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Push It Along: Six Songs That Incorporate The Coos And Cries Of Infants

Aaliyah.
Aaliyah.

Not very many hours after Beyoncé gave birth to their daughter Blue Ivy Carter, Jay-Z commemorated the occasion in song. "Glory" sounds humbled and relieved, and soft enough to bear some marks; at certain points, Jay's voice almost seems to quaver. He goes from revealing a past miscarriage to sharing the precise date of conception, as if still ambling through the ward in elated exhaustion. Next time he leaves condoms on a baby seat, it'll feel like a sitcom joke, not potential diss material.

The kid herself makes an appearance, wailing all over the track. Blue Ivy must be the first infant to receive a feature credit for their sampled gurgles—canny as ever, dad—but she's only the youngest entry in pop's tiny, adorable line of incidental newborns. Given that the subtlety of the effect in question falls somewhere between siren noises and neighing, it tends to be used sparingly yet memorably. Pace Kelis, here are six other songs of the baby.

1. Boris, "Buzz In"

As one might expect from the Japanese purveyors of sludge, drone, doom and general loudness, Boris' little one lends their intro an abrasive cry—and then starts babbling in excitement, like he's learning how to headbang.

2. A Tribe Called Quest, "Push It Along"

This is the opening track on ATCQ's debut album People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm and also a pun. Actually, "instinctive travels" would be a clever description of infants crawling...

3. Ken Nordine, "My Baby"

As a joke, this 1959 novelty is a little unbearable: hipster slang, it's kind of like baby talk! And indeed the attempted fusion of jazz and poetry was already being mocked at the time. But if Nordine wasn't a conventional musician, he did gain faceless ubiquity as a spoken-word artist (he later coached Linda Blair in demoniacal language for The Exorcist), and hearing his deep voice adapt to the rhythms of textbook-cool jazz is an unusual pleasure. It might soothe a real tyke.

 

4. Aaliyah, "Are You That Somebody?"

A high point of Timbaland's career, and perhaps the apex of Aaliyah's brutally truncated one. Certainly the best thing that Dr. Doolittle ever did for America. Part of the song's genius is how it repurposes those sampled coos in the mix: central yet understated, they're a mesmerizing hook.

5. Perrey and Kingsley, "Countdown at 6"

The eternally youthful voice from "Are You That Somebody?" can also be heard during the outro of Prince's "Delirious," but its discography extends further still. The original source was The In Sound from Way Out!, a 1966 album by Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley that represents some of the first electronic music intended for a mass audience. They helped to popularize many techniques from existing avant-garde forms, whether primitive synthesized compositions or musique concrete—including naturally occurring noises, such as bawling. The child recorded by Perrey and Kingsley should be approaching 50 now; I'd rather read about the rest of his life than yet another article on that Nevermind cover boy.

6. Lee "Scratch" Perry, "People Funny Boy"

Reggae godhead Perry cut the above single only two years after his not-quite-namesake's. Much as one would like to trace all these samples back to the same primal ancestor, some cosmic sprog, a radiant baby, Perry probably just dragged cumbersome equipment around Kingston. But "People Funny Boy" resonates in other ways as well. It's an early, amusing diss track aimed at his former producer Joe Gibbs, anticipating Jay's fruitful grudges pre-B.I.C. (and before B, too). "And so we return and begin again..."

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