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Sing-along video is a monster hit


"I love you

You love me

We're a happy family . . ."

If you're ready to retch about now, you probably have a preschooler.

Barney the dinosaur and his repertoire of kid-pleasing, parent-peeving music videos are becoming old standbys in many American households.

"That 'I Love You' song, they ask me to play that all the time," says Amy Tindel, mother of 2-year-old twins Samantha and Lauren, who enjoy about half a dozen tapes. Their favorite is Barney. Their mother is a different story. "I really don't like any of them." But "I can leave the room when they're on."

To be fair to the big purple guy, it's not just him. The Muppets, The Trollies, Lamb Chop and other beasts have put together bands and made videos, some with little bouncing balls (or mouse ears or Kermit the Frogs) that highlight the words to make singing along easier.

Cartoon characters have gotten in on the act too -- the Chipmunks, Mickey Mouse, Aladdin and Winnie the Pooh, to name a few.

Even humans have hopped on the kid-vid bandwagon -- Raffi, Shari Lewis, Ben Vereen and Peter, Paul and Mary have released tapes.

All are crooning for small fries, helping to make children's music videos -- aka sing-alongs -- a hot market in retail. It's a sort of karaoke for the kiddie crowd.

"It is huge right now," said Regina Kelland, director of children's marketing for A&M; Records, which has produced more than a dozen sing-along videos. "I think we started to see a major explosion in children's music videos a few years ago . . . and I don't see an end in sight."

Tapes by A&M;'s Shari Lewis, which include three videos under the Lamb Chop's Play-Along title, are the company's most popular and have sold roughly 1 million copies altogether, Ms. Kelland said.

While other companies were mum about sales figures, a typical tape can tally sales of 40,000 to 60,000 copies, according to industry studies.

Walt Disney Home Video, which has 11 tape titles, is recognized as the leader, with sales of individual tapes reportedly reaching several million copies. Barney tapes closely trail Disney.

The market is so lucrative that kids' TV network Nickelodeon and Epic Records in May announced a reported $25 million deal to make and distribute children's videos.

Video distributors, selling up to several million copies of single tapes, are expanding their children's music video lines. Video dealers are expanding their shelf space to make room -- national chain Blockbuster Video created a new section for sing-alongs in February.

The colorful visuals and catchy tunes are attracting kids to music videos, but it's their parents who are pushing up sales.

Wait -- aren't most moms and dads driven to distraction by the repetitive tunes?

"Parents do get tired of them -- that's why they sell so well," said

Brad Burnside, an Illinois video dealer and president of the board of directors of the Video Software Dealers Association, a trade group representing more than 20,000 video retailers. "The kids are happy to continue singing the stuff night and day and it drives Mom and Dad crazy. So that fuels the need to somehow get off this song driving everybody nuts, and on to some other tape."

Nostalgia may also be pushing parents to buy tapes featuring performers from their childhoods. That's what insiders say has attributed to the success of videos with Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop, The Chipmunks, Mary Poppins, Peter, Paul and Mary and others.

"Obviously there is a return to the artists parents enjoyed," said Janice Kaplan, managing editor of TV Guide's Parents' Guide to Children's Entertainment, a new publication. "Parents get that whimsical smile when they listen to the music, and to kids it's brand-new."

It's ironic that nostalgia for the music of an earlier time should be fueling this current craze -- that's just what spurred the popularity of sing-alongs three decades ago.

The first sing-alongs played on the big screen. "Follow the bouncing ball" was the hallmark of Screen Songs, a company that produced sing-alongs as shorts that ran before films in the 1930s and '40s. A way to warm up an audience before the main feature, the songs featured artists such as Rudy Vallee, the Mills Brothers, Ethel Merman and the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra.

In the 1960s and '70s, children's cartoons adopted the musical numbers and bouncing balls. Kirk Holcomb, a collector of TV memorabilia who ran the now-closed TV & Toy Museum in Orlando, Fla., remembers sing-along music in Alvin and the Chipmunks, the Beatles, Jackson Five and Osmonds cartoons, the Mickey Mouse Club, the Archies, Josie and the Pussycats, and the Banana Splits, among others.

"I loved it as a kid," said Mr. Holcomb. "Singing along with your favorite characters really made you feel like you were part of the show."

Current cartoons also use the sing-along technique. Mr. Holcomb saw a recent episode of the Nickelodeon cartoon Ren & Stimpy that featured the song "The Lord Loves A Hangin'," and Stimpy as the bouncing "ball."

The video industry doesn't require bouncing Stimpys or balls or that lyrics be flashed on the screen to classify a video as a sing-along. Most of the videos contain simple songs that are easy for children to pick up after just a few listens.

Barney is credited with much of the resurgence in sing-alongs, since his tapes are all built around musical numbers interspersed with a simple story line. The first Barney tape was sold in 1988. Now there are nine tapes. Although the distributor, the Lyons xTC Group of Allen, Texas, won't release sales figures, industry insiders say Barney tapes have easily sold more than a million copies.

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