’s wrong, it will sure help out.” Let us all pledge to never again squander this gift on “Baby Shark.” Here, our family favorites.
1. PETER, PAUL AND MARY: THE VERY BEST OF PETER, PAUL AND MARY
Come for the timeless children’s classic “Puff, the Magic Dragon,” but stay for their covers of iconic folk songs like Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” and Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” It’s a built-in American history lesson set to earworms for everyone.
2. CARLY SIMON: INTO WHITE
Lullabies like “Oh! Susanna,” “You Are My Sunshine” and “Blackbird” take on a dreamy quality thanks to the legendary singer-songwriter’s spare, authentic delivery. This album is, quite simply, magical. It casts a spell whether you play it in the dead of night for your newborn or use it to sing your kids to sleep in their car seats when bedtime has passed but you still have miles of road ahead.
3. SAM COOKE: THE BEST OF SAM COOKE
“Another Saturday Night,” “(What a) Wonderful World,” “Cupid,” “You Send Me,” “Having a Party,” “Bring It on Home to Me”… Until you introduce your kids to the civil-rights activist Spotify calls “the most important soul singer in history,” you may have forgotten that all along he was singing the soundtrack to your life.
4. KIDZ BOP KIDS: KIDZ BOP 40
Radio hits like “Sunflower,” “Señorita” and “Shallow” get the Kidz Bop treatment with sanitized lyrics, sung by incredible (if anonymous) tween vocalists. Your kids will think you’re with it, they’ll feel cool among their friends, and you’ll be able to delay them—for a year at least—from memorizing refrains like “She wanna ride me like a cruise” (a tip of the hat to you, Post Malone).
5. THE BEATLES: ABBEY ROAD
t’s not a question of if you’ll introduce your kids to John, Paul, George and Ringo. It’s a question of when and how. We’d argue that Abbey Road is the perfect first taste of Beatlemania. Start with “Octopus’s Garden,” fall in love all over again with “Here Comes the Sun” (especially poignant now that you have your own little darlin’s) and rock out to “Oh! Darling” and “Come Together” (dashboard drumming absolutely mandatory). Family sing-alongs never sounded so good.
6. SIMON AND GARFUNKEL: BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER
It’s hard to recommend just one Simon and Garfunkel album, since so many feature gems to inspire young listeners. But this groundbreaking 1970 record is packed to the gills with thought-provoking lyrics and gorgeous melodies. From the existential questions posed by “El Condor Pasa (If I Could)” to the bittersweet crescendo of “The Only Living Boy in New York” to the irresistible beat of “Cecilia” and the twang of “Baby Driver,” the old friends from Queens offer something for everyone. But most of all, they make the case that your next family drive should be a trip down memory lane.
7. QUEEN: GREATEST HITS
Thirty-nine years later, the 1981 compilation still holds up. Maybe your son will ask for drum lessons after hearing “We Will Rock You.” Maybe your daughter will sing “Bicycle Race” as she contemplates her training wheels. Maybe you’ll forget the morning’s argument with your spouse as “You’re My Best Friend” plays. Maybe you’ll silence a few are-we-there-yets with “We Are the Champions.” None of this is guaranteed. But it can’t hurt to listen, wait and see.
8. SING: THE ORIGINAL MOTION PICTURE SOUNDTRACK
Discover amazing songs (Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing,” Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” the Beatles’ “Carry That Weight”) covered by current stars like Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly and Jennifer Hudson. So what if your kids think a pair of dancing pigs wrote “Shake It Off”? Once they’ve memorized the movie and its music, you get to spend time acquainting them with the originals.