x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Rock meets rockabye baby

Rockabye Baby is a collection of rock anthems that have been prettified to help infants get to sleep.

Rockabye baby cover for lullaby renditions of van halen
Rockabye baby cover for lullaby renditions of van halen

Some three decades on, it seems the title of Van Halen's 1980 single And the Cradle Will Rock ... seems almost prescient. US company Rockabye Baby now renders music by the likes of Metallica and AC/DC as lullabies, and celebrity fans include Kate Hudson and David and Victoria Beckham.

Paranoid by Black Sabbath; Lithium by Nirvana; Welcome to the Jungle by Guns N' Roses - these and countless other rock anthems have been prettified to help infants nod off. It's not so much roll over Beethoven as move over Johannes Brahms (you'll recall the latter composer was no slouch himself in the lullaby stakes).

The brains behind Rockabye Baby is Lisa Roth, vice president of the label's parent company, CMH Records. Fittingly, Roth is also the sister of Van Halen frontman, David Lee Roth, and when Rockabye Baby released its Van Halen edition earlier this month, she and her brother filmed a short promo-video for her company's blog.

"A number of summers ago I led a very wild and crazy life and a lot of you may be my children", grins David Lee Roth in the film. "Let's make up for lost time - here's your first lullaby."

Chatting on the phone from Los Angeles, Lisa Roth proves every bit as engaging as her brother. Before launching Rockabye Baby, she was a TV documentary producer for The Discovery Channel and National Geographic, and before that she was a nutritionist advising artists signed to EMI records. How, then, did she hit upon the idea of heavy-metal lullabies?

"I guess necessity is the mother of invention," she says. "The eureka moment came a few years ago when I was shopping for a baby shower gift. A lot of what was available was pretty dull, and there wasn't really anything that reflected my taste. I thought, wouldn't it be great if I could give parents something that appealed to a part of them that existed before baby was born? A co-worker of mine, Valerie Aiello, was thinking along similar lines, and we took it from there."

While Roth is honest enough to admit that parents purchasing RB products might be investing in their own entertainment, rather than that of baby, she makes the fair point that "a happy parent normally makes for a happy child". The company's morphing of hard-rock tunes into instrumental lullabies is also undertaken with great care, the tunes artfully deconstructed, then played on instruments befitting a teddy bears' picnic.

"Putting a hard-rock song back together with glockenspiel, woodblocks and harp is not as easy as it sounds," says Roth. "It took us a while to contend with those doom-laden minor chords, but we've learnt how to sprinkle our fairy dust to make things work. We employ a number of different producers across the United States, and sometimes a track will go back and forth six, eight or 12 times until my co-worker James and myself think it's just right. We're obviously looking for something that will relax the baby, but it also has to retain something of the original song's intention."

Has Roth thought about how the music might affect infants, though? A brief Google search flags numerous articles contending that the complex beauty of Bach is good for baby's brain-development; running to the other, perhaps-not-quite-so-logical extreme, might listening to a lullaby take on Guns N' Roses' Mr Brownstone help foster a delinquent?

"I think that's a bit unlikely, don't you?" laughs Roth. "You have to remember these are instrumental versions of the songs, and I think I'm right in saying that music alone can't turn infants into drug addicts. There's obviously an irony to a little baby falling asleep to rebellious hard rock music, but I think that's part of the appeal."

Never ones to miss an untapped revenue stream, rock stars themselves have been quick to get behind Roth's company. Steven Tyler has written liner-notes for the Aerosmith edition, and Joe Elliot has done likewise for the Def Leppard version. Just as the Guitar Hero console game series introduced a new generation of kids to some decidedly old-school axe-slingers, so too Rockabye Baby targets a still younger generation, perhaps kindling an early, maybe even in utero taste for defanged riffage.

Roth estimates that her company has sold more than a million CDs to date, plus hundreds of thousands of digital downloads. "We're currently being pursued by quite a number of artists," she adds, "but we take our brand very seriously and we won't do anyone and everyone.

"We are expanding our range, though, and it's always interesting to see how the different CDs are going down. Someone sent a video of these screaming twins to our Facebook blog a while back. When the parents put on the Elvis Rockabye Baby edition, things got blissfully quiet."