What started as teacher Michael Monagan's plan to incorporate music and songwriting into his classroom for severely handicapped children eventually evolved into something much larger. Using fairly standard chord progressions and a basic keyboard, Monagan's students wrote and performed heartfelt songs based around their wants, needs, and fears. The album kicks off with Norman Williams' "New Car," a honking and pulsing wish for a car that is "bright and shiny like a star" in his garage. "You better watch out or the insects will get you!" warns another song, elaborating on what spiders and bees could do to an unwary traveler, while the rousing group ensemble piece "Throw Away the Trash" encourages everyone to pitch in, much in the same way Brian Wilson encouraged the Beach Boys to "Be True to Your School." The music isn't necessarily groundbreaking, but the Kids' vocal delivery is what carries the songs. They may be a little off the beat, but their enthusiasm for singing more than makes up for it. This is demonstrated wholeheartedly in the roll-call of "Primary Reinforcement," where the kids list their names and what they like best, and throughout the song the listener can really feel that Tommy likes to rap, Gerardo likes to kiss, and Phomma loves to sing. Since its 1989 release on Rounder Records, Special Music From Special Kids has gone from being heard in classrooms to being heard in dorm rooms, embraced by not only teachers but also by music hipsters, thereby gaining a life of its own. While this album has grown from a grassroots independent release to an underground cult phenomenon, the thing that shines through it all is the Kids' genuine love for music.
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AllMusic Review by Zac Johnson