I’m sitting in the school drop off line this morning with the Mouse, waiting for the doors to open and for the string of cars to begin slowly rolling forward, when I turned off Sirius XMU in our Kia Sorento and turned on some Recess Monkey for us to enjoy during the next 5-7 minutes we’d have together.
Admittedly, we don’t hear Recess Monkey songs too often anymore (although we caught Jack spinning “Fish Sticks” on Kids Place Live the other night) but we still adore them as a band, as dads, and as a trio of terrific human beings. I’ve had the Seattle kindie band on the mind this week because for the first time in their long, illustrious career (seriously, they’ve been at this for nearly a dozen years now and have released 13 albums. 13!!!), Recess Monkey have garnered a Grammy nomination. Yeah, those Grammys, the ones with Beyonce and Justin Bieber, et al.
The entire field for the Best Children’s Album category in 2016, in fact, is stellar (Frances England, Brady Rymer, Secret Agent 23 Skidoo, Okee Dokee Brothers fill out the list) but Recess Monkey’s inclusion in that fine cabal of kindie maestros seems extra special for us because those guys have been a bigger part of our family’s life than, probably, anyone else in the music or greater media world. And that gave me this idea, to rank, in a very subjective list, the The 15 Best Recess Monkey Songs Of All Time.
Man, this was WAAAY harder than I thought it’d be. Recess Monkey have written oodles of brilliant all-ages alternative songs, each dripping with catchy chord progressions and memorable lyrical moments, so picking favorites isn’t an easy task. But, because I’m a professional, I trudged on to make this all time best Recess Monkey song list for you to enjoy.
*All Recess Monkey albums and songs are available to stream for free on Amazon Instant Music for Prime members. Go now and dig into this amazing band. Start anywhere in their expansive catalog of indie family music but here’s the top 15 Recess Monkey songs in our house, in reverse order (listen to the best Recess Monkey songs on this Spotify playlist!):
15) “Backpack” from Wonderstuff — The audacity of a double album as their 2nd release was the first sign that this wasn’t a ‘normal’ kid’s band. They’d spend the next decade proving to be the most constantly wonderful, abnormal-in-a-normal-way kid’s band in the entire western world.
14) TIE: “Under My Bed” and “SL-Double E-P-Over from Tabby Road — It’s hard to imagine but my Mouse, the kid who I was just dropping off to her 4th grade class, was but merely a one year old baby when this album was released in 2008. She’s literally grown-up with Recess Monkey and so here’s the best two songs, the first two songs that made us understand how special this trio were, from Tabby Road.
13) “Bear with a Bear” from Novelties — I mean, my oldest girl is The Bear, how can this song from Recess Monkey’s Grammy Award nominated album NOT make this list? And it’s not the last ‘Bear’ song on this list…
12) “My Balloon” from Hot Air — For a band who’s obviously been happily serving their muse in the long shadow of The Beatles from the beginning, no Recess Monkey song may be more Beatles-esque than this two-minute orchestral diamond in the sky. Few bands do quiet songs better than Recess Monkey and “My Balloon” is another in a long line of mellow masterpieces from the Seattle trip.
11) “The Dancin’ Bear” from In Tents — It’s Recess Monkey’s Beastie Boys tribute song and it is ridiculously glorious. Also, The Bear.
10) “Covered in Band Aids” from Flying — This song is one of those kindie classics that every parent AND kid will nod along with because every single kid loves a fun Band Aid (or a dozen) and every single parent knows what it’s like to have a kid who’s gone through a cut, scrape, and black & blue daredevil phase. ‘No, no you can’t actually reach that giant rock from where you…oooh, ouch, see, that was a rock too far. Here’s a fresh Band Aid, kid.’
9) “Compass Rose” from Deep Sea Diver — Every time I hear this song, I think of my two girls in the Barcelona subway, pointing at and ‘reading’ the map to help us get back to our rental apartment, and every time I think of that scene I remember why I love traveling with my kids and why I love Recess Monkey so much.
8) “Long Gone” from Desert Island Disc — This orchestra beauty has remained as stunning as the first time we heard it, during that magical year of 2013 which saw Recess Monkey release not one but two albums.
7) “Tattoo Me” from Deep Sea Diver — “On my arms it’s kind of…temporary!” one of my favorite lines from any Recess Monkey song is heard often in this ode to temporary dragon and skull tats.
6) TIE: “Tiny Telephone” and “The Teens’ both from Field Trip — The first is the prettiest song in the RM catalog that my girls and I still sing to each other when I’m away from home (“there’s always a line, from your heart to mine”), the second is the first time I ever made a Ted Leo reference when writing about Recess Monkey, and that’s good enough for me. Plus, clever counting songs are much needed to combat the banal “1, 2, 3” style songs STILL being recorded for children.
5) “Duck Tape World” from Wired — This innovative gem from the ambitious Wired album features one of the best lyrical moments in the Recess Monkey ouvre,
“Suddenly she appeared there
With a duct tape hairbow, she even had matching shoes
She glanced toward my house and she smiled slightly askew
Hey that’s a duct tape world! She said “I could be taper with you”
Cause I’m a duct tape girl, and we’ll stick together like glue”
4) TIE: “Bunk Bed” from Flying and “My Brother is a Satellite” from The Final Funktier — Because I’m from Philly and doo wop was and always will be king. The first is a piano heavy beauty tells the exciting tale of a pair of brothers moving into a doubledecker down the hall way where life is so much better, the second is another song that encapsulates the nuanced complexity of the ‘two brothers close in age’ dynamic. Also, does a lyric get any more to the heart of the sibling relationship than this, from “Bunk Bed”,
“Now ever since the day of the merger, me and my brother, we’ve had ups and downs.
Sometimes I like to be alone but it’s so nice to have him around
It’s good to know I’ve got a friend below
Happy, sad, lonely, he is the best company”
3) “I Could See (Magically)” from In Tents — Sonically clever as the song starts lo-fi (not quite Pavement-esque but you’ll get the idea) before becoming crystal clear when the protagonist of the song puts on his first pair of glasses and the world is, finally, no longer blurry.
2) “Oh, Lando” from Hot Air — The song of dreams for any Star Wars fan, this one is the culmination of a decade-long Recess Monkey trend of expertly sprinkling pop culture references into their songs. “Oh, Lando” captures so perfectly that famous, fateful moment when our rebels heroes are sold out to Lord Vader in Cloud City.
1) “Sack Lunch” from Field Trip — the first Recess Monkey song we fell madly in love with and its conceit, sung from the POV of a brown lunch bag on a class trip to a museum, is about as brilliant an executed idea as we’ve ever heard in musical form. “Sack Lunch” is and will always be, the greatest Recess Monkey song.
LISTEN TO THE BEST RECESS MONKEY SONGS OF ALL TIME in this Spotify playlist!
Time to get a little teary eyed now down here. I want to personally thank and give a virtual hug to the fine fellas of Recess Monkey’s current lineup, Jack Forman, Drew Holloway, and Korum Bischoff, and also to former drummer Daron Henry, for being a vital, beloved cog in our family’s wheel over the past 8+ years. And I’m going to switch writing styles here to speak directly to you guys. You’ve gifted us so much great music, so many amazing songs, dozens of thrilling live concert experiences, and countless moments of pure joy with our two daughters, and you’ve given those two girls a band worth loving and growing up with, evolving alongside from a distance, and songs with which they can climb inside, understand fully, and own as their favorites. Even though we don’t listen as often as we once did, you guys will always be a part of our family. And if you think I’m not crying while I’m typed this, you’re crazy.
Love you, Recess Monkey, forever and always.