This month marks forty years since the original release of Free To Be You And Me, the influential kids' record dreamed up by Marlo Thomas when she couldn't find any bedtime stories for her niece that exceeded old gender stereotypes. I was born just a few years after the record came out and listening to it is one of my earliest memories. I studied the figures romping on the cover art's letters and knew every track inside out. Marlo Thomas and Harry Belafonte told me that parents are people, Tom Smothers extolled the virtues of helping, Jack Cassidy and Sharon Jones scared me off from creepy "Girl Land," Alan Alda and Marlo Thomas made it perfectly clear that William was extra cool for wanting a doll, and thanks to Carol Channing I always knew that housework was no fun.
When I finally read Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique for a gender studies class it was déjà vu; I had already learned many of its lessons from Free To Be You And Me. Five years ago I found out I was pregnant with my first child and I ordered the CD, which has been in heavy rotation ever since. It might not be a panacea for princess mania and other kid culture phenomena, but my kids love the groovy songs. I still have a sweet spot for its progressive message, which is simultaneously nostalgic and hopeful.
The recent Free To Be series at Slate.com recounts the origins, stakes and legacy of the album. You can learn more about the history and influence of Free To Be You And Me from the Free To Be Foundation.
• Free to Be You and Me MP3 Download or CD
(Image: Free To Be Foundation)