No all-star charity album has boasted a lineup more impressive than For Our Children. This 20-song compilation features original and traditional children's music by a variety of exceptional performers, including Bruce Springsteen, Paula Abdul, Meryl Streep, Bob Dylan, Sting, and Barbra Streisand. All proceeds from For Our Children will benefit the Pediatric AIDS Foundation.
The foundation was formed in 1988 by Elizabeth Glaser, Susan DeLaurentis, and Susan Zeegen. Glaser, the wife of actor Paul Michael Glaser (Starsky and Hutch), contracted the AIDS virus in 1981 from a blood transfusion she received during the birth of their daughter Ariel, who died of AIDS at the age of 7.
With profits going to AIDS research, education, and assistance to hospitals, For Our Children is a worthy charity item, but the album also holds up as a work of art. The crowd-pleasing cut in my house was Springsteen's performance of the John and Nancy Cassidy song ''Chicken Lips and Lizard Hips.'' The Boss strums an acoustic guitar, takes an occasional puff on a harmonica, and growls out lines about eating ''mama's soup surprise,'' which includes ingredients like ''Monkey legs and buzzard eggs/And salamander thighs.'' It's a silly gross-out song performed with headlong, Springsteenian force.
Similarly, Dylan's crack at the ''knick-knack, patty-whack'' refrain of ''This Old Man'' is both good music and a real hoot. I swear, Dylan's sly performance here is better than anything on his most recent ''grown-up'' album of new material, Under the Red Sky.
A few of the cuts on For Our Children are ill-conceived, such as Elton John's flaccid funk instrumental ''The Pacifier,'' and Little Richard's overarranged and overlong version of ''Itsy Bitsy Spider.'' Consumers should also be aware that there are a few songs here that have appeared elsewhere, including Paul McCartney's ''Mary Had a Little Lamb'' (originally on his 1971 Wild Life) and Bette Midler's Blueberry Pie (from 1980's In Harmony: A Sesame Street Record).
But with more than an hour of music, For Our Children is a bargain with perfect little pieces such as James Taylor's charming rendition of ''Getting to Know You,'' Harry Nilsson's dreamy ''Blanket for a Sail,'' and Jackson Browne and Jennifer Warnes' reworking of the Beatles' ''Golden Slumbers''; they transform the song into a real lullaby.
Then, too, surprises abound. In ''Good Night, My Love'' Paula Abdul proves she really can sing. Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson forsake hard rock for dulcet harmony on ''Autumn to May.'' The frequently stiff Sting offers the cheerful vulgarity of ''Cushie Butterfield'': ''She's a big lass/She's a bonny lass/And she likes her beer.'' And Meryl Streep employs a strong Judy Collins-style contralto on ''Gartan Mother's Lullaby.''
For Our Children can be enjoyed on two levels: Kids can take its lovely music at face (ear?) value, while adults who appreciate the pop-cultural contexts of these performances will be beguiled. A-